Monday, August 18, 2014

The Legionnaires: Colossal Boy

 We're tackling a big topic today.

Colossal Boy, aka Gim Allon of Earth (Mars in the reboot era), aka Leviathan, Micro Lad. Created by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney.

Colossal Boy has been a Legionnaire since way back when. He's usually represented as a Science Police recruit who got superpowers from a strange meteor and became a Legionnaire instead of an SP. He's one of the only longtime Legionnaires who didn't quit on the team during the Five Year Gap; he's unfailingly loyal and well-intentioned. He and Chameleon Boy have long been close friends.

Problem is he's also pretty incompetent. He's famous for crashing starships, his brief leadership stint during the reboot era was a disaster, and he married a woman who turned out to be an impostor. Worse than that, he's the Legion's tomato can: any time the writer needs to show how tough a villain is, he has him or her beat up Colossal Boy. Gim has been killed twice: in the reboot, and in the Superboy's Legion Elseworlds series.

Part of the reason for this is the nature of Gim's powers: he grows really big. This means that he gets correspondingly stronger. This is the kind of superpower that sounds good but the more you think about it the more you realize that it's not that great a deal. It makes you really noticeable, it's hard to use indoors, and it doesn't come with extra toughness to match the strength. He's perfect for the bad guys to demonstrate their powers on.

Which makes him not that great as a solo hero, but it's still a good enough superpower for the Legion as is. He definitely has his uses. And there are plenty of times, not enough of them but some, where you can see Gim acting with some professionalism and savvy. There was one such case in the threeboot, for instance, where Jim Shooter had him and Ultra Boy down in the sewers chasing stink rats, or whatever it was, and they got mixed up in some kind of domestic. He did some neat size tricks. Certainly he's no dummy; he's just kind of a schmendrick.

And now a slight digression about Blue Beetle #19.

In this issue, Jaime Reyes ends up fighting Giganta, and the Peacemaker instructs him in the arts of fighting giant people. See, giant people are not like giant robots. Giant robots are engineered to be that big; they work fine. People are not engineered to be that size, and in fact they shouldn't be that size. The square-cube law messes them up with body heat and bone cross-section and what have you. To make them that size generally requires magic.

Which works fine for most of DC's giant-person characters... but not for Gim. I don't recall any suggestions that his "strange meteor" was magical. (Although, of course, there's no reason why it couldn't be.) So let's say it's some kind of non-magical cosmic effect that gave him his powers. What does that imply?

It implies several things. First, if Gim grows 100 times taller, he also grows 100 times wider and 100 times deeper. So the cross-section of his bones grows 100x100 times... but his mass grows 100x100x100 times. In other words, the job of his bones in supporting his body has become 100 times tougher. And the bigger he gets the worse the problem is; instead of a factor of 100 it might be a factor of 200 or whatever. And yet: does Gim have any trouble moving around? Does he break an ankle every time he takes a step? He does not. So maybe he does get tougher as he gets bigger. Maybe his powers do give him some invulnerability, plus more strength than we previously thought, and more the bigger he gets.

Second, if he grows 100 times taller, the surface area of his skin increases by a factor of about 100x100... but, again, his mass increases by a factor of 100x100x100. So his skin has to work 100 times harder to disperse his body heat. Where does all that energy go all of a sudden? If we're designing a superhero, this is a great problem to have. Is his body coated in flame? Does he get heat vision? Does the energy go to power the invulnerability we talked about before? Does it make him faster?* Does he get some kind of compensatory cooling power like Polar Boy? Colossal Boy ought to be way more powerful than he's ever been shown to be. Future** Legion writers take note.

Here he is in his origin story, starting as he means to go on: he doesn't see what's coming, and he crashes his vehicle. Get used to it, big guy.


* You know all those huge characters where the hero fights them and says, "So big! And yet... so fast!" We could make Colossal Boy one of those guys.

** You know what I mean.

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Blogger Jim Purcell said...

