Thursday, February 02, 2006

Reactions and Reflections

Written by Dave Gibbons; Art by Ivan Reis and Marc Campos; Cover by Gibbons and Michael Bair

Infinite Crisis is here and the Cosmic Storm rages out of control, threatening the fate of the entire universe! While the Rannian and Thanagarian flagships each suspect that the other is responsible for the disturbances, Donna Troy must lead her team of space champions into the cosmos in an attempt to prevent total destruction. But as the war rages on, a startling discovery will be uncovered, one hero will be forever changed, and another will make the ultimate sacrifice.

Guess what I read today.

Spoilers Ahead Pertaining to the Strong Text

Consider Yourself Warned

Read the Spoilers

I should be happy. She's dead, gone. I never have to suffer through another Jade story (unless, of course, they resurrect her -- a possibility which I shall ignore for the purposes of this essay). With her dead, a female Lantern from the Corps will take prominence. My gender will no longer be represented by a character who isconsistentlyy weaker than the others.

I have reason enough to dislike her, I'm not the only one, and I expected this. I've been asking for this for a while now, and not asking gently even. I've been screaming for her head. On a pike. Placed outside the newly-built home of a resurrected Katma Tui.

She'd been in Infinity Inc, that's where she was born. Infinity Inc was the spinoff of the JSA team and the All-Star Squadron book. The members were the various children of the JSA, who were not accepted by their parents so they formed their own team. It was 80s Bronze Age, soapy comics. Nowhere near as flashy or exciting as the late 90s JLA stuff where Kyle Rayner cut his teeth, but it was loved by its loyal readers. It was personal level book, personal threats, personal stories. Soapy. They mainly dealt with their own private problems and JSA leftovers. It wasn't even the hybrid of soap and widescreen action the current JSA is, it was mainly soap. In hindsight, no one could really be impressed with a tenure on Infinity Inc in a world with the JLA. Except for a few teamups with the rest of the Universe (All-Star Squadron, Crisis on Infinite Earths), Jennie never got to save the world.

After this team disbanded, the members floated all over the DCU. She was in a reality TV show, did some nude pictures, and worked a little with the Justice League.

She was an unused Lantern character who was plopped into the title as a supporting cast member. When Donna Troy was pulled, she was there. It was too simple to turn her into a love interest. They didn't think this through. Green Lantern, since the Silver Age, has been a space-faring concept. Kyle would eventually go to space. His creator has said, several times, that his intention was to restart the GLC with Kyle.

I think it's because of this spacefarer concept that the rotating love interest was started with Hal (They introduced Iona Vane within the first ten issues), even though Hal was primarily Earthbound. Any Lantern love interest stood the chance of not being permanent. Hell, this was Kyle's third shot, odds were, it was going to be changed later on. That's the nature of this franchise.

Jennie's family ties were a blessing and a curse in this aspect. The daughter of the Golden-Age Green Lantern, the man who was Kyle's chief mentor figure. Storywise, it was as natural as an apprentice falling for his master's daughter. It held the same promise. Kyle would inherit the Golden Age Legacy of Green Lantern like the "family business." Very natural, very wonderful on the surface. Not very permanent, as Kyle had already inherited the Silver Age Legacy. Withh the revolving Love interest and the responsibility to the extra-terrestrial. Sooner or later, he was going to go, and she was going to go elsewhere. Here's where those family ties became a curse, because Kyle's tie to the Golden Age legacy becamedependentt on his good standing with Jade.

Plots and enemies for Jennie are easily forgotten. She never had an enemy all her own. Her most notable adventures were tied to her family -- the ones with her boyfriend, the ones with her brother, and of course Sentinel: Heart of Darkness, titled for her father -- where she made her best show, but lost her powers. Closest thing to a nemesis -- Her crazed ex-boyfriend Brainwave Jr (now sane), who fought her father more often. Her biggest events involved losing and regaining her powers.

Jade was a mediocre character.

