Monday, February 06, 2012

The Legionnaires: Sensor Girl

(Crossposted at

Sensor Girl aka Projectra (or "Jeckie") of Orando, aka Princess Projectra, Queen Projectra, Sensor, Jeka Wynzorr, Wilimena Morgana Daergina Annaxandra Projectra Velorya Vauxhall. Created by Jim Shooter and Sheldon Moldoff.

There are a number of different things going on with Jeckie's character, and we might as well hit them all.

First, she was a remarkably different character depending on just which era you look at her in, and some of these changes from era to era have been quite jarring.

Silver Age: Jeckie was most often a damsel-in-distress type, kind of like how they used Dream Girl. It wasn't often that she did anything useful. This lasted until partway through Paul Levitz's second run on the title. (Personality: none.)

Baxter Series: Jeckie has ascended to the throne of Orando, been widowed, and killed Nemesis Kid with her bare hands. The iron has entered her soul, and she learned how to extend her superpowers in new and useful ways. She abandoned Orando and rejoined the Legion as Sensor Girl, eventually becoming team leader. (Personality: proud, haughty, secretive, but capable of warmth.)

[By the way, I was considering several different scenes for her signature moment, but eventually concluded that you the readers have already formed the consensus that it's this one:


Five Years Later: Giffen and the Bierbaums didn't feel like doing anything with her, so they basically reverted her back to her Silver Age status. (Personality: more easygoing than before.)

Reboot: When (as "Sensor") she was introduced into reboot continuity, she had been reconceived as a giant snake with robot arms, princess of a planet where the snakes ruled and the raccoons were servants. Let's be clear about this: it's not a bad idea. It was amazingly unpopular among fans of previous portrayals of the character, but it wasn't a bad idea. Science fiction! Hey, at least they were trying something. (Personality: kind of motherly.)

DnA: Then Abnett and Lanning took over as Legion writers, and made some changes. One such change was to address Sensor's unpopularity among readers. They did so by mutating her into a kind of snakewoman with a suspiciously mammalian anatomy. Because, yeah: that was why Sensor was unpopular among Legion fans--her rack wasn't big enough. Anyway, it didn't help much. (Personality: withdrawn, resentful of new form.)

Threeboot: At the start of the series, Jeckie was a spoiled rich girl who bought her way into the Legion. She didn't have any powers and Cosmic Boy was stringing her along so she'd continue to bankroll the team. Then Orando was destroyed, she became more determined, and inherited some superpowers. That was fine until Jim Shooter took over as writer and decided that she'd been kind of unhinged by what happened to Orando, and started to turn her into a villain. We never did see how that played out, and now it looks like we probably never will.

Second, her powers are extremely intriguing and almost never explored to their full potential. Jeckie has the power to project illusions, amazingly comprehensive and realistic illusions. This is a very subtle superpower; it's tricky to use right. Most often, the Legion writers didn't have a handle on how to use illusions effectively, and they'd have her conjure up a big monster or something, and it wouldn't work very well.

At times, on this site, I've dragged role-playing games into the discussion as a perspective for understanding this or that aspect of superheroes. I'm going to do it again now, because Dungeons & Dragons players have spent a lot of time figuring out just what illusions are good for. Do you understand why the D&D perspective and the superhero-comic perspective are different? It's important: in the comics, stuff happens because the writer says so. Illusions work how he or she says they do, and that's that. If the rules for illusions have holes in them, oh well. But in a D&D game, stuff happens because the players are trying to get an advantage over the opposition provided by the Dungeon Master, and the DM in turn responds to what the players do. Illusions work in a way that's often negotiated between the DM and the players, and if there's a hole in the rules, the players will exploit it to the fullest. You really do have to pin it down.

There are some very sensible questions to ask about how illusions work, and you don't have to geek out about it to be curious about the answers. For instance
Q: are illusions optical images, or mental images? (In other words, what's being fooled, your eyes or your mind? It's important: an optical image can be seen by any number of people, but how many minds can the illusionist overcome with a mental image? Plus, an optical image can fool a camera, but a mental image can't. On the other hand, you have to get an optical image just right, or people might see through it, but your victim will do a lot of the work of the mental image for you.)
Q: how many senses does the illusion cover? If it's a mental illusion, all of them, probably, but if it's an optical image, can the illusionist provide sounds and smells to go with it?
Q: what if an illusionary monster hits you? Does his fist go right through you, or does your body "believe" the illusion and react like it got hit for real? If so, can you die from that?
Q: if you realize that an illusion is an illusion, can you still see it, or does it disappear for you? What if you want to believe the illusion for some reason?

And so on. I'm sure that Legion writers over the years have come up with inconsistent answers for these questions when it comes to Jeckie's powers, so there's no point in trying to answer them in this case. Basically, when the writer needs Jeckie to be useless, they let the villain ignore the insubstantial phantoms Jeckie sets to fight them; when the writer wants to soup her up a bit, he comes up with an idea like, the illusions get right to your subconscious and won't let you disbelieve them even if you know better. But Paul Levitz did even better than that when he turned Jeckie into Sensor Girl.

