"I think somewhere out there is a woman worthy of Laurel's legacy," Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) mused to Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) at the conclusion of Arrow's mid-season premiere "Who Are You?" Having come face-to-face with the late Laurel Lance's Earth 2 doppelganger Black Siren, Oliver decides to keep the promise he made to Laurel on her death bed and train a new heroine to inherit the mantle of Black Canary.
Arrow thematically anchors Oliver's decision based to his guilt over failing to prevent Laurel's death. Also at play is Oliver's "newfound optimism" (in the words of Felicity). Oliver has spent all of Arrow's fifth season gradually making room in his crime-fighting life to train new heroes to fight at his side. However, even with his original core group, Felicity and John Diggle (David Ramsey), still very much part of Team Arrow, Oliver senses something is missing in his life as the Green Arrow. Both the hero and the show Arrow reach the same conclusion: Green Arrow simply needs a Black Canary.
The comic book romance between the Emerald Archer and his Pretty Bird is a storied one, going back almost 50 years. Green Arrow and Black Canary first met, as adversaries, in the pages of 1969's "Justice League of America" #74. Since then, Green Arrow and Black Canary's presence as a unit has been nearly as ubiquitous as Batman and Robin. Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance share one of the most high-profile and beloved love affair in DC Comics. Fans were especially incensed when their romantic history was erased by DC in their 2011 New 52 reboot. Reunited since last year's DC Rebirth, Oliver and Dinah are once more one of DC's hottest couples in the pages of Green Arrow.
It's often said Robin's lightness completes Batman and contrasts with his darkness. For Green Arrow, a character most often depicted in the comics as a stubborn, social justice-seeking vigilante, Black Canary offers a unique balance. She is tough as nails, and a superior martial artist. She has super powers (her famed "Canary Cry" sonic scream), whereas he relies on his unerring marksmanship and one of the oldest (albeit often tricked-out) weapons in the history of warfare. Most importantly, Black Canary is smart, determined, resourceful, and she isn't afraid to debate Green Arrow and flat out call him out when he's wrong. Of course the "Pretty Bird" makes Oliver's heart quiver.
Before Black Canary debuted in the series, Arrow tested the waters with how Stephen Amell's character would gel with a female action hero counterpart. In season 1's flashbacks, Oliver was trapped on Lian Yu island with Shado (Celina Jade), the resourceful daughter of the archer Yao Fei, whose green hood Oliver would adopt as his own. Meanwhile, in the present day, Oliver had a brief, torrid, and complicated romance with Helena Bertinelli, the Huntress (Jessica De Gouw). While only appearing in a handful of episodes, the Huntress was a hit and fueled fans' desire to finally see Arrow's proto-Green Arrow encounter the Black Canary.
However, in what would become a trademark of creative unpredictability in the Arrow-verse when it comes to being inspired by but then diverging from what's established in the comics, the first Black Canary would not be Dinah Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy). Despite Laurel being Oliver's primary love interest in season 1, she was an attorney who was kept out of the loop as far as Oliver's activities as a nocturnal vigilante were concerned. Arrow decidedly created a version of Laurel that had no history of being a crime fighter, much less a superhero, and as a result Laurel was often a lightning rod of fan ire. Cassidy's lack of romantic chemistry with Amell also disappointed fans, who in turn grew even more enamored with the flirtatious spark between Amell and Emily Bett Rickards' Felicity.
When the Black Canary finally debuted in season 2 of Arrow, it was a different Lance donning the black leather. Arrow's first Black Canary (referred to simply as "the Canary") was Sara Lance (Caity Lotz), Laurel's younger sister. As we learned throughout the season, Sara was trapped on the island with her secret boyfriend Oliver, survived, and ended up in the mystical city of Nanda Parbat where she was trained by the League of Assassins to be a lethal ninja.
Sara, thanks to Lotz's natural athleticism and charisma, dazzled Arrow fans as Black Canary. Here was a female superhero worthy to fight along side Oliver Queen's Arrow and fulfill the Arrow-Canary fantasies of comic book fans. There was just one catch... Sara is gay, and in love with Nyssa al Ghul (Katrina Law), the daughter of Ra's al Ghul (Matt Nable), the Big Bad of Arrow season 3. Sara was shockingly murdered at the onset of Arrow's third season, though she was soon resurrected (thanks to Laurel and a Lazarus Pit) to find a new destiny as the White Canary, leader of the time-traveling Legends of Tomorrow.
Sara's demise opened the door for Laurel, by now fully aware that Oliver and many of their mutual friends were Starling City's costumed crime fighters, to want in on the superhero game. Laurel's lack of physicality and dearth of experience in requisite rooftop brawling didn't deter her. Laurel, and Arrow the series, were determined to transform her into the Black Canary, but Sara was immensely popular and left big shoes to fill. Fans were skeptical, even as Laurel trained with boxer and former vigilante Ted Grant, the Wildcat (J.R. Ramirez). It wasn't long before Laurel eventually donned her own black leather suit and officially claimed the mantle of Black Canary.
