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Classic EBI #50: Musical Chairs Behind the Mask

EVERYTHING BUT IMAGINARY 2/18/04 -- MUSICAL CHAIRS BEHIND THE MASK

Musical chairs behind the mask

As I’ve said in this column before, one of my favorite things about DC Comics is their concept of the heroic legacy. I love how the mantle of the Flash has been passed down from Jay Garrick to Barry Allen to Wally West, and that there is a new Kid Flash patiently waiting his turn in line. I love that we’re on our second Atom, our third Dr. Mid-Nite and that the legacies of Ted (Starman) Knight and Sylvester (Star-Spangled Kid) Pemberton have come to rest in Stargirl. Granted, not every character is a legacy character. Even though they’ve all got lots of related characters in their wake I don’t want to see Clark Kent replaced as Superman, Diana replaced as Wonder Woman or Billy Batson replaced as Captain Marvel.

Recently, though, the world of comics has been abuzz with the news that no less than three heroes may be passing their masks on to somebody else soon -- two of them confirmed, one of them still in the rumor bin, and while I’m all for the legacy, a couple of these have me a bit perturbed.

By the way, I'm not going to discuss anything that isn't already all over the place on the Internet -- either as confirmed fact or blatant rumor -- but if you're super-spoiler sensitive, be warned.

First, it was revealed that when Damion Scott takes over as the penciller of the Robin series, Tim Drake will be abandoning the identity. Who’s going to get it? We don’t know yet, but according to a sketch that has been making the rounds on the internet, it’s going to be a girl with blonde hair. (The hair thing could be a red herring -- let’s not forget Black Canary is a natural brunette and dyes her hair after many, many years of wearing a wig.)

So who is the new girl wonder? Immediate speculation places Tim’s girlfriend Stephanie Brown, a.k.a. Spoiler, as the frontrunner. She’s got drive to fight crime and a more original story than losing her parents to violence like most of the bat-family. (In her case, she became a hero because her father was a supervillain, the late Cluemaster.) But Batman famously “fired” her some time ago for being too headstrong, too reckless... too much like Jason Todd, the second, dead Robin.

One other name I want to throw out as a possibility is Cissie King-Jones, once known as Arrowette and Tim’s former teammate in Young Justice. She was tough, skilled and cool-headed, and quit putting on the spandex of her own accord rather than being forced out of it, meaning theoretically, she could be talked back into it.

Either way, though, I’m not worried because I don’t expect the change to be permanent. I suspect Tim may temporarily take on a new identity (the way Dick Grayson became Nightwing), but eventually I think he’ll be back with the Bat because he’s too popular as Robin. It’s always been said of him that Tim Drake didn’t want to grow up to be a superhero like his predecessors did, but he hasn’t grown up yet. I’ll be really surprised if he’s not back by Robin #140.

Second, let’s look at the furor over Firestorm. Once upon a time this nuclear-powered hero was created when Professor Martin Stein and teenager Ronnie Raymond merged into one super-powered being. Somewhere along the line, the Prof left and Ronnie became the sole proprietor of Firestorm. Now that he’s got a new series coming out, it has been revealed that Ronnie won’t be Firestorm anymore but instead some new kid will get the powers.

Now the immediate question to me is “how”? It’s not like being Robin where (theoretically) anybody with sufficient training can put on the tights and at least do the job. Ronnie and the Prof got their powers when they were caught in a nuclear explosion (which, the last time I checked, was more likely to just kill anybody who happened to be there).

Some people, however, are less curious and more upset that Ronnie won’t be Firestorm. I can understand that, and if I thought that they were just going to kill him off for the sake of replacing him with a new character, I’d be mad too. But I don’t think he’s going to be killed off -- I’ve heard that writer Dan Jolley intends to use Ronnie in the book, which I think opens a lot of storytelling potential. Even if there’s no “merge,” I think it would be interesting to see Ronnie take on the sort of mentor role the professor once did for him, and I’ll be picking up the book.

There is speculation that Ronnie is going to die, however, in the midst of Brad Meltzer’s upcoming miniseries Identity Crisis, which promises to kill off a DC hero. (As nearly every event kills off a DC hero, I don’t know why anyone is acting surprised. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if an X-Men event managed to kill off a DC hero.)

There’s more speculation about Identity Crisis, however, and this is the only upcoming DC change that really bothers me. It’s still unconfirmed, but I’m sure by now all of us have heard the rumor that Meltzer is going to kill off Kyle Rayner, paving the way for Hal Jordan’s return as Green Lantern.

And you thought Jolley’s announcement kicked off a firestorm.

There are a lot of people still mad about how Hal was replaced. At the time, heck, I was one of them. I thought it was terrible how the character went insane, killed his friends and became a villain. I didn’t like this punk kid Rayner, I hated the “crab mask,” and I missed the Corps.

Then something odd happened. Kyle Rayner started to grow on me. All the people who are still screaming that Kyle is just a big whiner and he doesn’t deserve the ring, do me a favor and read Ron Marz’s entire run on the book, not just the first five issues. Kyle grew. Kyle matured. Kyle became a hero and he’s earned a place in the DCU. He’s certainly earned better than the abysmal writing his book has been saddled with for the past two years or so, but that’s another column entirely.

Here’s the catch-22 for me. I like legacies, and I think Green Lantern is the second-best legacy in comics. (First is the Flash.) So if Kyle’s legacy is being passed on, how can I be upset?

Because it’s regressing. If the rumors are true, it’s going back instead of moving forward. I think I’d be less upset if the ring were going to be passed down to someone new than if it were going back to Hal Jordan who, whether you like it or not, is a very logical choice in the role of the Spectre. Which opens up another question -- if Hal is brought back to life, whose soul gets bonded to the spirit of God’s wrath to keep it in check? The Spectre needs a human host. If not Hal, then who?

Change in comic books, like in life, is inevitable. The difference is, in comic books we can control it. Change just for the sake of change (or for the sake of appeasing a few mewling fans who think forming an “attack team” is a logical recourse if you’re disappointed about a comic book) doesn’t work. Change flowing from story and character does. Writers and editors need to keep that in mind when they’re deciding what changes to make, just as we readers need to keep it in mind when we’re deciding which comics deserve our hard-earned dollars every Wednesday.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: February 11, 2004

Robin writer Bill Willingham has been wowing me for a long time now, mostly with his work on Fables. With issue #22 he has proved that even a fill-in issue of this comic book is better than a regular issue of any other title. Taking a break from the current “March of the Wooden Soldiers” story arc, Willingham shows us a side of Cinderella we haven’t seen before, heading off to Paris to meet a smitten Ichabod Crane to aid her mysterious employer. This is a great little mystery tale, with more twists in one issue than you get in half a year of most Marvel comics these days. It also stands completely on its own. If you’ve been curious about Fables but didn’t want in during a storyline, this is a great place to jump on-board.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People's Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the novel-in-progress Lost in Silver at Evertime Realms. He’s also the co-host, with good buddy Chase Bouzigard and Not-On-the-Internet Mike Bellamy, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcasts. E-mail him at Blake@comixtreme.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.

 

Tags: batman, classic ebi, comics, ebi, fables, firestorm, flash, green lantern, identity crisis, robin, spectre
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