Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Legionnaires: Shikari

Shikari of the Kwai, aka Shikari Lonestar. Created by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Olivier Coipel.

A note on Shikari's name. It's not just a made-up word that sounds like ‘Shakira’; it has an actual English meaning. It means 'a big-game hunter or a guide for big-game hunters'. That's Shikari: a guide for supervillain hunters.

Shikari's tenure as a Legionnaire came in DnA's run on the reboot Legion. The Legion met Shikari in the Legion Lost limited series, in which a squadron of Legionnaires were stranded in a faraway galaxy by a space rift. She was a Kwai, an insect-humanoid kind of race who were mostly peaceful nomads. Shikari was different, though, and always wanted to explore and do exciting things, and so she joined up with the Legionnaires. Her powers include spaceflight, retractable armor and claws, and a pathfinding ability (which even allowed her to fly between dimensions, if that's where the path she was following went).

There are a lot of parallels between Shikari and Dawnstar.

Both characters were female Legionnaires. Both characters had wings. Both characters had particular friendships with Wildfire. Both characters had a special which-way-do-we-go sense. Both characters came from tribal societies. I don't believe that this is all coincidence.

Which is not to say that Shikari is Dawnstar! Because she's not. I am, after all, giving them separate entries in this little project. Abnett and Lanning in particular will vehemently deny that Shikari is just an updated Dawnstar. And they're right: she's a new character.

But she obviously fills Dawny's niche in the Legion's ecosystem.

The differences: Dawny had big glorious angel-type wings; Shikari had smaller streamlined dragonfly wings. Dawnstar and Wildfire had a star-crossed romance; Shikari and Wildfire were buddies. Dawnstar had plot-ruining find-the-person tracking powers; Shikari had plot-greasing find-the-place pathfinding powers. Dawnstar was haughty and aloof; Shikari was friendly. (I've seen her described as 'innocent', but I have the idea that if attractive girls from foreign cultures (and you don't get much more foreign than the Kwai) seem innocent, it probably says more about the descriptor than the descriptee; I don't think Shikari was more innocent than any of the other female Legionnaires of the time (which isn't really saying anything; it was a pretty innocent era for the Legion).) You could say that Shikari's armor was on the outside, and Dawny's armor was on the inside.

One of Shikari's more endearing quirks was her habit of referring to the other Legionnaires not by their names, but by some descriptive variant on the word 'Legion'. So Umbra was 'Dark Legion', Saturn Girl was 'Fair Legion', Ultra Boy was 'Bold Legion'... I miss Shikari. She was cool. There's really not much to say about her Legion career; she joined in Legion Lost and was a valuable member right up until the threeboot.

I suppose I could mention her perambulations at the end of the Titans/Legion Special. See, in that comic, the Legion has just concluded a successful teamup with the Titans to beat the Fatal Five Hundred. And now all they have to do is go home. But Superboy-Prime is whaling on reality, and that throws things off, and they get lost in the timestream, and Shikari is separated from them. She finds herself in a new Earth, somewhere she's never seen before, and it's suggested (but only suggested!) that this is the Earth of the threeboot Legion. At the time, there was a lot of speculation about where she'd show up next, and if she'd join the threeboot Legion, or what. Anyway, she eventually does find her way home to the reboot Legion: there's a panel of Infinite Crisis #6 in which she meets up with them again on their Earth. So, if DC ever decides to tell stories about the reboot Legion again, Shikari's right there for them to use.

I’m wondering now what there is to be made of her insectile nature. There’s a long history of superheroes and bugs, of course: the Red Bee, the Blue Beetle, the Wasp, Ant-Man, Yellowjacket, the Brown Hornet, Bumblebee, Spider-Man (and all his satellite Spider-characters), some Tarantulas, the Fly, Luna Moth, the Legion’s own Spider Girl, Alias the Spider, his legacy character I Spyder, the Tick and Arthur, Mothman… And, also, villains including the Black Spider, the Queen Bee, Killer Moth, Susan (the tiny and perfect queen of the ants)… I know I’m forgetting a lot of them. But Shikari’s different in this sense: she isn’t insect-themed; she’s actually a bug-person whose powers and personality don’t have much to do with her bugginess. Like her teammate Gates. How many other comic-book characters are there like that? Morphea from Atari Force was one, but I’m not sure I can think of any others.

Let’s compare Morphea, Gates and Shikari and see what we get. All have left their home-planet cultures because they’re too individualistic to fit into their hivelike societies. Morphea and Shikari both have sensory powers, but Gates doesn’t. None form romantic relationships in the outside world, but all form other kinds of close relationships as valued members of teams of humanoids. Morphea and Shikari have unusual speech patterns, far more so than the other members of their teams. That’s what I can come up with so far.

Based on that, I’d like to nominate another Legionnaire for membership in this notional category: Quislet. Now, Quislet isn’t a bug; he’s an energy-being. As such, I’d rather classify him with Wildfire. But he too was too much of an individual to stay at home, he too has the same kind of relationship with his team members, and he too talks funny. Anyone know of any other characters like this?

Now, for Shikari’s signature moment. In the first few issues of The Legion, the Legion has a series of run-ins with the Oversight Watch, a bunch of superpowered thugs who break heads for the corrupt Earth government. One of them is a guy named Abyss, and he's got the power to warp his opponent to some cold lonely void-place where you're overcome with how lost and small and cold you are in the endless universe. So, naturally, he tried it out on Shikari:

Of course she did.

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Blogger Matthew E said...

Have I really only done eighteen of these? Man, this is going to take me forever at this rate. I'd better put on the jets.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Jim Drew said...

Another character in the "too unique for his culture and talks funny" class. That would be Warlock, self-friend!

1:41 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Good call. How could I forget Warlock, who was always one of my favourites? His powers are even similar to Quislet's, too.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forgot Ambush Bug!

8:35 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Another character in the insectile-funny-speech group, along with Morphea, Gates, Quislet, Warlock, and Shikari?

Petalwing from Elfquest.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

No funny speech patterns, but otherwise Telepath of L.E.G.I.O.N. fits the bill.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Not familiar with him; I'll check it out.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Martin Gray said...

I'm a little late, Matthew, but thanks for a wonderful piece. I'd love to see Insecty-Tracker Legion again.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

My pleasure! Hey, DC brings everyone back eventually...

10:33 PM  

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