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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Superman and the Outsiders


Okay, that's not quite fair. In fact, this is a pretty decent line up for a JLA team, with only a few exceptions. Unfortunately, those exceptions are, well, exceptional... as in "Jesus mother of God! What the fuck is THAT loser doing in MY Justice League?"

Bats, Supes, Whatta Woman, Hal, Red Tornado, Black Canary... these are all fine. Dinah needs to put her cool little tuxedo half jacket back on, but that's my only gripe there. These are all Silver Age JLA members, or at least, their mostly idential Modern Age doppelgangers, and I have no bitches with any of them.

Speedy/Arsenal/whatever the fuck Green Arrow's sidekick calls himself these days... okay, I don't mind him, either. He's waaaaay better than that Conner punk we otherwise might have been stuck with. So I'm okay with him.

Hawkgirl -- well, I don't see the point; she works better in JSA, since she's a very different version of the recurring Hawkchick character specifically created for that series. I guess it's good to have one of the Hawks over here, though, and I like the character, so I don't have much of a problem with her.

But... then....

Vixen?

What the FUCK?

Look, I know, the League has had worse members. All you need to do is merely whisper the names "Vibe" or "Gypsy" to bring that home hard. Which may be the problem I have with this character, since Vixen was also a (terrible) member during this (terrible) period, which I keep trying to forget, and/or hoping has been wiped out by some retroactive cross continuity time-warping sales stunt, but which Steve Englehart is currently in the process of assuring me is still considered a valid part of Justice League history, which makes me want to beat my head against something for five or ten minutes at a time.

Still, I think my problem goes beyond even her lamentable association with the worst of all possible eras of the Justice League. I think at least some of my problem with this character comes from the fact that she's an atrocious and dreadful and appalling and terrible and horrible and awful character. I mean, she's a black chick, with, like, animal powers. For the love of Christ. And she gets her animal powers from this magic jungle totem she wears around her neck. And in her secret identity, she's a super model, who also happens to be a hot shit international espionage agent who has worked in the past with the Suicide Squad! Holy shit! If we need a really offensive ethnic stereotype who gets their powers from an idiotic magical necklace this badly, why not just yank Superchief out of limbo and put HIM in the team?

And then, of course, there's the last guy on the team -- Black Lightning.

Say it again, under your breath. Roll it over with your mind. Savor it. In a continuum littered with truly wretched super-code names, if someone were to make a Worst Name Ever list, however many entries ended up on it, surely, surely, this name would always have to have a place of honor.

Black Lightning.

Black Lightning is Jefferson Pierce. A wizened, street savvy survivor of the DC Ex/Implosion of the early 70s, when National Comics first tried to near monopolize the limited space on drugstore spinner racks by adding several dozen new titles to their publishing schedule overnight, and then had to cancel all of them at once when the paper shortages of that period hit them in the corporate schnozz like hard left jab from Muhammed Ali. Originally created and written by Tony Isabella, Black Lightning is apparently the reason Tony, who is very nearly the whitest looking man in the history of the universe, nonetheless identifies himself ethnically as black.

Black Lightning would have long since sunk into a well deserved obscurity if only Mike W. Barr (who, I'm pleased to report, has actually sunk into a well deserved obscurity) hadn't pulled him back out of Limbo and shoved him into the roster of BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS, a briefly popular, terminally mediocre design-it-by-the-numbers team from the late 1980s. BATO was set up to adhere to the formula of several other more successful superteam concepts of that era, said formula which originated, most likely, with the All New, All Different X-Men, who were actually composed of about half old, obscure mutant characters no one had ever previously cared about (Thunderbird, Sunfire, Banshee, Wolverine) while the other half of the squad were, indeed, All New All Different characters Dave Cockrum had salvaged from an old sketchbook he'd done when he was drawing LEGION OF SUPERHEROES.

Obviously, the formula worked, as all those All New All Different X-Men Cockrum came up with are still around to this day, except for Thunderbird, who blew up. Given such a successful formula, you'd expect a lot of imitation, and if you'd be right, too. BATO was, at that time, only the latest in a successive string of attempts to create similar superteams, whose rosters mixed older, obscure, unsuccessful figures with bold, new, original character designs.

Along with Metamorpho and Batman himself, Jefferson filled out the requisite "established characters" half of the team formula. His all new, all different teammates were three goobers named Katana, Halo, and Geo-Force. Later on, this line up was enhanced by the drop dead gorgeous Looker, leading to a lot of fanboy fantasies about lez threesomes among the Outsiders babes, but unfortunately, no worthwhile stories. In fact, if you translate "no worthwhile stories" into Latin, you could very accurately engrave it on Black Lightning's family escutcheon... or, better, on his tombstone, but now is no time to go off into raptures of the deep. Let's stick to our muttons, however repulsive THAT sounds.

