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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