See, the best weapon an illusionist has is to not let her enemies know that she's an illusionist. Once they know you're using illusions on them, they'll be skeptical about everything and it'll make your plans that much more likely to fail. Even worse, they'll know that as long as they're careful, they have nothing to fear, which just about gives the whole game away.

So what did Jeckie do? She wore a mask and adopted another name, thus concealing from her enemies the fact that she was the famous Princess Projectra with the famous useless illusion powers. The name she adopted gave no hint that she could project illusions. And, finally, most importantly, the illusions she did use were never obvious ones.

Three basic levels of illusions:
- big ostentatious ones that are useless if the enemy realizes they're illusions (like a charging monster)
- all-encompassing phantasmagorias that are still somewhat useful even if the enemy realizes they're illusions, because they still can't see what's really going on (like Sensor used in her tryout for the reboot Legion, or, somewhat differently, like the illusion Jeckie uses to bust Brin out of his cell at the end of the Lemnos arc of the threeboot)
- subtle illusions that the enemy hardly notices and would never think to question (the one I have in mind here is one that my players used during a D&D game some years ago. There were a dozen troglodytes in a room. The room was accessed by a tunnel that ran out to a ledge over a cliff. The illusionist waited on the ledge while the rest of the player characters went to the room and got the troglodytes to chase them. The characters ran back to the ledge and stood there safely while the illusionist cast an illusion that made the tunnel seem longer. And the troglodytes ran right over the cliff to their doom, never knowing what had hit them.)

In the Silver Age, Jeckie mostly used the first kind. As Sensor Girl, she mostly used the third kind.

Third, there's her potential. I was reading a message board once and came across an idea that completely captured my imagination, and I wish I could find my way back to it so I could give full credit to whoever it was who came up with the notion. And that's this: Jeckie should star in her own cartoon. It's perfect! You want a young female audience? Here's the show for them: a magical space princess on a planet of dragons and magic, having adventures and fighting her evil cousin Pharoxx (who's being advised by Hagga), learning from the Orakills and getting ready to take over ruling the planet from her aging father King Voxv. Her boyfriend is the greatest martial artist in the history of people hitting each other and her best friends are teenage superheroes. Might go over well in a kind of anime style. Isn't it obvious that Jeckie's powers could be spectacular when presented in animation rather than comics? Is there no one at DC Entertainment who can see that this would be a license to print money?

Anyway, Jeckie is a princess as well as a superhero, and it's just as easy to consider her in that role:

Princess Projectra of Orando
Fictional Source: Legion of Super-Heroes comic books

Jeckie is certainly a legitimate princess (1 pt), as the daughter of King Voxv. Furthermore, she does something that the others we've seen so far don't: she succeeds to the throne. And that's a big thing! Being a queen in a story is very different from being a princess. Princesses are dependent; queens can be formidable and dangerous. (Which Queen Projectra certainly was.) (+1 pt)

Jeckie is pretty, like basically all superheroines, so no points there... except for a couple of things. First, there were those years she spent as a giant snake. Second, there's the full-face mask she's been wearing (in original/retroboot continuity) since she became Sensor Girl. Both of those things are admirable portrayals of a princess character for whom beauty is not considered an essential feature. (+1 pt)

Jeckie does useful stuff all the time. Now that the writers have grown up a little and can handle the character, anyway. In many ways she's one of the most formidable Legionnaires. She's got notches on her belt corresponding to Nemesis Kid and the Emerald Empress, she busted Timber Wolf out of Lemnos's jail and was key to winning the ensuing battle, she was one of the only Legionnaires to hold off Darkseid's control in the Foundations story. Served 2 terms as Legion leader, and very effectively. (2 pts)

Her actual skill set, though, is somewhat limited. It's not at all revolutionary for princesses to be good at things like archery and magic and similarly "feminine" forms of prowess. Jeckie's powers are a kind of magic and that's about all she's got going on. (2 pts)

Unlike all of our other princesses so far, Jeckie does have female friends her own age; lots of 'em. Not sure how close they are, as friends, but they're there in quantity (1 pt).

Jeckie certainly did start off as Karate Kid's love interest and damsel in distress. It was kind of laughable, really. Karate Kid had to go on a giant quest to win her hand that involved him getting his own comic book for a while there. But as it turned out, it was more Jeckie's story than Val's, and starting in the mid-'80s, she became by far the more interesting character, while he was just a guy who kept getting killed off by Keith Giffen. (+1 pt)

Overall Score: 9

That's shocking. I didn't think anybody was going to exceed Leia. But Jeckie does pull in points from all across the board.


Princess Projectra (9)
Princess Leia Organa (7)
Princess Elizabeth (5.5)
Princess Buttercup (-3)

Labels: ,