Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Legionnaires: Timber Wolf

Timber Wolf, aka Brin Londo of Zuun (or Zoon or Rimbor), aka Furball, Lone Wolf. Created by Edmond Hamilton and John Forte.

Timber Wolf is the Legion's everyman. He's not the only one, of course; presenting a superheroic character in a way that lets the (nonsuperheroic) reader identify with him or her is standard practice when it comes to almost all superheroes (except the really exotic ones like Quislet), and some of them are particularly appropriate for this purpose. Invisible Kid, for instance.

But it's what Timber Wolf is all about. Consider his powers, for one thing; they aren't particularly interesting when compared to his teammates. He can't point his finger and make anything happen. He has super-strength, but everyone else who has super-strength is stronger than him. He has super-speed, but everyone else who has super-speed is faster than him. He's tough, but not crazy tough. He's got, what, "super-acrobatics"? Well, that's something, I guess...

As a superhero, he's more of a generalist than a specialist. The lesson of superhero role-playing games is that all characters need to be able to do three things: attack, defend, and move. Timber Wolf's powers let him do all three, and that's not common among Legionnaires, most of whom have single-use powers and rely on their flight rings and teammates to cover their weak spots. A famous Levitz-era story about Timber Wolf showed that he was, among Legionnaires, one of the most committed to the team, but ironically he's also one of the best-suited for independent action (as other stories have shown).

Timber Wolf isn't the brightest guy around. Not that he's stupid, by any means, although he may seem so by comparison to some of the wildly powerful, creative and unusual minds surrounding him in the Legion. Timber Wolf has an athlete's intelligence, which give him a deep understanding of what he can do and how he can do it. (Which is why he was able to become Legion leader during the Five Year Gap; from what I can tell, he did a good job, too.) He is, again, a generalist among specialists: he may miss the sophisticated details, but you won't trip him up on the fundamentals.

(This description, by the way, holds up reasonably well across all the different versions of the Legion.)

There's an interesting panel in the last issue of the Great Darkness Saga. Darkseid is preying on the Legionnaires' greatest fears, one by one, and his attack on Timber Wolf is to remove his humanity, since that's his greatest fear. (A particularly apt trait for an everyman character to have.) The panel shows him turning into a robot. This is a callback to his first appearance, in which an android named Karth Arn tried to switch identities with him. Now, that may have been the first time that it was stated outright that this is what Timber Wolf was afraid of... but it also may have been the last time that his loss of humanity was associated with becoming a machine.

See, all the writers after Levitz to make much use of Timber Wolf (which means, I guess, Giffen and the Bierbaums in the 5YL era; Waid, Bedard and Shooter in the threeboot; the cartoon writers; and Geoff Johns in the Lightning Saga. DnA brought back Timber Wolf late in the reboot but didn't make much of this aspect of his personality) had him fearing that he'd stop being human and start being an animal. I suppose I can't blame them; it's right there in his name, after all. Still, I prefer the original super-acrobat to the latter-day semi-feral quasi-werewolf.

One thing Timber Wolf turns out to be good for is comic relief. It's funny, after all, watching him try simultaneously to cope with his own hard-luck life and keep up with the more nimble minds of the other Legionnaires. Which is one reason why I picked The Legion #16, second part of "Legion Rookie Blues," for his signature moment.

In it, the Fatal Five has seized a small planetoid looking for treasure. The Emerald Eye has all it can do to keep the alarms from going off, but the rest of the Five have subdued the small Legion team that was on the scene. The only Legionnaire still on his feet is Timber Wolf (on his first mission as a Legionnaire), who creates a deadlock by stealing the distributor cap out of the Fatal Five's spaceship. Tharok sends Mano, the Persuader, and the Empress to go get it back from him so that they can all get out of there before the Eye loses control of the security systems.

So it's a great scene, but it's not the signature scene until the last panel coming up:


Someone is sure to mention in the comments that Timber Wolf precedes Wolverine as a character, that Wolverine and Timber Wolf share certain qualities, that Timber Wolf is cooler, and that there's no need to try to make Timber Wolf more like Wolverine. So let me just take care of that for you ahead of time.

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