For nearly seventy-five years, DC Comics has been telling stories about Black Canary -- a heroine whose story and trajectory have been unlike anything else in comics. Armed with martial arts skills - and, in later incarnations, a sonic superpower dubbed the "Canary cry" - the Golden Age superhero has gone on to inspire swaths of fans, both in her solo stories and as a member of groups like the Justice Society of America, the Justice League, and the Birds of Prey. Both in the comics and outside of it, Canary's story is one that always seems to be evolving -- just this year, she got her live-action cinematic debut when Jurnee Smollett portrayed her in Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), and early details have shown that she will be returning to the Justice League when the "Infinite Frontier" publishing initiative kicks off in 2021. Amongst all of those milestones is this week's release of Black Canary: Breaking Silence, the first-ever YA novel centered around the character.
Written by Alexandra Monir (The Final Six, Timeless), and part of the wildly successful DC Icons line, Black Canary: Breaking Silence reimagines the coming-of-age story of a seventeen-year-old Dinah Lance, and gives her superpower a unique and powerful significance. In an alternate world where the Court of Owls have turned Gotham City into a patriarchal dystopia, Dinah discovers the power of her own voice, and must juggle her instinct to become a vigilante and a champion of women and girls with the safety of those in her life. The novel is an incredibly imaginative and reverential take on the decades of Black Canary canon, combined with an earnest voice that feels incredibly unique to Monir.
In celebration of Black Canary: Breaking Silence's debut, ComicBook.com chatted with Monir (spoiler-free!) about all things tied to the YA novel. We talked about her personal connection to Dinah's story and the characters in her orbit, what the development process was like both for the book and its original soundtrack of songs, and what Monir hopes fans take away from the novel in this current moment. Keep reading to check it all out, and share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
ComicBook.com: Dinah has such a long history, with so many different interpretations and jumping-off points. Where did you first become familiar with her?
Alexandra Monir: I wish I could remember the exact moment, but I grew up with an older brother who loved comics -- both DC and Marvel equally, although I think he probably tended more towards DC. I remember just constantly going to comic book shops with him as a little kid. I remember her in Birds of Prey. For me, I was always searching for these female superheroes, and she was one that really stuck with me and that I remembered.
Then I had a period of time, once I got a little bit older and I started reading more prose novels and YA -- not that my love for it had changed or anything, but I just wasn't reading as many comics. Through my writing career, I started getting sent to places like Phoenix Comic-Con and San Diego Comic-Con, and WonderCon. I was just reminded of how much I had loved comics growing up, and getting to be back in that world again just caused me to go back and dive in. And, of course, watching the show Arrow when that came out. It's sort of coming full circle for me.prevnext
When did the idea for Black Canary: Breaking Silence come about? What was the development process like?
I really owe this all to my 2018 book, which was a sci-fi novel called The Final Six. That's the book that, even though it was my fifth book that had come out, it was the one that got the most attention. There was a movie deal around it. My publisher was amazing and really promoted it. I was sent to a lot of these conventions and things.
Through WonderCon, which is a fabulous convention in Anaheim, I was introduced to these two amazing editors and executives at DC Comics. Initially, when we met and they heard about my musical background, because I started my whole career as a teen pop singer, they were like, "Oh, wow. You write sci-fi/fantasy, and you have this musical background? You should really think about writing something about Black Canary." I was like, "Oh, my gosh. That would be such a dream." I didn't even think that that was something I could do. It just seems like such a dream. But, of course, once they put that idea in my head, I would not leave anyone alone about it. I was like, "I have to do this." Initially, the people I was talking to were the editors who ran the graphic novel division. I wrote up a proposal, but as I was writing it, I started realizing, "I think this really needs to be a prose novel." My dream is, of course, that it'll come full circle and get adapted to a graphic novel.
Then, as I was thinking about her and thinking about her power being from her voice, it struck me how it's so interesting that her superpower is located in her voice, literally, but women historically have been silenced a lot. It's really, especially personal to me because of my family's background in Iran. My grandmother - who, she was actually the inspiration for the opera singer [character in the book], who has a small but important role. She was based on my grandmother, who in Iran, before the revolution, was just such an iconic powerhouse and a singer. She was an opera star, but also someone who really opened a lot of doors for other women coming up as well, and opened the first co-ed school for classical singing to teach kids to sing like her. She was just so amazing. Then when the revolution happened and there was this sudden massive regime change, women's rights were completely stripped. Even to this day in Iran, if you're a woman, you could get in major trouble for singing publicly. That is where the idea came from, was from my family background.
Then also just seeing that - even though it might sound really far-fetched, what I'm describing in the book, as far as how women are treated. The reality is that, as I was writing this, there was just so much happening in the news towards women that I was feeling like, "Oh, God. There are just so many parallels to what happened to the women in my family, and to what I see, with certain rights being taken away and things here."prevnext
What was the process like of writing Black Canary: Breaking Silence, versus your previous books?
