Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Legionnaires: The Detectives

I recently wrote an article that explored all the different things that superheroes do. Originally I was going to include that as part of this article, but decided it deserved its own separate existence. Anyway, it turns out that one of the jobs a superhero might expect to have to perform is that of detective. Here are two of the Legion's best detectives.

Chameleon Boy, aka Reep Daggle of Durla, aka Chameleon. Created by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney.
Celeste Rockfish, aka Celeste McCauley of Earth, aka Neon. Created by Keith Giffen, Tom and Mary Bierbaum, and Al Gordon.

In preparation for writing this article, I checked the famous 2994 Sourcebook to see how many ranks the various characters had in the Detective skill. Cham was an 8, which is very good indeed, and Celeste was a 7, which is exactly half as good. The only other Legionnaires to have the skill at that level were Brainiac 5 with an 11 (understandable, in that you need to be able to simulate 12th-level intelligence in as many ways as possible) and Colossal Boy with another 8 (which, I don't know, must be a combination of his experience and his Science Police training).

Cham is one of the longest-tenured Legionnaires, of course, and under Paul Levitz he became (after some growing up!) an excellent character. Likable, relaxed, intelligent... Cham seemed like he had it all figured out. (Reboot Cham was much the same, once he learned the language, but threeboot Cham was a vastly different character. Animated Cham was a young-loose-cannon type; not sure why they decided to go that way with him.) He has, of course, the Durlan power of shapeshifting; Paul Levitz in Adventure Comics #516 was kind enough to set out the current rules for just how Durlan shapeshifting works, and it's admirably nonrestrictive.

You could say that Cham is the closest thing to Batman that the Legion has. He's a detective, for one thing, and he comes from a rich family, for another. (His dad was Legion sponsor R.J. Brande, if you're joining us in progress; it's a long story.) Like Batman, he had to grow up without his father, but unlike Batman, his father didn't die until Cham was a long-established superhero. (Let's imagine Cham, instead of a young Bruce Wayne, saying, "A bat! That's it! I shall become a bat!" And then a minute later, "That was fun. Now I shall become a raspberry bush!")

As a detective, Cham's technique isn't so much deductive as infiltrative. He works by using his superpowers to go undercover, and find the truth out that way. Here, he solves the Arctoraan Jewel Case (S&LSH #249) using just this method:

After some efforts at conventionally investigating fail...

Celeste was... well, she never really got her chance at the spotlight. In fact, I would say that exactly zero percent of her potential as a character has ever been touched.

Celeste was a Five Years Later character. She was a private detective (and estranged cousin of sleazy zillionaire Leland McCauley) hired by Earthgov (through Sun Boy) to investigate Roxxas's murder of Blok, and this brought her into contact with the Legionnaires. Then she got caught in the crossfire when Roxxas attacked the team, and was badly hurt, but was healed when she was unexpectedly invaded by what was probably some Green Lantern energy. And then it was sort of assumed that she was part of the Legion, although just how or why this happened was never addressed. For one thing, she didn't have any actual superpowers for quite a while after that; it took years before she was converted into some kind of energy being. Maybe that's what they had in mind for her all along, but even when she had powers she seemed suspiciously generic.

Anyway, I think she was a lot more interesting as a PI than as a green glowing humanoid who can fly and shoot energy blasts, so as her signature moment I pick the little hint of detective work she was allowed before she got caught in the Mangle of Generic Superhero Neglect. That's Celeste with the auburn hair.

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Blogger Ken said...

I really enjoy what you are doing here with all of the types of hero. And it's cool to see pages from issues that are missing from my collection.

It's always funny to see Reep charm the ladies. He's really as much of a player as Sun Boy, he just doesn't come across as sleazy as Dirk can in his approach.

And in the Celeste sequence I love Bounty's little clue to who she really is.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks very much.

Isn't it weird that Chameleon Boy has never been elected leader? He was sort of co-leader 5YL, but that's a bit different.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Ben Rawluk said...

Reminds me of "Who Shot Laurel Kent?"-- my favourite Legion story, hands down, and featuring quite a bit of activity from Cham-as-detective (as well as Brainy).

1:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice spotlight for Cham.One of the most well-adjusted Legionnaires,at ease most anywhere.His social intelligence must rate higher than his detective skills.Wasn't it he who gathered his scattered teammates together in the 5YL era? One of the most dedicated Legionnaires as well.
Don't know if you consider any non-comics stories to feature,but the episode of the TV show where Cham impersonated the Persuader was notable.There,Cham came to believe he was the Persuader.You would think all the role-playing would do that eventually,even to a shape-shifter.All the morphing has to do a number with the brain chemistry as well.
Next election,Cham for leader. Don't think red is his color, though.

1:40 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I totally would have used "Who Shot Laurel Kent?" for this if Cham had been the one to figure out the solution instead of Brainy. For that matter, I'd like to see Cham solving a mystery with his wits instead of his powers. I guess his spotlight in the threeboot qualifies, but that wasn't much of a mystery.

I'm open to using an episode of the cartoon as a signature moment, and in fact have some plans to do so for a couple of Legionnaires, but I wouldn't for Cham just because animated Cham is so different from comic-book Cham.

8:53 AM  
Blogger MaGnUs said...

Good old Cham.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Ben Rawluk said...

I guess Cham ends up being the Archie Goodwin to Brainy's Nero Wolfe in "Who Shot..." -- of all the assembled Legionnaires, Cham does the most clue-gathering and deduction outside of Brainy in that little escapade.

And, of course, Vi gets to play Hardboiled Private Dick too.

I should really write something about that story, as it remains a high point Levitz's run and straddled the line of Giffen's styles nicely.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

It was a pretty good Annual. Most of 'em aren't that good.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Brainy Pirate said...

I like the Cham issue because (if memory is correct), it's the one issue where Staton does his own inks -- and it's also my favorite Staton art from his run on LSH. Whoever was usually inking him really watered down (okay, lost) what made his style so interesting.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Yeah, I'm not big on Staton art, but that one story did look pretty good.

6:56 PM  
Anonymous M.J. Brink said...

Thanks for including Celeste in your discussion! I really liked her a lot, but it never seemed like she got a chance to shine as a character. I didn't care for the Brainy/Laurel/Rond triangle, but always thought that Celeste was a great foil, romantic or otherwise, for green-genes. She's the type of character I wouldn't mind showing up in the retroboot.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

And it's perfectly easy to do so, really. There's no continuity to worry about. There wasn't so much established about her 5YL that she'd be hard to get right. I really would like to see her brought back.

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Rob said...

Yeah, I'm not big on Staton art, but that one story did look pretty good.

Yeah, after Grell's style and Jim Sherman's simply beautiful work, Staton's art looked much simpler - rushed and insufficiently detailed.

Oh, and on the topic of detective work, the arc within LSH 260-261 is interesting. The Legion (including Brainy) get sent to a space circus to investigate a series of mysterious deaths. Thing is: the Legionnaires don't do a v good job - half of the circus gets vaporized while the Legionnaires try to figure out the killer. Not v good detective work!

8:44 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Well, it is a space circus after all. I think the Legionnaires knew what they were doing.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may be a puzzle how Celeste became a Legionnaire,but remember, this was the 5YL era,a time when Kent Shakespeare (who?) can come out of nowhere to make his debut as a charter member of the Legion. Apparently,red tape has become a thing of the past in the future.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Yeah. I loved 5YL, still do, but they were very sloppy about many things. It could be frustrating.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous eddie blake said...

celeste was a cool character and it would work out nicely if she actually became a real lantern as opposed to just being a green glowy hot chick. what with them trying to re-populate the GLC, it would be easy to re-insert her into continuity...

though i don't know how great of a detective she was, it wouldn't take a rocket-scientist to guess that it would be a good idea to look for jan on trom..

reep, on the other hand....clever, AND thorough. i remember when his attention to detail found the control room to the sun-eater manufacturing planet, something penetra-vision missed, and you've got to love him totally outwitting ol-vir without so much as a shape to shift into. clever AND thorough...

8:39 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

No, we don't get to see her being a great detective, so I settled for a page where she was acting vaguely like any kind of detective.

And Chameleon Boy is one of the all-time great Legion characters.

9:16 PM  

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