Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Reactions to Young All-Stars 1-8

I have to admit, I bought Young All-Stars expecting it to be bad. I wanted rant material. And honestly no matter how one spins it, it still seems very odd to have cast little Sandy the Golden Boy, sidekick/ward of Wesley Dodds, the Sandman, who he dotes on and follows with only occasionally sardonic enthusiasm in the Simon/Kirby adventures...whose philosophy and techniques are heavily influenced by his time in "the Orient"...as the token racist.

Well, honestly, it doesn't really click for me. In fact, now that I've read the first eight issues or so, I'm quite certain the character was chosen only because Thomas wanted a relatively recognizable young sidekick character as the token racist. I'd bet he'd have chosen Robin if Crisis hadn't wiped out any chance of a Robin existing in the 1940s. The fact that he's gone to "visit Wes in the hospital" in issue eight and subsequently (from brief skimming through later ones) seemingly never to return supports this. While that attitude was indicative of the time period and shared by many, I still think it's odd that in a group of impressionable teenagers, the only one buying into the propaganda is the one with presumed experience with Asian culture.

That said, aside from the tacked-on, out of place seeming racism, Sandy was pretty well portrayed. He's mouthy, charming/sweet when he wants to be, flippant, snarky, a show-off, a brat, and a bit insecure of his own value without Wes. To give him credit, Thomas seems to understand that the racism is out of character, and puts a few points in to make it a little more understandable. The notion of Dian being killed by Nazi spies (which might have actually been in Adventure Comics 69 for all I know, but I doubt it) makes spy-paranoia understandable...one presumes the rumors of her death were exaggerated as she's been seen in the DCU since, :-). And Tsunami *did* initially fight on the Japanese side.

I'm not excusing the racism of course, but it is portrayed as one aspect of the whole. It probably helps that aside from Dan the Dyna-Mite, he's the youngest of the group. Which lends to the idea that he can be taught otherwise, and also...well, let's just say there'd be an entirely different feel if, say, Iron Munro had been the racist. Being young and smaller than Tsunami helps make it more...well, more of an annoyance than a danger. Makes it easier to preserve the character's ability to be a protagonist. That said, I'm glad they resolved it early.

So anyway, Sandy wasn't my problem. The problem was everyone else. Ironically, the token racist was the *only* character in my opinion that was anything beyond a bland caricature with one or two defining traits.

Wherein I Bitch About Everyone Else Seriously:

You had Helena "We don't have elevators back in Greece!" Kosmatos, the Fury, whose sole purpose seemed to be to have scary dreams and get possessed when she gets mad. In eight issues, that's all the development she had.

You had Neptune Perkins. Which is still an incredibly stupid name. He's characterized as a complete socially inept dork in the worst way. He's, I think, the geek-wish-fulfillment kind of dork. He gets the girl in spite of his behavior (because she sees past the dorkiness or something) and never gets called on the dickier part of his actions. Yes, Sandy was being a twit and deserved a slap, but physically attacking someone *that* much younger/smaller is out of line. However, he gets a pass because it's in defense of his girl, of course! Shame he hasn't any personality aside.

Little Dan-the-Dyna-Mite has confidence issues. Which are understandable. But every panel he's in seems to be his confidence issue at work. In eight issues, there's nothing else.

Iron Munro shows the most sign of possibly developing a personality. I was intrigued by his assholishness in Manhunter. Right now he's token strong guy with a chip on his shoulder.

Flying Fox is the token mysterious shamanic native. Apparently that's enough characterization right there.

The worst though is Tsunami. Roy Thomas gets praised for introducing a Japanese-American character to the group and exploring issues of Internment Camps and racism...but honestly, there's no *character* there. She's a walking, talking PSA. That's it. Her only purpose is to explore this issue and she doesn't even have the cardboard cutout personality of the others.

She doesn't get to have any likes or dislikes. She doesn't *do* anything besides end up in the camp with her family, tirading about the tragedy, up to and including the damn "single tear falling from one eye" scene. Let me tell you something, it didn't work for me in the littering commercial, and it didn't work here. She doesn't even really defend herself against Sandy's childish jabs. It's the others who do it for her. (And again, given how racism was deeply ingrained in the culture of the time...why is *every other* young character somehow enlightened?)

When even Dan, Neptune and Iron occasionally get lines that transcend their stereotype, she never utters a line that isn't somehow reflecting of Japan, the war or the camps. Seriously.

When she saves Sandy in issue 6, and he apologizes for everything (which did actually work for me, he's very young, adaptable, and I'd bet a lot of anger had to do with Dian's death and other things Tsunami wasn't linked to...also it was worded in the awkward way of a young boy...), her response isn't trepidation, tentative acceptance, suspicion or even anger like a real character's might be. Her response is a canned After School Special speech:

"It's going to be a long war- a sad war-- but everything will be just a little better anyway if we just love one another."

But on it's own that's not so bad. I mean, race and war politics was the crux of their animosity right? So it makes sense here if a little cheesy, but it gets better.

