Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I Don't Want to Go off on Any Ranzz Here

I just thought of something. (Strange how I seem to be starting more and more of these posts with that kind of announcement.) For a while now I've been complaining about how Geoff Johns has changed Lightning Lad's personality in a way I didn't care for. But now I actually like it, because I think I know what Johns is up to!

I'm not going to try to argue that the retroboot Lightning Lad is consistent with the Lightning Lad that, say, Paul Levitz wrote. He's not. Levitz's Garth was stalwart and intense and clean-cut; Johns's Garth is emotional and resentful and kind of a bad-boy. Johns's Garth actually has a lot in common with reboot Live Wire, with threeboot Lightning Lad and with SW6 Live Wire. (Animated Lightning Lad is a whole other thing entirely.) But remember: there was an in-story reason why SW6 Garth was different from original-recipe Garth, and it's this: most of what we've seen of original Lightning Lad is really Proty* in disguise! See Tom Bierbaum's Legion reminiscences for more on this, but basically they wrote it so that Garth's real personality was kind of an immature hothead, and it was Proty who provided the more responsible personality we remember so well from the '60s, '70s and '80s.

And ever since then, his portrayals have tended to fall in line with the SW6 depiction. So what Johns is doing is, in a backwards kind of way, validating that Garth-is-really-Proty story! By writing Lightning Lad the way he is, Johns is saying that this isn't the same Lightning Lad we read about in the 1980s, because this Lightning Lad isn't Proty like the original one was! (Which makes this, for those of us keeping track, another way in which retroboot continuity departs from original-Legion continuity.)

It's actually quite an interesting nuance, because after all the ceremony that was intended to revive Lightning Lad was a plot point in the Lightning Saga, and one that's still important in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. Because look: the point of the 5YL Garth-is-Proty story is that the lightning-rod ritual didn't work. But the retroboot needs it to work! Therefore Garth must be Garth and not Proty. I don't want to put too much weight on that, because Johns could have just given him the Lightning Lad personality we remember from the '80s, without addressing the Proty thing, and nobody would have noticed or cared. As it is, though... it's very elegant. It's consistent all the way down the line.

This is the same kind of thing I mentioned in the Calamity King article: no part of DC continuity may be more moribund than the Legion's 5YL comics, but, unexpectedly, here comes another little strand of support for it, in the last place you'd expect to see it.

It's actually kind of cool, especially if you're a fan of the Five Years Later Legion. Deftly played, Mr. Johns.

But at the same time, he's backtracked on the characterizations of Garth's brother and sister, Lightnings Lord and Lass. Ayla broke up with Timber Wolf for excellent reasons in original-Legion continuity, and it made a lot of sense for her not to go back to him. Her relationship with Vi was a well-structured development for both of those two characters and also made a lot of sense. But what do we see in the retroboot? Ayla back with Brin again. Why? How? No good reason I can see. I don't consider it a mischaracterization; it's a perfectly plausible development... but not a welcome one.

Similarly, Mekt's place in the world has retrogressed. Lightning Lord was a supervillain as late as the latter parts of the Levitz run, but he had been reformed as of Five Years Later and was living peacefully and happily on Winath with his family and boyfriend. This development (read more about it here) seemed to give Mekt a new role in Legion lore: he is the supervillain who reforms. Reboot Mekt had his period of villainy before he reformed and settled on Winath; he was still kind of unstable but never stepped back over the line. Animated Mekt was a villain for a while but turned on Imperiex to save Ayla and then surrendered to the cops. And threeboot Mekt was never exactly a villain in the first place. The only place Lightning Lord is still a bad guy is in retroboot continuity. Again, plausible but not welcome.

I suppose it's possible that Johns is saving the Mekt-reform story and the deterioration of the Ayla-Brin relationship for exploration at some future date. I only have a couple of problems with that:
1. We've already seen that stuff happen. In the case of Mekt, we've seen it more than once**. We don't need it all over again.
2. I have yet to be convinced that Johns is going to be writing any Legion stories after FC:L3W anyway. He is, like Brainiac 5, very busy!

