In Part 1, two weeks ago, I discussed a few different examples of successors. Black Canary II was retconned into existence to keep the character young. Likewise, the introduction of Jason Todd kept Robin young and allowed Dick Grayson to mature. Wally West was the first kid sidekick to adopt the name of his mentor, and Jack Knight provided a unique perspective on long-running superhero legacies. Finally, Tim Drake managed to transcend his Mary Sue-ish origins.
This Part 2 is all about legacies and successors. To me a “successor” is a pretty specific character — same name, probably the same m.o.*, and otherwise related, in story terms, to the predecessor. However, a “legacy” is a broader concept which includes familial relations, but need not use a predecessor’s codename. A sidekick is part of a legacy, but won’t be a successor unless/until the predecessor’s codename is adopted. This is not an insignificant distinction. In story terms, becoming a successor is a big deal; and in real-world terms, name recognition can be pretty important.
That leads us into Infinity, Inc., introduced in 1983′s All-Star Squadron #25 before being spun off into its own series. At first glance, Infinity — made up of both existing and new characters from the same young-adult demographic — looked superficially like another attempt to capitalize on the success of New Teen Titans. The Infinitors had one important difference, though: the few sidekicks that the JSAers had were approaching retirement age themselves (or, as with Sandy Hawkins, otherwise unavailable). The Infinitors thus represented Earth-2′s true second generation of superheroes, and were neither sidekicks nor successors — at least not yet.
Today, obviously, some ex-Infinitors and their fellow JSA legacies appear to have undergone the same kind of “promotions” as Wally West: Silver Scarab to Sandman to Doctor Fate; Nuklon to Atom-Smasher; and Jesse Quick to Liberty Belle. Most recently, of course, Lex Luthor fielded a new Infinity, Inc., as the standardbearers of his Everyman project, thereby taking advantage of whatever instant credibility a set of unused-but-familiar names could confer.
And that may well be a big chunk of DC’s strategy in a nutshell: capitalize on those names to help legitimize what is otherwise new. The exploitative Everyman project is just one approach, and a pretty cynical one at that. (Jog wrote previously about the metafictional aspects of 52 #21′s Infinity II/Teen Titans meeting.) Finally, there is the new Justice Society itself, conceived at least in part in response to Everyman.
The three characters at the core of the new JSA each represent different approaches to the ideas of legacy and succession. (Also, none of them had a kid sidekick.) Alan Scott/Green Lantern is the only parent of superheroic children. Jay Garrick/Flash was the first to work with his Silver Age successor. Ted Grant/Wildcat trained Silver Age stalwarts like Batman, Catwoman, and Black Canary II. Accordingly, Alan represents the legacies, Jay the successors, and Ted those who merely follow in the footsteps. This doesn’t quite map to the characters’ own successors: while Ted’s successor was his goddaughter, neither Alan nor Jay’s successors were related to them. Only retcons connected the Green Lanterns and Flashes.
Nevertheless, the new JSA (written by Geoff Johns) is founded on the idea that the Golden Age’s bloodlines must be preserved and/or “raised right.” This allows the team to be composed of characters who share the same names as their Golden Age predecessors, even if they have given up their initial codenames to do so. Not surprisingly, Johns’ JSA shares a mission with his Teen Titans: to support and guide a particular generation of super-heroes who intend to be “the new” faces of familiar names. The name is the thing — consider Superboy-Prime’s all-consuming drive to become Superman — so Bart Allen goes from Impulse to Kid Flash II, and Jesse Chambers goes from Jesse Quick to Liberty Belle II. This moves Bart and Jesse beyond mere familial legacies: by adopting those names, they’re successors as well. (Yes, Jesse’s powers and gender-adjusted codename made her Johnny’s successor, but now she can more fully embrace her mother’s legacy.) Again, being a successor — even a successor to a sidekick or other legacy character — is apparently a step up from “just” being a legacy. Now the “Jesse Quick” and “Impulse” names are available for a new generation to adopt, just as Luthor appropriated the Infinity names.
