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Grumpy Old Fan | Mystery of the missing monikers

by  in Comic News Comment
Grumpy Old Fan | Mystery of the missing monikers

This week it’s back into the DC/CW television universe, as news has broken about three “major DC characters,” each new to the TV realm, who will be part of the upcoming Arrow/Flash spinoff series. Some brief character descriptions are now fueling speculation about these folks. So who are The Traveler, Female Warrior and Mystery Hero — and why do we want to know?

* * *

Longtime comics readers tend to enjoy these sorts of exercises because they’re opportunities for us to look smart. When Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s “Hush” storyline was running in Batman, I theorized that Professor Hugo Strange was behind it all (spoilers: nope), and I still think that would have improved the story. However, I recognize that some of that “improvement” would have been the connection back to the classic Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers Hugo Strange two-parter, which by implication would have rewarded us lifers for remembering that story.

The same sort of thinking applies to other-media adaptations. When Liam Neeson was rumored to be filming scenes for The Dark Knight Rises, folks speculated that Rā’s al-Ghūl was returning from the dead via Lazarus Pit. Similarly, when Arrow’s Rā’s stabbed Oliver Queen through the abdomen and kicked him off a cliff, fans figured Ollie was just a Lazarus bath away from returning to action. As it turned out, neither case ended up involving a Lazarus Pit — Neeson was filming flashback scenes, and Ollie was nursed back to health via more conventional means (relatively speaking) — but again, a Pit would facilitate the return of Caity Lotz’s Canary fairly easily.

The question of whether to use something like a Lazarus Pit plays into the tension between fidelity to the comics and film’s more practical requirements. In the comics, a Lazarus Pit is just one of many methods for restoring someone’s life; but in a movie trilogy or weekly TV show, it might be a credibility-stretching luxury. The same sort of analysis can apply to everything from costumes and character bios to transportation and fighting styles. Sometimes different media simply have goals which are not necessarily better or worse — just different.

I say all that to preface my own thoughts about the three character descriptions. Each is vague in the sort of way that seems designed to produce anticipation via speculation. The Powers That Be have already announced about half of the cast. If they felt comfortable announcing the new characters’ names, they would have announced the new characters’ names. They would also have invited a raft of potentially-unwelcome feedback (or worse, a lack thereof) if fans disapproved of these characters and/or their combination. After all, characters can change pretty significantly over the long haul — just look at Arrow’s Laurel and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Skye. If Gotham wanted to put Li’l Wayne in costume, there’s even a comics-based justification for that.

More to the point, Arrow’s producers originally wanted to bring in Ted Kord, billionaire industrialist and all-around smart guy famous in comics for building a giant beetle-shaped airship. Of course, he became Ray Palmer, albeit a Ray Palmer who’s a billionaire industrialist (not a college physics professor) and who builds a super-suit instead of inventing gadgets which allow him to super-shrink. In other words, not everything is set in stone at this point. Better instead, from a producer’s perspective, to give fans a general idea about these characters and keep them guessing until more is revealed.

* * *

And guess I will! Let’s look first at The Traveler, the “Han Solo-esque rogue who gets by with his charm[,] hails from the future, and has journeyed back in time on a secret mission. His razor-sharp wit hides the pain of a man who has lived through serious conflict [and] harbors many secrets.” Clearly “time-traveling superhero” suggests either Booster Gold or Rip Hunter, but I’m not sure I buy either of those. For one thing, Booster may be disqualified, having appeared already on Smallville, and while he was originally out to make a quick buck off the gullibility of 20th-century rubes, I don’t think that makes him as sneaky as the description implies.

The reverse is true for Rip. While recent comics have certainly made him sneaky enough, I’m not sure he’s got that much wit or charm. Also, the appeal of Rip Hunter comes mostly from actual timey-wimey stuff, which a) is probably beyond the scope of the spinoff, and b) would most likely invite a whole other batch of unfair comparisons. In fact, at the risk of getting too nitpicky, if Rip is from The Future, it’s because he’s Booster’s as-yet-unborn son — so it’s not that far in the future.

Therefore, my pick for The Traveler is Val “Karate Kid” Armorr, who had a brief 20th-century sabbatical as part of his larger career with the thousand-year-later Legion of Super-Heroes. I could see Val as a charming, witty rogue who’s “lived through serious conflict” and “harbors many secrets.” Honorable mention goes to Walker “Chronos II” Gabriel, who would get the nod if he weren’t from the present day and had gotten more exposure beyond a twelve-issue series from the late ‘90s.

Moving on, “Female Warrior’s” traits could apply to a number of DC characters. TVLine lists Fury, Wildcat II, and Pantha as possibilities. To me, each of those is somewhat problematic. None is particularly well-known to the public at large — and yes, I know I just argued for Karate Kid — but Fury was a Greek heroine retconned into the Golden Age by Roy Thomas. Rascally Roy also intended Wildcat II (Yolanda Montez) to replace the critically wounded original; and while a version of this may happen later in Arrow’s season, the spinoff’s producers may already have to juggle two Canaries and might not want to confuse viewers with multiple Wildcats. In that respect Pantha starts to look reasonable, particularly if she’s made into a were-cat whose “fury is ignited” only nocturnally. (Indeed, if the producers look even deeper down the Firestorm-villain bench, they’ll find the Hyena, aka the prosaically named Summer Day. Summer Diaz would be a definite improvement.)

