In the upcoming Birds of Prey movie, actress Jurnee Smollet-Bell will portray a new version of Dinah Laurel Lance, the fan-favourite superhero known as Black Canary. But who is she?
Comic book history
First introduced in the pages of 1960’s Justice League of America #75, Dinah Laurel Lance is a born hero. Her father, Larry Lance, was a decorated police officer, while her mother, Dinah Drake, was the Golden Age costumed vigilante Black Canary. With her mother a member of the Justice Society of America (widely considered as the very first superhero team in comic books), the younger Dinah grew up not just listening firsthand to the exploits of heroes, but training with them as well. And when she turned 19, despite her mother’s wish for her to not continue the dangerous family business, Dinah took up her mother’s old identity of Black Canary complete with an iconic new look (well, hello there, fish-net stocking!).
In her initial appearances, Dinah had been cursed as a child by one of her mother’s old foes, William Zard aka Wizard. This curse would develop into her “Canary Cry”, an incredibly powerful supersonic scream which Dinah could use to stun or damage. Black Canary was more than just a scream though. Trained by such legendary comic book hand-to-hand combatants as Wildcat, Batman, and Richard Dragon, Dinah became one of the most skilled martial artists on the planet, mastering several different fighting styles. She also possessed a masterful grasp of tactics and strategy.
It was these skills that led to her being one of the Justice League of America’s founding members (in DC Comics’ post-Crisis continuity) and eventually even elected to become the team’s chairman in a later iteration. It was here where Dinah would meet and begin a relationship with Oliver Queen aka Green Arrow. Theirs would become one of the comic books industry’s greatest romances (they even set up a shop together called Sherwood Florist), but it wouldn’t be without struggles. In one important story, Dinah was kidnapped and brutally tortured to the point of losing her Canary Cry. This drove Oliver to hunt down and eventually kill her kidnapper, marking a very dark turn in Green Arrow’s heroic career. This would also drive the couple to eventually break up. It was during this breakup though where Dinah would learn that Oliver had died fighting eco-terrorists in Metropolis, causing her immense grief.
Dinah would continue fighting crime solo as the Black Canary, and it was here where she would join up with a paralyzed Barbara Gordon (having abandoned her Batgirl persona to become Oracle) and Huntress to form the Birds of Prey. She would become the team’s field leader and its strong backbone, recruiting others like Lady Blackhawk and Dove. Initially, Oracle used her tech skills to give Dinah an electronic device to mimic her cry, but during one of their missions, Dinah took a dip in one of Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits, the mysterious magical pit’s restorative powers giving her back her own Canary Cry.
During this time though, in Kevin Smith’s iconic Green Arrow: Quiver miniseries, Oliver Queen was brought back to life. Upon this resurrection, Dinah would meet up with him again. Although still experiencing numerous issues ahead, the pair would reconcile and eventually get married, the ceremony attended by just about every DC Comics superhero out there. Dinah would also adopt Sin, a young girl who was being prepped by the deadly assassin Lady Shiva to be her successor. With the tight balance between being a hero and a mother, Dinah would quit the Birds of Prey.
Unfortunately, Dinah and Oliver’s marriage would eventually come to a tragic halt after the latter’s dark streak surfaced again. Finding out that Oliver had secretly murdered the villain Prometheus, Dinah helps Flash and Green Lantern to hunt down her husband. Though Oliver defeats all of them he eventually turns himself in, and during a heartbreaking exchange between the two, Dinah realizes that Oliver wants to be left alone and so she ends their marriage.
Following the New 52 reboot of the DC Comics universe, Dinah’s entire origin story was rewritten. Now Dinah Drake, she was a foster child troublemaker who escaped the system to live on the streets. She would be caught dumpster diving by Desmond Lamar, an ex-Special Forces agent and martial arts master. Lamar would take Dinah in and train her as his protege. When he passed away, she would take over his dojo and eventually also his habit of protecting the local neighborhood. This caught the attention of one of Lamar’s old military contacts, John Lynch, who recruited Dinah as a member of the deadly black ops unit Team 7.
As part of the retcon of her origin, Dinah was made a latent metahuman, with her training with Team 7 triggering the gene that gives her her Canary Cry. She also gained an unprecedented range of control of her voice, allowing her to generate and mimic nearly any sound she desires, with her Canary Cry now being powerful enough to shatter steel. It’s also here where she meets and marries fellow Team 7 member Kurt Lance before he is killed in action.
In the New 52, a healed Barbara Gordon would return to her role as Batgirl, and following her time in Team 7, Dinah would reform the Birds of Prey again with her own team consisting of Poison Ivy, Katana, Starling, with Batgirl occasionally helping out. Through the actions of Suicide Squad boss Amanda Waller, Lance is resurrected but without his memories. His appearance though prompts Batgirl to find out about Dinah’s past in a government kill squad, with their ensuing rift causing the Birds of Prey to break up.
During the DC Rebirth event, the DC Comics universe is changed again and Wally West notes that sinister interference has affected the timeline (check out Doomsday Clock, to see what’s all about) in small ways and sets about trying to fix it. In this case, Dinah is now a burgeoning rock star in the band Black Canary and operating under the stage name D.D. This younger Dinah also doesn’t know Oliver at all, even though Wally believes that they should be together. In Green Arrow: Rebirth, Dinah and Oliver finally meet again, and instantly hit it off with each other, the chemistry palpable. In Birds of Prey: Rebirth, Dinah and Barbara are also now friends again and have just met up with Helena Bertinelli aka Huntress. She is also recruited by Batman into the Justice League of America after her incredible skills are noted.
Appearances in other media
Outside of comics, Black Canary has most famously been played by Katie Cassidy in Arrow and its compatriot shows, though she goes by her second name of Laurel Lance. Lori Loughlin also played a different version of the character, Carolyn Lance, in the short-lived Birds of Prey TV series, while Alaina Huffman portrayed Dinah Lance in Smallville. Black Canary has also appeared in both the Justice League Unlimited and Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series.
Powers and abilities
- Master of martial arts – Dinah has trained extensively in and mastered several fighting styles, including Boxing, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, Judo, Jiu Jitsi, Wing Chun, Tae Kwon Do, Capoeira, Savate, Aikido, and more. She is one of the most accomplished hand to hand combatants ever.
- Canary Cry – Dinah’s metagene gives her the ability to emit an incredibly powerful sonic attack that she can use to stun or damage her targets. She can mimic/generate any sounds she chooses to.
- Master of strategy/tactics – Dinah is a born leader with a masterful grasp of strategy and tactics.
Essential reading and viewing
- Justice League of America #75 by Dennis O’Neil, Dick Dillin
- Secret Origins Vol 2
- Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell, Lurene Haines
- Green Arrow: Quiver by Kevin Smith, Phil Hester, Ande Parks
- Green Arrow & Black Canary: The Wedding crossover
- Justice League of America Wedding Special #1 by Dwayne McDuffie, Mike McKone
- Justice League: Cry for Justice
- Birds of Prey by Gail Simone, Ed Benes
- Black Canary: Living With Sin by Tony Bedard, Paulo Siqueira
- Team 7 by Justin Jordan, Ron Frenz
- DC Rebirth
- Green Arrow: Rebirth
- Birds of Prey: Rebirth
- Black Canary by Brenden Fletcher, Annie Wu
Jurnee Smollet-Bell’s Black Canary will be kicking butt alongside Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress, and Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya in Birds of Prey, in cinemas this coming Friday, 7 February 2020.
Last Updated: February 5, 2020