In issue seven, there's an incredibly cute baseball benefit game between the Squadron and the Young All-Stars. It's adorable. (And without the tacked on racism, Sandy's pretty much the Simon/Kirby character in full again. I'll give Thomas credit, he writes a good Sandy.) Anyway, Iron Munro hits it, managed to atomize it, Hawkman seems to catch the atoms or something, so Wildcat and Iron are arguing with the Ump about which won...when Tsunami breaks in with:

"It seems to me that you're both losers." "What reason do you two, and your teammates, have to start a war over which of you truly won? If this benefit game shortens the real war, hasn't it achieved its purpose?"

Naturally the men are chastised. And I am irked. This sort of speechifying isn't natural, and it really doesn't add to her character!

Hell even with her boyfriend, Neptune Perkins, her dialogue still revolves around her martyrdom and the tragedy of being Japanese, "There's no use going back home, I'd just be put into a detention center with my family..."

Honestly, I commend Thomas for trying to tackle such a hard issue. And I'm not trying to say they should gloss over the tragedies and hardships for a Japanese-American in WWII. But she needs *more* than just those tragedies to define her. Every word she utters is about her family's state, the war, or Japan, and that's not really an exaggeration. In eight issues, the only think we find out about Miya Shimada the *person* is that she can't hit a baseball.

And this is wrong. She's dehumanized here. Made into the long-suffering symbol of a race of people...there's no human connection. I read her and I feel an academic distant sorrow that this happened, but I don't *feel* it. I sympathize but I don't empathize. There's nothing to connect to. Now maybe if in the process I learned that she loves the color blue, hates dogs, likes to dance, wanted to be a singer when she grew up...*something*, I'd feel more. But as it is, she's a waste of potential.

The really ridiculous thing is that my Bachelors was in *East Asian Language and Culture*. Specifically Japanese. I have a particular interest in politics and social ramifications during the second world war. The plight of Japanese Americans during that time is definitely a part of that. I should love Tsunami. I should connect with her. I should find her fascinating and her relationships fascinating. But I don't. At all. And this is due to the execution.

Stories involving racial conflict are hard to write, I understand this. But the key is to make the victim an active personality, one that is human. One that acts rather than only reacts. One in which race is an important aspect, but not all that he/she is. John Stewart is a character who's often involved in race-related storylines, but that works because he's a strong compelling character in his own right. He's a crusader. He defies authority. He lets his temper get the best of him sometimes and he can be impatient. And you know what? We knew that his first appearance. We'll soon learn more: he's an architect. He likes alien women. He's got questionable taste in music.

By the eighth issue, we could have learned so much about Tsunami by now. Think about the eighth issue of JLA. Of Teen Titans. Of Young Justice. Or any other team book and what we knew by then about the characters. No one except Sandy, of all people, can claim the same amount of exposure. (I think that's because Thomas is focusing on one trait for each character: Iron: the chip on his shoulder, Dan: the lack of confidence. In Sandy's case it's the racism, but as Tsunami's not in every one of his scenes, he actually gets the chance to show other sides...I think it might also be that he's not one of Thomas's original, so he had Kirby/Simon to fall back on.)

Where this really hurts the story is that basically we've got the racist with the more developed personality than the victim. Our racist is the active personality, which we know more about. We've seen him snarky, arrogant, bratty, sweet, competent (beating up a nazi while blinded without any trouble...a very cool moment), worried... We see her as a speech-giving martyr.

It's funny because as much as I'm pre-biased to like him and give him the benefit of the doubt. I'm also pre-biased toward covering the issue of racial struggles in America. It should balance out making me interested in both. Instead, I was far more interested in seeing him come to his senses and get over that irrational anger than I was in her struggle. It's a real problem.

And I don't like the green bikini. It looks dumb.

That said, I intend to read more. I've 13 issues left to read of what I've bought and more to track down later, maybe this'll change. I hope so. Otherwise, there will be subsequent irritated blog entries to follow.

8 Comments:

  • At July 02, 2006 11:20 AM, Anonymous J. Kevin Carrier said…

    "Young All-Stars" was kind of doomed from the start. Thomas had spent so much time using "All-Star Squadron" to build up this elaborate tapestry of continuity, and then the Crisis came along and yanked it all out from under him. You can see him struggling to replace all those missing elements, with the new characters, the Poe & Wylie references, etc., but I have to think that his heart wasn't really in it and it all just kind of fell flat.

    As for Dian's death, I think that was just Thomas' way of explaining why she disappeared from the Sandman series after the switch to the gold-and-purple costume.

     
  • At July 02, 2006 7:06 PM, Blogger Marionette said…

    I honestly don't find it credible to have a japanese character be part of an american super-team in a world war 2 setting. I can see the effort made to address the prejudice of the period but it rings as false as Alan Scott at ease in a gay bar.

    "Because it is wrong" is not a good enough reason to pretend that it didn't happen, or to give the majority of the characters an attitude that is not widespread for the period, and it cheapens the struggle for acceptance that so many people had to endure.

