Monday, February 01, 2010

The Legionnaires: White Witch

The White Witch, aka Mysa Nal of Naltor, aka the Hag, Xola Aq, Jewel, the Black Witch. Created by E. Nelson Bridwell and Curt Swan.

It seems like Paul Levitz was the only one who ever knew what to do with the White Witch. Originally she was a walk-on character, a minor villain retconned into being Dream Girl's long-lost sister. Levitz saw potential, though, and made a full-fledged Legionnaire out of her. Mysa had a gentle and diffident personality (which made her easy to underestimate, as her character was a lot stronger than her ethereal-albino image suggested) and a tentative semi-romance with Blok. Unfortunately, every other Legion writer has felt it necessary to give her some kind of dysfunctional relationship with Mordru, which isn't any fun (except for Mark Waid, who turned her into Mekt Ranzz's personal teleporter).

What Levitz did best with Mysa is to manage her use of magic. Fantasy writers come acropper in their use of magic more often than in any other part of their writing. There's no mistake easier to make than figuring out how magic works in your particular story and then allowing your main character to go ahead and use it just how it works. At which point, of course, he or she is omnipotent, and your story stops being interesting. Levitz didn't do that, though; he found the same solution that the creators of Dungeons and Dragons did: Mysa can do pretty much anything with her magic, as long as she gets it ready ahead of time.

Compare Mysa with Zatanna. Zatanna can basically do anything, except when she can't (because someone knocks her out before she can yas eht cigam sdrow, or gags her, or something similarly farfetched); Mysa can't do anything, except when she's ready to do that specific thing. Much more satisfying and elegant.

Here are the results: the White Witch, plus prep time, versus a Khundish warrior who has already mowed down Invisible Kid, Wildfire, Dawnstar and Blok without breaking a sweat. From LSHv2 #299 (Levitz/Giffen-Mahlstedt):




Take note of her little smile and her stance. She may look like a fairy princess, but she's a gunslinger. That's the Mysa I want Paul Levitz to bring back; none of this Black Witch flummery.

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21 Comments:

Blogger Slim said...

That's the scene I also think of when thinking of great White Witch moments. I don't think any subsequent artist has ever really captured Mysa as well as Keith Giffen did.

12:32 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Oh, the art's been good at times. Clayton Henry did a great job in the last Adventure backup, for instance. There have been others. Really it's the colouring you have to get right: the white needs to be obviously just a patina over regular Caucasian skintone.

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Madman said...

I love this sequence.

Yes (or No), no other writer/artist has ever quite captured the White Witch the way Levitz/Giffen did.

6:13 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Sometimes its easy to pick the signature moments. I've known that I was going to use this scene for Mysa since I started doing these columns. Is there another choice?

7:50 PM  
Anonymous Mo Walker said...

I agree with your analysis of the White Witch. Creative teams post-Levitz seem to find Mysa difficult to handle. Instead of looking at her power set from a different perspective or continuing Levitiz's model, she has been relegated to a supporting cast role.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't want to start reading the book again, only to turn into one of those whiners who complains when the characters change. However, the "Black Witch" stuff immediately set my Dark Phoenix Alarm off.

[crosses fingers]

Don't go there, Writers. Please. If I never have to see another heroine Dark Phoenixed, it'll be too damn soon.

-- cleome45

2:11 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Doesn't sound like Levitz's style anyway.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Murray said...

Sometimes its easy to pick the signature moments. I've known that I was going to use this scene for Mysa since I started doing these columns. Is there another choice?

Great little article. It got me thinking about what the signature moments for other characters might be. I haven't really come up with any yet... but it's definitely food for thought.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Well, you know I've already done a bunch of these, right? I'm falling behind on them, but go here and scroll down.

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...Doesn't sound like Levitz's style anyway.

Yeah. There was a distinct lack of Fridging back then. I hope that's one thing that gets to be the same, at least. :/

-- cleome45

3:23 AM  
Blogger Murray said...

Well, you know I've already done a bunch of these, right? I'm falling behind on them, but go here and scroll down

I did not know. Or I knew and forgot about it. Either way, I'll check out the link. Thanks.

7:39 AM  
Anonymous Mela said...

I was with Cleone (Anonymous) when I saw the Black Witch, but between the back-up story where you saw that Mysa's basic core principles were still intact & in charge and Levitz's creative history (like you said, he's the only person who could "get" her), I have hope he'll do something worthwhile.

The White Witch was always a character that appealled to me a lot, and she's my favorite Legionnaire. Besides making her magic work in such a way that it couldn't be used as a do-anything plot device (a big complaint I have with many series, comics or otherwise), she had a personality & origin that connected with me. Her bookishness, her hard-earned skills & faith in herself, her quiet personality... She was the first comic character where I could really see a lot of myself & my beliefs. You chose a fine moment to spotlight her and how underrated she is as both a player in the stories & as a character overall.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks.

her hard-earned skills & faith in herself

You know who she has that in common with? Karate Kid. I didn't realize it until you mentioned it in those words. Remember in what we're now calling "An Eye for an Eye", the part where he says, "Your powers were all inborn, or accidents. I built mine, every day of my life"? The White Witch is the other Legionnaire that that's true of.

Of course, Mysa keeps her confidence pretty well hidden, while Val is so outwardly confident it's actually pretty absurd, so it's not like they're the same person...

3:06 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Great article, I LOVE that scene, and I totally agree with everything you said. (So this post is pointless, right? ;) Especially about the coloring - that the white is a patina over her skin, not purely white (done correctly, she's absolutely beautiful); and about the connection with Karate Kid, and how she's like and unlike him. There's a great scene - quiet, nothing as powerful as this one, but interesting insight into Mysa - between her and Laurel Kent, when Mysa and Jacques are sent to the Legion Academy for extra training. Mysa quietly and calmly says she has no trouble with more training; she wasn't lucky enough to be blessed with great power from birth, and her training is all she has.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I remember that. Heh. I could see Mysa as a perpetual grad student.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Rob said...

Classic, really classic White Witch moment. She was one of my fave characters back in the Levitz era. Bring her back pls mister Levitz!

Oh, and keep up the work on the blog - I keep coming back to it again and again!

10:12 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks!

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone ignores the sisterhood of Mysa and Nura.They never seem to share a scene or even have a chat about anything.Small wonder;the juxtaposition of the two seems as random as the Wildfire/Red Tornado connection.
I'm torn about the Dark White Witch business.On the one hand, Dark anyone is now the hoariest of superhero cliches.On the other hand,Mysa hasn't been this interesting since,well,her signature moment.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

That's true about Mysa and Nura. I remember a couple of scenes of them together, but you're right, there weren't many.

I don't like the Black Witch idea either, but then, she hasn't really changed that much, has she?

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not yet...

5:09 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Come on, come on, let's try to keep a positive attitude about this.

10:40 PM  

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