Saturday, June 7, 2014

An Arrow/Black Canary/Laurel rant

I am hoping at some point to do a rewatch of the first two Arrow seasons and write something resembling thoughtful analysis on them, but I keep making the mistake of reading fandom forums and seeing people say stuff that I let get to me, even though I know it's the Internet, where everyone else is always wrong, and I should just leave the wrongness be. ;) I also really want to react less to fandom anyway, but well, good luck with that, me. Because here I am going to have a rant, that is based on what I see as stupid shit being said by the Arrow fandom, on stuff revolving around Laurel Lance and the comics character Black Canary.

So: Laurel Lance is a contentious character. She's contentious because she is a very different, alternate universe take on Dinah Laurel Lance, who is the crimefighting Black Canary II from Earth 2 and Earth 0* in the DC Multiverse (if I've even got that right). (Also the DCAU, I think.) She's also contentious because she's been inconsistently written, as the writers can't figure out if she's a 1) love interest, 2) a damsel in distress, 3) a smart associate who aids the hero with her areas of expertise, or 4) just kind of the series broken bird/woobie. (HINT TO THE WRITERS: IT SHOULD BE #3.)

(And yes, some people just don't like the actress, but for the purposes of this essay, that is neither here nor there.)

Clarifying note: for the purposes of this rant, when I say "Laurel" I mean Dinah Laurel Lance from Arrow, and when I say "DLL" I mean Dinah Laurel Lance from the Earth 0 DCU Comic Books.

A lot of the fighting over Laurel and who she should be or what she should do is based on arguments over what they THINK DLL is about.

First of all, given Arrow very firmly twists EVERY comic book reference it uses on its head, assuming Laurel should be any one thing "because comics" is ridiculous.** If you're not furious that Merlyn's first name is Malcolm instead of Arthur, if you're not furious that we have Thea Dearden Queen instead of Mia Dearden (and who background wise, by which I mean rich brat, is actually more a sneakily worked in Kate Bishop), if you're not furious that Moira Queen is actually a character who just didn't start the story as a dead background note (but instead died later), then you don't get to be furious about how Laurel is different from DLL.

But even that, there's a lot of false or at least heavily distorted assumptions about who DLL is and why Laurel should or shouldn't be that way. These are the ones that bug me the most:

1. "DLL is the ONLY Black Canary and ONLY DLL can be the Black Canary!"
Many superhero titles are passed around to other generations and successors, and Black Canary is one of them. The Black Canary title started with Dinah Drake, later Dinah Drake Lance. DLL is her daughter, who took on her mother's mantle.

There are also other "Canaries" in the comics continuity: White Canary, a member of the Leage of Assassins, and Jade Canary, a handle Lady Shiva took on when swapping places with DLL during a Birds of Prey storyline. Both of these women are incredibly, capably trained assassins (DLL, while a very capable fighter, is not an assassin). Just something to think about if you're worrying about where a certain Arrow character who is called the Canary (with no color attached) might actually fit in in terms of comic references.

DLL has also sometimes been identified by other names; in the alternate future storyline "Kingdom Come" she wears all white and uses a bow and arrow like Ollie and is unofficially referred to as White Arrow (she is only called by her real name in the comic). Lady Shiva calls DLL Paper Monkey (Lady Shiva's a little weird).

If you look at other continuities, we've got the Birds of Prey TV show, where the Black Canary was a woman named Carol Lance (her daughter, Dinah Redmond, was a lead character on the show, but had an entirely different, Jean Grey-like skillset).

So, DLL is not the only Black Canary, and a woman named Dinah Laurel Lance is not "destined" to become Black Canary just because of her name, and could have other names. That's a word out to both people who insist Laurel MUST become Black Canary (no she doesn't), and to the pearl-clutching haters who fear the very world will crumble to pieces if she does become Black Canary--because she doesn't have to be the only kickbutt girl with a Canary-related title. Black Canary is not Highlander. There does not have to be only one. 

2. "But Black Canary is DESTINED to be Oliver Queen's ONE TRUE LOVE!!! She was DESIGNED to be his LOVE INTEREST!!!!"

Black Canary and Green Arrow existed in the comics as separate, independent entities for a long time before they became romantic interests. Black Canary was NOT "designed for" Green Arrow, nor anyone else. Especially as the original Black Canary from 1947 was Dinah Drake, whose love interest was Larry Lance (the conceptual forbear of Quentin Larry Lance on Arrow). It's also worth noting that in the current New 52 Continuity, DLL doesn't exist, and Black Canary Dinah Drake Lance who is married (? I can't keep track) to Kurt Lance, and she barely knows Oliver Queen. And in the New52, since Dinah Drake Lance and Oliver Queen are contemporaries, if she and Kurt ever have a child Dinah Laurel, she will be much too young for Oliver. Like, seriously, ew. 