For one thing, it was so much faster. Oh, my God, this was the fastest I think I've ever had to write a book. With my own stuff, obviously, you have a targeted publication date in mind, and you really do everything you can to stick with it. But if it's one of my own books and I have an 11th-hour great new idea, it's not the end of the world if I tell my editor, "Hey, can I implement this whole new subplot or this whole new character?" Maybe we push this back a little for me to do that. There was no option for anything like that with this.
Also, usually with YA, there's a two-year window between when you get the idea and you get signed on with the publisher, and when it actually comes out. With this, it was a lot faster as well. I had to really learn how to write faster than I'm used to, which was honestly really great. It taught me that there's a lot of extra time that I might waste online or whatever that I can cut back on and just get the writing done.
The other thing was just really being aware that -- as much as it was building my own story within this world, I really was so careful about wanting to be authentic to these characters and to the story. I think that was the biggest thing. With my own stuff, you go into it as "Anything is up for grabs." Whatever inspiration strikes, you can follow that and see where it leads. With this book, I definitely was more -- I don't want to say boxed in, because honestly, it's the best box I've ever been in. I just had to be a lot more careful. Thankfully, I had people at DC that were making sure that I was staying on track with the characters' authenticity, and the canon, and everything. There were a couple of times I had really cool ideas, but maybe that particular character didn't really fit into the story I was telling.prevnext
Given how long Dinah has been around, there have been so many different interpretations of her, with different parts of her characterization. What did you find to be the most important qualities of her that drove how you wrote her?
Something I always really loved about her in the comics - and really in other characterizations, too - I just love her defiance and her fearlessness. When I say fearless, I don't mean she's not afraid of things, but just the fact that, even from the very first chapter in the book, she's willing to put herself at risk for what she knows is right. That is something that I feel like, even when I was much younger and first introduced to her in comic books, that was just a vibe I got from her.
I love the combination of her physical strength with also that softer side that comes out with Oliver. There's so much I love about her, but really I think the word that comes to mind is just the defiance and fearlessness, combined with those relatable human emotions that we also get to see her express.prevnext
Since you mentioned Oliver -- I really, really love how you wrote him. He feels like such an encapsulation of all of the different eras of him. What was it like for you to find both his characterization and then also his dynamic with Dinah in this context of a sweeping YA romance?
One thing that was important to me to do - which I had a lot of fun with - is, even though you and I obviously know Dinah and Black Canary as a superhero, a lot of people, unfortunately, know her as the sidekick to Green Arrow. I think because of the TV show. Even for Halloween this year, for fun, I had me and my husband go as Black Canary and Green Arrow. And I was like, "Wait a second," when I got my costume. It had a giant picture of [Stephen Amell's] Arrow on it. I was like, "Wait a minute." Yes, there was a picture of Katie Cassidy too, but I was like, "My picture isn't on his costume, so why is his picture on my costume?"
Again, I'm not saying this to the die-hard Black Canary fans, because we all know how amazing she is. But I can't even tell you how many people, when I told them I was writing this, were like, "Wait, who's that?" Then I would say, "You know Arrow?" They'd be like, "Oh, yeah." I was trying to really turn that on its head in terms of their dynamic, where she's essentially the hero and he's more of the sidekick, but a really super lovable and awesome one.
Then as far as the characterization, I really pulled from a lot. I loved Arrow -- the troubled rich boy, that aspect, from the show and also from the comic books as well. I tried to really distill that into what I imagined he would be like if he had gone through a lot of the stuff that we see - the island, the things like that - what he would be like if he had gone through a lot of that stuff at a younger age. How would that have impacted his adolescence? Trying to mix a lot of that heaviness of what he had been through, with also the need for lightness and connection that he finds with Dinah.prevnext
I also wanted to ask about the dynamic between Larry and Dinah, because that was just so wholesome and so good. I saw, in the acknowledgments, that you somewhat inspired it by your relationship with your dad. And I love that, and also just the fact that Larry is getting his due because I feel like people don't appreciate him enough. How did you go about finding his characterization, and his dynamic with Dinah?
First of all, the fact that there are so many different alternate versions of Dinah. First, she was this person. Then, she was that person. Then there were two different iterations of her. If anything, that was one nice thing about all those different alternate histories, is that I felt a sense of freedom to choose my own adventure and decide "Which is the version of Dinah I want to focus on?" I loved the idea of the original Dinah Drake and Larry Lance, and that my Dinah was the daughter of them. I ran with that, of the different alternate histories I had to choose from.
