Sunday, July 1, 2007

Looking To The Stars - Mike Grell Rainy Day Special!

In which I may lose what little Feminist street-cred I have and explain why Mike Grell's Green Arrow doesn't make Black Canary look nearly as bad as some people think it does.

I didn't really want to write another article about Green Arrow and Black Canary this soon.

But with my car having died earlier in the week, all my spare cash and then some going to car repairs leaving me unable to buy comics this week and my intentionally avoiding reading any comics news so I do not get spoiled on anything Green Lantern related... well, I didn't have much else to talk about apart from what I got in the mail.

See, there's a whole other can of worms I didn't touch in all the talk about an Ollie/Dinah union - and that is the worries that this upcoming Green Arrow/Black Canary book is going to become...

GREEN ARROW/black canary

Given the previews of the material thus far, I agree that this IS a large concern. Dinah's portayal over multiple books has been woefully inconsitent over the past few months. There's been little sign of the competent, independent and clever woman who headed up field operations for Oracle.

Instead, we had the woman once stated that she would never have children because she didn't want to risk raising orphans... abandoning her job as field commander for a covert heroes team to devote more time to being a mom/adopted big sister to Sin - a girl she rescued from the ignoble fate being trained as an assassin.

Now, I'm willing to forgive this simply because Dinah's always been shown to have strong maternal instincts, the situation with Sin couldn't be solved in any other way and she's in a much better place with a larger support group of friends these days. Persumably one of Sin's many aunts on the Birds of Prey would take over should something ever happen to Dinah.

But then we had her turn around and not only join a bigger and more prominent superhero team (The Justice League) but take a position of responsibility as leader of that team. Despite this apparent promotion, she hasn't actually been seen acting in the capacity of a leader and Superman and Batman actually seem to be running the show most of the time in the Justice League book and elsewhere.

But the piece de resistance came in Green Arrow, where Dinah and Ollie hook-up again in a scene which ignored the many issues between the two that needed to be talked-out in favor of a two-day off-panel shagfest. Dinah completely abandonds her responsibilities as a mother and no mention is made about what provisions might have been made for making sure that Sin's sitter is appraised that "Mom is working overtime". And what is worse, this same scene also portayed Dinah as an empty-headed bimbo who - if the dialogue can be believed - is more impressed by Ollie's taking a vow of celibacy rather than Ollie's desire to make himself into a man worthy of the woman Dinah has become.

And then there was the fight scene in Green Arrow #75 in which Dinah's powers were negated by a Deus Ex Machina, Dinah herself was rendered completely useless as a melee fighter and... well, I think this picture is worth a thousand words.

Yes, somehow Deathstroke gets his sword into Black Canary's mouth in the middle of a fight without cutting her face. And if the perspective here can be believed, she's got a good bit of it in there. The symbolism is inescapable and there is no way this could have been unintentional. Rather a bad foundation to start the new series on when there were rampant concerns about Dinah becoming the "girl hostage" even before this issue came out.

And yet, despite this clearly being a major insult to the character after years of outstanding portayal in JSA and Birds of Prey, that hasn't stopped me from hearing this phrase from people on both sides of the argument.

It's not as bad as Mike Grell's Green Arrow...

I disagree, but not for the reasons you might think. I do think that Longbow Hunters is, for the most part, a good story and that Grell's Green Arrow is a lost treasure that needs to be collected in TP format. I do agree that Longbow Hunters is a very bad Black Canary story, but not for the reasons that are often cited by Black Canary fans. And I think that Dinah's portayal in Grell's work is, with a little knowledge of the times, not nearly as bad as his critics claim.

1. Dinah Lance was raped in Longbow Hunters

This spectre keeps coming up despite numerous citations in the actual books and statements by Mike Grell. So let me state right now - THERE WAS NO RAPE IN LONGBOW HUNTERS.

