A Birds of Prey and Oracle Stan
I first started reading Birds of Prey in middle school. Previously I had a vague notion of who Huntress was. I had previously saw her triumphantly rescue Batman in Batman #609 during the Hush storyline. Batman: the Animated Series, Adam West’s Batman series, and the live-action Batman films helped me be familiar with Batgirl. When I got into the comics and saw her as Oracle, I didn’t know how powerful or impactful she’d become. I only knew she could no longer be Batgirl.
Birds of Prey really showcased how incredibly strong and effective Barbara was as Oracle. The way she owned the internet and was able to really decide the difference between victory and failure, exposure or stealth, and life or death not just for the Birds, but for the Batman Family, the Justice League and various superhero individuals and teams, was simply astounding. Mission control was always a feature of spy-type narratives. But Barbara Gordon as Oracle set the standard, especially in comic-related media and its various adaptations.
The most important thing anyone should know is that the Birds of Prey was an organization that Barbara started and the Birds were her operatives. No Barbara on the team or founding it (my main issue with the Birds of Prey DCEU film) is like having the X-Men without Charles Xavier.
A Black Canary aka Dinah Laurel Lance Stan
Dinah Laurel Lance, the second Black Canary, is the most integral member of the team second only to it’s founder. Prior to reading Birds of Prey, I had no idea who the Black Canary was. But I quickly grew to love her character. She was tough, badass, funny as hell and spunky. She looked like someone who you would expect to sit there and look hot. But then she’d unleash the biggest can of whoop-ass you never expected she would be capable upon first glance.
Plus her power, the incredible Canary Cry. The thing that always fascinated me about Dinah and her one true superpower was that she rarely used it. It was always a last resort. Here was a woman who could end many battles before they could begin. But instead she always opted to use it only when necessary. It was really different, and very cool.
I loved seeing Dinah and Helena team up and kick ass. Especially iconic women such as Catwoman and Vixen joined in. It was these comics where I learned more about Lady Shiva, who I adored. I knew Shiva best as the mother of another Batgirl I loved, Cassandra Cain (another big reason I didn’t care for the movie, but I’ll try not to rant about that, this time). My own personal hero is my mother, who raised my sister and I by herself. I loved seeing her be badass and happy and hated the moments I saw her suffer at the hands of men. Thus, I love seeing powerful women kick ass, ever since I was a small child.
A Fortunate Happenstance
It was while watching the incredibly intelligent, witty, knowledgeable and hilarious Sasha Wood on her YouTube channel Casually Comics that I came across an interview Sasha was giving Alexandra Monir on her recently-released, at the time of that recording (inside joke for Casually Comics subscribers), novel revolving around the Black Canary character. It was, at the time, the latest of the young adult DC Icons novel series, a series in which authors tell prose stories about familiar DC characters in new, original stories, often with some new as well as original supporting characters. Previously there had been DC Icons novels based on Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman and Catwoman. But now there was finally the Black Canary, a character whom many DC and comics fans know or know of, but many general audiences still don’t know quite as well as the previously mentioned characters.
Monir’s very clear love for Dinah’s character and her knowledge of the different versions of the character were endearing. She impressed me with how much she clearly knew. I also appreciated learning that she had done her research on Dinah and the story elements, as I too love to research comic lore. During her interview, I could really see her excitement written all over her face and it was clear she was a true fan of the character, talking with Sasha about Sasha’s video breaking down the very complicated and wild story of the character and the specific version Monir was using for her story, Dinah Laurel Lance. It’s always heartwarming to see characters and properties of things you loved handled by people who love them as much as you do.
A Personal Connection to Women’s Voices
There is a beautiful poetry in knowing that the Black Canary’s power literally comes from her voice. As Monir points out in the interview, women have been historically silenced. Monir’s own personal background provided the perfect frame of reference to craft her brilliant story. Monir is a first-generation Iranian-American whose family had to escape the country as a result of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Prior to the revolution, women had rights and their share of power. Monir’s grandmother, Monir Vakili, had previously been a celebrated, adored, and foremost opera singer in Iran who helped elevate women coming into the arts and opened the first co-ed boarding school where students of all genders could learn classical singing like she had. Vakili made sure the school affordable so that it was not limited to the aristocratic elite families.
After the revolution, women’s rights were stripped, and Vakili’s school and opera company were closed down and Monir’s family had had to escape to the U.S. Monir was named for her grandmother, given her first name as her middle name which she also uses as her pen name. Monir, like her grandmother, is also a singer and not only wrote the songs featured in the book, but also recorded “The Black Canary Sings” with herself doing the vocals. The book trailer features the chorus here, and the full song is available on SoundCloud here. Knowing these personal details of Monir’s life and family history as well as being aware about how, even here in the U.S., women’s rights are often challenged and always at risk, it makes the story all the more compelling.
The Premise of Black Canary: Breaking Silence
The story has been described by some fans as the Handmaid’s Tale meets the DC Universe, which is actually a pretty succinct and apt comparison. Without giving too much away, the story takes place in a dystopian future in which the Court of Owls have taken over Gotham City. They steadily rose higher and higher to power as Batman aged and until he eventually died of old age. Other heroes have either died or gone underground. The Court decided that women having more rights and power were the reason for the supposed decline in society and decided to release a toxin that robbed women and girls of their ability to sing, as a show of dominance and to keep women silent. In this world women don’t have the right to work (aside from Court-approved professions such as teaching or working at libraries), make music or make their own choices.
