Black Canary may be a supporting character on Arrow, but she is a DC Comics character in her own right. When comes to the three versions of the character we’ve seen on The CW series, the current Black Canary is the closest to the hero of the comics, which makes Dinah the one fans deserve.
While fans still bemoan the death of Laurel Lance, a byproduct of her exit has been Arrow allowing Dinah to be bold and badass in a way that the character Black Canary deserves.
The Black Canary character was created in 1947 and has had a long comic book history. There have been two versions: Dinah Drake and Dinah Laurel Lance, typically written as mother and daughter respectively. She was introduced as a supporting character in a Flash comic and went on to work with Batman, join many of DC’s well-known teams, including The Justice Society of America, and of course appear in many issues with The Green Arrow. While Black Canary is a character with strong ties to Green Arrow, both as a hero and romantically, she is and always has been a hero outside of that relationship.
Several versions of the character have appeared in other popular media and kept that same energy. On animated series Justice League Unlimited, Black Canary was a member of the Justice League who also have a strong partnership with the Huntress. Her relationship with the Green Arrow was a part of her character’s story, but it was not a hindrance to the character’s development. The character appears on Young Justice as the member of the Justice League who also serves as the combat trainer for the team of young heroes. Live action versions of the character have also on Birds of Prey and Smallville as a hero with autonomy.
So, what happened on Arrow? Since the series began there has been three versions of the character and with the current version, Dinah Drake, they finally got it right.
While Sara Lance made a splashy debut as The Canary in Season 2, her story always felt like a part of Laurel’s journey to Black Canary. We meet Laurel in the series premiere and the expectation is she will eventually become The Black Canary. Both versions had the same issue, which was being held back by the character of Oliver Queen. Sara had emotional scars from Lian Yu and training with the League of Assassins while Laurel did not have the combat training necessary, but it was the show requiring both women to get Oliver’s approval that hurt the characters. A prime example was his disapproval after she helped saved the city when everyone thought he was dead. This particular grating trait of Oliver’s minimized two great Canaries. Arrow couldn’t figure out how to make him an effective lead without having him dictate things about the lives of the other characters. That dynamic is palatable with his partner/technical support and love interest Felicity, protégé Roy or younger sister Thea, but it shouldn’t with any Black Canary.
The problem was only made worse when Sara left the series and handed the mantle over to Laurel. Oliver could never diminish Sara’s combat ability, but the same could not be said for Laurel. Viewers watched Katie Cassidy as she portrayed Laurel learning how to be a hero the hard way through an arc working through addiction and struggling to find a trainer. She earned it, but Oliver felt protective over his old friend and ex-girlfriend in a way that was nice for Laurel, and some viewers, but not The Black Canary. Their past relationship coupled with Oliver’s leadership style created a situation where The Black Canary was stopped short of becoming her own hero the comic fans deserve.
Then the show changed. Arrow killed off Katie Cassidy’s Black Canary just when she was coming into her own, as much as Arrow would allow, which was a move that shocked fans. Even enraged quite a few. Laurel’s treatment in spite of Katie Cassidy’s talent and skill is a prime reason her return to the series as Black Siren was both exciting and necessary. Soon after the death of Laurel the show also expanded Oliver’s team and began mining the traits of its lead. Oliver trusted more and became more teacher and less dictator. These ingredients came together to create the perfect situation for a new Black Canary.
Enter Dinah Drake.
A former undercover cop who was out for revenge when Oliver met her, Dinah had some serious trust issues when she joined Team Arrow. The second half of the fifth season detailed her introduction to life as a vigilante and learning to trust her new allies.
One of the brilliant aspects of the current season is how its opened up the storytelling to include the show’s entire ensemble. Oliver has his son to care of, so John spends some time fighting crime as The Green Arrow. The show has, unlike in past seasons, feels less rigid and is showcasing more of its cast.
The storytelling change has truly benefited Dinah. Halfway through the season Oliver was told someone was talking to the FBI about him being The Green Arrow. This betrayal caused the original Team Arrow to spy on their new teammates. While it was discovered Dinah was not the snitch, she decided she couldn’t work with a team she didn’t trust. The move to break away put her on equal footing with Oliver in a way that no one on Team Arrow has before. Rene was at fault, Curtis slightly cowered while standing up to his friends, but Dinah had no qualms about walking away.
Solidifying her hero status was when the three former Team Arrow members decided to form their own team. Black Canary doesn’t need to be better, stronger or in charge of The Green Arrow, but she should be able to work independently of him. Since the split Dinah has been consumed by her thirst for vengeance and she is determined to kill Black Siren. She may not be doing the right thing at the moment, but we’re at a point where she is making her on decisions independent of Oliver. The goal for any hero is autonomy and The Black Canary finally has that on Arrow finally.
It’s been a long road for the mantle of Black Canary on Arrow, but this season it has done right by the longtime character. And Katie Cassidy too, which is an added bonus. Thankfully the third time was a charm and Dinah Drake is doing Black Canary proud.
Arrow airs Thursdays at 9p.m. Eastern on The CW.