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Why Black Canary has powers in Birds of Prey

Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s character has a wild comic history

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JURNEE SMOLLETT-BELL stands center stage in a red spotlight as Black Canary in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN). Photo: Claudette Barius/Warner Bros.

With Birds of Prey screaming into theaters, we’re shining a spotlight on the DC Comics movie’s cast of characters — from A to Zsasz. There are some long histories behind some of the superheroes and villains, but here’s everything you need to know about Black Canary:

What is Black Canary’s origin story in the comics?

Dinah is one of the DC Universe’s greatest martial artists. She inherited her name and costume from her mother, the first Black Canary, and trained for years under various other top fighters. She fights bad guys to keep her mother’s legacy going, and also because it needs doing.

She’s also been in an off-again-on-again OTP with Green Arrow for decades, which is why you might recognize her from the CW series Arrow. She’s a founding member of the comic book version of the Birds of Prey, and has been a member of the Justice League.

Who created Black Canary?

Dinah Lance has a long history at DC Comics, dating all the way back to her debut in 1947’s Flash Comics #86, by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino. It’s surprisingly complicated one that involves parallel universes and body swapping — not what you’d expect from a character so grounded in reality. Fortunately, thanks to DC Comics regular continuity reboots, you don’t actually need to know about any of that.

Birds of Prey’s Black Canary owes a lot to Brendan Fletcher, Annie Wu, and Pia Guerra’s Black Canary series, in which Dinah went on the run from her problems as the frontwoman of a punk band.

What are her powers or abilities?

Dinah is a world-class martial artist with one signature superpower: the Canary Cry. An ability she inherited from her mother, she can unleash a sonic scream powerful enough to shatter metal and stone. As it takes a lot of energy and can be dangerous to those around her, she prefers to use it as a last resort (D&D players, think of it as an Encounter Power).

Who plays Black Canary in the movie?

Friday Night Lights and True Blood vet Jurnee Smollett-Bell steps into the role of Black Canary, thanks to a production that wasn’t afraid to look outside of Dinah’s traditional depiction as a white woman. (On the other hand, there’s a long, weird history of black superheroes having “black” in their names; so your mileage may vary.)

Dinah is clearly at the beginning of her story in Birds of Prey. Though she’s still an expert fighter with a mom who used to be a superhero, she isn’t one herself. Yet...

Black Canary’s origin story sounds familiar

Black Canary’s origin was a big inspiration for the character of Silk Spectre in Watchmen, who is also a second generation character who inherited a skimpy costume from her mom.

What Black Canary comics should I read?

Black Canary #9-11 (1992)

After decades playing Green Arrow’s devoted girlfriend, Dinah finally had a chance to cut loose in the 1990s with this three-part storyline teaming her with Huntress for the first time, including a low-key butch makeover that — let’s face it — really should’ve stuck around.

Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey #1 (1996)

With Green Arrow (temporarily) dead, the road was clear for Dinah to finally become the action movie hero she was destined to be, courtesy of the very first Birds of Prey story ever.

Black Canary Vol. 1 and 2 (2015-2016)

In 2015, Dinah got chance to shine with a career change — finally, she adopted the musical career she deserved after years of being *checks notes* a florist — and an abstract plot involving her missing mother, ninja cults and a backing band who is always ready to rumble. This makeover resulted in the most modern and most essential Canary comic to date.