Most likely these were just the simplest ways of writing two characters who he wasn't putting much weight on in the first place. Sort of like using Yera and Rond Vidar as superheroes instead of as the excellent supporting characters they used to be. Oh well.

--

* in case anyone needs an explanation, here it is: Lightning Lad died and was resurrected in an old Silver Age story: Proty sacrificed his life to transfer his life force to Lightning Lad in the famous lightning-rod ritual. But it was established in LSHv4 Annual #3, one of the 5YL annuals, that Proty actually replaced Lightning Lad in that ceremony, and maintained the disguise forever after, because the Legion and the galaxy needed this great hero back.
** and Lightning Lord is a boring villain in the first place anyway.

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28 Comments:

Blogger Michael said...

But it was established in LSHv4 Annual #3, one of the 5YL annuals, that Proty actually replaced Lightning Lad in that ceremony, and maintained the disguise forever after

Feh. That's the one thing I'm most glad they got rid of. Hated hated hated it. Ptui. If you open me up you'll find a series of tapes labeled "HATE".

Lots of Legionnaires got personality implants during v4, and not all of the SW6 Legionnaires were the same as their Silver Age counterparts, so you can't really point to Lightning Lad and say he's unique.

You can have your Valor/Andromeda/Bounty/Glorith/Protygarth/Earth blowing up/profem/Dirk's a traitor v4, but leave me out of it.

2:43 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

That's the one thing I'm most glad they got rid of.Well, then, you should be happy, because it's not true of this Legion.

Lots of Legionnaires got personality implants during v4, and not all of the SW6 Legionnaires were the same as their Silver Age counterparts, so you can't really point to Lightning Lad and say he's unique.I'm not sure what your point is.

You can have your Valor/Andromeda/Bounty/Glorith/Protygarth/Earth blowing up/profem/Dirk's a traitor v4, but leave me out of it.I don't say that I actually liked all those plot developments (and you left out another that bugged me at the time: the possibility that Gim and Luornu cheated on Yera and Chuck), but they made for some incredibly powerful storytelling, and I enjoyed that I cared about what was happening so much. DC wishes I cared half as much what was going on in any comic they were publishing now.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Greg Morrow said...

I'll ditto Michael here. Proty-Garth was one of the things that I most hated about v4.

Uncoincidentally, it's also one of the most fannish things that those uber-fans did.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

It's not my intention to criticize or defend any single aspect of the 5YL era, but one thing I do like is when when comic-book writers live with changes that have been made rather than sweeping away what they don't like*, so in that sense I'm in favour of what Johns has done with Lightning Lad (although don't ask me if he sees it in the same sense that I explained in this article. I'm sure he's capable of it, though).

--

* which is odd, because I don't think comic-book writers should be constrained by continuity. I don't think I'm contradicting myself, but I'd have to think about it for a while to figure out how I'm not contradicting myself.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Eye-Roller Lass said...

Gotta love Wolverine-on-plug! WolverGarth!

I cannot profess enough the depths of my love for the classic, Pre-Crisis Legion. But. Given the choice between a clunky story, shoehorned to fit some nightmare of a continuity, or something more creative, that can give the Legion the great adventures they deserve, I might be tempted to embrace the new. And maybe overlook a few things with minimal whining for the sake of better quality.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Of course, there's no reason we should have to make the choice. What's wrong with telling fresh new stories about old characters? And if there's some twisty continuity associated with those characters, just don't bring it up. When I think of how unnecessary the Zero Hour reboot was...

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Eye-Roller Lass said...

Oy. Don't even get me started on Zero Hour!

Having new stories for the Classic Legion on a regular basis would be just perfect! So ideal, as a matter of fact, that I don't even like to build expectations about it.
Geoff Johns is doing pretty well, though. I don't even remember the last time I've been so thrilled about a Legion story. If only we didn't have to wait so long...

2:14 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Having new stories for the Classic Legion on a regular basis would be just perfect! So ideal, as a matter of fact, that I don't even like to build expectations about it.Once upon a time I would have said the same thing. That was before I became attached to the reboot, threeboot and animated Legions. Now I have a tougher standard for "ideal".