DLL and Comics Ollie's on-and-off again romance began when they both joined the Justice League. They fought for a long time before they dated. They went through several periods of being together and apart; Ollie cheated on her and broke her heart several times. They did, eventually, get married for awhile. Oliver died temporarily, as one does for awhile, and when he returned, he revealed he had murdered a villain and wanted to be left alone. Dinah separates from Ollie and returns to single life. The Earth Zero/Post Crisis Universe's story ends with DLL and Oliver Queen being broken up. 

Let me repeat that:  The Earth Zero/Post Crisis Universe's story ends with DLL and Oliver Queen being broken up. 

 So if you want insist that what is true in the comics MUST be true on Arrow, then Ollie and Laurel's destiny is to ultimately remain apart.

Someone once argued to me the "destiny" comes from the Kingdom Come universe, an Elseworlds/possible future of Earth Zero--but note in Kingdom Come, where Oliver and DLL are married, they get brutally killed together. So I'd really rather not count on that as being "destiny."

I also want to emphasize that DLL is really her own character. She does not "belong" to Oliver or the Arrow family per se. She HAS often been involved with the Arrow family--and has also been very close to Mia, Roy Harper, and Connor Hawke, being a stand-in mother/big sister to all of them. She has often worked as a partner to Ollie. But she began her life as a solo heroine and then member of the Justice League (which in some variants on continuity, she helped found). And she was a longtime member of the Birds of Prey--whose monthly and title ran for years and years longer than, say, Green Arrow/Black Canary, and in which members of the Arrow family rarely appeared only as guest stars. Arrow didn't have to necessarily include Laurel, and if you did a show called "Black Canary," the creators shouldn't have to feel beholden to including Oliver Queen. They are two very complete characters on their own, who also happen to share large chunks of history together.

Personally, I think the less the Arrow writers focus on a romance between Ollie and Laurel and the more they just build her as a friend and associate, the better the writing for the show in general and the character in particular should be. Ollie needs to hang up the chick habit, go celibate for awhile, then find someone after he gets over some of his other trauma (he uses sex like Laurel uses prescription painkillers to escape--and it would be cool if she pointed that out to him). Maybe McKenna Hall can show up with a bionic leg. She was a nice girl and didn't put up with his shit.

3) "Laurel is NOTHING like DLL!"

When people say this, they mean Laurel isn't very good at martial arts. Because apparently "knows martial arts" is a personality trait and should be the key defining feature of a human being. It is true, Laurel isn't very good at martial arts. The writers even screwed her over by making her reasonably competent at self defense in early episodes, based on her dad teaching her, but then the sexist asshole writers took most of that proficiency away from because they decided she was more narratively useful if she was helpless all the time. And yes, that is annoying.

Sadly, sadly, oh so sadly, making Dinah Laurel Lance helpless so Ollie can save her is not an Arrow specific thing. One of the worst things about DLL becoming Ollie's love interest was that she was frequently made a damsel in distress for Ollie, and it was indeed all the more nonsensical because of how capable a fighter she was supposed to be. One big example was the Longbow Hunters, where she gets captured and brutally tortured (such that she loses her Canary Cry for awhile), and Ollie has to save her. But that's only really the most memorable example. So, sadly, Laurel being a damsel in distress for Ollie is really not all that different from DLL after all. But of course that's not a personality trait either.

Who is DLL personality wise? This is my sense of her, from having read every issue of Birds of Prey volume 1 (plus the preceding miniseries): DLL is a passionate, moral woman with a strong sense of justice. She values family deeply, and is very protective of her family members, tries to honor her mother and father in her work, and her protectiveness extends to close friends whom she thinks of as family. She loves spicy food, loves takeout, and can't cook. She loves and protects kids. She has awful taste in men, and is drawn to bad boys (she dated Ra's al Ghul once, both of them not recognizing the other at the time). She is doggedly persistent, and will often throw herself into incredibly dangerous situations that she may not be able to handle alone just because she is insistent on getting the job done. While she can do what it takes the to get the job done, she favors ideals over pragmatism (once, Oracle asked her to get these files Oracle was going to use in a somewhat dirty way to stop some bad guys; DLL destroyed them and told Oracle they were lost because she didn't like the methods Oracle wanted to use, even though the methods would have been effective, just a bit corrupt). On the rare occasion she does start to feel hopeless, she can however fall into a self-pitying rut and be sloppy and self-destructive (this is the state she was in when the Birds of Prey first formed, where she was still reeling from the events of the Longbow Hunters amongst other things; one of the reasons Oracle specifically hired her was to help DLL get her confidence back). She is more able to work herself out of self-destructive tendencies by being shaken out of isolation and working with close friends.