How do we know? Well, assuming that the word of Mike Grell himself isn't enough for you (he talks about the backlash in detail in his Longbow Hunters commentary on his website.) or the fact that the Green Arrow series showed Ollie and Dinah going through therapy together and Dinah outright saying that she wasn't sexually assaulted, there is the evidence in Longbow Hunters itself - written before Grell could have made any attempts to back-pedal or cover-up any past-misdeeds.

In Book Two, before we get any inkling of just how badly Dinah has been tortured in the art, we overhear the two drug-dealing criminals discussing Dinah. The first thug - the man doing the actual torturing - seems more interested in the act of torture than the fact that he has an attractive young woman in a helpless position and thus a true Sadist. The other thug laments that what Thug #1 is doing is "a waste (of a) good-looking broad". This seems to suggest that while Thug #2 has contemplated having his way with a helpless Dinah, he has not done so.

Two pages later, we see Dinah.... bound up and stripped of everything save the blouse she was wearing when she went undercover to investigate the local drug dealers. She is bruised and bleeding from multiple wounds, still alive but in decidedly bad shape. Before Green Arrow appears and kills both men, Thug #1 asks Thug #2 if he wants Dinah "while she still has a face". Not only does this suggest that there had not been any actual rape before this point but the fact that it is said in front of Dinah also suggests a level of psychological torture along with the physical.

Consider how Dinah is kept near-naked but not completely naked. While she is vulnerable, she is still "decent". Studies have shown that it is much more traumatic for a person undergoing torture to be allowed some clothing rather than to be completely stripped - because you fear what little you have left to lose and cannot console yourself with the thought that "Well, at least it can't get worse." Since they were torturing Dinah for information, it seems likely than they would use every advantage they could to get Dinah to crack and would not be above suggesting that rape was possible.

It is this possibility that leads Green Arrow to take the actions that he does. He does not hear the dialogue from outside the warehouse. He only sees, through a window, that the woman he loves is in danger - bloody, beaten and nearly naked. It is not impossible to believe that Ollie might leap to the conclusion that many readers did and think, based on the image of a bound, bloody and near-naked woman, that there had been a rape. And it is this possiblity, as much as what has been done to his Lady Fair, that sparks the chilvaric Oliver Queen to intentionally take a life for the first time.

Still, further evidence that there was no rape comes in Book 3 of the series, where Ollie sits in the hospital and watches over Dinah, as a nurse describes her injuries. No mention is made of signs of sexual assault or rape and given that Mike Grell has never been one to skimp on the gory details as needed, I think we can be sure that if he had meant for Dinah to be raped, he would have said so outright.

2. Dinah Lance was beaten far too easily in Longbow Hunters

Another major argument is the idea that Dinah Lance - a skilled martial artist and actual superhero with a superpower - could be overpowered and captured by a group of commmon drug-dealing criminals is unrealistic.

Were it the Dinah of today, I would agree whole-heartedly. But what many Black Canary fans forget is that at the time of Longbow Hunters, Dinah was not nearly as adept a martial artist as she is today and she had a good deal less control over her power. While she is now a master of many disciplines and easily one of the Top Ten Overall Fighters in the world, she would have been sorely pressed to make the Top Twenty Judo Masters back then. And while she can easily break a pool-ball without causing any other disruption or breaking a sweat today, she was - depending on the writer - often barely able to use her Canary Cry without bracing herself then and with little to no accuracy. So for the time, it was not nearly as unlikely that Dinah could be overpowered by a sizeable gang.

The problem - and indeed the biggest problem I have with Longbow Hunters as a story, is that we have no way of knowing for sure. The circumstances under which Dinah was captured are not depicted anywhere. The last we see of Dinah before the reveal of her torture is from Ollie's perspective, as he checks up on her going undercover. She is last seen walking into a bar with one of the local drug-dealers.

For all we know, there could have been a gang of 200 ninjas waiting for Dinah inside the bar or she may have just been slipped a drugged-drink after asking too many questions. We don't know if Dinah went down fighting or if there was even a fight. We don't know if she was kept drugged and that kept her from being able to focus and use her Canary Cry or if the thugs just got lucky and slit her throat to the degree that cost Dinah her powers before she had a chance to fight back.

