One of the surprise hits in the June retooling of the DC Universe is Black Canary, a series that makes the character the lead singer in a traveling rock band, with fellow musicians as the supporting cast.
On the surface, it doesn't sound like much of a superhero story, but writer Brenden Fletcher and artist Annie Wu have filled Black Canary with butt-kicking action and intriguing mysteries. The rock and roll approach, highlighted by Wu's band flyer-inspired artwork, have made the book a critical darling not only for its story, but its bold, fresh approach.
At the end of Black Canary #2 — after surrounding Dinah with a cast of brand new characters — the series threw in a surprise appearance of a character from Dinah Lance's past. Newsarama talked with Fletcher and Wu about how the book is taking advantage of Black Canary's post-Flashpoint continuity, how Wu came up with the design of the characters, and what readers can expect next.
Newsarama: Brenden, I want to start with the broad idea of music and sound as power, which is so core to Black Canary as a character and informs why she makes sense singing in a band, but it's also emerging as a theme in this story through Ditto's music. Is that an important concept in your approach to the overall series and this storyline in particular?
Brenden Fletcher: It's something that my Batgirl co-writer Cameron Stewart and I had just felt; it wasn't even something we intellectualized at first. We were just kind of joking about what to do with Dinah. And it just felt like such a great, fun idea.
And then we started taking it seriously, like, oh, no, she belongs in a band. And it is powerful. It became something that we started to think on seriously. Unfortunately we just didn't have a whole lot of room to explore it as one of the "C" or "D" plots in Batgirl. But I think it resonated with people.
So when it came time to move Dinah out of the book, it was an obvious pitch for me to make, and editorial was totally on board.
I feel like we're just getting started, exploring what this means.
And certainly, sound, and the power of sound — I could say more about it, but it's all spoilers — plays a big part in what's happening in this first arc. You'll see more as we release more issues. You'll see what I mean.
Nrama: Annie, what have been some of your influences — not only on your style as a whole, but on your visual approach to Black Canary in particular, and even if they're influences from outside comics?
Annie Wu: Oh, most of the influences are from outside comic books, because this series's content hits so many things that I already love, including rock history and music and even mid-century screen prints and posters and band flyers. All these little things play into the look of the book.
And there are things like fashion, and being able to let the reader get a sense of each character just from the way they dress themselves or choose to present themselves.
Yeah, there are a lot of little pieces like that that influence the look of the book.
Nrama: And it finally feels natural that Black Canary would be wearing fishnets!
Wu: Yeah, right?
Fletcher: That's secretly the core of the concept — we just needed to find a way to get her back into fishnets.
Wu: That was the main thing.
Nrama: Brenden, as long as we're talking about influences – and although I know the fact that it's a spin-off from Batgirl means that's an influence — what were maybe some influences on your approach to the way this is written — the pacing or the story approach for Black Canary?
Fletcher: I was pulling from a lot of things. It's not a tone that I feel like I naturally hit really well. I think something like Gotham Academy is more my natural speed.
Batgirl was a bit of a technical exercise for me, especially writing with Cameron, who I share a lot of conceptual ideas with but don't always share pacing and storytelling style with.
This Black Canary falls somewhere between Gotham Academy and Batgirl for me. It's got a lot more of what I'm comfortable with in it — like the scene right at the beginning of #1 where Dinah is internalizing her emotions about how she, a combat veteran and crime-fighter, is contending with actually being on stage.
All this sort of bombastic, wild material doesn't come as natural to me, but is something that I can lean on Annie for a little more.
When I write this stuff, I'm trying to imagine how she will interpret it, and I write it a little bit looser so she has room to play.
It's weird to say, but Annie is one of my main inspirations on the book. When I think about how it should feel and look… I try to find moments that I know she can interpret in a way that's going to feel right.
Nrama: That makes sense within the collaborative framework of comic books. You're giving her the space you feel makes sense for her to interpret the scenes in her own style?
Fletcher: I want to give Annie as much space as she wants, to completely rewrite scenes, as long as we're all telling the scenes we agreed to tell. I want her to be free to interpret things in the best way possible.