To add to the names-have-power dynamic, Bart and Jesse were once (around Flash #99) friendly rivals for the Flash name, when Wally West thought he might need to name a successor quickly. Furthermore, Alan Scott spent several years as “Sentinel,” apparently in deference to Kyle Rayner being the last/only/one true Green Lantern, and there was much fanfare in JSA #50 when Alan took back the name he originated.
That was a highlight of an extended period wherein the relationship between Alan and Kyle reduced the disconnect between the Golden Age and Silver Age Green Lantern concepts. Once the Silver Age replaced a singular Green Lantern with the thousands-strong GL Corps, the challenge was to justify Alan Scott’s unique existence, not establish a line of succession from him to Hal. In fact, given the nature of the Corps, Hal arguably looked for inspiration more to his immediate predecessor, Abin Sur, than he might have to his Golden Age namesake. (Still, both were “A.S.,” although I’m probably the last to realize that.) Again, as noted above, Alan’s legacy was his two children, one of whom eventually became an Oan-style GL — but I’m getting ahead of myself.
After the GL Corps was destroyed and Kyle Rayner was set up as the only Green Lantern, Kyle’s inexperience naturally led him to Alan, and from there to a fairly serious relationship with Alan’s daughter Jennie-Lynn Hayden, a/k/a the emerald-energy-wielding Jade (late of Infinity, Inc.). Kyle was already the legatee of the entire Green Lantern Corps, but these relationships with the Scott family brought him into the orbit of the Golden Age GL legacy as well. This is not to suggest that he supplanted either of Alan’s own children in that legacy. However, Alan’s son Obsidian turned evil, and Jade was de-powered before getting an Oan power ring and becoming Kyle’s temporary deputy. Kyle then restored her natural powers and now, after her death, can use the powers she inherited from Alan.
As if all of that intermingling weren’t enough, Kyle also laid the groundwork for the GL Corps’ restoration, thereby making the re-employed Green Lanterns like Guy Gardner and G’Nort part of Kyle’s legacy (at least from a certain point of view). Because the full-blown Corps revival was tied to the return of Hal Jordan, Kyle’s connections to Alan took a backseat to his new position relative to Hal. Thus, today the Green Lantern Corps operates practically as it did before “Emerald Twilight,” with no apparent connections between it and the legacy of Alan Scott. They’re there now, perhaps more concretely than they were pre-”ET,” and definitely in Kyle’s new Ion persona, but they still don’t show outside of that. (Although, in a bit of synchronicity, Alan shows up in the latest issue of Johns’ Green Lantern as Hal is being stalked by Abin Sur’s son, deranged — again, not unlike Superboy-Prime – for being cheated out of his ostensible legacy….)
To me all of these maneuvers reinforce the egalitarian nature of the Green Lantern Corps, which resists the kinds of legacies that the Justice Society and Teen Titans now perpetuate. As Johns indicates in his recent comments about crazy Amon Sur, one gets into the Corps based on measurable qualities that the rings can scan, not on one’s bloodline. Therefore, to become a Green Lantern necessarily entails having earned the right to that name. It also means that, as long as the ring has chosen someone worthy, the rest of the Lantern’s personality can be a grab-bag. The Guardians approved both Sinestro and G’Nort, after all.
In a nutshell, then, the Green Lantern Corps is all about successors, in the sense that it perpetuates itself without regard to familial factors, and the Green Lantern title and equipment are given only to qualified individuals. By contrast, a recognizable name (Robin, Starman) may get you into a legacy-oriented group like the JSA or Teen Titans, thereby possibly making your qualifications a secondary (but still significant) concern.
Of course, in one final bit of irony (’cause we’re about out of space), because the charter members of Grant Morrison’s JLA were chosen strictly on the basis of their names, the only League rookie in the group was … Green Lantern. And yes, in my opinion this provided a big boost to Kyle’s legitimacy by allowing him another outlet for self-awareness about his lack of experience. The Justice League is seen generally as a merit-based team, not a legacy group, but in Kyle’s case it acted as a legacy group, supporting him by showing his growth alongside more experienced characters.
Man, I write a lot! Part 3, next week. (Self-perpetuation, indeed….)
[*Method of Operations, of course]