The terms “comic book” and “superheroes” are basically synonymous to the world at large, but it didn’t always used to be the case. After a massive boom in the early ’40s, where characters from the Flash and Captain America to Starman and the Red Bee made their debut, the genre quickly dried up—by the early ’50s, the only characters being continually published were Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.
Superheroes stormed back, though, and by the mid-’60s, they were the dominant genre in comics, and would remain that way for decades to come. And once FX budgets and audience appetites for long-form, serialized storytelling caught up in the late ’00s, they quickly came to overwhelm movies, too. Television came next, with characters from Supergirl and Daredevil to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Legends of Tomorrow leading superheroes to occupy our living rooms. All of which leads to the question: Could our earbuds and car stereos be next?
That sounds like a silly question, but consider the evidence. This week, a three-song EP was released by Black Canary—the DC superhero who, in her current comics incarnation, fronts a band by the same name—recorded in-character. Two of the tracks were written by Black Canary writer Brenden Fletcher, who released the EP on Bandcamp to promote the first collected edition of his run on the title. (The third track was a cover of “The Man with the X-ray Eyes” by Bauhaus.) Fans can go from reading Black Canary to listening to her—and that was something that Fletcher, along with artist Annie Wu, had in mind all along.
“Before I was writing comics professionally, I was a professional musician,” Fletcher says. “It’s the world I come from. When I took on Batgirl, I put her in a new part of Gotham City that was younger, and being gentrified. Part of what we did was establish a music scene with it. Since we had the Black Canary character, who has this incredible sonic scream, we put her in a band.” DC liked that interpretation of Black Canary so much that the company asked Fletcher to take it to series, and he did.
“The only thing that was missing was the actual sound of the music,” he explains. “My initial pitch included releasing music with each issue. There’s no actual representation of the music in the book, because from the beginning, it was our intention to marry the two and get actual music released with the comics. But it ended up being a longer process than you’d imagine, so we went to publication before the music was ready. So we decided to pivot and wait till the release of the collected edition. So we have the first three tracks in an EP release, which represents the release that’s in the world of the comics.”
Black Canary isn’t the only superhero who spends her spare time rocking out with her friends. Around the time DC launched Fletcher’s Black Canary run, Marvel launched Spider-Gwen, which stars an alternate-reality version of longtime (and long-dead) Spider-Man-supporting character Gwen Stacey as the drummer for a punk rock band called the Mary Janes. To promote that title, artist Robbi Rodriguez tapped his friends in the Waco, Texas-based Married to Sea Monsters to play the part of the band and record their fictional single “Face It Tiger.” Kat Dixon of Married to Sea Monsters saw the opportunity to inhabit Gwen’s (and Mary Jane Watson’s) musical skin as basically irresistible.
“He said it would be great if you guys could write some M.J.’s songs, so we did,” she laughs. “It was a little tough to get into that mindset, but it was also really refreshing to get to write that kind of music. We took our inspiration from the riot grrrl movement and kind of just gave ourselves permission to be a garage-punk band for a while.”
According to Dixon, superheroes and musicians have a fair bit in common to begin with, so the combination of the two made sense to her. “I think it’s a great idea—marrying visual and audio media brings things to a whole new level, and with superhero stuff, there’s so much to write about,” she says. “There’s a big connection between feeling like a superhero and feeling like a rock star. Both things require you to help people, and to kind of be in the spotlight, so I think it’s a natural connection—especially for young girls.”
Black Canary and Spider-Gwen may be new characters (or new interpretations of old characters) to pick up instruments when they’re not fighting crime, but they’re not the first. Marvel introduced Dazzler in the pages of Uncanny X-Men in 1980 as a mutant disco singer, and later introduced “intergalactic rock star” Lila Cheney in the pages of The New Mutants in 1984. (Disco died shortly after Dazzler was introduced, but she reinvented her look and sound as a Madonna-influenced pop star before long.) Recently, filmmaker Arvin Bautista of Greasy Pig Studios created his own music videos—for original songs—as performed by the characters. And he picked those characters because, as someone who wanted to find a unique take on fan-films in music videos, there weren’t many options—at least not until Black Canary and the Mary Janes found their instruments.
“Dazzler and Lila Cheney were definitely ahead of their time—neither of those characters got to specifically blossom at their time,” he says. “Dazzler took a little too long in developing that disco angle, then disco was dead by the time it came out. It sort of ended up as a warning to comic people back then, but I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more music that’s comic book-related—and I’m surprised that there haven’t been more musician superhero characters.”
Kanye West once declared that every superhero needs their theme music, and Bautista can see a future in which there’s a musical component to superheroes, as well as a visual one. “It’s kind of funny that music hasn’t been tapped as much. There is a risk that tie-in stuff like that could come off cheesy, and music is a very visceral reaction for people,” he admits. “People are more critical that the music has to be good, as opposed to just superhero-themed, so I understand why people are more trepidatious when it comes to that stuff. But there are so many fun characters and themes to explore when it comes to music, I’m surprised that it hasn’t been done more in the past.”
For his part, Fletcher is skeptical that the world wants to see this for characters outside of Black Canary and Spider-Gwen—but he admits he could be wrong. “Every superhero can have some sort of musical representation of his adventures, but I don’t think that people are waiting to see Batman sing in a pop band,” he says, before he stops himself: “Actually, it just occurred to me that The Lego Movie had a very popular song sung by Lego Batman, so maybe I’m 100% wrong.”