Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Legionnaires: Computo

Computo, aka Danielle Foccart of Earth. Created by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen.

Computo offers us an example of how you can have a good character who still doesn't work. Okay, maybe 'doesn't work' is a little strong, but there's one serious flaw and one glaring misfire in this character and how she was introduced.

First, some history. We met Danielle Foccart in LSH v2 Annual #1. This was the first real Annual ever published by DC, and it's one of my favourite Legion comics ever. It's also a pretty good onramp to the Legion for new readers. Danielle is a little girl with a rare medical condition, and Brainiac 5 is trying to cure her with some circuits he salvaged from Silver Age-era menace Computo, killer of one of Triplicate Girl's three bodies. It doesn't go well, and Computo-the-villain is restored in Danielle's body, and immediately takes over Legion headquarters. Brainy finally manages to subdue Computo/Danielle, with the assistance of Danielle's brother Jacques (who becomes the new Invisible Kid in the process). Periodically for the next few years, Brainy resumes his efforts to cure Danielle, and always wakes Computo in the process. He finally cures her in LSH v2 #311, and we see little of her until after the Five Year Gap.

Five Years Later, during the Dominator occupation of Earth, the resistance is joined by a bunch of noteworthy superpowered characters, including Danielle, who now has the ability to 'talk to computers'. Or something like that. Basically she has a rapport with technology and can get it to do whatever she wants, presumably because of the Computo circuits in her brain. With this power, she went on to join the SW6 Legion under the name 'Computo', and was even named deputy leader of the team.

So, she was a nice kid, bright, brave, all that stuff. She was one of several little-sister Legionnaires (with Light Lass and Kid Quantum II). She didn't get a lot of screen time before Zero Hour rubbed her out of existence. But in a way, that was a good thing, because increased screen time might have revealed the big problem with her character.

There are two knots in this plank of wood. The first reveals itself chronologically:
1980: Danielle Foccart is introduced. The Computo circuits are implanted into her brain.
1984: Danielle is cured of her affliction and of possession by Computo.
1992: Danielle is revealed to have technology-related powers.

Now here's what happens in TotLSH #312 in 1984:

When I read that page, I knew exactly what was going to happen: Danielle was going to manifest some kind of technology-affecting superpower, and might become a superhero or even a Legionnaire. I mean, look: she's such a nice kid that she's obviously not going to become a villain. She's not going to have the power take over and turn her into some kind of menace, because, well, we already had that. So what else is left?

We knew this in 1984 and it didn't get used in a story until 1992. That's no way to do things, is it?

Here's the other thing. Danielle's power brings us right up against the nature of 30th-century technology. After all, her capabilities are defined by the technology's capabilities. To understand what she can do, we must first understand what the 30th century can do. Now, no mistake: this is cool. It would be really interesting to explore in a hard-science-fiction story. Unfortunately, we're not dealing with a hard-science-fiction story; we're dealing with a superhero comic. And science doesn't come much softer than it does in superhero comics.

Levitz and Giffen, and all the other Legion creators, haven't figured out the nature and limits of 30th-century technology. They couldn't have, of course; nobody could. But it's still a hole in the scenery. And when one has a hole in the scenery, one conceals it. One doesn't bring in a plot element, like, say, a character's superpower, that draws attention to it.

Don't get me wrong. I like Danielle. She might have been my favourite character in the SW6 Legion. But it's probably a good thing that the Legion franchise never put all that much weight on her.

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Blogger Michael said...

We knew this in 1984 and it didn't get used in a story until 1992. That's no way to do things, is it?

But they couldn't really do anything until she grew up. She was too young to join until after the 5 year gap.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I refuse to believe that comic book writers think things out that far in advance.

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


From what little I know about this era of the book, I imagined that DF was sort of a linguist who specialized in technology-- soooo... kind of a futuristic version of Cipher/Doug Ramsey in the X-Men.

While I hate to admit this: Most of us don't know enough about the tech and culture(s) of the world we're actually living in right now. If I had to regard the phenomenon you describe as a problem, I'd be reading about nothing but superheroes whose powers relate to compost bins, post-bob jazz piano and beginners' Excel[tm].

Bob Burden already did something like that, anyway. ;)


3:54 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

That's a point. It's something that cropped up on the TV show Veronica Mars, for instance: the writers said that if they let Veronica do all the stuff that private detectives could do in real life, there'd be no way for them to stretch any episode out past fifteen minutes.

But we do understand the limits and capabilities of today's technology in broad strokes, and as it affects us in normal life. And can read and write stories based on that. A thousand years from now? Will be unimaginably different. And Computo's powers make us try to imagine it, in detail, anyway. And to me it doesn't work.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[grin] Point taken. (Oh, and I can't believe that I misspelled the phrase "post-BOP." Ouch.)

