Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Legionnaires: Ferro Lad

Ferro Lad, aka Andrew Nolan of Earth, aka Ferro. Created by Jim Shooter.

Ferro Lad was a guy with the power of turning his body to iron. He wore a face-concealing iron helmet because of some severe facial deformities (and had a brother, Douglas, who had the same deal). Ferro Lad joined the Legion in the mid-'60s, but wasn't a member for long because of his heroic death, about which more in a second. Legend has it that originally he was conceived as a black guy, which would have been groundbreaking at the time, but the conservative editors at DC wouldn't go for it. Yes on the green- and blue- and orange-skinned characters; no on the brown-skinned characters, was the story.

Ferro Lad's signature moment came in the famous Sun-Eater story. A big cloud of gas called the Sun-Eater was prowling the galaxy, consuming stars left and right, and was putting everything in jeopardy. The Legion tried lots of things to stop it, none of which were ultimately successful. Finally:





He was the first Legionnaire (possibly the first superhero! For reference, this is, as far as I can tell, early ‘67) to die and stay dead, and served as a heroic example to future Legionnaires thereafter. Ferro Lad repeated this performance in the animated series, and his reboot counterpart Ferro almost did the same thing in the 'Final Night' storyline in the '90s... but lived through it (and more about that later). (Which was kind of ill-advised, because the writers didn't know what else to do with him and he was just kind of there for the rest of the reboot.) (No Ferro Lad so far in the threeboot.)

When Ferro Lad took that dive into the Sun-Eater, knowing that he was going to die and knowing that everyone else was going to live, he added a new tarot card to the Legion's deck. And various Legionnaires, and other characters, have played that card at times. Here's one example that I think rewards closer examination.

Ferro Lad joined the Legion at the same time as Karate Kid, Princess Projectra and Nemesis Kid. They were a group, Jim Shooter's Class of '66. Instead of using their names, let's call them, respectively, A,B,C, and D; it makes the pattern more obvious. First, D turned out to be a traitor. Second, A sacrificed his life to save the galaxy. B and C remained Legion stalwarts, fell in love, and eventually married. But then D led a group of villains that conquered C's planet, and only B could free himself to confront D. But B couldn't beat D! D was too strong. So what did he do? He got help from A.

Karate Kid summoned up the spirit of Ferro Lad within himself, symbolically, and dove into the fusion sphere like it was a little Sun-Eater, destroying the shield around Orando, ruining Nemesis Kid's plans and giving Projectra the resolve she needed to defeat Nemesis Kid herself*. (And if you doubt that this was intentional, consider this: when Karate Kid flew to his death, we couldn’t see his face. Nemesis Kid had beaten him up so badly that he couldn’t be shown in a comic book that kids might read, was the alleged reason… but I think it was also to symbolize Ferro Lad, whose face we never saw either.)

There have been other examples. In Legion Lost, for example: Live Wire sacrificing himself to stop the Omniphagos ("All-Eater") was almost exactly the same thing. Magnetic Kid flying to his death high over the Sorceror’s World was comparable. Wildfire at Black Dawn fits decently. Any others? (Any by female characters?)

In fact, Ferro Lad’s example reaches beyond the Legion. In the ‘Final Night’ storyline, Ferro is about to sacrifice himself to stop the Sun-Eater, when he’s pre-empted by Parallax, aka Hal Jordan, who saves Ferro and sacrifices himself instead. Jordan had been pretty much a supervillain at the time, but came back to himself enough to save Ferro and the world. He eventually returned to life as a heroic Green Lantern again, with Final Night as his key redemptive moment. Parallax, one of DC’s most destructive supervillains, was transformed back into one of DC’s greatest heroes through Jordan’s participation in the spirit of Ferro Lad. Parallax saved Ferro… but Ferro Lad saved Hal Jordan.

That’s not bad for a guy who died over forty years ago and whose continuity hasn’t even been around in more than ten.

--
* I think there’s also a case to be made that Projectra was channeling Karate Kid when she killed Nemesis Kid, the same way Karate Kid was channeling Ferro Lad in blowing the shield. She didn’t do it through the deception of illusion, after all; she did it in hand-to-hand combat, through sheer determination and willpower, which is exactly Karate Kid’s style. Who would have picked Projectra to be the last survivor of the four?

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14 Comments:

Blogger He Who Wanders said...

Interesting analysis of Ferro Lad's history, but I'm not sure what conclusions can be drawn from it. Ferro Lad's death forms a pattern with the deaths of Karate Kid and others -- brilliant observation, by the way -- but so what? Is this pattern significant in some way, either by itself or for the Legion as a whole? Do you think that there's a reason why later creators kept returning to this pattern?