Having Annie on the book, and knowing what she could bring to this project is what was going to make it sing, is so much of the battle. So now, as a writer, all I have to do is make sure the story that we've all agreed to tell is there in place, and the rest of it, I just need to get out of her way and let her be awesome on the page.
Wu: Doesn't collaboration work with both people trying to stay out of each other's way? Because that's how I feel sometimes.
Brenden has been really lovely and open about inviting me to change things if I feel like it's a better way to do it, but he so thoroughly knows what he's doing that I'm like, "Oh, I wouldn't change that. That makes perfect sense."
So I've been making very few changes — certainly nothing major.
Nrama: At the end of #2 — and I perhaps won't spoil who showed up, in case we have new readers looking at this, but I'll just say someone very connected to Dinah's continuity showed up — her continuity since the "New 52" reboot. This issue felt like it might make more sense separated from continuity a little, but you're diving right in with this storyline, aren't you? Pulling from Dinah's past, but in a way that new readers can understand?
Fletcher: Well, it is a part of continuity, and that's something that, you know, as a writer for this type of book at DC, it's my responsibility to take care of. So that is not something that I can escape.
So my job is to use continuity as best I can.
I think if you look at what we tried to do in Batgirl, we tried to put our own stamp on it and give you a new place to come in clean that didn't ignore anything or contradict anything that came before, but really lets you come in fresh.
And that's what I'm trying to do here as well.
This is a new starting point. You should be able to just pick up Black Canary #1 and read this series and not have to know anything about her previous appearances. If you want to go back and read them, that's also fine. I'm not going to contradict any of that stuff. That is her past. I'm writing the next adventure of Dinah Lance in the "New 52" — the lady who used to be in Team 7, the lady who was in Birds of Prey and then was in our first arc of Batgirl, and this is her next adventure. All that stuff still exists.
I'm cherry-picking the parts of her past that are most emotionally resonant to her. But I'm going to be very respectful of who I think the iconic Dinah Lance is. So I'm going to use them in a way to propel her to be the best, most iconic, strongest, martial-artist rock-singing bad-ass in the DC Universe.
I hope that when people see that, and if they know the continuity, they understand that I'm not going to use it to tear her down at all. This is all to push her forward.
Nrama: Annie, how did you develop the look of these characters?
Wu: Brenden sent me character descriptions — well, initially he told me what he imagined the band being, like how many band members there would be and who would be playing what kind of instrument. And right away, I started doodling different people to see what felt right. Then after Brenden sent the character descriptions, I could put them all together.
All the characters are influenced by different iterations of performers that I really enjoy. They're all kind of these Frankensein-ed together characters from various influences.
Lord Byron is a little bit Bowie's Thin White Duke and Grace Jones and little bit of Prince even. Paloma is definitely more of a Jonny Greenwood type. I think that would be the musician that Brenden and I felt like would be her real life parallel.
Ditto was the one we went back and forth the most on, trying to get the right sort of feeling.
But they're very distinct from each other, not only in the way that they look but the way that they carry themselves. I wanted people to get a sense of them without them even saying anything from panel to panel.
Nrama: Will we see more of the Burnside Tofu?
Fletcher: Did you enjoy that pull out in Black Canary #2?
Fletcher: That's awesome. Yeah, you'll definitely see more of the Burnside Tofu. It's kind of our fun little gag, but also lets us dig more into the characters, who they are, the world of the DC Comics music scene — which I guess is kind of a weird thing to say, but we're establishing a DC Comics music scene. And this is a fun way to represent it in this 'zine style magazine with the little kind of Tiger Beat pull out in the middle.
Nrama: I know you guys will be returning to the former singer of the band eventually — do I call her Bo Maeve? She seems like trouble. Anything else you can tell us about what's coming up?
Fletcher: Definitely. Black Canary #3 really feels like our Mad Max: Fury Road issue. It's the band battling it out while on the road, literally, trying to get to a show. And the man revealed at the end of #2 is hot on their heels.
At the same time, the mysterious creatures from #1 also come back, so you get this kind of culmination of the threats.
The reason behind the pursuit by these villainous characters of the Black Canary band is also unveiled in the next issue. We also start to understand what Bo Maeve is up to. (And yeah, you can call her Bo Maeve. That's what she'd prefer.)