Episode 88: Passing the Metaphorical Torch

One of the goals with this blog is to help organize my thoughts for upcoming dissertation construction. Since I need to have a chapter or two pretty well in the works before the end of the month, I am dedicating a lot of energy to get something close to 1,000 words a day and posting stuff as often as possible. Honestly, if I don’t keep short goals in front of me it just turns into a string of all nighters when my committee asks for a progress report. Here I may not have a finished and polished piece of writing but I do have some good building blocks for future assembly. Speaking of people talking about you, my good buddy Shaun Duke is doing his Week of Joy posts over at his blog and part of the celebrations involved sharing the good news of blogs interesting blogs, including mine, so I return the favor here. Go check him out for all things nerdy and sci fi at The World in the Satin Bag http://networkedblogs.com/N0eRa

Intro over, time for actual literary analysis. In my research about authorship, I keep reading about how the author is individual to be revered/ignored/acknowledged, but this is mostly done in the singular sense. Collaborative authorship is not uncommon but few people analyze since you can’t really determine what each person’s individual contributions were (unless you find some unabridged annotated version with track changes) or when the roles are very well delineated, like with writer and artist in comic books. We never really see authorship as something to be done in succession, wherein one writer would try to find a suitable heir or one worthy of taking the role would unsheathe the pen of Excalibur from the stone of authorial intention. There are examples who continue or expand upon certain ideas, like when Jacques Lacan decided to explain Sigmund Freud and make his ideas more in line with contemporary society, mostly by ignoring penis envy and making everything else far more complicated than what many can comprehend. But this is people picking up the baton and making it a relay race. It’s not so much a natural process of writing but rather the progression of ideas as they evolve over the ages. Authors of serial fiction get to the point where they choose to stop or other factors come in that make it so that someone else has to pick up the narrative reigns because the show must go on. Moreover, I have often argued that character has priority over other things in serial works but there are many cases when someone else needs to take the mantle. And so this post is dedicated to the passing of the metaphorical torch between authors to ensure that the story goes on or in characters because the legacy cannot end.

Let me start with the character part. I’m trying to think of some examples from Marvel but I’m having a hard time finding any. You get a few people in the rotating membership of groups like X-Men and Avengers, especially with who gets to be leader or who fills a particular role, like when Emma Frost took over telepath duties a couple of times. The one clear exception to this was when they killed Peter Parker but had a new teenager become the webslinger. Of course, that made more headlines because it was a biracial kid (half African American, half Hispanic), which was a pretty big deal but wasn’t that big a change to the actual narrative besides starting things over. They update the circumstances of several different characters with certain changes in setting that ends up making new versions of Spiderman. As Dr. Sheldon Cooper once said http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkI_wixADLI Amazing, Ultimate, Spectacular, 2099, not to mention the different cartoons and films. As Brian Clevinger of Atomic Robo fame explained when discussing the concepts od continuity and Marvel: same actors different stages.

DC is a completely different story when it comes to new characters taking on old identities. Again, this does not count events like any iteration of Crisis where the universe was remade/updated. Let me go from order of the least popular ones.

Mr. Terrific

I barely know this guy from the Justice League Unlimited cartoon but a few Wikipedia searches later and he became one of my favorite dark horse characters that could save the day. So back in the olden times known as the Golden Age of comic books, there was this one character that was a modern day version of a Renaissance Man. Terry Sloane having achieved all his goals in life by his mid twenties (graduating college as a teenager, having several black belts, and being a successful businessman) decides to use his talents to clean up the streets of crime and be a good example for the community through his motto of “Fair Play”. No real super powers and a resume that reads like Batman’s but the character never really hit the main stream. In due time, old age or something led Mr. Terrific to retire the hero business but die at the hands of his nemesis. Flash forward a few years and we have another young man, this time Michael Holt African American decathlete plus scientist with 14 PhDs. Some kind of tragic accident leads to the loss of his pregnant wife, which leads to an incredible depression that was only shaken when a friend points him to follow the example of the original Mr. Terrific. He later adopts his name and a similar helpful disposition, he even becomes the chairman of the Justice Society of America. Holt took the torch and made it his own and thanks to the magic of time travel, he even met the original Mr. Terrific twice who goes on record as saying that he was proud of him as a successor. The link is very direct.

