Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Legionnaires: Lightning Lass

Lightning Lass, aka Ayla Ranzz of Winath, aka Light Lass, Gossamer, Pulse, Spark. Created by Edmond Hamilton and John Forte.

Ayla has a long history as a Legionnaire, of course. She's Lightning Lad's twin sister, and joined the Legion to replace him after his death back in the Silver Age, remaining on the team after his resurrection. Since then there have only been brief periods of Legion history in which she has not featured prominently. Usually she has lightning powers, like her brother, but every now and then something weird will happen to give her gravity-reduction powers instead.

It's Ayla's love life that has been the most notable thing about her characterization over the years. In the Silver Age, she and Timber Wolf fell in love, and that lasted up until the Great Darkness Saga, when they broke up for some basically good reasons. After that, she grew closer to Shrinking Violet, which made her a little unsure of herself, and she tried to deny her feelings by coming on to Magnetic Kid, who was completely squicked out at the idea of being cradlerobbed by someone his brother's age. Eventually, in the Five Years Later era, she and Vi do start a romantic relationship which lasts until Zero Hour. This was, I guess, controversial at the time; I hope it would be less so now. (Unfortunately, Geoff Johns seems to have turned back the clock so that Ayla and Timber Wolf are together again. This is the part where we roll our eyes.) In the reboot, she had a mutual crush going on with Chameleon, but really nobody got much action in the reboot.

In the threeboot, Mark Waid decided that the key to Ayla's character was that she was warm and affectionate. And I liked that; I thought that threeboot Ayla was the best portrayal of the character I had seen. (Waid also gave her some opportunities to really cut loose with her null-gravity powers, too, something that had stymied previous writers.) One of the ways that this manifested itself was that she had a lot of boyfriends. It was stated, or implied, that at some point she had gone out with Timber Wolf, Ultra Boy, Element Lad, and Sun Boy, possibly among others. (Once Jim Shooter got his hands on the book, he tried to continue this characterization of Ayla, but while his portrayal of her wasn't incompatible with Waid's, it did seem to have a different tone, and one that didn't work as well.)

I recall at the time there was some criticism of Ayla for this (mixed in with all the other criticism of the threeboot Legion for their attitudes et cetera). I think. The idea was that she was too promiscuous for a Legionnaire. It was assumed that she had been sleeping with all these guys (which is not a radical interpretation of the text) and that superheroes shouldn't do that. Which...

...well, why shouldn't she? As I write this, the Olympics are going on, and every time there's an Olympics, we see the same story in the papers: they need a truckload of condoms to stock the Olympic Village every day because of all the sex the athletes are having. I think Legionnaires are a good comparison for Olympians: they're a large elite group of young athletic people engaged in physically intense activity and living in close quarters. Of course there's going to be a lot of sex; what does anyone expect? And, good for them: I can hardly imagine a better way for them to be spending their spare time.

Ayla may have been created before the sexual revolution of the '60s and '70s, but that was a long time ago, and it's much longer ago from the setting of Legion comics. Presumably she's not burdened with the idea that sex is something that people do because they're bad. Any notion that she goes to bed with people out of low self-esteem can be dispelled by a quick search for any evidence that Ayla is actually suffering from low self-esteem. She likes people, she's affectionate, and sometimes she expresses her affection. I say she's fine the way she is, and, given that she spends her time saving people and fighting bad guys, maybe her critics should get off her case. Also, maybe it's time that superhero-comic morality caught up with actual-human-beings morality.

One subplot in the mid-threeboot was Ayla's friendship with Supergirl, which was the perfect showcase for Ayla's generous nature precisely because it got off to such a rocky start. It was actually pretty funny (recall that when Supergirl first showed up in the 31st century, nobody was sure if she was real, and she herself thought that she was hallucinating). Page from LSH v5 #17:

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The Legionnaires: Tyroc

Tyroc, aka Troy Stewart of Earth (specifically, Marzal). Created by Cary Bates and Mike Grell.

And then sometimes you do everything wrong and it works anyway.

Tyroc has a name and origin born out of some ridiculously condescending racial attitudes. He's got a silly costume. He has some astonishingly poorly-thought-out superpowers (he can scream nonsense syllables and make absolutely anything happen!). He's only appeared in a handful of stories, because Legion writers (understandably!) didn't know what to do with him and figured that it'd be better to do nothing with him. By rights he should be a train wreck of a character, and more to be scorned than pitied.


If you read the stories with Tyroc in them, he actually comes across as an interesting, likable guy. There's something about his personality that works. (I'm sure that the art helps.) It wouldn't be hard to fix him at all: put him in a decent costume, hammer his powers into something that works in the comic-book medium and doesn't make him omnipotent, mop out some of the racial-separatist junk he was originally saddled with, and you're all set. You don't even have to change his name: as unfortunate as it was, it's not as bad as "Matter-Eater Lad". After all, this is a guy who has reached heights only attained by a couple of other Legionnaires:

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