Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I Don't Want to Go off on Any Ranzz Here

I just thought of something. (Strange how I seem to be starting more and more of these posts with that kind of announcement.) For a while now I've been complaining about how Geoff Johns has changed Lightning Lad's personality in a way I didn't care for. But now I actually like it, because I think I know what Johns is up to!

I'm not going to try to argue that the retroboot Lightning Lad is consistent with the Lightning Lad that, say, Paul Levitz wrote. He's not. Levitz's Garth was stalwart and intense and clean-cut; Johns's Garth is emotional and resentful and kind of a bad-boy. Johns's Garth actually has a lot in common with reboot Live Wire, with threeboot Lightning Lad and with SW6 Live Wire. (Animated Lightning Lad is a whole other thing entirely.) But remember: there was an in-story reason why SW6 Garth was different from original-recipe Garth, and it's this: most of what we've seen of original Lightning Lad is really Proty* in disguise! See Tom Bierbaum's Legion reminiscences for more on this, but basically they wrote it so that Garth's real personality was kind of an immature hothead, and it was Proty who provided the more responsible personality we remember so well from the '60s, '70s and '80s.

And ever since then, his portrayals have tended to fall in line with the SW6 depiction. So what Johns is doing is, in a backwards kind of way, validating that Garth-is-really-Proty story! By writing Lightning Lad the way he is, Johns is saying that this isn't the same Lightning Lad we read about in the 1980s, because this Lightning Lad isn't Proty like the original one was! (Which makes this, for those of us keeping track, another way in which retroboot continuity departs from original-Legion continuity.)

It's actually quite an interesting nuance, because after all the ceremony that was intended to revive Lightning Lad was a plot point in the Lightning Saga, and one that's still important in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. Because look: the point of the 5YL Garth-is-Proty story is that the lightning-rod ritual didn't work. But the retroboot needs it to work! Therefore Garth must be Garth and not Proty. I don't want to put too much weight on that, because Johns could have just given him the Lightning Lad personality we remember from the '80s, without addressing the Proty thing, and nobody would have noticed or cared. As it is, though... it's very elegant. It's consistent all the way down the line.

This is the same kind of thing I mentioned in the Calamity King article: no part of DC continuity may be more moribund than the Legion's 5YL comics, but, unexpectedly, here comes another little strand of support for it, in the last place you'd expect to see it.

It's actually kind of cool, especially if you're a fan of the Five Years Later Legion. Deftly played, Mr. Johns.

But at the same time, he's backtracked on the characterizations of Garth's brother and sister, Lightnings Lord and Lass. Ayla broke up with Timber Wolf for excellent reasons in original-Legion continuity, and it made a lot of sense for her not to go back to him. Her relationship with Vi was a well-structured development for both of those two characters and also made a lot of sense. But what do we see in the retroboot? Ayla back with Brin again. Why? How? No good reason I can see. I don't consider it a mischaracterization; it's a perfectly plausible development... but not a welcome one.

Similarly, Mekt's place in the world has retrogressed. Lightning Lord was a supervillain as late as the latter parts of the Levitz run, but he had been reformed as of Five Years Later and was living peacefully and happily on Winath with his family and boyfriend. This development (read more about it here) seemed to give Mekt a new role in Legion lore: he is the supervillain who reforms. Reboot Mekt had his period of villainy before he reformed and settled on Winath; he was still kind of unstable but never stepped back over the line. Animated Mekt was a villain for a while but turned on Imperiex to save Ayla and then surrendered to the cops. And threeboot Mekt was never exactly a villain in the first place. The only place Lightning Lord is still a bad guy is in retroboot continuity. Again, plausible but not welcome.

I suppose it's possible that Johns is saving the Mekt-reform story and the deterioration of the Ayla-Brin relationship for exploration at some future date. I only have a couple of problems with that:
1. We've already seen that stuff happen. In the case of Mekt, we've seen it more than once**. We don't need it all over again.
2. I have yet to be convinced that Johns is going to be writing any Legion stories after FC:L3W anyway. He is, like Brainiac 5, very busy!

Most likely these were just the simplest ways of writing two characters who he wasn't putting much weight on in the first place. Sort of like using Yera and Rond Vidar as superheroes instead of as the excellent supporting characters they used to be. Oh well.


* in case anyone needs an explanation, here it is: Lightning Lad died and was resurrected in an old Silver Age story: Proty sacrificed his life to transfer his life force to Lightning Lad in the famous lightning-rod ritual. But it was established in LSHv4 Annual #3, one of the 5YL annuals, that Proty actually replaced Lightning Lad in that ceremony, and maintained the disguise forever after, because the Legion and the galaxy needed this great hero back.
** and Lightning Lord is a boring villain in the first place anyway.

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