Size shift characters are a pet favorite of mine. Gim and Giant Man being the main two. Generally I assume that Giant characters do get tougher, or at least tough enough to support their own increased weight. Which in turn gives them a degree of 'super toughness'. Not invulnerability mind you (which I always see as kind of a different thing) but tough enough to get knocked around a fair bit and not get permanently injured. So getting cut is probably more dangerous then getting bashed too.

Its kind of like with Ultra Boy, they way I always think about his 'Invulnerability' and 'Ultra Strength' powers. While Ultra Strong he's got a degree of toughness so his body doesn't fail him while lifting. And when he's Invulnerable he's got a degree of 'super strength' mostly because his body no longer fatigues itself through strenuous activity, nor compresses itself under weight. Basically he should be able to achieve his natural maximum lift indefinitely while invulnerable. Which while not in 'super strength' territory. Should still be quite impressive.

So what I'm saying here... With 'increased mass' should come some natural increased toughness. If only to support their bulk. It'd be no fun if size shift characters just had heart failure all the time because their blood can't pump around their bodies fast enough.

As for the heat thing... hand wave. Its Super-Heroes after all.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Well, really, DC's just been glossing over all these issues for a long time, and I don't mean to suggest that they shouldn't do that. These are superhero comics; where would we be if the writers couldn't gloss over details? So I'm not suggesting these changes as a way of making Legion comics more realistic.

I'm suggesting them as a way of getting more out of Colossal Boy, who could be so much more than the Legion's punching bag.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was amused by the crush Gim had for Vi long ago.There was an odd coupling.The ideal Legion for me is full of those kind of contrasting members:Sun Boy/Polar Boy,for example.The Gim/Vi pairing fit right in with that.
My favorite Colossal Boy moment happened early in the reboot on their first mission against Tangleweb.Gim was appointed team leader,and proved to not be up to the tsk.Realizing this,he ceded the role of leader over to Cosmic Boy.A tall show of maturity from a punching bag.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Yeah. Oh, he's a fine character any time they want to write him as one.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to see a "Legionnaries" post which I always enjoy. Solid job as always.

Two things about Gim stand out. One is how Levitz made him come from a Jewish family. A lot of stories set in our future just assume religion will vanish (looking your way Roddenberry) but that seems a misreading of human nature. The second if of course his marriage to Yera. It was an interesting angle and a way to add another alien feel to the Legion. I'm more of a fan of Yera than most though admittedly she works best in a supporting role. One of the many disappointments with the "Legion Lost" series was a bad take on Yera who simply should never be anything besides a supporting character. Ending her marriage was downright idiotic and did nothing for the story in general--and even there Levitz had Gim mourn her in his book while the Legion Lost team had her shrug it off.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I agree. (Was it Levitz who made Gim Jewish? Somehow I had the idea that that predated Levitz.) Yera was a great supporting character who was/is miscast as a superhero. Like Rond Vidar.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Meerkatdon said...

I've always assumed that Gim (and Vi, for that matter) have bodies that exist primarily in a higher dimensional reality -- i.e. the Gim we see is a 3-dimensional projection of a higher-dimensional being. Similarly, my shadow is a 2-dimensional projection of my 3-dimensional body.

Just as my shadow can change size without my body changing, so Gim and Vi (all Imskians, really) can change the size of their 3-D projections without their higher-dimensional bodies changing.

I don't think that Gim or Vi are necessarily aware that this is how their powers work.

There's precedent with Tinya's power to move between dimensions.

And when you think about it...Gim and Vi and all the other Legionnaires are actually 2-dimensional beings on a comic page, created and viewed by 3-dimensional artists and readers. So this interpretation of size-changing powers is terribly meta and deconstructionist.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

That's a neat way of looking at it. And it also solves the problem, if we need it to, of how Violet breathes when she shrinks to subatomic size. Of course, it doesn't necessarily get rid of the problems with Gim's powers; you could say if you wanted that it doesn't matter how he gets that big, he still has to deal with the force of gravity on him. But I like it.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Arion said...

I really love all your observations about Colossal Boy's powers. It's always fun to play a little bit with science when it comes to the legionnaires.

8:53 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks. And, yes, by all means let's have some science in this comic book; it's one of the things I liked best about Jim Shooter's regime on the threeboot.

8:56 PM  

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