With an opening page laid out like a page from one of those free newspapers, writer Brenden Fletcher and artist Annie Wu make the dynamic between Dinah (or D.D. as she is called by the press and her bandmates) and her band the Black Canary the focus in Black Canary #1. Touring and trying to make it as a indie punk band with an eclectic sound courtesy of silent guitarist Ditto and a charismatic lead vocalist comes first before the superheroics, but the kicking and action is always present. And instead of being something, like Scott Pilgrim, where characters accept the musical martial arts matchups without batting an eye, Dinah’s predilection for violence leads to tension between her and her bandmates creating the main conflict for the series along with some mysterious beings drawn in a looser style by Wu with pitch black coloring from Lee Loughridge.
The brand of visual storytelling executed by Annie Wu and Lee Loughridge fits the DIY punk meets kung fu aesthetic of Black Canary #1. In some pages, Wu’s layouts look like a cut and paste riot grrl zine. (Or at least the ones I’ve seen on Tumblr. Sorry, I’m a youngster.) However, she elongates the panels when Dinah goes from chatting with bandmates to beating up creepers that were harassing some female fans at her show or other action beats. Loughridge throws in a burst of yellow, orange, or vibrant pink to highlight these scenes, and Wu’s choreography as Dinah fights in the classic Jackie Chan style of using any objects at hand to defeat her enemies. But Black Canary isn’t just a fight book.
Fletcher and Wu spend a lot of time with Dinah and her bandmates to show that there’s something a little off. With the exception of Paloma, who just gets a couple choice one-liners, Dinah has at least one conversation or significant interaction with the other band members who get some lovely, tongue-in-cheek literary names. (Lord Byron and Heathcliff, who thankfully is the opposite of the Wuthering Heights character.) Fletcher’s writing sounds like fast talking hipster speak, but there is a vulnerable beating heart in the characters’ voices that offsets it. Dinah is trying hard to make a fresh start with Black Canary, but she can’t fully repress her superhero instincts. And despite his sexy eye-liner and V-neck, Lord Byron is passionate about making it in the music industry. His earnest facial expressions contrast with Dinah’s distant stare.
Black Canary #1 seems like a passion project in the unique way it is crafted, and the way it is set up thematically. Dinah is passionate about protecting all the people around her from various forms of evil, be it creepy fans at a gig or something mysterious and unsettling. Her bandmates are just passionate about music in general from the way they argue with promoters to get their fair cut of the gate to their willingness to endure cramped quarters in their bus to make it to another gig.
In a stylish, fashion forward, and dynamic way, Annie Wu and Lee Loughridge uses splashes of color, cut-up panel layouts, and character’s clothing choice and hairstyle to make Black Canary stand out artistically while Brenden Fletcher crafts a plot that is part band travelogue, kung fu road trip, and sci-fi conspiracy. (Maybe it’s Almost Famous meets the X-Files choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping.) Black Canary #1 is a punk rock/martial arts mash-up with unique art and an in-depth focus on its lead character’s struggles and triumphs. It reads like an Oni Press or Black Mask book that just happens to be set in the DC Universe and is completely different from any portrayal of the character. (Except for her appearance in the Fletcher co-written Batgirl.)