Part of the reason I did, too, was I really wanted the father-daughter story. I just love those. I think there's something so special about the father-daughter bond. Honestly, I grew up with an amazingly loving, but also very strict and protective Iranian father. I know exactly what Larry means when he's like, "I just want to protect you." That's how my dad was always, growing up. My parents are so amazing that, when I decided as a teenager to move to LA to pursue music, because that was my first career, my dad literally switched firms to be with me. My dad was the one who had all these attachments to San Francisco, where we were living, with his work. That's the kind of protection that I had from my dad. When you're younger, you don't always appreciate that. Only in my twenties did I start to really realize, "Oh, my God, that's so amazing," that I have this super protective, amazing father. But when you're younger, a lot of times it can be like, "I just want to do what I want to do." There's that push-pull.
The other reason it was really important to me to write the Larry and Dinah bond was -- a lot of people have called this book a "feminist book", and I'm proud of that. But also, I think there are people that can sometimes take that word the wrong way, and think feminist means anti-man, which is so the opposite. I'm a feminist who loves men. My dad, my husband, my brother. They're my favorite people. I have a son. I have so many guy friends who I adore. I think men are amazing.
I really wanted to show in the book, with Larry, and with Oliver, and to a smaller extent, one of her close friends in the book, Ty, that when you're living under this really strict patriarchy, how I've explored Gotham City to be, it doesn't mean all girls are good and all boys are bad. It means that girls are subject to some really harsh and strict rules that boys aren't, and that is something that we've all had to deal with throughout history. But there are some incredible male allies, and I wanted Larry to be that for her.prevnext
Without getting into spoilers, I really, really loved how you adapted the Birds of Prey into the context of your story.
Honestly, those were some of my favorite scenes to write, especially because I feel like the Birds of Prey have such a rich history too. There were a lot of different members, and they're having different incarnations of it over the years. Honestly, I chose the characters that were my favorites, and their connection and relationship with the Black Canary was most interesting to me.
I also wanted to specifically have them be from that previous generation, like the lost superhero generation, because Dinah, in our story, doesn't have a mother. These two characters who make up the Birds of Prey, they are filling in those two different sides of that maternal influence she's missing.prevnext
I really loved the songs in Black Canary: Breaking Silence. I could imagine them very clearly and hear them in my head as I read the book. What was the process like, of songwriting on top of writing the novel itself?
Oh, my gosh, it was so fun. There are so many aspects of this book that very much felt like a dream, and me pinching myself. Getting to include the music was so special for me, because that was my first love and my first career. It just was so cool to be able to come back to that first love with this project.
Actually, the pivotal song in the book, "The Black Canary Sings", that song was one of the first things I wrote for this. When I was just coming up with the pitch, I just suddenly had this verse and chorus pop into my head, and I started writing it down. It's actually really funny -- in my apartment building, there's a common room, a lounge area where I was writing. I literally went into the bathroom and just started singing into my iPhone, because I didn't want to forget the melody that popped into my head. It was just one of those magical moments with that song.
Then the other two came about more while I was deep into the manuscript. I was like, "Okay, here is the point where a song needs to happen." Particularly there's one special one -- the song that she writes related to Oliver during a moment of heartbreak. That one, I remembered I had come up with a song with that same title years ago. It was when me and my now husband were in a break-up. I never did anything with the song, because we obviously got back together and got married and everything. But then I just was remembering that song, and I was like, "What if I adapted that, wrote that in a different way, just have that song come from Dinah instead?" I rewrote it. That was really fun, because it was this melody that I had in my head for a long time that I could finally use.prevnext
What do you hope readers - both new fans of Dinah and established fans - take away from Black Canary: Breaking Silence?
For both new fans and established fans, I hope that it's a story that's twofold. I hope it's a much-needed escape from the real world, that it takes them on this fun thrill ride, but also that it serves as inspiration. My goal in writing is, I wanted you to have so much fun reading it. But also, if you're going through a hard time in life, or if the state of the world is getting you down and you feel powerless, there's the message that all you really need is your voice. Not that you have to have a Canary Cry like Dinah, but your own voice can move mountains, speaking your truth and speaking up for what's right.
To established fans of Black Canary, I hope this feels like a homecoming for you, of getting this story from one of your favorite characters. I hope it's everything you wanted. For new readers who aren't aware of Dinah or who only know her through the Arrow TV show, I would be so thrilled if this got new readers more excited about the character, and going back and looking at comic books. She has such an amazing history going back all the way to the '40s. It would be amazing if this book was a jumping-off point for new fans to go and look into the canon.prevnext
The world of Black Canary: Breaking Silence feels so expansive and so established, and it feels like there's more stuff that can possibly be explored. Is there a sequel or a spinoff that you would potentially be interested in doing?
Oh, my God, I want to so much. That will totally depend on DC and Random House. Hopefully, lots of people will read this book, and there'll be demand for sequels. I would love to write one. When I wrote that epilogue, I definitely was thinking, "This could happen next, and that could happen next," but I had to officially cut it off at some point.
Absolutely. There's so much more that could happen. We're totally leaving them in a way better place than when the story began, but there are definitely things that I would love to continue to watch unfold.
Black Canary: Breaking Silence is available Tuesday, December 29th, wherever books are sold.prev