As proper and fitting as it seemed to have Dinah Laurel Lance finally be the Black Canary on Arrow, Laurel's path as a superhero was a rocky one. Though she was eager to rumble against every costumed creep in the now-rechristened Star City, Laurel's run as the Black Canary more often than not saw her on the losing end of most super-brawls. The mechanically-induced "Canary Cry" sonic blasts Laurel occasionally unleashed were often ineffectual. Cathartic as Laurel taking a few hits for the team was for detractors who still didn't like her, the lumps and bruises Laurel received fighting evil with Team Arrow were also relatively realistic. Laurel was the least competent member of Team Arrow, which at that point included a costumed Diggle as Spartan and Oliver's sister Thea Queen (Willa Holland), trained by her father Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), as the archer Speedy.
By season 4, Oliver Queen had officially renamed himself the Green Arrow, and he had a Black Canary by his side. Comic book fans had reason to rejoice. And yet, Arrow was still missing the mark for there would be no Queen-Lance romance. Oliver was dealing with the fallout of his failed relationship with Felicity during season 4. Amell's chemistry with Cassidy hit highs as super friends, but romance never felt like it could be in the cards for their characters. Cassidy's finest dramatic moments in the series would always be the often tear-jerking scenes she shared with Paul Blackthorne, who played her struggling alcoholic policeman father Quentin Lance.
In the "Eleven Fifty Nine," Laurel joined the long list of fallen friends of Oliver Queen when she was murdered by the evil Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough). It seemed that Arrow had finally sheathed for good the idea of the series having a Green Arrow and Black Canary that would fulfill comics fans' fondest wishes.
Laurel's presence in the show continued to be felt even after her death. Now-Mayor Oliver Queen had a statue erected in her honor, and teenager Evelyn Sharpe (Madison McLaughlin), who would go on to join and betray Team Arrow as Artemis in season 5, briefly posed as the Black Canary. Laurel also appeared in Arrow's 100th episode, "Invasion," in a hallucination where she was engaged to an Oliver who never became the Green Arrow. "Invasion" was particularly poignant because it displayed a palpable romantic chemistry between Amell and Cassidy that was somehow missing when Laurel was alive.
With Green Arrow flanked by newcomers Mr. Terrific (Echo Kellum), Wild Dog (Rick Gonzalez), Artemis, and Ragman (Joe Dinicol), and anchored as ever by Felicity as Overwatch, Arrow in season 5 forged onward. It seemed Arrow was tacitly admitting failure over attempts to create a worthy Green Arrow-Black Canary romance. And yet, without a Black Canary, something vital is genuinely missing from the series.
Enter Tina Boland (Juliana Harkavy), introduced in the closing moments of "Who Are You?" And what an intro it is! In our first glimpse of Tina, she is literally a bar room brawler. A tough-talking, dry-witted bad ass who saves a poor waitress from being accosted by two burly thugs, Tina stuns everyone by sending the men crashing out of the bar window, unleashing her metahuman power, a "Canary Cry" sonic blast. The teaser for the next episode "Second Chances" immediately promises Tina will at least be offered the chance to become the Black Canary by Oliver. However, Tina Boland seems poised to become much more to Oliver Queen than yet another leather-clad super friend.
The Tina Boland character, should she become Arrow's next Black Canary, offers a notable course correction by Arrow's producers. Even in the brief glimpses we've seen of Tina thus far, Harkavy already resonates a sharp-tongued bravado that feels like a proper nod to the comic book Dinah Lance. By making Tina a metahuman (who coincidentally has the exact same superpower as Black Canary is supposed to have), Arrow embraces the colorful realm of superpowers and aliens their universe has expanded into while granting this future Black Canary the proper powers she has in the comics. All that remains to be seen is what sparks fly between Harkavy and Amell.
Tina Boland looks to finally provide all the necessary components to gel into a Black Canary well-matched to Arrow's remorseful, stubborn, and heroic Oliver Queen. As much as the desire for an"Olicity" romance still dominates the hearts of many Arrow fans, that ship seems to have sailed for those two characters. It makes sense for a superhero like Oliver to be with someone who knows the trials and dangers of fighting the evils of Star City in her alleys and on her rooftops.
For fans of the comics, the pairing of Green Arrow and Black Canary just feels right. They balance each other, watch each others' backs in the midst of battle, and save each others' lives. Black Canary makes the Green Arrow more human, and a better man. She pulls him from the abyss he too often skeeters towards, and she does it with wit and style. Without Black Canary, Green Arrow is incomplete. They are a package deal, and frankly, Green Arrow and Black Canary simply belong together. After five seasons and two previous attempts, Arrow may finally have found Oliver Queen the Pretty Bird he's always needed.