And I hated her for it. It wasn't for the cheating storyline, though that was poorly thought out and had too many irritating consequences that could only be undone with her death. No, it was for her sheer unimpressiveness. She was a Lantern longer than Guy or Kyle, but never seemed nearly as skilled. She was not anywhere close to as creative as Kyle. Hee wasn't even particularly brave or smart. She was, with one exception (the storyline in which she lost her powers) consistently portrayed as less powerful than her boyfriend, her father, or any normal Corpsman.

The day Fatality showed up, and Kyle had to save Jennie's older, more experienced butt from a villain he'd beaten as a rookie, my sister and I dropped the book. We swore off Green Lantern, for a while. I discovered back issues, where Arisia was particularly brave, Katma as faithful, idealistic and creative as Kyle, Boodika and Laira were skilled fighters equal to anyone in the rest of the books. These past females were fascinating, but they were dead, discarded, and forgotten.

Jade, however, had survived a Lantern-wide purge and a cursed boyfriend through the grace of her family ties.

I always had problems with that aspect of her concept. Jade was guaranteed a certain amount of panel-time due to comic-book nepotism. She inherited, if not in-character, butmetatextuallyy, a certain amount of status from her father. She was a princess, present in stories because of her royal connections. The plotlines were dependent on her father, her brother, or her boyfriend. She was defined by them, she was "the Good Daughter" "The Strong Sister" and "The Supportive Lover/Helper" -- she was teacher, mother, daughter, sister, nuturer to the men of the Green Lantern books. She was always defined as reliable and skilled in dialogue. Nightwing called her a "veteran," Kyle called her "the better hero" and Kilowog described her as a "True Lantern" -- she's never had any actions to cement these definitions, but this is how the males around her define her. Mostly, she offered sympathy, a helping hand (but not too much of one) and a supportive shoulder. She tied generations and legacies together as a romantic tie.

No wonder her character became so reviled for the "Cheating plotline." She violated the sacred trust, the sacred contract. She was Guinevere, a princess with an inheritance, tearing the kingdom asunder for passion (and, before you side with her -- passion for a man who did not respect her enough to be faithful to her!). One of her 3 chief bonds, the relationships that defined her character was severed by her thoughtless actions. Her concept as a supportive woman was destroyed.

This wasn't just a mistake. This was a characterization catastrophe. At the core of her very concept wasfamilyl and unity -- bringing generations together, and here she was shutting the door on the latest generation of Lanterndom. This woman who was built on family was becoming a divisive presence in the family.

And so, for the anti-feminist basis on which her concept was built (a womandependentt on males for definition, a female fundamentally less powerful than similar males) in addition to a complete lack of anything of interest in her personality, I always figured it was best that she die. There was an entire Corps of Alien Lanterns out there. We had nuturers in the form of Kilowog and Guy, rough and tough and manly but still supportive caretakers at heart. Our alien females had been young students (Arisia), nuturers (Brik,sherifff Mardin), warriors (Boodika, Laira) and sharp thinkers (Katma and now Soranik). Better to get rid of Jade and her nepotism now, and give some others some screentime, maybe a resurrection or two.

I feel bad now. I was hoping for a noble end to a much maligned character. I figured she'd get a nice swansong, with a good show of power, the chance to save the life of Alan (beloved father), Kyle (spurned lover), or, to really make her selfless, Donna (traditional rival). I mean, Blue Beetle got a decent farewell.

No such luck.

Jennie's quiet and demur, and clearly missed Kyle and regrets the split. She's the sweet young lady from Infinity Inc again. Kyle and her are a comfortable pair of old lovers who've been apart long enough to forget why they were apart in the first place.

She acts to boost his confidence. She tells him he's the creative one (sadly true), how much this feels like old times, and of course, warns him that the enemy will betargetingg him, as he is the bigger threat (which, yes, he is. Jade's always portrayed as a lesser Lantern than a member of the Corps). This used to be her vital role in Kyle's life, but he no longer needs someone to do that.