12:21 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Well... I don't know what conclusions can be drawn from it. That it is a pattern is a point, and that it is a pattern that looks like it can be traced back to Ferro Lad is another point. But of course that's only within comics. In real life we had the Japanese kamikaze pilots in World War II; in The Empire Strikes Back we had Hobbie flying headfirst into an AT-AT; in Independence Day we had Randy Quaid and the mothership. What I was really trying to get at is how important a character Ferro Lad has remained even since his death two generations ago.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Adam Star said...

If you look beyond super hero comic books then the significance of a self-sacrifice is not so hard to see at all. It's a mythic model and even without digging in too deep its the embodiment of the selfless, noble warrior. Jean Grey comes to mind as a female super hero who sacrifices herself (multiple times), in her case the solar allegory is really apparent.

I still just get a little sad when I think about Karate Kid, they did a really good job with that story. He was a great character.

This is an amazing blog, I'm really pleased to have found it.

8:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

No, I agree, but I'm talking about this particular *style* of self-sacrifice, where you fly directly into a big enemy space-thing and blow it up. There are lots of other ways of sacrificing your life (including Jean's way, which I had thought of), but I was trying to isolate this one.

Thanks for the kind words.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Adam Star said...

Yes, I suppose I'm trying to determine the significance of the pattern queried by "he who wanders". The scale of the menace involved w/ Ferro Boy is note-worthy, and maybe the Legion allows for this by being such high Space Opera. It's really an interesting riddle. In this case the event is so cosmic it can't help but resonate on an astronomical scale, which to my way of thinking brings the general self-sacrificing hero model closer to its celestial source, observational astronomy.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I see what you mean. I guess, symbolically, it's like the sun eclipsing Mars. (Mars = Fe.)

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting... I didn't even think of Ferro Lad when I read the story where Karate Kid dies, but when you put it this way, it's so obvious!

You're right that he set a precedent for a certain kind of heroic sacrifice. But he's also significant for being the first ever superhero to die and stay dead. He had an appearance as a ghost, and another as a short-lived clone, and I think he was among the zombies at the end of the 5YL era - but he was never actually returned to life. At least not until a Reboot version of the character was introduced in 1996...

12:29 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Actually I think I've isolated another subtype of heroic death to go along with Ferro Lad's 'divine wind' death. Only problem is I have to write about it in a longer article that I haven't started yet.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A trick was missed in the reboot era when Ferro went to the future.He could've become the readers' POV character,letting them explore the Legion's world(s)thru his eyes.Instead,he was treated as somthing like the village idiot,even by his teammates,which didn't speak well of Ferro or his fellow Legionnaires.

12:11 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

That could have worked, yeah. Although it was somewhat late in the game to start showing us the reboot Legion in such a way.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Better late than never.It might've brought a new angle to the books at a time when they could've used a new angle.

A flaw (if that's the word) about the Legion is that the culture of the future is seldom explored in much detail.Usually,the future is shown to be just like the present, only with more gadgets.Maybe it can't be done otherwise--it's supposed to be a superhero story, not sociological speculation.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

This was actually one of the strengths of the threeboot. Early on, anyway. And people hated it. I thought it was great, myself.

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought this was quite an interesting artcile, thanks for writing it. I have to admit, though I am into comics, I haven't actually devled into many legion ones so though I know of a dozen or so characters and a few major events I don't actually know that much. I actually I think got more or less my first taste of the legion from the animated series. And even though he only appeared in a couple episodes Ferro Lad caught my attention right away and I have to say I've become a bit of fan. Since then I've been trying to read about him what I can though with his short career he there isn't much. He's one of the ones I'd love to see come back, but at the same time I feel his effect may ruined if that happened. I mean I think the small popularity he has now is in large part due to the impact and ripple effect of his death. Anyways great character and I think despite its fatal nature, the spirit of Ferro Lad has a inspirational feel to it.

2:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought this was quite an interesting artcile, thanks for writing it. I have to admit, though I am into comics, I haven't actually devled into many legion ones so though I know of a dozen or so characters and a few major events I don't actually know that much. I actually I think got more or less my first taste of the legion from the animated series. And even though he only appeared in a couple episodes Ferro Lad caught my attention right away and I have to say I've become a bit of fan. Since then I've been trying to read about him what I can though with his short career he there isn't much. He's one of the ones I'd love to see come back, but at the same time I feel his effect may ruined if that happened. I mean I think the small popularity he has now is in large part due to the impact and ripple effect of his death. Anyways great character and I think despite its fatal nature, the spirit of Ferro Lad has a inspirational feel to it.

2:24 AM  

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