However, I keep coming back to a couple of options. The phrase “igniting her fury” reminds me of the former Green Fury and Green Flame, Beatriz “Fire” DaCosta. True, Firestorm already fills the flying, flaming hero role, but he’s not female, Latina, or covered in green flame. (Her powers also aren’t nocturnal in nature, but that may be poetic license in the description.) Still, I’d bring back the old Green Flame codename just to be on the safe side. A less likely possibility is Hawkgirl, who the public may accept as Hispanic based on voice actress Maria Canals’ portrayal in the Justice League cartoons. Hawkman was on Smallville (and, before that, in a candy bar commercial), but if Arrow’s Ted Grant doesn’t prohibit Yolanda Montez, then Hawkgirl shouldn’t be shut out either.

Finally, “Mystery Hero” is “[a]n African-American male in his twenties” who’s a “regular, street smart guy who unexpectedly gains powers” and “regularly quips about the insanity of the situations.” Honestly, this could be any number of characters other than TVLine’s suggestions of Static and Black Lightning. A youngish guy who gains undefined “powers” and quips about them is almost as generic as it gets. If the spinoff isn’t particular about the original version’s ethnic identity, this character could be Metamorpho, Animal Man, the Ray (admittedly, another flying light-style character a la Firestorm and/or Fire), or Starman (maybe Jack Knight, maybe Will Payton). Even John “Green Lantern” Stewart started out as a “regular, street smart guy” with a good sense of humor — and remember, none of the Lanterns have been on a live-action TV series so far.

* * *

The problem is that each of these characters seems at least partially duplicative of someone on either Flash or Arrow. Harrison Wells shares The Traveler’s time-lost background and questionable allegiances; the “pretty, unassuming, book-smart” aspects of Female Warrior are reminiscent of Felicity Smoak; and Mystery Hero’s quippiness sounds a lot like a super-powered Cisco Ramone. That distracts at least a little bit from trying to suss out the producers’ intentions.

While I’m not overly worried about my picks being wrong, I don’t like the thought of the producers starting to repeat themselves, especially (and ironically enough) if they’re trying to be faithful to the source material. Both Arrow and Flash are full of characters who differ in some significant ways from their comics inspirations — not just Felicity, Laurel, Caitlin, or Iris, but Ollie and Barry themselves. Although it’s nice for fans to see echoes of the comics on the screen, what really matters is the finished product, and whether those characters are compelling enough to want to revisit each week.

Ideally, that means translating the best of the comics’ versions into characters who work well on TV, even if it means disregarding the details. Trying to predict who’ll be on a TV show that won’t be aired for months, and might develop into something else in the meantime, should be entertaining and fun, and not much else. The most you get out of it is looking smart, and most of us can find other ways to do that.

(That ATOM suit still needs to shrink, though….)

++++++++++++++++++++++

And here is the Futures Index for this week’s Issue 45.

  • Story pages: 20
  • Amethyst/Frankenstein pages: 4
  • Justice League (including Superman/Lois) pages: 6
  • “Upstate Cadmus” pages: 5
  • Terrifitech pages: 5
  • Number of deaths (or apparent final fates): 3 (Frankenstein, Brainiac, Voodoo)
  • Odds that all of those are final, at least within this miniseries: 5:1 against
  • Odds that Frank’s death changes the nightmare future significantly: 2:1 against
  • Odds that Amethyst’s quest will be resolved in this miniseries: 3:1 against

NOTES: Seeing the Command-D bunker in a story about averting the apocalypse is like seeing Jim Cantore coming down your street on a cloudy day. You might make it out alive, but more than likely you’re in big trouble.

Actually, in light of DC’s solicitation for the new Batman Beyond series, that scene’s a pretty big clue as to the future of the Futures End fut — uh, setting. Since the cover of BB #1 is split between Kamandi’s Great Disaster and the more familiar Beyond future, I presume that at least the first BB storyline will be a journey through the former to restore the latter. I don’t think DC would characterize any bad outcome from Futures End and/or Convergence as the “definitive” future of the superhero line, but now that it’s put the fateful bunker in play, at some point it’s got to be used. Nevertheless, the Multiversity Guidebook has assigned parallel universes to both Kamandi’s world and the Beyond future, so you’d think the new Batman Beyond book would want to distinguish itself from each of those.

Despite Frank’s death and Terry’s defiance, all of the above still indicates a gloomy end for this miniseries. Absent a separate Amethyst series and/or a Convergence subplot, the once-and-future Princess of Gemworld only has three issues to re-conquer her realm. There are only three issues left to bring back Fifty Sue and company, figure out what’s going on in Command D, reveal what happened between Batman and Superman, and stop Brother Eye. I expect Futures End to address each of those subplots, but I’m not sure it can provide all of them with the appropriate amount of closure. Looks like we’ll see Grifter next issue, though.

Finally, I thought this issue’s art was good, although it didn’t stray too far from the precise, detailed style of artists like Jesús Merino or Patrick Zircher. In fact, the transition from Stephen Thompson’s work to Jack Herbert’s pencils and Vicente Cifuentes’ inks was very smooth. This issue didn’t demand much in the way of action, but all involved set the scenes very well, whether they were in Castle Frankenstein, ravaged New York City, or a quiet suburb. Nicely done.

NEXT WEEK IN THE FUTURE: Declarative Atom! Feuding Batmen! Shooting Key! And … Eye-Zombies!

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