On the plus side, I'm now aware of having lived long enough to see Cham in a costume that doesn't make me want to go hit somebody in the head with my crumbling copy of *Color-Fashion Theory 101* (c1985) which states, in a nutshell:

Orange + Yellow + Mauve = A Bad Thing

Elfquest[tm] shoulders + figure that already has broad shoulders = A Really Bad Thing.

See ? I've just disproved your theory, haven't I ? : If you give the proles only a little constructive knowledge, all it does is make us strut around like we own the place. Total ignorance is clearly superior, from the creators' standpoint.


4:10 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I don't know; I kinda liked that costume.

My philosophy of knowledge is similar to my philosophy of the Legion:

More is better.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I wasn't already late for my volunteer gig, the costume issue would be just meaningless enough to merit a 6,000,000,000,000-post flamewar that would spread to at least 75 other boards before it finally died off sometime around (U.S.) Flag Day.


-- cleome45

4:27 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

You know, there's an article on Legion costumes in Teenagers from the Future. For which I get a royalty with each copy sold.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be honest, I'm more impressed that you get socialized medicine.

But that royalty thing is nice, too.

-- cleome45

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We knew this in 1984 and it didn't get used in a story until 1992. That's no way to do things, is it?

Just be glad Chris Claremont wasn't Legion writer... we'd still be waiting for that (and many other) plotline(s) to be resolved.

6:10 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

You mean like the way I'm still waiting to find out who Tarik the Mute is?

9:05 AM  
Blogger Jim Drew said...

Tarik is supposed to be someone special? (Other than someone with a past unspecified grudge against the Legion to made him create the LSV?)

Easy way out: he was False-Pretenses Lad, and then got his throat slit in a vibroshiv fight on Takron-Galtos.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

No, I mean threeboot Tarik, who was mentioned but who, I believe, we never actually met. Was he Mekt? One of Mekt's henchmen? I guess we'll never know.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Rebecca V. O'Neal said...

i love your blog! and thanks for the email... it helped out a LOT with my list.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One would assume that being the ultimate hacker in a world loaded with technology should grant Computo some pretty good storylines. (more good storylines, I mean).
Even silly stuff, like have the the fridge shoot Siverale cans at Chameleon Boy, or something. I miss silly.
Anyway, The Legion of Superheroes has a considerable amount of characters, making a heck of a job for a writer to give them all the spotlight they deserve.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Becca: Thanks very much, and it was my pleasure.

Marina: I think Danielle's powers would have worked a lot better if she was a present-day character. It's a lot easier to imagine what she would and wouldn't be able to do, and we've got more of a social context to fit her abilities into, thus generating those great storylines you're talking about.

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Tarik the Mute.

Nowadays, when in doubt, I just assume that everybody will turn out to be The Time Trapper in the final issue before the next reboot. I'm jaded. :/

-- cleome45

6:22 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

The more I think about it, the more I like my idea that Lex Luthor is the Time Trapper. (Do I misremember, or was there a resemblance between Luthor and Tarik? Maybe everybody is everybody. Maybe there's only one comic-book character.)

6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just so it doesn't turn into that Marvel thing where all of Team America [tm] turned out to be a projecting gestalt. There has to be a limit somewhere. Also, I really don't want Jim Lee drawing the one character. I'm willing to accept the elven epaulette-thing with a brave smile so long as everyone's in agreement about the rest of my demands.

-- cleome45

7:43 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

But what if the one character is, also, Jim Lee? And since Jim Lee is also you, you're just spiting yourself by posting this comment. But since you're also me, you know that.

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You know, I've consumed enough vodka and lemon by this point for all that to almost make sense.

-- cleome45

10:22 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Then you're almost ready to reread the Five Years Later run.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I recently joined a religious cult which frowns on both shoplifting and on bit torrents. Despite its liberal views on alcohol.


10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since Jacques is back,we may see Danielle sometime,but not as Computo.Always thought it unusual that a Legionnaire shared the same name with one of their foes.Not many times that happened on a superhero team.
If she's still around,and if she still has her powers,maybe she becomes the new Gear.If the old Gear returns,her chances of coming back are slim,but not zero.She and Gear could share membership,the way Element Lad and Chemical King, two other similarly powered Legionnaires,once did.Of course,CK didn't last long...may be best for Danielle to stay away.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Always thought it unusual that a Legionnaire shared the same name with one of their foes.Not many times that happened on a superhero team.

Well, there was Dr. Light...

I hope we do see Danielle again, with or without powers.

7:53 PM  

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