This uncertainty is the biggest weakness Longbow Hunters has as a Black Canary story and it cannot be denied that the story did dimminsh Dinah somewhat as a character. Grell has admitted that his whole purpose in having these things happen to Dinah was to force a development in Ollie's character. And while I enjoy the story for how it did develop Ollie and force him to grow up in a number of ways, it cannot be denied that it did Dinah a major disservice.

Thankfully, I do believe that Grell would realize this mistake and attempt to correct this in his regular Green Arrow series. But opinions do differ...

3. Dinah was little more than a token hostage in Grell's Green Arrow.

There are times when being a columnist for a comic book magazine is a real pleasure. And one of those times is when you're given an excuse to crack open the ol' longbox to reread some good illustrated literature for the purposes of your work. This is exactly what I did with my personal collection of Green Arrow in order to answer this claim, one way or another.

So what's the verdict? Apart from Longbow Hunters, there is only one occassion where Dinah winds up in a bad situation and Oliver comes to the rescue. This occurs in Green Arrow #50 where Dinah was among a number of people taken hostage by Muslim Terrorists at the Space Needle while Oliver was overseas.

However, while the news of Dinah's being held hostage is enough to get Ollie to drop everything to come to her rescue, Dinah is far from a helpless damsel in this issue and in fact works with a cop on the scene to try and perform a rescue from the inside. In fact, Ollie's attempts to save the day only wind up further endangering the hostages and force Dinah into action while she was pleading caution, given that the terrorists had planted explosives and were holding the triggers, so Dinah is actually shown to be the more competent of the two in this situation.

But don't take my word for it: I asked Mike Grell himself in e-mail and he had this to say about Dinah's apparent life as Ollie's "Girl Hostage".

Under my watch, Dinah only needed rescuing in "The Longbow Hunters" and that was a neccesary dramatic plot in order to bring about the changes I wanted to make in Ollie. If you recall, she returned the favor more than once."

That she did; both Green Arrow #32, when she saved Ollie from being tortured at the hands of a local gang and in The Black Arrow Saga in which Dinah helped to prove Ollie not guilty of High Treason.

4. Dinah was largely absent from Grell's Green Arrow, except as a token girlfriend.

This claim gets bandied about a lot and there is some justice to it. Dinah is largely absent from the book, particularly in the first few years of the series. There are, however, a number of reasons for this when one considers the time-period.

First, quite simply, the book was titled "Green Arrow". Not "Green Arrow and Black Canary". So it would stand to follow logically that while Black Canary would be a part of the book, the focus of the stories would not be upon her.

Also at this time, in addition to living in Seattle with Oliver Queen, Dinah Lance was also a member of The Justice League. Many fans today weren't collecting back in those days but back then, in the days after DC Comics' first crisis, the editorial teams were very concerned about continuity and making sure that all their ducks were lined up in a row. As such, it seems likely that Mike Grell - who was given a good deal of freedom to put Ollie in his own little corner of the DC Universe - be asked to keep things open so that Dinah would be free to go off and be with the JLA as needed.

Finally, Ollie and Dinah were always depicted as having independent lives as heroes rather than being an official dynamic duo that could only worth together. Even in Longbow Hunters, the suggestion is that while Ollie and Dinah are living together, they are investigating their own cases seperately and helping one another only when asked - something that the independent Dinah would be sure to insist upon given Ollie's attempts to protect her throughout the Denny O'Neil days.

Thankfully, it's easy to confirm or deny your suspicions when you have Mike Grell's contact information. Here's what Mr. Grell had to say on the subject of Dinah's absence from the title.

Dinah was being actively featured in other titles and I didn't want to step on the toes of other writers or get involved in the continuity buffs' inevitable argument over whether superpowers actually existed in Ollie's new "real" world.

