How do you find your voice?
It’s a question that each of us must answer on our own, usually in adolescence. But when you’re a 13-year-old Dinah Lance, it has a more literal meaning, because her voice is the famous sonic weapon used by the superhero Black Canary. That’s the concept behind the latest outstanding young adult graphic novel from DC Comics, “Black Canary: Ignite” ($9.99).
DC Comics has been killing it with their YA line of GNs, from the continuing stories of the Super Sons (male offspring of Batman and Superman) to “Dear Justice League,” a charming collection of questions (from youngsters) and answers (from Superman & Co). “Ignite” arrived on Oct. 29, and joined the A-list immediately — as you’d expect, given its provenance.
“Black Canary: Ignite” is illustrated by Cara McGee, who proved her knack for the field in “Dodge City.” And it’s written by Meg Cabot, who has long since proved her chops involving romance and/or paranormal fiction about teens and young adults, with series like “Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls,” “From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess” and “The Princess Diaries.”
None of which, to date, involved superheroes. So how did McGee find her way from Avalon High to the DC Universe?
“I heard from my agent that DC was looking for authors to write graphic novels targeted at YA and middle-grade readers,” she said. “They claimed there were no particular characters they had in mind, but I had a feeling they were going to be getting a lot of Batman and Wonder Woman pitches. So I did a lot of research on lesser known characters, and stumbled across Black Canary, with whom I instantly connected. I wrote a detailed pitch for her, then hoped no one else had beat me to it. Fortunately for me, it worked: DC accepted my proposal.”
BLACK CANARY DEBUTED IN 1947
And clearly, Cabot did a LOT of research. Black Canary has put in a lot of miles since her 1947 debut, joining the Justice Society (of Earth-2), then the Justice League (of Earth-1), then being retroactively turned into the daughter of the original, and therefore the daughter of a police officer instead of the wife of one. And that doesn’t even include her now-erased long romance with, and marriage to, Green Arrow. Or her 2011 “New 52” reboot, where she got a lot younger, much of history evaporated and she became, as the Moody Blues once understated, just a singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band.
None of which matters in “Ignite.” Cabot stripped away what didn’t click, and kept what did.
“I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of Black Canary before, but once I found her and started researching her, I was totally intrigued,” Cabot said. “The character has such a rich backstory to draw from, thanks to the many talented writers who’ve worked on her character in the past. I felt like in many ways the original seemed the most special, and also the most relatable to today’s audiences — not only because Dinah inherits her superpower from her mother (hello Ancestry and Me) but because I was often told as a child that I was too loud, and I have a brother who is a police sergeant, and his daughters have expressed interest in following in his footsteps … and just like Dinah’s dad, this makes him nervous. Everything about Dinah’s story — especially the part about not being afraid to use your voice — feels very timely to me, even though it’s nearly 75 years old.”
NO NEED TO KNOW HISTORY TO RELATE
So “Ignite” stands on its own, and doesn’t require a prospective reader to be a BC expert to join in the fun. That sense of freshness is enhanced by McGee’s charming, uncluttered art, and by Cabot’s own voice, which added new elements to what amounts to an origin story we’ve never seen before.
Like Dinah’s friends Kat and Vee, who are also bandmates in their wannabe combo. They are more or less new — Kat is the daughter of Gotham City District Attorney Van Dorn, a long-running character — and vital to what makes the book work.
“It was important for Dinah to have girlfriends in the book because in writing books for middle-grade readers for so long, I know that the one thing they like better than superhero stories is stories about friendship — particularly fractured friendships or friendship problems,” Cabot said.
Cabot’s efforts makes these kids feel real and relatable.
“I spend a lot of time with young people (and of course was young once) and the one thing I notice is that although the technology changes, the problems never do,” she said. “Kids used to write nasty things about one another on the bathroom walls at school; now they do it on Instagram (or whatever).”