Green Lantern

Pop quiz: How many Green Lanterns are there? Take a guess. I’m not sure on the exact number but I am going to go with the round figure of infinity. Let me explain, in DCs continuity there exists hundreds of simultaneous/parallel universes, to the point that anything you can ever imagine in some combination or another exists out there. The Green Lantern Corps are a cosmic police force of sorts wherein each Green Lantern is tasked with defending a quadrant (which usually covers a few solar systems). So at 5 stars per person + way too many additional universes where GLs exist = too much math. Now if you want to go with just the main continuity of Earth 1, the total is a far more finite number.

First off, everyone forgets about the first ever Green Lantern, which has nothing to do with the GL Corps. Back in ye olden times of the Golden Age, Alan Scott found a magical ring that let him manipulate anything, so long as it wasn’t made out of wood. Seriously, that’s pretty much his entire back story. Beyond a run in the 40s, Alan Scott was not that important a character for the main storylines of DC or to much readers, though he was renamed Sentinel and his kids eventually got some powers as well, sans mystical artifacts. He recently resuscitated in public memory thanks to DC wanting to make one of their main characters gay, which was not something completely out of left field since they just did a reboot of everyone with The New 52, and it was revealed that their original Green Lantern’s back story had now taken this turn.

It’s not until the so called Silver Age of DC in the late 1950s that they decided to give Green Lantern a more cosmic sci fi feel to the whole thing. There is a very literal passing of the torch whenever a Green Lantern dies and the ring goes out to find a suitable person filled with courage and honor to become it’s replacement owner. Abin Sur was the alien creature in charge of quadrant 2814, which includes Earth. Having been badly injured, his ship crashes on our world and the ring picks fighter pilot Hal Jordan to become the new Green Lantern. While he is under the direct command of the Guardians of Oa, Hal pretty much has free control to handle situations as he sees fit in order to protect Earth and a many other planets. Depending on the version, Hal retires, is injured, gets a promotion, is fired, dies and they need a new Green Lantern, and the ring chooses Guy Gardner. This cocky guy goes with his own costume, refusing the mask, and somewhere down the line gets fired as well. A few years later, we get John Stewart (no, not the one from the Daily Show) who is a sharpshooter African American marine, who brings a clear discipline to the post. After that, we get Kyle Rayner an artist who is considered to be the most creative GL but because of his young age, people barely respect him, especially a lot of the GL fandom. Still, he is willing to learn and becomes a pretty good successor and worthy Green Lantern. It gets extra interesting once you consider that at several times all four of them had their own power ring and were defending the planet. Not so much succession as coexistence between characters that have the same job and super powers.

The Flash

Your first thought when hearing about this particular hero is a guy wearing a red full body costume with tiny lighting bolts on the sides of his head. The Scarlet Speedster is a classic hero but many forget his original incarnation, Jay Garrick from the Golden Age who wore blue pants, red shirt, a silvery hat, costume based on the Roman god Mercury. He became super fast thanks to a lab accident with weird chemicals that also unlocked a metagene. Years later, a new Flash with the iconic red attire came with Barry Allen but his powers were directly related to the Speed Force (kind of like an extra spatial dimension with subatomic particles, it barely makes sense even if you a hardcore fan so don’t worry about it. Then Wally West, his nephew or something, would become Kid Flash but would then become Flash. Then his Barry’s grandson from the future, Bart Allen, comes in as Impulse, who would then become Kid Flash, and then Flash. That’s right, four people have been Flash, the latter three having pretty much the same costume. Most of them actively took on this identity as the previous hero had perished in battle but thanks to comic book deaths, they have all actually run together simultaneously a few times. The decision to take on this identity was done to honor the service and memory of the fallen predecessor but with the knowledge that the world needs a Flash, and being able to run a half second mile is a pretty big requirement to get the job so only the former sidekicks can really take on the responsibilities, even as changing events make it so that none of them stay dead too long.

Robin

I talked about the fact there have been several sidekicks for the Dark Knight in a previous post. The torch in this case is not so much finding about finding a successor as it is Batman picking the other half of the dynamic duo when a cool enough kid comes along. While the Caped Crusader is the one that does the hiring, he doesn’t do any of the firing as different circumstances lead to each Robin leaving the post. Here is the abridged version of the Robins:

Dick Grayson the acrobat is the iconic Robin after many years of living under the wing of Bruce Wayne as his adopted son and sidekick. He leaves the shadow of his cowled mentor to become his own hero, Nigthwing and being the defender of Bludhaven. He also does a few stints with Teen Titans and Young Justice and still counts as part of the extended Bat family.

Jason Todd is often known as the hoodlum of the Robins. Being raised on the streets, he was a natural and cocky fighter more than anything else. He met Batman after he tried to steal the tires off the Batmobile, not kidding. In a mission to find his birth mother, Jason gets trapped by the Joker, gets the crap beaten out of him via crowbar and then dies in the ensuing explosion. He eventually comes back as the Red Hood, a villain with sometimes noble intensions.