Geoff Johns is doing pretty well, though. I don't even remember the last time I've been so thrilled about a Legion story. If only we didn't have to wait so long...The wait is the least of my worries. Johns is telling an enjoyable story, but:
- I wouldn't call it exactly new
- I wouldn't call it exactly a Legion story
- these event crossover miniseries are all very well but what most interests me is a regular ongoing title. It has yet to be revealed what the basis for such a title could be and I'm simply not going to be content until I get a good answer to that question.

2:56 PM  
Anonymous eddie blake said...

The only quibble, of course, is that it was the 5yl GLORITHVERSE garth that was really proty II-

There WAS a period of LSH history where garth out wildfired wildfire, and that was the (i think) roy thomas reflecto era, right before Levitz's run-

it was explained away as him suffering some sort of electrical imbalance in his head, and involved one of the last appearances of Starfinger I before he was killed...

the thing that gets me, though, is that pre-crisis Levitz legion was pretty explicit as to the status of the guardians and the GLC, depicted quite vividly in #295...

so yeah..

this may be A legion

but it ain't THE legion

9:04 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

They're all THE Legion.

--

It's an open question whether the Garth/Proty (and it's Proty I; Proty II remained himself and became a professional photographer, if you recall) revelation was only meant to apply to Glorithverse continuity or original/post-Crisis continuity too. Nobody would have faulted Johns if he had decided on the former, but it seems to be Tom Bierbaum's (and my!) interpretation that it's the latter.

As for the Guardians, well, you can't expect DC to hold themselves to something like that.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous eddie blake said...

yes, yes, Proty II did the two holo images in issue 300..


but here's the thing..

it could NEVER have been proty disguised as garth..

he MIGHT have been able to create a facsimile that would convince chameleon boy or braniac 5,

made sure his scent matched as to not alert Timber Wolf

somehow jammed imra's telepathy to make sure she didn't know RIGHT off the bat he wasn't garth,

BUT...

he wouldn't have been able to duplicate ranzz's lightning powers.

i remember in adventure comics days, when ultra boy was being hunted down by the legion and cham pulls a gun on him, but Jo laughs it off cause he knowsit's proty and that a protean can imitate the shape of something, but not its properties...


ergo NO lightning powers.

and what i was saying with the guardian/ GLC thing is that it is obvious that there is no actual 'point of divergence' that Johns is using, that these are not the Pre-crisis legionnaires (who, it can be argued, are the same 'characters' until issue #4 of the 5yl run) but reasonably similar versions thereof...

(as an OLDSCHOOL LSH fan who's first comic EVER was the grell-penciled superboy & the LSH #205, i have to say, some of my FAVORITE stories are from #50 of the baxter till #4 of the 5yl, where things then begin to spiral apart continuity-wise...

LOVED the hunt for and death of Sarya of Venegar, the new outfits, wildfire STILL not getting any AND jo-as-smuggler-inna-wifebeater..)

3:15 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

There are ways around the lightning thing. One is, it's still Garth's body but with Proty's mind in it. Another is, it's Proty's body wrapped around some kind of electricity generator. I forget if they actually said anything in that Annual about how it was being handled.

I've been saying all along... well, ever since about three, four issues into the Lightning Saga, anyway... that the retroboot Legion was a distinct variation of the original Legion.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous eddie blake said...

well then why worry

whether ayla is kissing on

salu instead of brin?

6:19 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Who's worrying?

I don't say that it's a violation of continuity for Ayla to be back with Brin. I just think that an Ayla-Vi relationship is more interesting than an Ayla-Brin one. On the one hand, the Ayla-Vi thing was always implicit, so it's never been explored the way it could have been; on the other, the ending Levitz gave to Ayla-Brin was quite a natural and sensible one and bringing it back seems like nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia.

8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was Garth's body with Proty's mind in the same way as Eltro Gand's mind enetered Mon-El's body (but in his case he was still around)

6:18 PM  
Anonymous eddie blake said...

I always thought LSH #302, where Mekt comes looking for ayla and pretty much walks all over half of the legion, and dropping Blok off the Polymer Shield was the quintessential Lightning Lord-

that's a damn fine story.

Mekt's a badass.