That being said, the title was, indeed, "Green Arrow", which meant that the stories focused more on Ollie. That being said, I felt that Ollie's relationship with Dinah was far more important thant their teamups in crimefighting. Everything I did was to focus on the relationship. Dinah was anything but a sidekick - she always proved every bit as capable as Ollie when it came to ass-kicking and, in general, she was always the one with a more stable attitude."

It is ironic, to me at least, that so many people see Dinah's absence from Green Arrow's adventures as a sexist slight when the intent was that Dinah was off having her own adventures - that she didn't need a man to watch her back while she was off saving the world.

5. Grell destroyed Dinah's character by taking away her powers/personality/costume.

I've often heard it said that the powers do not make the character and I am a deep believer in that idea. As such, I do not believe that Grell did anything to hurt Dinah's character by taking away her superpowers, given that she was still the same fiercely stubborn woman who was willing to kick some ass in the name of justice.

Grell also never really took away Dinah's costume. While she did spend most of her appearances as a hero in Green Arrow out of costume, there were logical reasons for this. For one thing, in most of these appaearances, Dinah was working undercover - naturally she wouldn't be wearing her costume then. In another of these appearances - the story where she saves Oliver from a slow death by torture, killing the men who were hurting him in the process - she is out of costume because obviously she wouldn't want her heroic identity attached to a killing, even if it was justified.

And Dinah actually did appear, in the infamous wig and fishnets, in a span of adventures going from Issues #59-62.

In conclusion, while Dinah Lance was not a full-partner character in Mike Grell's Green Arrow she was hardly the defensless doormat that some critics would portray her as. This misconception came about, I think, because Grell's most famous and most well-circulated story is also the one in which Dinah fares the worst - Longbow Hunters.

When one looks at the whole of Grell's work with both characters, one sees a relationship in trouble because of two people who love each other enough to kill and enough to die, but not enough to truly trust the other completely. It is a lack of communication on the parts of both parties - Ollie regarding what he's doing as he wanders the globe looking for meaning in his life and Dinah regarding her worries about where the relationship is going and whether or not they can make things work - that leads to its' eventual destruction. Sadly, until the issues presented in the Grell run are confronted and can be dealt with in a mature fashion by a writer who can write relationships outside of marathon sex-sessions, I fear that we will never see an Ollie/Dinah relationship worth of the name.


  1. Honestly my only real problem with Grell, is that sometimes the dialogue makes me want to go and cut him. *twitch*

  2. I liked your post....
    sadly it doesn't help resolve my fears that she'll be written well going forward. I find that especially sad because I just started reading comics again, and I liked her portrayal in the JLA "Tornado's Path" series and in the few issues of Birds of Prey I read. How she'll portrayed going forward in JLA is still somewhat open ended, since the Lighting Saga is the first storyline since she became leader. And since it's a story involving JLA, JSA, and the LSH, there's not much room for individual character study or portrayal.
    Regarding the recent Green Arrow issue: The sword in the mouth is ridiculous. If the goal was to render her harmless in a melee, it would be just as effective (and a lot more realistic) if the point of the sword was being held against her throat. Leaving aside the innuendo, how do you get a sword in someone's mouth in a fight without chopping their head open??
    As for "where Dinah and Ollie hook-up again in a scene which ignored the many issues between the two that needed to be talked-out in favor of a two-day off-panel shagfest." That doesn't bother me as much - I can picture people with a history submitting to the 'heat of the moment' instead of dealing with issues (or as a way of postpoining dealing with the issues). Ok ,maybe 2 days is a bit overboard. Now if they become a romantic couple again without EVER discussing/dealing with those issues, then that's another thing all together. We'll have to see how that plays out. And I will agree with the comment that being impressed by a vow of celibacy is pretty stupid, since it implies that sex is all that there is in the relationship. I can't comment either way on abandoning her responsibility as a mother, since I'm not really familiar with Sin (I've only read a few issues of Birds of Prey. I liked what I read, but I'm not that familiar with it).

