Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Legionnaires: Invisible Kid

I had originally planned for my next one of these articles to be highlighting four Legionnaires who all had their defining appearance in The Legion #35-38, but I couldn't hold off on doing this one instead. Sorry. See, I find myself, in numerous conversations around the 'net, writing, "Well, I've got a lot to say about Invisible Kid, but I want to save it for a Legion Abstract article." This must mean that it's time to write that article.

It is of course a little silly that the first three Legionnaires I'm profiling in this feature are Invisible Kid, Invisible Kid, and Invisible Kid's best friend. That wasn't intentional. But there we are anyway.

Invisible Kid, aka Lyle Norg of Earth. Created by ?

First, powers and abilities. Invisible Kid can turn invisible, and at the moment that includes invisibility all the way up and down the electromagnetic spectrum. In addition he’s an extremely smart cookie, as close to Brainiac 5 in intelligence as it's possible for a regular teenaged Earthling to be.

The original Invisible Kid had lightish brown hair, but subsequent versions had darker hair. The first versions were fairly slender guys, but Threeboot Lyle is a bit chunkier.

Let's do the history fast so we can skip to the intriguing stuff. Original-recipe Invisible Kid brewed himself up an invisibility serum, joined the Legion, served with honour until he was killed by Validus. SW6 Lyle and Reboot Lyle were similar; smart quiet guys who did their jobs. Threeboot Invisible Kid is something else entirely, and as far as I can tell this fact has gone unremarked up ‘til now.

What I usually do here is to point out which story it is in which the Legionnaire in question showed off what makes him or her such a great character. And for quite a while I thought it'd be a scene from LSH v5 #11-12. To refresh your memory about those issues, here's what happens: Elysion, who's crazy and powerful, has just destroyed Legion headquarters and is off to do the same thing to the rest of Metropolis. The only Legionnaires around to stop him are Dream Girl, who's dead, Brainiac 5, who's staring into space as he tries to think up a way to bring Dream Girl back to life, and Invisible Kid, who's only there because the Legion doesn't trust him enough to send him on any missions. So what does Lyle do?

He, the new kid, all by himself, rallies the legionnaires and holds Elysion at bay until Brainy can get his act together and pull an Imskian from his hat. And takes a serious beating as he's doing it. Boy, when I read that, I thought that it was one of the great new-guy-proves-himself stories in comics. They have to trust Lyle now, after the way he came through. He was the last line of defense, him and his fribbling little power of invisibility, and he held.

Then I thought about it some more. And the more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether Lyle was really being heroic.

Legion readers met Invisible Kid earlier than we met any other threeboot Legionnaire. In the Titans/Legion Special, he appears as an anonymous teenager who's arguing with his parents about the Legion. (I’m not changing the subject here; bear with me.)

A couple of points about that scene. First, notice how Lyle throws himself down on his bed? That's not the action of a grown man; that's what a child does. I thoroughly approve: this is not a Legion of grownups; these people are still teenagers. Second, Lyle is nonetheless intelligent enough that he knew how that confrontation was going to end before it started. I'm not saying it's his fault; it's not. Lon's the parent, he should know better, it's his fault. But nothing that happened came as a surprise to Lyle.

Let me interject here that I have no experience with or particular understanding of child abuse. So I'm going to try not to say too much here; the last thing I want to do is look like I'm trivializing the issue. I'm just going by what I read in this comic book, and I hope nobody's offended. I'm walking as carefully as I can.

But that one scene in the Titans/Legion Special tells us more about Lyle than is apparent. Let's consider Lyle's other interactions throughout the threeboot. Almost invariably, they follow the same pattern as his confrontation with Lon. He provokes the other person, and is slapped down.

He provokes...

...and is slapped down.

He provokes...

...and is slapped down.

He provokes and is slapped down.

That's all he does. That's how he interacts with people. With anybody. Go ahead, find any appearance of Lyle in the threeboot, and if the conversation or action is about anything of substance, you'll find that pattern (I'll discuss the exception below).

