Thursday, August 30, 2012

Newsarama Ranks 2 Detroit Leaguers Among 10 Worst Ever

Technically, Graeme McMillan wrote the piece The 10 WORST Justice League Members of All Time for the comic book news site Newsarama, so I'm not sure if he's a loose cannon or offering a consensus of staff opinion. Either way, Newsarama published the result, popularizing the notion that not only are Gypsy and Vibe among the team's worst members, but one being the worst of all time. Here's what they said...

"Introduced as one of the Justice League Detroit, Gypsy started life as a bizarro Kitty Pryde, a teen girl able to camouflage herself into her surroundings via illusion casting powers that also, apparently, allow her to project images into people's minds.

Surviving the end of that team (unlike two of her teammates), she later went on to find her family murdered by Despero, forcing her back into superhero life as member of the Conglomerate and Justice League Task Force, as well as the Birds of Prey... but whether any of that hides the fact that her main reasons to exist in recent years had become (a) to give J'Onn J'Onzz an adoptive daughter to moon over or (b) be mind-controlled and forced to fight the Justice League (which she's done on at least two different occasions) is open to question."
I think the overview invalidates the writer's own opinion. I honestly don't believe Gypsy was that strong of a character in her early appearances, owing as much to pop pandering (Stevie Nicks/Cyndi Lauper/Madonna) as to the aforementioned lil'est X-Man. However, her then-recent struggle to survive a trip to the Godhead with Zatanna and her only being fifteen at the time likely saved Gypsy from death in 1986. Likewise, as the damsel in distress during a rare serious story arc in Justice League America, Gypsy needed to survive the revenge of Despero back in 1990. What makes this relevant is that Gypsy established herself as a survivor against all odds in two of the scariest, most awesome Justice League stories ever, and that alone would set her apart from the likes of the Silver Sorceress or any given Rocket Red, who could and have been snuffed out without anyone much noticing. Like Kitty Pryde, readers root for her as an underdog amongst titans, and her human story brings out the best in others (including surrogate father Martian Manhunter, who needs all the supporting cast he can get. Meanwhile, Gypsy's time in the Justice League Task Force proved that she was no Shadowcat. Writer Christopher Priest gave her a defensive sarcasm and illuminated the dark undercurrents of the character that set her apart and above a score of lesser Leaguers (even a few who carried their own titles. I wouldn't have introduced a character like Gypsy into the JLA, but having been their and forged a very distinctive path in many strong, underrated stories, Gypsy deserves better than to be maligned in some knee jerk list. Especially one that leaves off a Gypsy wannabe like Maya. That's right-- there's an actual Gypsy knock-off.

"If one character can come to signify something greater than him or herself, it's possible that Vibe's has accidentally become the avatar for everything that was misguided with the Justice League Detroit era.

You can see the reasoning: He was a character tied to a trend that was in its death throes as he appeared (breakdancing -- his first appearance was a double-page spread showing off his moves) who had both a ham-fisted attempt at social relevance (He was trying to make a better life for himself after leaving the Los Lobos gang, with writer Gerry Conway daring to expose the connections between well respected musical groups and Detroit gang culture when others were too afraid) and inexplicable dialogue quirk (he had a fake Mexican accent that he put on around white people) at his core, as well as an amazing original costume that mixed MC Hammer-style pants with shades, soul patch and vest.

Bearing all that in mind, it's difficult to imagine what made Vibe Justice League material other than being in the right place in the right time. And yet... there's something charming about Paco Ramone's short-lived existence, whether it was his overconfidence or excitement about being a superhero in the first place. Vibe also has a particularly important place in Justice League history as being the first Leaguer to be killed in the line of duty, launching an unfortunate trend that would continue for a long time afterwards. If only he'd joined up with a different team that dealt with smaller problems, perhaps Vibe would still be with us today, and perhaps he would've evolved into a character people remembered as more than a gimmick gone wrong. Who's for a new Vibe ongoing series in the next round of DC New 52 launches?"
Vibe is an inherently silly character, an unintentional parody of ethnic stereotype super-heroics (including the old saw about how one white writer's laughable attempt at jive talk is another writer's having the hero front to conceal their inner WASP.) It's noteworthy that Vibe was not only the first dead Leaguer, but their first dead minority hero. There are scores of more famous heroes that mean nothing not already represented elsewhere, but Vibe serves a subtextual purpose in pointing out the inequities of a gutter art form typically made by and for sheltered middle class Anglo-Saxon males. He's also goofy fun, which is why he is routinely referenced and gets his own mock '80s cartoon short, whereas the JLA annals are clogged with more "proper" pointless pandering bores like Agent Liberty, Zauriel, and Moon Maiden. Controversy and longevity surely play a role in a list like this, but Vibe is low hanging fruit that reveals more about the critic than the character. Vibe isn't the best worst hero, like the Troll 2 of the League rolls, but instead a genuinely endearing character.


will_in_chicago said...

I think that Vibe and Gypsy deserve new chances. I commented a bit on the Idol Head of Diabolu blog but they could poke fun at past misconceptions of them and stereotypes that people have about them.

Diabolu Frank said...

I expect New 52 Vibe will be played straight as a realistic inner city youth with a heavy dose of Marvel feet of clay. He'll be okay, if he lives. I think Gypsy has already been righted, except for needing exposure and a good costume.

Anonymous said...

Gypsy was great in Justice League Task Force