Tim Drake is nicknamed the detective amongst the Robins. He actually figured out Batman’s identity and purposely seeks out the Caped Crusader to become Robin. Takes the job on for a few years before he becomes the Red Robin. Helps out the rest of the Bat family when necessary.

Stephanie Brown only kinda counts as Robin number 4, mostly since Batman refuses her help but she later became Batgirl. But then she was retconned out of existence. Calling her name out in a discussion about Robins might be trouble so tread cautiously my nerdy readers.

Damian Wayne is the assassin. The biological son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, he was trained since birth by the League of Assassins. He is by far the deadliest and most dangerous of the Robins. Still, he is pretty young and gets into a lot of trouble so Bruce Wayne really needs to work as father and mentor to the son he didn’t know for so long. Damian actually died very recently in the current “New 52” continuity and there are no plans for a replacement.

Honorable mention: Carrie Kelly is an interesting case outside of the major continuity. Frank Miller redefined Batman in the 80s when he put him as a grizzled old man in The Dark Knight Returns. He then included 13 year old red headed Carrie Kelly as Robin. Her parents are actually both alive in this world so……. yeah. In the sequel she becomes Catwoman, but still works directly under the Dark Knight. Some of the romantic implications are kinda icky so this is another topic to avoid if possible.

Batman

Bruce Wayne is synonymous with Batman 99% of the time, even in the main continuity. But there have been some moments when the cowl had to be passed along, if only momentarily. The first big moment was during the Knightfall story arc. You probably know this one as the one when Bane breaks Batman’s back, which served as the inspiration for the recent Dark Knight Returns film. What a lot of people forget is that with Batman out of commission, a new Caped Crusader took on the mantle. Nightwing was the obvious choice but Bruce did not want to force him into the identity which he considers a curse more than anything else. So he passed it along to Jean-Paul Valley, a fairly new character that was unwitting assassin known as Azrael but was turned good. He turned into anti-hero Batman (nicknamed by the fandom “Azbats”) and he cleaned up the streets but with a lot more violence and guns. Suppossedly, DC wanted to officially make the replacement but fan reaction wasn’t going for it, making it so that Azbats went power hungry and had to be stopped by the real McCoy. A while later, Batman gets disintegrated by Apocalypse and his omega beams which started the Batman R.I.P. arc (spoiler alert: it actually means rot in purgatory). The first three Robins have some pretty epic fights, mostly against Jason Todd, to see who would take his place in Battle for the Cowl, and Dick eventually “won” and even made Damian his sidekick. In the cartoon version, there is this cool moment when Batman goes missing and Superman has to don the cape and cowl with Tim Drake as Robin to save him from Brainiac. Because Batman is very much aware of his mortality and limitations (mostly those that come with being human and mortal) he sets up Batman Inc. where he gets different heroes from all over the world to take up the cowl, and he would give them training and financial support. The different versions range from the campy to the amazing, an interesting example of which shows up briefly in the Brave and the Bold cartoon. Speaking, of they had a good “what if” episode called Knights of Tomorrow, that deals with being the heir of the cowl pretty well. Check it out here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6ReV9-xQbU
The one other moment worth mentioning about Batman is definitely Batman Beyond. A now geriatric Batman retires but reluctantly passes along the futuristic suit and identity to the young Terry McGinnis. The cartoon is one of my favorites and even made it to the comics, though some versions have Terry working under Damian rather than Bruce. Still, you get an interesting example of choice versus destiny on both ends, especially once it is revealed that due to Cadmus nano/bio engineering led to Terry being Bruce’s biological son.

Authorial explanations to come later.

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2 thoughts on “Episode 88: Passing the Metaphorical Torch

  1. Interesting posts. I’ve never really considered the possibility of infinite Green Lanterns, but your interpretations makes sense. BTW, what Batman animated series is the Knights of Tomorrow from? I’m aware of the original animated series, and the series known as The Batman, but I don’t think I’m aware of this one!

  2. The show is Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It’s basically the animated version of the 60’s Adam West show, in that it is campy and doesn’t take itself seriously, which makes it that much more awesome. Best Aquaman ever. Case in point, here is some stereotypical racism done right http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9VMzsz3O1I
    Here is a song filled with double entendres. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=kdEy-p-86vE&NR=1
    Oh and here is Neil Patrick Harris as a super villain with the power of musicals http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwYjGDIWlNw
    Enjoy!

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