In “Black Canary” #4, Brenden Fletcher and Pia Guerra prime the reader to expect a chase story as Dinah goes after Bo Maeve, the band’s former singer and Ditto’s kidnapper. Dinah spends the whole issue in pursuit, but “Black Canary” #4 is primarily an origin story for a diva-turned-villainess.
Fletcher cleverly uses the abduction situation for more than its usual suspense-driving function. While there’s inherent drama in Ditto’s kidnapping, he turns the situation towards a deeper, more searching narrative purpose by making Ditto a captive audience for Maeve. Maeve is alone in the world, estranged from her family and her former bandmates Paloma and Byron. By nature and by profession, she’s hungry for an audience. Usually, this kind of “let me tell you my life story” exposition feels forced but, here, it suits the characters. Ditto is mute and reserved, so the conversation will naturally be one-sided. Maeve craves the spotlight, has a huge chip on her shoulder and has been dying to vent. Psychologically, everything fits.
The flashback scenes are strong, but only because they’re held together by Maeve’s present-day interactions with Ditto. The gas station and the hotel room scene are the best parts of the issue. Guerra’s grid of poses as Ditto mirrors Maeve is affecting and she pulls off the ambitious panel composition choices around it. Maeve and Ditto form a tentative, fragile liking for each other, and the poignancy of the scene is enhanced by the reader’s certainty that any bond between them is doomed.
Guerra’s linework is angular but graceful, fitting for Maeve’s lithe figure and movements, and Loughridge’s palette changes make the transition points very clear. Guerra and Loughridge’s use of light is superb in a mid-issue scene in which faces are illuminated by headlights. I’m not a fan of monotone washes of color, but Loughridge uses them thoughtfully as a way to focus the reader’s attention, and Guerra’s heavy outlines can stand up to the flattening effects.
Fletcher’s dialogue for Maeve is excellent and he uses boldfaced words well to convey speaking rhythms. Letterer Steve Wands does an exceptional job of this as well. His text size changes and fades, indicating changes in speech without jolting the reader out of the story. While Fletcher’s script is excellent, it’s Guerra’s skill for body language that makes Maeve’s story riveting from the first page. Flamboyant gestures indicate her need for praise and fame. A progression of facial expressions telegraphs Maeve’s journey, moving from early confidence, rebellion and pride to thwarted vanity, envy and anger when she loses her place to Dinah.
The emotional depth is superb, and Maeve’s character feels particularly vivid because Fletcher makes her complex enough to contain a whole bunch of contradictions. Maeve sincerely takes a shine to Ditto, but she’s willing to sacrifice Ditto’s safety for her own goals. Her airy attitude to kidnapping belies her deadly serious goals of revenge and success. She’s a dangerous narcissist, but she can be cowed by a greater villainess than herself. Her anger and hurt are relatable, and her past and current life choices inspire both sympathy and condemnation.
Dinah’s toughness, capability and good sense are clear but, ironically, Maeve thoroughly upstages Dinah. The plot still moves forward without Maeve in its quieter moments, though, especially when a mysterious ninja garbed in a white shinobi shÅzoku and hood enters the stage. A close-up reveals blonde hair and blue eyes, teasing the ninja’s identity, and the humorous ending to the fight scene is a pleasant surprise.
Fletcher’s scattered captions of Maeve’s thoughts build in rhythm and meaning to a perfect convergence of words and pictures in the final panel, in which Loughridge’s spectacular color work brings shock value to an otherwise predictable plot point. The introductory story arc hits new high points in characterization and pacing in “Black Canary” #4.