It occurs to me that I'm spending way more time on Black Lightning than he could ever conceivably merit. So, let me just add that his powers are -- he is very very fast (but not as fast as an actual comic book super speedster) and kind of a martial artist (but not as good as an actual comic book martial artist) and he can throw around lightning bolts if he's recently licked a battery or something (but not as well as an actual comic book superhuman who actually throws around lightning as an actual super power can). Getting the picture? He's a mediocre character with mediocre powers and a really stupid name, and if there were actually a just and decent God in our or the DC Universe, then Tony Isabella would be riveting sheet metal somewhere in Detroit right now or at least he would have been way back when he otherwise inflicted this cretinous creation on comicdom in general.

And now, Black Lightning is in the Justice League.

And, apparently, bald.

To an extent, this is Hal Jordan's fault. (Black Lightning being in the Justice League, I mean, not Black Lightning being bald. Hal could certainly have made his hair fall out if he wanted to, but that kind of childishness is much more in Guy Gardner's line.) Hal is back in the Justice League, which pleases me, as he's the best possible Green Lantern and the JLA should always have one in it. But because they put him in the Justice League, that means they can't also put in John Stewart, who is, as a general rule, DC's first fall back minority token character.

See, if you're at Marvel or DC, you always have to have a token minority in all your teams (Batman and the Outsiders had two; Black Lightning and Katana, who was, of course, Japanese), and with John Stewart ruled out, well, that doesn't leave too many minority characters to choose from over in the Original Honkey Universe.

Yet, one of the rules of Mandatory Minority Integration Into All Superteams is that you always want to try, if at all possible, to make your tokenism deniable. You can do this one of two ways -- either you can double up on your minority representation, by, say, including an ethnic chick character (you get the twofer there, so when people say "she's a token", you can at least say "Yeah, but she fills TWO token slots", so that makes it better), or, you can carefully select a character who is actually kind of cool, and useful to the team, and that people actually like, to be your token.

Pretty clearly, if you got John Stewart in your team, well, nobody is going to say "Geez, HE's lame, what the hell does HE do, he's got, like, some dumb ass magic sword and the ability to turn himself into stone; pretty obvious he's only there to be a token". No, John Stewart is a moving unit; he's got a power ring and he knows how to use it. He is that rarest of things at either mainstream superhero comic book universe, a minority super character who is also very powerful, and undeniably cool.

But, as I said, we got Hal, so we can't have John. And you gotta respect that; JLA has never exactly been a team of balance, but still, how many people with omnipotent bling do you need in any roster? Unless EVERYONE on the team has that power (see GREEN LANTERN CORPS), there's not much point in duplicating your MOs that way.

But, without John, let's face it: the DC Universe is pretty much bankrupt of cool minority characters. And you know that's true, because, well, quad era demonstratum, they ended up putting Black Lightning in the team. How desperate are you for a token minority when you slide your finger down the list, tap a couple of times, and then say "Yeahhhh... okay... what the fuck"... at BLACK FRIGGIN LIGHTNING? Desperate enough to bone Ann Coulter while stone cold sober, I'm thinking, and that's pretty goddam desperate.

But, again, Black Lightning is SO lame that the tokenism of including him on ANY roster is terrifyingly blatant. And you can't have that, not unless you're going to have Henry Peter Gyrich, or maybe Sarge Steel (they're pretty much the same guy; one just has prosthetic hands) show up and say "Okay, you guys need a coon, so here, you HAVE to take Black Lightning". In the absence of that, you need some other minority to take the curse off Black Lightning, and, well, if we reach even further down in the barrel (you wouldn't think there was anything further down under Black Lightning, but, hey, you live and learn) well, you pretty quickly come to Vixen. And she is a two-fer, you know, she's black AND a chick, so, okay, now the choice of Black Lightning doesn't look quite so contrived and politically correct.

Now, any or all of this could have been avoided if either the Martian Manhunter, or the Red Tornado, had decided, way back in the Silver Age, to take on human guises that weren't skeevy white guys. I mean, think about it. Red Tornado is a humanoid robot who disguises himself as a human being in his secret identity; the Martian Manhunter is a frickin' alien who shapeshifts into a human semblance in his. Either of them could have chosen to be black, or Asian, or Indian, or Native American, or latino, or frickin' Innuit, for that matter. But they didn't, and because of that, they can't count as minorities, so, we end up stuck with Black Lightning and Vixen. In the frickin' JUSTICE LEAGUE. And it's just awful, but that's the deal.