  3. The jokes get on my nerves sometimes too. I totally forgot about and groaned at the bit where everyone is reminising over their favorite musician as a Teen and Ollie mutters "Glenn Miller" after Dinah says Jimi Hendrix.
    Funny thing though - I found a page in GA #51 I have to scan as a rebuttal to that two-day shagfest. :)

  4. Sorry I didn't resolve your fears. But that wasn't really my goal with this piece.
    I was trying to rebut all the people who are trying to either appease those worried about the direction of Dinah's character by saying "Well, it was worse back then." or complaining about how the current direction is just "more of the same".
    I'm worried too. If I ever manage to find a way to calm my own worries, I'll be sure to let you know. As it is, the only comfort I have is that every other title DC tried to reboot with a new #1 changed creative teams after a year.

  5. I know that your piece didn't really wasn't about that. I just wanted to get that off my chest.

  6. I understand. But I think a letter to DC Comics about your concerns would be a bit more effective than venting on my blog.
    Dan Didio, Executive Editor
    DC Comics
    1700 Broadway
    New York, NY 10019
    Just a thought.

  7. One of the things I appreciate about you, which happens to be something for which I also have a great deal of empathy for you, is that you've been able to stomach enough of Winick's Green Arrow in order to actually write something like this . . .
    And you still make more damned sense than anything Winick's written in the past several years.
    I recently wrote Another Open Letter to DC for my column over at Paperback Reader, and I mentioned that it just doesn't seem like DC is following any sort of gameplan right now, and what's happening w/ Black Canary is most indicative of this, I think (I didn't mention Black Canary in my column, as I feel there were plenty of other examples that I could use to back up my points). The character's been written inconsistently at best lately, and even Simone commented on this in a recent issue of BoP through a bit of Oracle-spoken dialogue.
    Black Canary is a strong character, not because I say so, or some other fan says so, but because she's been written as such . . . unless the writer used to be on a reality show on MTV.

  8. A-freaking-men.
    I find myself in agreement with a great deal of the feminist discourse concerning superhero comics (The MJ Statue was tacky, the JLA #10 cover was awful, the Heroes for Hire #13 cover was definitely hentai, etc.) -- but I just can't wrap my head around the wholesale condemnation of Mike Grell's Green Arrow.
    Yeah, she was captured and tortured in Longbow Hunters -- but the folks who insist, in the face of definitive proof to the contrary, that she was raped traipse right past 'thoughtful criticism' and right into 'fannish entitlement'.
    I think Black Canary is awesome. I think she absolutely rocks. But the notion that she can't ever be defeated by normal gangsters/thugs is just silly. The idea of street-level heroes like BC, Batman, Daredevil, and even Spider-Man is that garden variety crooks do pose an actual threat to them. To suggest otherwise detracts from Dinah's heroism. If normal crooks pose no danger to her whatsoever, than taking them on isn't really that brave or noble at all.
    Furthermore, most folks that diss Grell's Dinah, fail to take into account the larger context of what Grell was trying to do with the GA book during his tenure. Yeah, BC lost her Canary Cry -- but that was part and parcel of Grell's decision to move all superpowers off-stage. In his run, Ollie didn't use trick arrows, or fight supervillains. When measured against the caliber of opposition Ollie and Dinah faced during that period, Black Canary was plenty competent.
    In fact, the rescue you cite (which took place in GA #32 not #33, IIRC) was practically a mirror image of Ollie's rescue of her in Longbow Hunters -- but, IMHO, she kicked even more ass than he did.
    On the whole, Mike Grell's with female characters is actually a positive one, IMHO. Besides doing right by Dinah in Green Arrow, his Jon Sable: Freelance featured a bunch of cool female characters: Myke Blackmon, Eden Kendall, and Maggie the Cat were all well written, well developed characters who were very important to the ongoing narrative of that book too.
    I'm not the biggest Judd Winick fan, so anybody dreading the upcoming GA/BC book on the basis of his involvement is more than welcome to be skeptical, AFAIC*.
    But jeez, folks -- get off of poor Mike Grell, already.
    *To be clear, I do like the idea of a GA/BC book -- I just wish somebody like Greg Rucka or Gail Simone was writing it.