I really would describe Laurel Lance exactly the same way.

Personality wise, I think they have an incredible amount in common. 

What different is the background. DLL was raised by a superhero, her mother, and was influenced by her mother's superhero friends from the Justice Society, who also trained her to fight (Ted Grant, Barry Allen, etc.). The life she built for herself was to take after her mother. IIRC, Larry Lance died before Dinah Drake did (both of DLL's parents are dead), and thus DLL was much closer to her mother than her father.

Laurel's mother is an academic, not a superhero, and Laurel was not raised by any superhero friends. She did spend more time with her cop father, and was taught some things by him. Laurel's mother left, and Laurel grew much closer to her father than she was to her mother. Laurel was inspired by her father's dedication to the law, and pursued a career in law. Laurel in short is an Elseworlds DLL where DLL took after dad instead of mom.

But personality-wise, they are very much the same person.

Compare: Sara Lance, for what is worth, personality wise is very little like DLL. Sara is a more reckless and ruthless. She has a party girl background. She is pragmatic--very willing to just take the kill shot on the bad guy than find the best moral solution. Actually, her personality is a lot like the comic book version of Helena Bertinelli, minus the sorority girl stuff--which would explain how she and her sister can butt heads but still care for each other (DLL and Comics-Helena are good friends). Sara and DLL have little in common, background or personality wise, save for her protective streak and a weakness for Ollie. Note this does NOT mean Sara shouldn't be the Canary character that she is (she can and should be, IMO). It just means that Sara Lance is NOT a proxy/expy for DLL.

While I don't like how inconsistent the writers (and editors, for a lot of Laurel's good scenes end up on the Deleted scenes of the DVDs) treat Laurel, I'm cool with where she is on the show. She does not have to be exactly like DLL in terms of background or destiny. (I think DLL would think it's amazing there's a version of her somewhere that graduated law school.) I think it's better the less she is pushed as a love interest for Ollie (the writers may disagree, sadly), because it means she is more likely used as a character, not as a plot device.***

I think she can and may become a crimefighter, but it's not going to be in the same way DLL did--it CAN'T be. There's no Justice Society to train her. Her mom apparently doesn't know jack about fighting (sadly). She'll find her own path. Ollie may train her. Her dad's police friends may train her. Maybe Sara will return and train her. Or she'll find a new mentor (which could be a cool storyline). With her law background, she may be more like Manhunter (Kate Spencer, whose Arrow counterpart just died), and that's cool. Elseworlds where Dinah Laurel Lance becomes Manhunter. I'd read that comic book. She may well become Black Canary, but it's very clear the show is taking its own slow path toward that route, and I'm not going to waste energy worrying about how it's not like a series of comics that, in fact, are outdated and no longer part of current DCU comics continuity anyway.

I also don't think Laurel's existence or journey to becoming whatever she becomes precludes or overtakes the existence of her sister Sara. Sara Lance is a great character with a great story, and they actually serve each other well by existing alongside one another and acting as foils to one another. Seeing Sara live to see another day at the end of Season 2 gives me hope interesting stuff is in store for both characters. The two should not be pitted against each other, nor should Laurel be pitted against her comics counterpart who has decades more history and an entirely different background. It's only fair as with all characters to first and foremost see her in the medium she is in alone, and trace her evolution from there, without letting alternate continuities muddle up character interpretation.

* Post Crisis on Infinite Earths, Pre-Flashpoint, AKA the comics between roughly 1987 and 2010, AKA the "Iron Age." I believe we're in the "Silly Putty Age" now.

** Hell, the only character I am frustrated with because she isn't more like the comic book version is Helena, because the HERO who is in the comics is one of my favorite HEROES in the DCU, and I hate that they made her a two-dimensional psychopathic villain because of some stupid fiance death, rather than the woman who lost her entire family and swore to shut down all organized crime because of not only what she went through, but because of the evils her family represented. And that's just because the comics Huntress is a much cooler character than the lameass vengeance junkie on the TV show. But I digress.

*** I think that's actually why so many people "ship" Felicity Smoak with Oliver. Because Felicity is a real-feeling human-like entity, with her own personality, and she is consistently written as such, and not as a plot device. Laurel they can't seem to reconcile her personality/back story and with the love interest idea and then she just gets turned into some doll they need to have thrown around to give Oliver something to react to. Everytime Laurel becomes love interest, she loses all uniqueness and self-agency. I'm not an "Olicity" fan but I dig why people prefer that relationship. They want to see a relationship between two people, not one person and a human-shaped object.