     
  • At July 03, 2006 1:12 AM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    Marionette -- Here's the thing, that was the point of having Tsunami on the team. To let everyone know it did happen. To draw attention to it. That's how she turned into a walking PSA.

    The concept of having the WWII Japanese teammate is sound. It's the execution. More people than Sandy should've had a problem. I think Thomas picked Sandy over say Dan because he wanted to put Tsunami (I can't even remember her civilian name) as the put-upon person. Sandy was the only teammate with a JSA background. He was, as the youngest member, still the Senior Member.

    Instead of this, Thomas should've flipped the tables. Had everyone BUT Sandy be racist. Make it so that getting Tsunami ON the team was the struggle, and make it so it took a few select people who commanded respect (Sandy, Sandman, Wonder Woman, perhaps) to do it. Make it so that everyone else on the team needed to learn.

    But he was attached to his new guys, He made them all perfect and made the established character imperfect. He flubbed it. It could've been great.

    And plus, WWII era female superhero with usable water power? Concept is Awesome.

     
  • At July 03, 2006 4:45 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    j. kevin: Yeah, it's a shame though because there were some good ideas. Just sad execution.

    Dian's death doesn't bother me too much, I've basically decided she was like a POW and presumed dead to turn up later. I'm good at the mental retcon. :-)

    marionette: It was an interesting idea but...pretty much did seem off in execution. He was too wrapped up in her being the Japanese member.

    I think an important story could have been told there (like Ragnell's version, where the "average joes" of the team were the ones that didn't accept her) but the execution was mangled.

    Ragnell: I like your reverse scenario. It makes so much more sense to me that the team, who are supposed to be "normal folks" would be the ones with the problem with her. It would have *actually* reflected the time period.

    I mean seriously *Dan the Dyna-Mite* is somehow more immune to the mindset of the time period?!

    The shame is that with Thomas making all of his other characters so perfect, using the most well-known established character as the ONLY flawed one completely robbed any of the others of any depth/complexity.

    It's a damned shame really, because while apparently some of the characters actually were established as well, none of them had the JSA connection, the revisitations (turning into sand-monster, yay!) or a mentor active in the multiverse crossovers. Thus they were all pretty much blank slates. But by making them all so annoyingly one-note and "perfect" (in the sense of immunity to prejudice, for example), they had no shot of being anything but cyphers. I tend to care more about characters with obvious flaws, it's a good way to build depth, which none of the rest of these characters seems to have.

    At least in the first eight issues. But it's really hard to sum up the enthusiasm for the rest...

    (The real sad point is that Thomas really nailed the Simon/Kirby portrayed personality aside from the tacked on racism. So the character was *already* developed just fine without that. He already had obvious flaws to play with: arrogance, klutziness, show-off-tendencies, insecurity/dependence on Wes. And Thomas used them fine when Tsunami was nowhere around.

    The character didn't *need* the added depth that the redeemed-racist plotline tends to bring. That would have, narratively speaking, probably been more beneficial to one of the newer/lesser known characters.)

     
  • At July 06, 2006 12:57 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    "I honestly don't find it credible to have a japanese character be part of an american super-team in a world war 2 setting."

    But you have no problem with the super-powers themselves, right? Just checking... :-)

    Personally, I would rather have them whitewash the issue of race - just ignore it entirely - and let Tsunami et al have real personalities, rather than handle it so poorly. Characters should be people, not mouthpieces, if you want them to be interesting.

     
  • At July 06, 2006 1:51 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I agree and disagree. A race story can be *phenomenally powerful* but only if we're made to care about a character first.

    Tsunami didn't have anything aside from being Japanese American as a personality. We didn't even find out if she preferred sashimi to hamburgers. And that's just wrong to me.

    All this story was doing was scream "All you bigots are wrong!" at the top of its lungs, forty years after the fact.

     
  • At July 09, 2006 6:29 PM, Blogger Erich said…

    Just to get specific, Dian Belmont's death was established in All-Star Squadron #18 (she was killed in a car crash while battling saboteurs while disguised as Wes), as a way of explaining all of the following points:

    Dian's disappearance from the Golden Age Sandman stories.
    The introduction of Sandy.
    Wes' change from the gas-mask costume to the yellow & purple tights.
    The reason why the Tarantula's Golden Age costume was so similar to the Sandman's second one.

    Damn, that's a lot of retconning to fit into one story!

     
  • At July 09, 2006 6:40 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    :-) And in YAS, she was killed by Nazi Spies.

    And in JSA and Starman she lived until a year before Wesley's death... (the costume change is attributed to her or Sandy trying to make Wes more accessible).

    :-) Must be a presumed death. Or Superboy punching the universe.

    I admit, I prefer the thought of Dian being alive when Sandy moves in with them. (Possibly always out researching for her books). Just because she always seemed like the sort of character that really is not suited to parenting.

    So I enjoy the thought of her and Wes (who also is NOT suited to parenting) suddenly getting this creepy, hyper-competent stepford child foisted on them. :-)

    In *my* New Earth, that's how it happened, damnit. :-P

    Personally, I'd love to see an SMT continuation or flash

     

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