The story features the dystopian, patriarchal, and ever-looming threat of the Court of Owls watching Dinah’s every move. It also features the mystery of Dinah’s new love interest, Oliver Queen, and his possible connection to the Court. We also have Dinah learning more about her mother and her secret past, as well as her father, Detective Larry Lance’s desire to shield her from that past. Finally there is a bubbling of tensions as certain Gotham citizens get fed up with the way things have become and cry for change.
One Black Canary Stan’s Take On Breaking Silence
First off, the thing that made me want to buy the book immediately was the fact that Monir was clearly using the Dinah Laurel Lance version of the character and maintaining the backstory of her being the daughter of the original. Anyone who knows me knows that I despise how the New 52/Rebirth version of the character essentially made Dinah her own mother… again. Really see that Casually Comics video if you need context, Sasha breaks it all down brilliantly and hilariously. Monir is clearly a woman who not only knows the character well, but very obviously loves the character just like I do. I loved seeing all the little details of the character and her backstory in the book that only true fans would recognize. I loved seeing the clues of familiar characters and seeing whether or not they were who I thought they were. It was exciting.
I also felt that Monir’s personal story and history helped sell the stakes of the story as well as the discomfort felt by women and men alike in the story. Aside from some of the elite few, the majority of the characters are unhappy with the conditions of life and the silencing of women, and more than a few are prepared to do something about it. I enjoyed seeing not just Dinah and her circle of supporting characters take up arms to fight the corrupting force in Gotham, but also everyday citizens of all races and ages taking a stand during some very tensely and expertly written scenes. The pacing for the book was really good and I found the book difficult to put down, even during the more light-hearted moments between Dinah and her friends and Dinah with Oliver.
Relationships and Legacy
The relationship between Oliver and Dinah was handled here very well. It was extremely intriguing, even reimagined as a first love between two teenagers. The mystery surrounding Oliver and Dinah’s own history and secrets revealing themselves to her were very compelling. Their B-plot romance gave the story levity to not constantly bog down the story with doom and gloom. Yet Oliver was also integral to the A-plot and very much a key figure who meshed with the story well. I really liked Oliver here in general, which is more I can say for the knock-off Batman-wannabe from Arrow (I promise I’m not bitter). That version of the character was repugnant and it was horrible how he treated Laurel and most everyone else.
I also loved Dinah’s relationship with her father and Larry here in general. It kind of annoyed me because I try my best not to enjoy cop characters anymore. Somehow, Monir made me enjoy him anyway. Even posthumously, Dinah Drake’s involvement holds weight and invokes legacy. Thinking of it now, legacy is also an aspect of Monir herself. In pursuing music, embracing the arts and championing the rights of women, she represents her grandmother’s legacy.
Minor Questions and Critiques
These aren’t really critiques as like questions and observations, and again I’ll try not to spoil too much. But I wondered whether or not the silencing had affected transwomen. I was unsure of any transwomen being in the story or it being mentioned whether they would have been affected. However I like to think they would’ve been affected, had they been explored. The CW Supergirl series has many problems. But one thing they did well was reinforce a transwoman’s identity through her powers. In Dreamer’s family, one woman in each generation inherits precognitive dream powers. She, a transgender woman, received them, even over her cisgendered sister. I don’t think Monir had to have any established transgender characters or specify who would be affected or not. However it was a question that came up for me. If it actually was addressed, I surely missed it.
I knew why Batman wouldn’t work here, since he’d pull too much focus. But I lamented Dinah being so much younger if not to see Dinah beat him in a fight. Also due Dinah’s age, one of her newer friendships is also given a generational gap. Previously that was her best friend in the comics. However, the spirit of the friendship was there. I also liked the Mandy character a lot. I liked how both sets of best friends paralleled each other and personified through song. It was sad we never got a cameo or mention of Huntress in the story, even as a student. But in my personal head canon, I like to think she’ll join Dinah later. The last thing is pure personal preference, but I prefer the Canary Cry being unique to Dinah Laurel Lance.
Why You Should Read This Story
Do you enjoy well-crafted stories in general? How about Gotham-related tales and the superhero genre? If you like themes of new love, friendship, secrets, legacy, betrayal and resistance, this story is for you. There are still many who don’t know who the Black Canary is. This book might prove to be a very good gateway to understanding why she has her fans. Plus if you already love the character, you’ll enjoy seeing her front and center. dealing with a fresh new story. There are some familiar faces as well as some welcome newcomers.
And seeing as how this is the Black Canary, this book has action. It’s got fights, martial arts, as well as the creepy and eerie factor of the talons. The talons are the enforcers of the Court of Owls. Speaking of the Court, the organization, while familiar to some, are relatively new in comics history. They provide a very credible and compelling threat to the storyline. They are definitely a worthy threat for a powerful force for good.
This story has a lot of heart. You can feel it in the writing and the raw emotion conveyed throughout. Last but not least, this story is a message for the importance of uplifting the most vulnerable and for equality. It is also a story reminding us to use our voices. To speak up and speak out against things that are wrong. This is a story with strong themes of women-empowerment. But it’s not at the expense of making men the sole monsters or enemies. There are men who also want equality and want to fight the good fight here. Men who are not bothered by the fact that the hero of this story is a young woman.
Where to Find Your Copy and Learn More About the Author
Be sure to grab your copy of Black Canary: Breaking Silence by Alexandra Monir. It is available as a physical copy and also available digitally as well as an audiobook. Check out the book and her other books here. You can find her on Twitter @TimelessAlex and Instagram @alexandramonir.
Also be sure to subscribe to Sasha Wood’s amazing YouTube channel Casually Comics where you’re guaranteed to have a good time and perhaps learn more about comics.