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Friday, April 13, 2007

Nonsensical Ramblings about DCAU versus DCU

Green Lantern Corps is good this week with one of those "God-damnit, I gotta wait another MONTH??!?" endings. This naturally reminds me of something I meant to blog about earlier but forgot as my mind is best compared to a leaky sieve.

Last week, the JLU comic heavily featured Guy Gardner and was pretty nifty in general, with events that make me, a bonafide Guy Gardner fangirl very happy.

But I have to admit, while I smiled reading the issue, I didn't enjoy it as much as say, that triumphant oath-leading moment at the end of Green Lantern Recharge. And I guess I know why.

I don't care a lot about the Animated Universe.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the DCAU quite a bit and I find it an entertaining diversion. (Especially when randomly I recognize voice actors, I mean, dude, Scotty from General Hospital is playing Ollie Queen?!) But I've never been as emotionally invested with it as I've been with the comics.

Basically, what it comes down to, is that these characters aren't MY characters. The DCAU Guy Gardner is entertaining, but he doesn't have the history that really hooks me to a character.

I admit, I'm one of those fans, the ones that delight in things like continuity porn. It's what really appeals to me about JSA, for example: the history and the connections, how everything fits together. I get that not everyone enjoys the wallowing in it like I do, but I will get irrationally defensive against people who say "I might like JSA if it weren't for the continuity porn". That's what the JSA IS, damnit. Most other series shouldn't wallow in that sort of thing, but the JSA is different. Leave my series alone! But I digress.

I can't just look at one writer's run on a character. I have to try to look at all of it, to incorporate all the different takes and perspectives into one whole. It's probably why I prefer to stick with characters that have backstories not terribly altered by the Crisis of Infinite Earths. (i.e. characters that only existed on Earth-1 or Earth-2, but not both) Pre-Crisis Green Lantern and Post-Crisis Green Lantern can be read in direct sequence without much alteration. The JSA's crossover adventures require a lot of alteration, but the Golden Age, Infinity Inc and the Modern Age stories flow pretty nicely. I'm not a huge fan of retcons in general (unless they take out things I didn't like, of course. :-P), and I cheered when I found out Emerald Dawn I and II were not in continuity anymore.

Paradoxically, I tend to enjoy characters who've undergone drastic changes and turnarounds in characterization at some point in the past. When different writers have such disparate ideas on where to take a character. That, while frustrating at the time, can really make for a stronger developed character in the end.

Guy Gardner, for me, is the best example of this. I've often argued that Guy is the most complexly characterized of all of the Green Lanterns and I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that he, alone of the Earth Green Lanterns, was NOT created to be a heroic main character.

Guy was created to be a one-shot "What-if" sort of character, so that Hal Jordan could see what it might have been like if someone else had the ring. He was pretty empty in characterization at the time, a nice young teacher, a bit more even tempered than Hal but similar enough to have had much the same sorts of adventures (off-panel). Then he gets one original adventure, where his teaching background helps him save a bunch of kids, dies and sends the ring to Hal. It's the sort of story that has no real lasting event on the plot, aside from making Hal a bit more reassured that there's someone out there that could do his job if the worst case scenario happened. It doesn't appear at this time that the character was intended for anything more than this story.

Guy's next appearance is almost thirty issues later, where his sole purpose is to get hit by a bus off a cliff (which is, admittedly, terribly amusing) so that Hal has reason to meet his new understudy, John Stewart. Unlike Guy, who was characterized basically as Hal-lite, John was given a strong personality with very distinctive differences from Hal's, so that they could interact. He was clearly even then being created as a long-term heroic counterpart/colleague, where Guy was only a bit part.

Guy did end up with a very distinctive personality himself in his third appearance, some twenty issues later. In this story, Guy, now recovered, is commissioned by Hal to temporarily take his place while the latter deals with some personal issues. This is the first time (aside from brief bits during the hit-by-a-bus scene) where Guy is given a real, non Hal-lite, characterization. He's sweet, gentle, extremely polite, a little overwhelmed and awestruck by his new job. He listens intently to Ollie, who's placed in a mentor role, and learns quickly. He even forces himself to compliment Ollie's chili!

Of course, this is all so he can be blown up with Hal's battery and get kidnapped/tortured by Sinestro so he can be Hal's vegetative motivation. He's the martyr/victim/sacrifice at this point, and won't really be revisited beyond a few angsty Hal scenes for another hundred issues. After which he gets woken up, recruited by renegade guardians, spends a brief stint as a more standard angry-villain type before settling into the brain damaged moron characterization we all know and love.

Before this point all of Guy's notable characterization takes place off panel. He appears. Serves a plot point. Disappears. Now though, he actually gets characterization! Different characterization! Jones's characterization of Guy as basically an angry but very childlike little brother/sidekick/antagonist/foil for Hal. Giffen's characterization of him as a more openly antagonistic, posturing moron as the resident jerk of the JLI. The incredibly surreal portrayal in the Guy Gardner comic book.

