Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Legionnaires: Invisible Kid

I had originally planned for my next one of these articles to be highlighting four Legionnaires who all had their defining appearance in The Legion #35-38, but I couldn't hold off on doing this one instead. Sorry. See, I find myself, in numerous conversations around the 'net, writing, "Well, I've got a lot to say about Invisible Kid, but I want to save it for a Legion Abstract article." This must mean that it's time to write that article.

It is of course a little silly that the first three Legionnaires I'm profiling in this feature are Invisible Kid, Invisible Kid, and Invisible Kid's best friend. That wasn't intentional. But there we are anyway.

Invisible Kid, aka Lyle Norg of Earth. Created by ?

First, powers and abilities. Invisible Kid can turn invisible, and at the moment that includes invisibility all the way up and down the electromagnetic spectrum. In addition he’s an extremely smart cookie, as close to Brainiac 5 in intelligence as it's possible for a regular teenaged Earthling to be.

The original Invisible Kid had lightish brown hair, but subsequent versions had darker hair. The first versions were fairly slender guys, but Threeboot Lyle is a bit chunkier.

Let's do the history fast so we can skip to the intriguing stuff. Original-recipe Invisible Kid brewed himself up an invisibility serum, joined the Legion, served with honour until he was killed by Validus. SW6 Lyle and Reboot Lyle were similar; smart quiet guys who did their jobs. Threeboot Invisible Kid is something else entirely, and as far as I can tell this fact has gone unremarked up ‘til now.

What I usually do here is to point out which story it is in which the Legionnaire in question showed off what makes him or her such a great character. And for quite a while I thought it'd be a scene from LSH v5 #11-12. To refresh your memory about those issues, here's what happens: Elysion, who's crazy and powerful, has just destroyed Legion headquarters and is off to do the same thing to the rest of Metropolis. The only Legionnaires around to stop him are Dream Girl, who's dead, Brainiac 5, who's staring into space as he tries to think up a way to bring Dream Girl back to life, and Invisible Kid, who's only there because the Legion doesn't trust him enough to send him on any missions. So what does Lyle do?

He, the new kid, all by himself, rallies the legionnaires and holds Elysion at bay until Brainy can get his act together and pull an Imskian from his hat. And takes a serious beating as he's doing it. Boy, when I read that, I thought that it was one of the great new-guy-proves-himself stories in comics. They have to trust Lyle now, after the way he came through. He was the last line of defense, him and his fribbling little power of invisibility, and he held.

Then I thought about it some more. And the more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether Lyle was really being heroic.

Legion readers met Invisible Kid earlier than we met any other threeboot Legionnaire. In the Titans/Legion Special, he appears as an anonymous teenager who's arguing with his parents about the Legion. (I’m not changing the subject here; bear with me.)

A couple of points about that scene. First, notice how Lyle throws himself down on his bed? That's not the action of a grown man; that's what a child does. I thoroughly approve: this is not a Legion of grownups; these people are still teenagers. Second, Lyle is nonetheless intelligent enough that he knew how that confrontation was going to end before it started. I'm not saying it's his fault; it's not. Lon's the parent, he should know better, it's his fault. But nothing that happened came as a surprise to Lyle.

Let me interject here that I have no experience with or particular understanding of child abuse. So I'm going to try not to say too much here; the last thing I want to do is look like I'm trivializing the issue. I'm just going by what I read in this comic book, and I hope nobody's offended. I'm walking as carefully as I can.

But that one scene in the Titans/Legion Special tells us more about Lyle than is apparent. Let's consider Lyle's other interactions throughout the threeboot. Almost invariably, they follow the same pattern as his confrontation with Lon. He provokes the other person, and is slapped down.

He provokes...

...and is slapped down.

He provokes...

...and is slapped down.

He provokes and is slapped down.

That's all he does. That's how he interacts with people. With anybody. Go ahead, find any appearance of Lyle in the threeboot, and if the conversation or action is about anything of substance, you'll find that pattern (I'll discuss the exception below).

Now, I speculated in this article that Invisible Kid's power of disappearing made him perceived as inherently untrustworthy by the other Legionnaires. And the idea still appeals to me. But I now think that another possibility is that his power matches the desire of an abused child to hide, to disappear, to not be there anymore. I'm not comfortable putting too much weight on that idea, but you can have it if you want it.

It was the Chemical King spotlight that actually sent me in the right direction about Invisible Kid. See, when Chemical King sacrificed his life the way he did, I wondered about whether you could call it heroism or just a useful suicide. What did he have to live for? And I have the same questions about Invisible Kid's actions in LSH v5 #11-12. Was he being heroic, or was he just taking his neuroses out for a walk?

Elysion was:

a) older
b) dark-haired
c) male
d) used to exercising authority
e) violent
f) vaguely military

just like Lon Norg. (I just realized: Cosmic Boy also possesses some of these qualities, and Lyle gets on Rokk’s nerves more than anyone else.) And how did Lyle respond to him?

And the result:

So I can't give Invisible Kid full credit for that one. Heroism is about overcoming fear and adversity. What Lyle did there showed that he was still under the control of his personal fear and adversity, the poor guy. Even if it did work out okay.

But there's hope for him. Another part of the pattern of Lyle's interactions with others is that when he provokes Legionnaires, they don’t really put the hammer down on him. I offer you Cosmic Boy sending him to stay with Sun Boy's parents at the end of #4, Cosmic Boy not tearing Lyle in hundredths and dancing on the pieces at the end of issue #9, and Atom Girl taking him completely by surprise in #14:

The point is that he can get some support in the Legion. Probably he needs more therapy than they can give him, but at least they'll cut him the slack that his parents never did. He'll get comfortable, he'll let down his guard a bit, he'll grow up a little. He’s a superhero and a Legionnaire; he’ll be fine. (It's going to take a while: most recently, in #22, he tried to sell Cosmic Boy on the idea that Rokk's feelings for Supergirl were nothing more than Kryptonian-magnetic interference. I'm convinced he was lying so he could have Kara for himself, which, sorry, Champ, ain't gonna happen.) And there will be more times like this, in which he confronts his father about his future in the Legion. No petulance, no provocation; just gives it to him straight from the shoulder. Lyle had to grow up a bit for this one; it’s his true finest hour (and with the dashedest power stunt I’ve ever seen. Imagine, Lyle has deception and concealment literally running through his veins. And not only that! The phrase, ‘the unique properties of Lyle Norg’? That’s an allusion to the death of the original-version Invisible Kid, in that Chemical King story! Never noticed that until now):

(I didn't realize the above transition wasn't clear until I was looking at the final post. The vial of blood is being passed along to higher authorities.)

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