Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Legionnaires: Lightning Lass

Lightning Lass, aka Ayla Ranzz of Winath, aka Light Lass, Gossamer, Pulse, Spark. Created by Edmond Hamilton and John Forte.

Ayla has a long history as a Legionnaire, of course. She's Lightning Lad's twin sister, and joined the Legion to replace him after his death back in the Silver Age, remaining on the team after his resurrection. Since then there have only been brief periods of Legion history in which she has not featured prominently. Usually she has lightning powers, like her brother, but every now and then something weird will happen to give her gravity-reduction powers instead.

It's Ayla's love life that has been the most notable thing about her characterization over the years. In the Silver Age, she and Timber Wolf fell in love, and that lasted up until the Great Darkness Saga, when they broke up for some basically good reasons. After that, she grew closer to Shrinking Violet, which made her a little unsure of herself, and she tried to deny her feelings by coming on to Magnetic Kid, who was completely squicked out at the idea of being cradlerobbed by someone his brother's age. Eventually, in the Five Years Later era, she and Vi do start a romantic relationship which lasts until Zero Hour. This was, I guess, controversial at the time; I hope it would be less so now. (Unfortunately, Geoff Johns seems to have turned back the clock so that Ayla and Timber Wolf are together again. This is the part where we roll our eyes.) In the reboot, she had a mutual crush going on with Chameleon, but really nobody got much action in the reboot.

In the threeboot, Mark Waid decided that the key to Ayla's character was that she was warm and affectionate. And I liked that; I thought that threeboot Ayla was the best portrayal of the character I had seen. (Waid also gave her some opportunities to really cut loose with her null-gravity powers, too, something that had stymied previous writers.) One of the ways that this manifested itself was that she had a lot of boyfriends. It was stated, or implied, that at some point she had gone out with Timber Wolf, Ultra Boy, Element Lad, and Sun Boy, possibly among others. (Once Jim Shooter got his hands on the book, he tried to continue this characterization of Ayla, but while his portrayal of her wasn't incompatible with Waid's, it did seem to have a different tone, and one that didn't work as well.)

I recall at the time there was some criticism of Ayla for this (mixed in with all the other criticism of the threeboot Legion for their attitudes et cetera). I think. The idea was that she was too promiscuous for a Legionnaire. It was assumed that she had been sleeping with all these guys (which is not a radical interpretation of the text) and that superheroes shouldn't do that. Which...

...well, why shouldn't she? As I write this, the Olympics are going on, and every time there's an Olympics, we see the same story in the papers: they need a truckload of condoms to stock the Olympic Village every day because of all the sex the athletes are having. I think Legionnaires are a good comparison for Olympians: they're a large elite group of young athletic people engaged in physically intense activity and living in close quarters. Of course there's going to be a lot of sex; what does anyone expect? And, good for them: I can hardly imagine a better way for them to be spending their spare time.

Ayla may have been created before the sexual revolution of the '60s and '70s, but that was a long time ago, and it's much longer ago from the setting of Legion comics. Presumably she's not burdened with the idea that sex is something that people do because they're bad. Any notion that she goes to bed with people out of low self-esteem can be dispelled by a quick search for any evidence that Ayla is actually suffering from low self-esteem. She likes people, she's affectionate, and sometimes she expresses her affection. I say she's fine the way she is, and, given that she spends her time saving people and fighting bad guys, maybe her critics should get off her case. Also, maybe it's time that superhero-comic morality caught up with actual-human-beings morality.

One subplot in the mid-threeboot was Ayla's friendship with Supergirl, which was the perfect showcase for Ayla's generous nature precisely because it got off to such a rocky start. It was actually pretty funny (recall that when Supergirl first showed up in the 31st century, nobody was sure if she was real, and she herself thought that she was hallucinating). Page from LSH v5 #17:

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Blogger Johnny B said...

For what it's worth, I thought "Gossamer" was a great name. I know I'm in the minority there, because people seem to be so attached to the Kid, Boy, Girl and Lass-type names.

I seem to recall that the Bierbaums, in Legionnaires had a subplot in which Validus was crushing on Ayla, setting up a sort of beauty and the beast I right?

1:59 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

It's been long enough since I've read pre-Zero-Hour Legionnaires that I don't recall the Validus thing. Except, wait! Validus wasn't even there, because he had been revealed as Garridan Ranzz! The Fatal Five had a guy named Mordecai instead. But I don't recall if he had a crush on Ayla.

"Gossamer" is an okay name, but it brings to mind a) the character from the old Bugs Bunny cartoon and b) the alien chick from New Mutants after it stopped being good.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Johnny B said...

Yeah! Mordecai! I had forgotten. It's been a while since I read those.

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...I can hardly imagine a better way for them to be spending their spare time...

No kidding. I figured the whole "no-sex-for-pros-while-in-training" shtick went out decades ago. If it's been revived in the 3110's, I'd really like a logical explanation as to why.

-- cleome45

2:06 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Was it Casey Stengel who used to say, "It's not the sex that's the problem; it's the staying out all night looking for it"?

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

:D Baseball has a quote for every occasion.

Meanwhile, I read somewhere that Levitz never intended anyone to see Ayla/Vi as anything but close friends. Which gives me divided feelings (if it's true). Female friendship is in short supply in pop culture, as much as it always has been. I sure don't want to knock it. But still... to not see them as even an implied pair anymore feels like a step backwards. Particularly since present-day DC seems to have at least a few heroes and heroines who are out.

If positive same-sex pairings/attractions exist in the present but not the future, that's... kind of an unfortunate statement. Even if it's not intentional. :(

-- cleome45

11:51 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I thought I read somewhere (The Legion Companion?) that Levitz meant it to be ambiguous. Doesn't seem all that ambiguous to me, though.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[shrug] Ambiguity is great fun for interpretive purposes. Ask any fan artist/writer. :p

Still, it would be nice at this point if canon could dispense with some of it. At least some other forms of pop entertainment have managed as much. Hell, we have one of the bat-titles dispensing with it. So far as I can see, gangs of enraged homophobic Fundies have yet to storm DC headquarters with pitchforks or whatever.

- cleome45

4:11 PM  
Blogger karl said...

Its a shame Ayla and Vis relationship didnt continue in the reboot.. i hated how she hung around with that ghastly Kinetix. It was almost as if they were trying to set them up or worse pretend the Vi/Ayla coupling never happened, like they were ashamed.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Oh well; no point in rebooting a comic-book franchise if you're going to bring back all the stuff that you got rid of.

Stipulated that DC and/or Legion writers have been too shy for too long about gay relationships in the Legion.

9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's must've been tough to find a spotlight moment for Ayla.This one is as good as any.At least it's funny.
Have to say,I've usually thought of Ayla as one of the more nondescript Legionnaires.She's pretty much defined by her relationships;Lightning Lad's sister, Timber Wolf's lover,etc.It can't even be decided whether she has lightning powers or lightening powers.I prefer the latter;I think the Legion works better when the members have contrasting, complimentary abilities--Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet,Sun Boy and Polar Boy,like that.
I admit to mixed feelings about Alya and Vi getting together.It's fine that a gay couple are featured in the LSH,but Ayla is still defined by her relationships.Sort of a lateral move for her.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

That's a good point. Another moment I was considering was the one in LSHv3 where she's just gotten her lightning powers back and takes out a whole bunch of LSVers all at once; that showed her well as an independent operator.

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your choice is fine.Not every moment need be a "badass" one.I'd say times when Legionnaires are at their most clever or charming or just being definitively themselves say more about them than when they've laid waste their enemies.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Depends on the Legionnaire. But yes.

7:53 PM  

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