He doesn't go COMPLETELY off the deep end until his next appearance in the Baxter series, where he talks to weather, zaps his own teammates and has does strange things to his barely-dressed-sister...


just sayin.

8:53 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

anonymous: Aah, well. I think it works better if it's Proty mimicking Garth's body via the old switcheroo, but whatever.

Eddie: My reaction to that story, now and at the time when I first read it, was basically, "Lightning Lord again?"

11:17 PM  
Anonymous eddie blake said...

dude...

the last time we saw mekt before that was Superboy #247, or something like that...

7:31 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

And yet somehow that was still my reaction.

7:48 PM  
Blogger murrfox said...

Very interesting article. My own feeling is that Johns went with this personality for Garth because it fell in line with the story that he wanted to be telling... and because it's easier. It's like shorthand. Garth is the hothead. Sorta like Jan always gets shoehorned into the spiritual role (even in Lof #W issue #4, where I don't really remember threeboot Jan being particularly spiritual). For a long time Shady got shoehorned into the warrior princess role (although, thankfully, Johns seems to have ignored that development... so who knows... maybe he did put some thought into Garth's personality).
In regards to Proty/Garth, I always remembered it as being Garth's body and Proty's spirit, but I'd have to go back and dig out the annual to double check. So for me, the lightning rod *did* work. Lightning Lad's body was revived with the life essence of Proty.
I'm still not sure how they managed to snag Bart's spirit in the Lightning Saga or where the body came from that they zapped his soul into, though.

Murray

5:06 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Uh... I don't think a writer with Johns's chops would have any trouble putting over a Levitz-version Lightning Lad. I don't see a problem there.

Threeboot Jan was in fact a very spiritual guy, but not in the style that Johns wrote him. That's probably just the difference between two writers, though.

(And I like Shady as the warrior-princess type; I think it suits her and sets her apart.)

9:14 PM  
Blogger murrfox said...

Threeboot Jan was in fact a very spiritual guy, but not in the style that Johns wrote him. That's probably just the difference between two writers, though.I'll have to dig our my threeboot issues. I don't have much of a memory of Jan's personality. I remember he didn't like clothes... he needed dating advice from Tinya... his powers were limited to elements that he could touch and for 60 seconds, only, if I'm recalling correctly. That's all I got.

(And I like Shady as the warrior-princess type; I think it suits her and sets her apart.)Yeah, I get that. Especially in the reboot where many of the characters seemed kinda bland, to me anyway. And I enjoyed her threeboot personality just fine, too.
But I grew up with the kinder, gentler Shady, and that's the version of the character that most resonates with me.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

My first exposure to Shady was in the Levitz era, and she wasn't exactly kinder, gentler. She and Tinya could actually be pretty snotty.

9:35 PM  
Blogger murrfox said...

re snotty Shady:
Yeah, that was definitely part of her personality (and part of her appeal to me), although it was usually in reaction to and support of Tinya, rather than initiated by Shady herself.
I grew up with Levitz Shady, but began reading in the year or two before his return, and remember Shady being very warm and supportive to Tyroc before he left the book... and being constantly tender and supportive to Mon-el. She was the strong one in the relationship.

10:28 PM  
Anonymous eddie blake said...

back in the day


tinya wasn't 'snooty'--


she just didn't have any patience

for thom and
(or) nura

5:04 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Or Brin. Or Jacques. Or Dirk...

7:40 PM  
Anonymous eddie blake said...

no-

that's just wrong-

during Levitz's (and giffen's) run..

timber wolf was full of stupid

and EVERYONE made fun of him...

He got to shine, what, TWICE? (when Val sent him to lythl inna beautiful story, and when he was made deputy leader many moons later)

Dirk got a drink dumped on him for being a member of the legion of super- sleazes...

and i don't remember ANYONE being mean to jaques

(except drake)

Just got Lo3W#4, still digesting, will comment on that shortly

9:01 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

She wasn't really mean to Jacques, but she and Shady were definitely treating him and Brin like second-class citizens at the start of the "Omen and the Prophet" story.

I take no joy in saying this. I was a huge Phantom Girl fan.

9:16 PM  

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