Now, I speculated in this article that Invisible Kid's power of disappearing made him perceived as inherently untrustworthy by the other Legionnaires. And the idea still appeals to me. But I now think that another possibility is that his power matches the desire of an abused child to hide, to disappear, to not be there anymore. I'm not comfortable putting too much weight on that idea, but you can have it if you want it.

It was the Chemical King spotlight that actually sent me in the right direction about Invisible Kid. See, when Chemical King sacrificed his life the way he did, I wondered about whether you could call it heroism or just a useful suicide. What did he have to live for? And I have the same questions about Invisible Kid's actions in LSH v5 #11-12. Was he being heroic, or was he just taking his neuroses out for a walk?

Elysion was:

a) older
b) dark-haired
c) male
d) used to exercising authority
e) violent
f) vaguely military

just like Lon Norg. (I just realized: Cosmic Boy also possesses some of these qualities, and Lyle gets on Rokk’s nerves more than anyone else.) And how did Lyle respond to him?

And the result:

So I can't give Invisible Kid full credit for that one. Heroism is about overcoming fear and adversity. What Lyle did there showed that he was still under the control of his personal fear and adversity, the poor guy. Even if it did work out okay.

But there's hope for him. Another part of the pattern of Lyle's interactions with others is that when he provokes Legionnaires, they don’t really put the hammer down on him. I offer you Cosmic Boy sending him to stay with Sun Boy's parents at the end of #4, Cosmic Boy not tearing Lyle in hundredths and dancing on the pieces at the end of issue #9, and Atom Girl taking him completely by surprise in #14:

The point is that he can get some support in the Legion. Probably he needs more therapy than they can give him, but at least they'll cut him the slack that his parents never did. He'll get comfortable, he'll let down his guard a bit, he'll grow up a little. He’s a superhero and a Legionnaire; he’ll be fine. (It's going to take a while: most recently, in #22, he tried to sell Cosmic Boy on the idea that Rokk's feelings for Supergirl were nothing more than Kryptonian-magnetic interference. I'm convinced he was lying so he could have Kara for himself, which, sorry, Champ, ain't gonna happen.) And there will be more times like this, in which he confronts his father about his future in the Legion. No petulance, no provocation; just gives it to him straight from the shoulder. Lyle had to grow up a bit for this one; it’s his true finest hour (and with the dashedest power stunt I’ve ever seen. Imagine, Lyle has deception and concealment literally running through his veins. And not only that! The phrase, ‘the unique properties of Lyle Norg’? That’s an allusion to the death of the original-version Invisible Kid, in that Chemical King story! Never noticed that until now):

(I didn't realize the above transition wasn't clear until I was looking at the final post. The vial of blood is being passed along to higher authorities.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matthew: Hi! Excellent article!! You’re analyses of the 3-boot (WnK? What are we going to call this version??) Legion have been a treat to read.

Re: The nature of Lyle’s behavior. I think looking at it as a reaction to “child abuse” and in response to “father” issues is close to the mark but a bit too specific. Instead, I would suggest his behavior is a general result of his feelings of social impotence and under-appreciation and are passive-aggressive in nature. (DISCLAIMER: I’m not a behavioral expert so bear with me).

It’s pretty well-established outside of Brainiac 5, Lyle is the most intelligent Legionnaire (Even though Triplicate Girl called Sun Boy “scary smart”, I don’t think she meant so in terms of sheer intellect). Lyle’s father exploited his intelligence to get an invisibility serum for the SP. Brainy recruited him, not solely for his power (maybe not even primarily), but his intellect. The opening page of LSH #7 supports this suggestion on Brainy’s true thoughts: a) Brainy has Lyle in his lab assisting. Brainy isn’t going to let anybody near his systems who won’t be of real help. b) Brainy calls Lyle a “gathering of carbon”. Brainy reserves his most biting comments for those with abilities he genuinely respects (see reactions to Light Lass, Star Boy and Dream Girl).

