Submitted for your consideration: Black Canary, world-renowned martial artist, under attack by someone much bigger and clumsier than her.
I’m sure you all know what happens next.
However, there’s more to this panel than just the setup for a very foolish body hitting the ground in the next one (or, to be strictly accurate, the panel after the next one). I’m a big believer in the subtle (often unconscious) value of art as a communication form. With good art, nothing is truly random. Everything in the panel, every line, every color, adds to the overall message received by the reader. You can even step back and find layers of commentary on the story as a whole in a single panel. In this weekly feature I’ll try to at least touch on some of the tricks and intricacies found in a single, well-drawn panel of art. I can’t promise the whole thousand words, though.
O’Neill and Adams stop at Feminism, during their Interplanetary Tour of Serious Social Issues in Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81, was the story of an overpopulated planet. Severely overpopulated, there was no room to even move on Maltus. Generations earlier, the people had been in danger of dying out. A generation of people were rendered infertile by a natural disaster. To remedy this, a woman named Mother Juno introduced a cloning baby program to keep things moving. She became reclusive afterwards, missed the memo when the infertility cleared up, and continued to pump out clones until the planet could no longer support them. Enter our green-clad heroes, escorting a short balding man who looks like Benjamin Disraeli to serve out a prison sentence. This would all work out without violence, except that Black Canary tagged along. To this date it’s the only comic I’ve seen where anyone actually says “A woman — Destroy her!!!”
They escape the angry mob, take in some gut-wrenching scenery and a history lesson, track down Mother Juno, and confront her. This brings us to the piece at hand.
Please note the background. It’s a single color so that you aren’t distracted by any weird alien scenery. The whole point is these two women, what they are doing and what they are saying. It’s a soft sky blue, drawing the reader into Black Canary’s mood. Dinah is calm, confident and collected. There’s not a trace of worry about her own safety, not even the thought of defeat crosses her mind. Instead, she expresses a soft concern about hurting her irrational opponent. (Take note of the lightened area around Mother Juno — she’s divorced from this calm mood)
Her posture supports this. I used this as an example of a pet peeve of mine when it came to female fighters’ posture problems, but now that I look at it again I can see the very subtle movement. As Juno gets closer, Dinah picks up her left foot, and turns slightly to the side so that she can grab Juno and off-balance her when she runs past. This is as natural as breathing for her. Her body is perfectly calm, her face is impassive. Once again, not a doubt in her mind this woman will hit the floor.
Compare to Mother Juno. She’s in a complete rage. Her face is twisted, nose raised, eyes squinting, and mouth open. She has scribbly lines coming off of eyes. Her brow is coming forward to the bridge of her nose. That’s just her face. She’s not just running, she’s hunched forward and leaping. Her entire body is thrust forward as she runs towards Dinah. She’s reaching out to claw her, and her hands and the way her dress moves forward is reminiscent of an angry gorilla. Not only can we tell she’s emotional and irrational, we get the hint that she’s not nearly as intelligent as Dinah because of her apelike posture.
Back to color for a moment here. Juno is in pink. She’s an elderly woman with a motherly physique, wearing pink. She’s a big representation of traditional womanhood here. Not only that, she’s modestly attired. She has a big pink shapeless dress. Contrast to Dinah, who’s uniform is supposed to be black but comes off as a blue shade. She’s dressed to the full effect of her feminine figure, but in a traditionally masculine color. The two women’s concepts are at odds in the same way. Juno, while a scientist, is Mother Juno, a creator. Dinah’s a costumed vigilante who specializes in beating people to a pulp with her bare hands. Not only does this contrast the tow women significantly, it’s brings a generational conflict to mind. Each generation of women is less traditional than the last, and most women face the wrath of an intimidating older traditionalist female relative for her choices. This is especially relevant in the period context. Dinah’s a working woman, yes, but she works in a man’s field. Inappropriate for a young girl. Juno easily represents that disapproval a young woman gets from an older woman when she ventures outside of acceptable social norms.
With that in mind, the baby boy blue background takes on another significance. Dinah’s viewpoint is that of a lady at home in a field that welcomes men rather than women. She’s surrounded by the blue, she’s dressed in the blue, she stands and moves easily inside it. Juno is surrounded by a white layer, separating from the blue. Dinah’s world is one she can’t possibly understand and would be unable to be at home in. As far as she’s concerned, Dinah should be in her world. That’s why she’s so harsh on her in the dialogue. A “hussy” being a name for a woman who steals men and breaks up families, a traitor to femininity. Dinah’s there with two other individuals, but Juno centers on her because she’s the one Juno sees as out of place. If you’re not with me, you’re against me mentality. She expects the men to oppose her, they’re men who can’t possibly understand her viewpoint (as she believes it). But Dinah, as a woman, should understand, should be with her. An enemy who should be your ally is beyond contemptible. It’s a sentiment I’m sure many daughters have perceived in angry mothers and aunts when they announce their life plans.