She is there to help and protect, but she does not die doing so. She's behind him when lightning strikes her.

It was disappointed.

A mediocre end for a mediocre Lantern.

Perhaps the most suitable one, however.

Remember Power of Ion? Jennie had lost her personal power, but was given power in the form of a ring by Kyle. During this storyline, he "awakens" her personal power again, because she cannot do it alone (I was uneasy with this one when I first read it). I don't think Kyle was lying. I think he's very good at deluding himself. It's revealed at Jennie's death that in truth the power she had was his gift all along. He protests, but she insists on returning it.

Perhaps this is a good feminist parable. A truth to illustrate what happens when you draw not on your own personal strength, but on power allotted by the men in your life.

Jennie inherited supernatural powers from her father. When she joined Infinity Inc, she was a sweet-faced innocent, who could easily have become the submissive member of the team. But she had a brother who was needy, and through her relationship with him had power. Shereceivedd both this form of emotional power, and superpowers from Kyle. Jade was a study in borrowed strength. Her power was never hers, it was her fathers, then Kyle's. This derivative power only served to keep her subordinate to her father's, her brother's, and her boyfriend's needs. When it was no longer useful to her, she returned it. She destroyed herself repowering the one who had empowered her.

I'm a big believer in the subconscious in stories. There are little details that make a character fit one way and not another. Her death would have been better, I believe, had this loophole, this connection not been there. Had it been Donna, it would have been a different scene. Had it been Diana or Hippolyta, the same. The Wonders draw power from female deities. Had it been Starfire, Power Girl or Supergirl, it would have been different. These women draw power from the same source their male relatives do. Black Canary? She followed in her mother's footsteps.

I wonder what would have happened if Jennie had inherited her mother's (the Flash enemy, Thorn) powers. She'd already been forced to reject her mother's legacy for her father's. Would the character have been different, personality-wise? Would she have spent her entire life borrowing power from men if she'd originally drawn power from a woman? Would she have lost that power and had it reactivated?

Would she have still died giving it back?


  1. i have to tell you, your insight into these characters is unbelievably impressive.

    likewise, i'm glad jade's dead. she's poorly characterized, and a crutch for the writers.

    but i predict she will be back.

    in other news, the new Ion costume BLOWS.

  2. Ah, poor Jade. Created by Roy Thomas as part of his "Junior JSA" of Earth-2, whose entire reason for existence in the DCU was negated by Crisis. After all, they were Legacy characters - the kids of the "original" superheroes. But post-Crisis, the Silver Age revamps became the Legacy characters, and the kids were left high and dry.

    They seem mostly hated by those writers who came after Thomas, and were either completely ignored, or used in some negative manner in their books. Only Power Girl and Huntress seemed to escape this fate - and both of them were rebooted away from their Legacies post-Crisis (though Power Girl seems to have gotten her back at this point).

    But look at the roster - you've done a thorough job on Jade, but her brother Obsidian has also been put through the ringer - never being able to decide if he's a hero or a villain. Hector and Lyta were put through the ringer by Gaiman, then again by Johns (although I guess he gave them a happy ending). Nuklon was a nothing character for years, and Johns has also showcased how bad of a hero he actually is.

    These kids are not allowed to be heroes - the writers just don't want it to happen. We're down to just Nuklon, Brainwave Jr., and Obsidion, I think. I imagine in the next few years another one will bite the dust or become a villain permanently.

  3. Here's another thought...
    Jade may be inconsistent and ALL of the things you said above are true... But so are some real women.

    Of course, those women usually aren't written with the intention of making them "heroes".


  4. Wow, Jer, I totally disagree with you. Johns clearly LOVES Infinity Inc. That's why he uses them. That's why he puts the characters "through the wringer." So that he can test them, explore them, and cheer for them when they make a come back.