Now, in closing, I understand that a few other fans out there have commented on this new line up on their own blogs. One comment I've heard is that Hal Jordan doesn't belong in JLA, because JLA is John Stewart's book.

I don't know. On the surface, this just seems so retarded that if I hadn't read it first hand on this other blog, I'd be tempted to doubt that even a Modern Age fan could possibly formulate something so idiotic. But, Modern Age fans continually astound me; there seems to be literally no limit to their squalling, childish, petulant, narrowminded, shallow, and just plain generally dumb ass dumb assedness. So, having seen it, let me respond to it:

The JLA isn't any one character's book. While there are certain characters that certainly belong there, always, and there are others that should never, never, never appear between a JLA cover other than as brief comic relief during some humorous Try Out Day sequence, or while getting their asses kicked by the REAL JLA, the name of this book has never been JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA featuring COSMIC GUY, or anything like that. John Stewart is a fine member of the Justice League, but the League only ever needs one Green Lantern at any given time, and if you want a Green Lantern and you can get Hal Jordan, well, that's where your recruitment drive ends. When you can get the best, you don't trifle with the rest.

Beyond that, Hal is a charter member of the Justice League. John began his career as a superhero substituting for Hal, after Hal managed to slip on a bar of soap and knock himself unconscious. (It must have been yellow soap, or his ring would never have allowed it.) Now, this may certainly mean that John's debut was hardly Hal's finest hour, but it also inarguably means that John only gets to play in the major League when Hal is unavailable, either because he's unconscious in his shower stall or at the far end of the Universe beating up Sinestro or dead and wearing a bathrobe as the Spirit of Jebus. Any time this isn't true, Hal gets priority. That's just how it is.

I realize that it may not seem fair; Hal, after all, has his own comic, while John has to share space with 15,000 other Green Lanterns over in GREEN LANTERN CORPS. But, you know, that's life. It's also not fair that frickin' Kyle Rayner gets his own comic and John doesn't. Bitch to Ron Marz about that one.

I'm also given to understand that Red Tornado sucks hard and should never, ever, EVER be in the Justice League. There is certainly some validity to this point of view; after being initially created by Len Wein as a pretty blatant rip off of a Roy Thomas android at Marvel, and then being crapped all over by Gerry Conway in an even more blatant imitation of that same Marvel android's 'secret origin', even I have to admit that the Red Tornado is one prohibitively fucked up gringo. Nonetheless, regardless of whether or not he's the Tornado Tyrant or DC's last Air Elemental or the Golden Age Human Torch or a floor polish and a dessert topping, he was a Silver Age member of the Justice League, and he wasn't one who was either created by or inducted under Gerry Conway, so if he wants to be in the League, he gets to be in the League, and that's the end of that.

And we could still get lucky with Black Lightning and Vixen, because, you never know. Brad Metzler does like to kill off old characters...

3 Comments:

At 2:13 AM , Blogger Bane said...

I couldn't agree more about the vixen thing. I'll give Metzer a bit to convince me to like her, but I'm doubtful.

I really don't mind Black Lightning all that much... just the dumb ass codename.

I'm pretty excited about the rest of the lineup, though. Really hapy to see Roy get booted up to the BIG leauges.

Oh, and some pictures do have Dinah in her jacket, so I think that it's back, just not all over the place.

 
At 2:30 AM , Anonymous Reed Solomon said...

John isn't even in GLC, GUY GARDNER is the star of GLC (with salakk, kilowog, a new trainee chick from korugar, and the rest of the GLC as background)

between Hal, John, Kyle, and Guy, John doesn't have his own book. Hal is still the star of the main GL book, Kyle is off in the Ion spinoff , and Guy has his own mini coming out this fall and is the main guy in GLC. I'm a Guy fan primarily, but I like John as a character more than Hal and Kyle who I find boring and plain. Hopefully Hal being in the JLA will lead to John getting the lead storylines in the main GL book for a while.

 
At 6:56 AM , Blogger Highlander said...

Bane,

Always nice to see you on the blog. Good news about Dinah's jacket. Thanks.

Reed,

Always nice to see someone new on the blog. I was pretty sure I'd seen John in occasional GLC issues. If not, well, that's not my fault or Hal's fault. You know, there's no law that says DC can't publish two different Green Lantern comics and give one to John, and it wouldn't bother me, and it might give them some cred with a minority audience.

Or, they could have John revert to his youthful, snarling relevance days and give him a book called BLACK LANTERN, where he primarily involves himself with inner city youth and redeeming the ghetto. That one might do some business, too.

 

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