  9. Also troubling is the subtext behind Ollie's vow. He "was waiting for [her]" which means that he expected her to eventually come back to him. His efforts at self-improvement were contingent upon his assumption that she wasn't over him, which is more than a little creepy to me. I just don't like how Winick contrives to put them together, which frusterates me because I like the idea.
    I hadn't even considered that angle. I thought Ollie was perfectly content to spend out the rest of his life waiting for Dinah because he finally realized that she was the one woman for him and that there was no point him trying to fill the void with another relationship - not because he thought "she'll come crawling back".
    But then again, that would be Kevin Smith's Green Arrow - the guy who walked out of Paradise to do the right thing. I hope far too much...
    And yet, the torture was so violent that it rendered Dinah infertile. Imagining the biological mechanics of such a physical trauma is what calls up the idea that she was raped, more than any quibble over art. I think that's a point that gets glossed over far too often.
    It is something that gets brought up as a support for the idea that Dinah was raped and I wish I had addressed this in the article now. Quite honestly, I thought all the evidence I gave was enough to refute it.
    Ah well... one more point is not much.
    They never actually said that the incident in Longbow Hunters is specifically what caused Dinah's infertility. The closest they came during the Grell Run was in GA #34, where Dinah's Ob-Gyn says Dinah's infertility was caused by "an injury a couple of years ago".
    Given the ammount of abuse Dinah has taken and that repeated blows to the lower torso CAN cause damage to the reproductive organs over time.... I dare say it's possible that Dinah could have been hurt in some other way.
    Still, given the kind of assaults that usually result in that kind of injury... it is easy to see how people assumed one thing here just like they assume Dinah was raped merely because she was bound and near naked.

  10. Mea Culpa. I typoed and afterward could have sworn blind that it was #33 - not #32 in which Dinah rescues Ollie.
    It's corrected in the main article now, thank you.
    And yes... Gail would be my first choice for a BC/GA or GA/BC book. While I'm no fan of Rucka, I'd welcome him over Winick.

  11. Black Canary is a strong character, not because I say so, or some other fan says so, but because she's been written as such
    Amen to that!
    And that is what gives me hope. Our characters are stronger than we think. And no ammount of bad writing or editorial grandstanding can truly harm them forever.
    Thanks for the kind words.

  12. And that is what gives me hope. Our characters are stronger than we think.
    I had to reread that a couple of times because, even though this line of thought was originally about Black Canary, I just read the Sinestro Corps Special and I'm pretty devastated over what's become of Kyle Rayner.
    I'm having a hard time trusting DC at this point.

  13. This is a good essay. Grell sounds pretty cool. Has his run ever been collected in trade?
    Anyway, even considering I only saw some of it, I never thought the Grell stuff was worse than Winick and Kriesberg. Though I don't think Dinah actually became that compelling in my eyes until Chuck and mostly Gail got hold of her, so.

  14. This is a good essay. Grell sounds pretty cool. Has his run ever been collected in trade?
    Just Longbow Hunters. And I think the issue where Dinah dumped him and the infamous "Marrianne kiss" happened are in the Green Arrow/Black Canary trade-paperback that collects all the various Dinah/Ollie romance issues from the Silver Age onward.
    Anyway, even considering I only saw some of it, I never thought the Grell stuff was worse than Winick and Kriesberg. Though I don't think Dinah actually became that compelling in my eyes until Chuck and mostly Gail got hold of her, so.
    Well, at least Grell has the decency to admit that he didn't handle Dinah well during her action scenes and that it was more out of design than neglect because of Dinah being in JLA at the time.
    I wrote a Green Arrow episode guide for the original GA series that gives summaries of all the stories at years ago. If I were going to pick out the best Dinah stories... GA #31-34, #50, #59-60 & #69-70