How is Lyle treated despite his intelligence? As he puts it in LSH #4, “See what sucks about accomplishment is that sometimes parents focus on it and not you. Doesn’t matter how unique or bright or colorful you try to be – you’re only as good as you’re last grading period.” His treatment by the other Legionnaires has been similarly dismissive: Ultra Boy’s “So my dog could find you” (LSH #1) in regard to his self-endowed powers; Light Lass’s “Well, I think he’s cute.” comment, complete with hair ruffling that makes Lyle seem like the team’s new puppy; and Cosmic Boy’s “Shut up. And pay attention as I demonstrate to you what teamwork is.” after discovering Lyle’s concealment of his dad being a SP chief.

Lyle’s reactions follow a classic passive-aggressive pattern. Some of the panels you feature support this: Lyle faces people and situations in which he’s relatively powerless. He “provokes” [sic] in many instances not overtly and in a way that elicits a strong negative response. This behavioral pattern allows Lyle the luxury of trying to assert himself, while maintaining his self-perception of being an under-appreciated victim. Furthermore, you may be correct in your assessment that “his power matches the desire of an abused child to hide, to disappear, to not be there anymore” [sic], but I view Lyle’s power as more a metaphor of his own feelings of social impotence and lack of recognition by those around him. Lyle feels “invisible”, especially to those from whom he craves recognition the most.

Lyle is being portrayed as the “low man on the totem pole” in the series. I use that phrase specifically because of its slang meaning and ironic true meaning. The slang meaning: Lyle’s at the bottom of the Legion’s social order. People regard him as a “kid” even in a group of kids; he’s not trusted because of his powers and his deceptions; and even after he’s the one who figures out the key to stopping the Lemnos invasion, the only person who gives him real credit (or at least verbally expresses it to him) is another relatively socially-isolated member, Shrinking Violet. The phrase’s ironic meaning: in Native American cultures, the totem’s lowest figure is one of the more important (being created by the chief artisan). Lyle is one the more important members of the team; the stories so far make this quite clear. And I completely agree with you that we’re seeing him mature in his interactions with people. Waid is giving us an excellent (albeit gradual) tour of Lyle’s development as a strong team member.

Did that make any sense?

Thanks for all your great work on analyzing the 3-boot. I wish I had the insight (and patience) to write similar posts on my site.

And speaking of my site (WARNING: shameless self-plug coming!), if you’re so inclined, please feel free to stop by The Planetary Chance Machine (TPCM). There’s not a bunch of Legion-related stuff (or a bunch of any stuff at this point) yet, but I just finished week one, so more will come. (So endth the self-plug!!)

P.S. Sorry to be so long-winded! But your post was so good, it actually made me think that much!!

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back again. I wanted to “FYI” you that I’ve posted my comment to this article on my site (with a link back to here, of course). That certainly wasn’t my original intent, but I was thinking this afternoon, “Damn, that was more effort than I’ve put into any post on my site. Why not just post it at TPCM?”

I hope this doesn’t violate standard blogging decorum (If it does, then feel free to bust my chops! I’m still looking for “Emily Post’s Blogging Etiquette”.)

Thanks again for another thought-provoking article!

6:26 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks. I'll respond on your blog.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

By the way. I'm not sure why nobody mentioned this, but I messed up a little bit in this article. I described Lon Norg as 'dark-haired', but he isn't, really. He isn't exactly blond, but he's a lot blonder than Lyle or Elysion or Cosmic Boy. So let's just pretend I never mentioned that part.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, Lyle's reaction to child abuse and his use of his powers is right on target.
You have no experience with child abuse and yet you caught the plot very well.
I am one of those unfortunates (I long ago dealt with it) that didn't know a day without abuse growing up. I did exactly what you mentioned. I became invisible and hid at every chance possible. Lyle's need to be invisible is normal and well written. I didn't even notice it until you mentioned it. Well done.

9:11 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks for reassuring me; I was a little worried I was talking through my hat.

12:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to echo anonymous, above, and say this post is why I'm going to start picking up threeboot trades.

12:45 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks. I appreciate the kind words, and it's always good to see someone else climbing aboard.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking through the panels here, I noticed that Lyle seems to be a big fan of a certain new member, judging by the poster on his wall in his room. This might have some new relevance given recent events with Rokk...

6:17 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Yeah, I remember someone on Legion World mentioning that, and I think Barry Kitson may have allowed as how it might not have been a coincidence.

6:42 PM  

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