    That's why Batman's life sucks. And Spider-Man's. And Wonder Woman's and... Because writers love these characters, as characters. If these were real people, and Johns was their god, then yes, their harsh lives would seem cruel reward for their heroic service. But they're NOT real, they're tools, complicated and interesting story devices. And if Johns sees excellent tools with which to tell good stories, I can't fault him for using his tools.

    You know what happens to characters writers don't like? Nothing. Nothing at all. They disappear into the void along with the Red Bee and the Spider-Mobile. If Johns and other writers didn't like Infinity Inc, you wouldn't see Atom Smasher, Obsidion, Mr. Bones, Pat Dugan, Brainwave, or any of them ever again.

    For example, Obsidion could have, ahem, faded away in obscurity years ago. But instead he was brought back as a major villain, been given the chance to reform and a stable relationship, and now has had his sole constant support taken from him. Why? Because it will be interesting to see how he reacts, which way he jumps in the aftermath of this devestating loss. Because he's an interesting character, and the DC writers know that. Because they love him.

  5. I'm sad that Jade's dead, and for a number of reasons - none of which relate to the character, really. Yes, she was poorly characterised. Yes, any use she's had has been spotty at best (although I was starting to like her in Outsiders, just as someone who was exasparated with Nightwing for a change). The reasons I am sad that she is dead are as follows:

    1. She had potential to be a good character - she occupies a unique niche within the DC Universe that could have been used very well, and she already has a built-in supporting cast (or could potentially be a strong member of a team book or another's supporting cast).
    This potential has never been used.

    2. Her death was rubbish. It doesn't matter how we polish it, this was no good. As a follow-up to Rann/Thanagar War, I guess this title was just as incomprehensible as that was in parts (the whole thing felt like it should have been longer), and it felt like it was a Return of Donna Troy Kind-of Sort-of Special. And to top it all off, she died doing something that I still can't really properly explain, hoping to acheive some sort of dubious end in the middle of space, and then just disintegrated in her dad's arms. Say what you like about Blue Beetle's death, Countdown put him forward as one of the best and truest heroes in DC's world right up to the second of his death. Jade got taken out by flak, and most people view her death in the light of how it will affect Allan and Kyle.

    3. Unrelated: What's with the planets' outlines bisecting characters, like they were drawn on after the people were or something?

    So, yeah. Jade is dead, and they could have done it better.

  6. Yeah, again ken, I'm not saying terrible things haven't happened to the Infitity Inc. characters, or that the characters have always been models of heroism. I'm saying that the terrible things happened BECAUSE Johns love them. Which sounds like a bad relationship, ("I hit you baby, but it's only because I love you so much") but only if they were real people.

    As characters, they want that conflict, they NEED that conflict. Hourman II rocks, hard, because of his backstory, his difficult family relationships, the implicit addiction that feeds his power. Without all that, his current success would be pretty meaningless and boring.

  7. Your dislike of Jade seems to be misplaced. Instead of hating the writers that made the decisions that turned her into who she is, you target your anger towards her. Very interesting. In another world, she could have taken Hal's place instead of Kyle Rayner, but you know......them's comics for you.

  8. I think my main contention, which I ran across last night whilst reading this again (in order to either lay the finger on why I disliked it so much, or because I read comics like a Benedictine Monk, your choice), is that even her death is not about her. It's entirely unrelated to her, poor lass. She dies accidentally in an attack on the guy next to her who just gave her the brush-off like five minutes before, and it has virtually no bearing on her at all. She's an incidental character in her own death, and that's just bad writing.
    After reading this, there are three things I like less: Kyle Rayner, Science Fiction, and This Week.

  9. I didn't know much about Jade, but she would have been an interesting character if she had, or was shown to have, some self-awareness of her being ... bland. And the blandness never seemed to have any purpose or captivating explanation.

  10. Yes, she dislikes Jade, but, the fact is, if she tried to simply dislike the writers that mis-used her, she'd need to hate every writer that wrote her.
    This way is a lot simpler.