Friday, September 24, 2010

"Ice Unleashed" - An Unnecessary Change

Ice's new elemental look, which can be seen in upcoming issues of Justice League: Generation Lost.

We've got a guest post this evening dealing with the recent changes announced for Justice League: Generation Lost's Ice.  Hit the jump to find out more about this character, her past and personality and why this unnecessary move towards a modern darker and edgier look really doesn't work for the character.

Today's guest post is by Colt "Munch" Hoskins.  He's an aspiring artist whose art you can view at his blog, Strange Fails.  You can also follow him on Twitter @colthoskins.

Last week, news hit that Tora Olafsdotter, better known as Ice, will be undergoing something of a transformation in the pages of Judd Winick's Justice League: Generation Lost, one of two bi-weekly titles to spin out of Blackest Night. To quote the DC Comics Source Blog,
“Ice is not to be messed with. For real.

If you’ve been reading Justice League: Generation Lost, you know the character’s been going through her share of soul-searching. But how does one character go from pensive, shy flower to elemental badass? Let’s ask JL: GL editor Brian Cunningham.

'For those of us that read the Super Friends series in the 1970s where Ice was originally introduced as Ice Maiden, we all know how absurd her origin was. With Gen Lost #12, writer Judd Winick provides Ice with a credible and tragic origin that does not negate what we already know. And the consequences of this new origin are pretty explosive, as Aaron Lopresti’s amazing art shows.”

Putting aside that the “absurd” Super Friends origin Cunningham's railing against doesn't even belong to Ice, but to Icemaiden, the heroine who was last seen comatose in a tube after having her skin flayed off while she was still alive, as shown in the image to the right, I have a few problems with this whole idea.

First, a bit of history for those without an affinity for B-list superheroes and superheroines. Introduced in 1988, Ice was the princess of a magical people, able to create and manipulate ice and snow. Joining the Justice League International alongside the woman that would later become her best friend, Beatriz DaCosta a.k.a. Fire, Ice went on to have a long and distinguished career with the League, facing down Doomsday, Despero, and the Antimatter JLI, as well as beginning a relationship with the foul-tempered Guy Gardner.

Throughout her tenure with the League, she was defined by her personality, which was equal parts diabetes-inducing sweetness, and wide-eyed optimism. At a time when everyone was at their darkest, with fans and creators alike chasing the grim and gritty wave in the wake of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, Ice stood apart; even from her own teammates. Where Blue Beetle was a sarcastic pessimist, Ice was genuine and optimistic. Where Fire was amorous and outgoing, Ice was reserved. And where Guy Gardner was an explosive lout, Ice was quiet and pensive, with that sharp contrast making their relationship so interesting. While they couldn't have been more different, together they brought out a side in the other that they didn't know they had.

She retained that personality right up until her death at the hand of the Overmaster, in a story famously written, and regretted, by Mark Waid. Remarking on the story later, Waid would write, “I'm responsible for the death of Ice. My call, my worst mistake in comics, my biggest regret. I remember hearing myself ask the editor, 'Who's the JLAer whose death would evoke the most fierce gut reaction from readers?' What a dope. Mea culpa.”

It's little wonder that she would serve as the most ideal sacrificial lamb. As one of the most innocent, likable, and harmless Leaguers, her death was sure to provoke the strongest reaction from fans. But, those same qualities that made her such an easy candidate for a shocking death, also made her so endearing to fans.

Spending several years dead, Ice would continue making minor appearances as an apparition or a figure in flashbacks, the most famous of which occurring in the pages of I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League, where Guy Gardner and Fire attempted to free her soul from Hell. But, as with all great comic characters, she eventually found her way back to the land of the living under the pen of Gail Simone, later reappearing in the wake of the Sinestro Corps War.

Then she died again.

Oh, comics.

As one of the many heroes to come back from the dead, she was reclaimed by Nekron in the pages of Blackest Night, becoming one of the half-alive Black Lanterns, and promptly slaughtering a cadre of Checkmate agents. Eventually, she was restored once more to life.

That appearance then fed directly into her current starring role in Generation Lost, which began with her sitting on the floor of her filthy apartment, surrounded by trash and random debris, the narration explaining, in a wonderful display of tell-don't-show, that she's come to this state as a direct result of Blackest Night. Which explains her current personality. To be blunt, Ice just isn't fun anymore. She constantly nags her teammates, complains that she doesn't want to be a superhero, has to be guilted into doing the right thing, and generally behaves like a sullen teenager, lashing out at everyone within range. In short, she might as well be an entirely new character.

Now, it's understandable why Judd Winick would take this approach. It makes sense to examine the mental repercussions of dying and coming back to life. Or maybe he was concerned that modern readers wouldn't accept a character so kind and optimistic, especially when the chart-topping books feature characters that are anything but. Hell, maybe he just needed someone to play the whiny pessimist, and Ted Kord was dead, so he had to settle for Ice.

Whatever his reasoning, all Winick (and co-plotter for the first few issues, Keith Giffen) have succeeded in doing is removing a personality that stood out among the current crop of superheroes. At a time when modern comics are so pessimistic, there's no better time for the old Ice to be featured prominently. Today, she could serve the same purpose she did in the eighties, as a beacon of unrelenting kindness and optimism, in the face of a world that's grown ugly and cruel.

In the modern comics world, Spider-Man's making deals with the devil, Superman's committing arson, Mary Marvel's grinding on Freddie Freeman mid-battle while wearing leather bondage gear, Ryan Choi's in a matchbox, and lifelong superhero fans like Mark Waid or Kurt Busiek declare, “"Annnnd today was the day I stopped reading super-hero comics. One that I won't name finally broke me. Collection stops as of now. No joke,” or, “Add to that the tone of the books, which seems to be overwhelmingly grim, cheerless and bleak, and it's a sandbox I don't much want to play in or read about.”

Really, don't we need a character like her, who doesn't have “badass” powers, a tragic origin, skimpy costume, or a world-weary outlook? If only to stand in contrast to the multitudes that do? What better world for Tora Olafsdotter, a magical princess from an enchanted, hidden kingdom, to exist in, than the current comics landscape?

So really, to Judd Winick, to DC Comics, I ask you: Could we not, just once, look to tragedy for inspiration and impetus? Could we not just accept superhero escapist fantasy as fantasy?

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Ryan K Lindsay said...

Great bloody article, Colt. You make a good point and set it out well. It's one of those things in comics, death and retcons, the little characters are always changing. You either hope it doesn't happen or you hope for the best....lame that that's our options...

I hope you write something for us again, mate, well in.

Liz said...

Well said.

TexiKen said...

Good article, Munch.

Anonymous said...

maybe you all might want to actually read the comic first. A blurb from the editor isn't really telling the story, is it?
BTW, have you ruled out that despite the fact that Generation Lost is very well received, the sales are just mid-list? I swear, could they just have planted this story to get folks riled up. and maybe a few more readers?
anyway, how about we wait for the story to come out in 2 weeks?

Ivan said...

Good stuff. I'm a fan of the JLI years, and it's sad to see how much Ice has been abused over the years.

twobitspecialist said...

Good article, man.

Anonymous said...

I realize this is almost two years late, but Ice was not resurrected as a result of the Blackest Night storyline. Over in Birds of Prey she was found alive and in stasis in the hands of the Russian Mafia, freed, made a brief cameo over in Checkmate, and even connected with Guy for several issues of GLC, all prior to Blackest Night.

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