Sure they contradicted a little, but it's not like Batman acts exactly the same in his own book as he does in JLA, in Robin, in Batgirl, et cetera. Just like I don't act the same around my parents as I do with my friends or at work. Contradictions become facets.

Even better though, where heroes like Hal or Bruce or even Kyle (after moving past the newbie stage) don't have a whole lot of room to grow and change, seeing as they have to remain heroes. Guy's role got to constantly evolve. Sometimes he was an enemy, sometimes he was a comrade. Sometimes he was a friend. And then, once he had his own comic, he started to be moved toward becoming a viable hero.

That's really the key for me. All the other Lanterns, they were supposed to be heroes from the get-go. They were created to be long term heroic characters. Guy wasn't. Which meant that he had to be slowly inched toward a heroic a way that was actually plausible. And they did! By the time Beau Smith took over Warrior, Guy was already working WITH the Justice League (as lead by Diana) and in his own comic as a legitimate (if still slightly tongue-in-cheek) anti-hero type. Smith's run on Warrior took the anti-hero and repositioned him as an actual hero. And it WORKED.

Sure, Guy's enjoyable on his own, but when I look at the whole history as one very long, cohesive story, it becomes something else for me. It becomes a story of someone innocent, who was brutalized and broken, who lost everything imaginable including his sanity and mental acuity (which is my own worst fear, as evidenced by the fact that Flowers for Algernon still gives me fucking nightmares), but still managed to claw his way back, spitting in defiance the whole time. It's a survivor's story, a very human story, and one that has an embarrassing level of emotional resonance for me.

There is no moment in comics that has ever hit me harder than that moment at the end of Green Lantern: Recharge where Guy leads that oath. Sane, stronger than ever, a Lantern again like he was always meant to be... It's the culmination of a thirty year storyline and it is WORTH it.

I like the DCAU, I do. I liked the stories and the characters. But in the end, for me, they're no match for the "real thing."


  • At April 13, 2007 9:14 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    That you are a "continuity porn" fan, Melissa, is hardly a deep dark secret that you need be concerned about admitting. :)

  • At April 13, 2007 10:08 AM, Blogger Rob S. said…

    That's a nice analysis of how Guy was able to develop such unusual traits for a hero. I'm wracking my brain to come up with other heroes in the DCU that have grown up in a similar environment...

  • At April 13, 2007 10:43 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    Lovely. Lovely, lovely lovely. It always thrills me to the marrow, when you get analytical with Guy...or any of the GL's, but especially Guy, 'cause he's my favorite.

    And wallowing in continuity is GOOD for you! It refreshes the skin and makes your hair shining and bouncy.

    Fortunately, Wonder Woman is due for a continuity bath, and in Gail Simone's hands, I'm sure it will be a frothy one.

    But yes, Guy just makes Hal look dull by comparison. What makes his leading the rest of the GL's in the Oath at the end of Recharge even more exciting, is that he was pissing and moaning to Kilowog earlier, about having to teach the Nite-Lights, and "teaching that lame-ass oath!" Haw!

    And crazy or sane, Guy is one of the few heroes with a REALLY warped sense of humor.

  • At April 13, 2007 1:13 PM, Blogger Chris said…

    Yeah, goosebumps, that scene gave me at the end of Recharge. I hadn't had that feeling reading a GL comic since I was twelve.

    I don't particularly mind that JSA is continuity porn --- we all like a bit of it now and then --- but the fact that it's always so heavy on it is I think barring new readers from jumping on board. At least, that's why I don't read it.

  • At April 13, 2007 3:30 PM, Blogger Rob S. said…

    Didn't JSA just pick up a bunch of new readers? Who knows whether they'll stay with it, but the relaunch has been pretty successful.

  • At April 14, 2007 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That's an interesting take on the two universes. I do think that the DCAU has it's own continuity though, although it is nowhere near that of the comics'. The labyrinthine twists of comic continuity are a joy for me as well. However, as a dedicated DCAU watcher since B:TAS, I see some continuity there. Plus, the DCAU was what got me to start buying DCU comics in the first place, heh.

  • At April 15, 2007 1:09 PM, Blogger Bill D. said…

    I don't know much about the DCAU version of Guy, but I wish we could swap out the regular DCU John Stewart for the much cooler DCAU one. Green Arrow, too. And Flash. And the Question. And... well, actually, it's kind of a long list. But DCU Guy can stay.

  • At April 18, 2007 12:41 AM, Blogger Aero! said…

    I've always thought continuity porn was one of the main unique draws of superhero comics. Without the rich, loaded histories, what's so special about folks in tights with powers?


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