Sunday, June 10, 2012

Jim Phelps, Meet Terry Slon(e)

And the rant

As we all know by now, something pretty tremendous and earth-shaking happened in Earth-2 #1 this past week. A classic Golden Age hero, who has been around for 70 years, completely had his history and lifestyle revised, and not for the better.

No, I'm not talking about Alan Scott:

Yup, Terry Sloane, the original Mister Terrific, is now Terry Sloan, apparent villain.


You may recall the television series Mission: Impossible. For eight seasons, Jim Phelps risked life and limb for his country, leading his IMF team on almost 200 missions.

Then came the 1996 movie, which decided to make Jim Phelps the villain, turning him into a traitor who slaughtered his entire team and sold out his country for no particular reason other than a lack of the writers' imagination. It was an idiotic move, one that offended many of the fans (and all of the original cast).

(In fairness, the first three Mission: Impossible movies all revolved around traitorous IMF agents. So, profound lack of imagination all around.)

Still, it was galling: why take a character who had been nothing but a good guy, and arbitrarily make him into a vile scumbag? What was the point, except to say, "Look, we're edgy, and this isn't your father's Mission: Impossible!"

You really can't imagine them doing this with a character that "mattered"...having James T. Kirk actually go rogue and try to assassinate the Klingon Chancellor in Star Trek VI, for example. So in a way it's doubly insulting--having the good guy go bad, and the implicit statement that Jim Phelps wasn't important enough to make the filmmakers think twice about destroying his character.


Of course, this isn't the first time James Robinson has done this. Golden Age hero The Spider, of the series Alias The Spider, was just another archer hero from Quality Comics. After the original Crisis, he made an adequate fill in for the now non-existent Golden Age Green Arrow.

But Robinson decided to retcon him in the pages of Starman (along with Geoff Johns in Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E). Now the Spider hadn't really been a hero; he was really a master criminal who had been pretending to be a hero in order to eliminate the competition!! (OK, I'll concede a couple of points for cleverness there.) He had betrayed and tried to kill his teammates on the Seven Soldiers Of Victory!! The Shade killed him, but his son carried on his evil ways!! It's OK, because there are only 12 people on Earth who even remember Alias The Spider!!

Which is not to say there stories were bad. But why go to the same well again in 2012?


Heaven knows Mr. Terrific wasn't the most significant or important or popular guy out there. Let's face it, most folks considered him irredeemably corny and old-fashioned and twee. And let's not forget about the costume:

Still, he was considered enough of a role model to have inspired Michael Holt to become the modern Mister Terrific. (So, in the nu52, Holt just decided to tattoo FAIR PLAY on his arms without it being a tribute to a past hero? Now who is being twee?)

Terry Sloane was a Renaissance man, master of all trades, a genius and self-made millionaire who, instead of wallowing in his own crapulance, dedicated his skills to helping others. He was a hero.

Yet now, James Robinson has transformed him into, in the words of my pal Siskoid, an Ozymandias knock-off. Why? What possible reason, except to show (yet again) that this isn't your father's Earth-2?

Why destroy a hero (again)? Are there so many that we can cavalierly discard them? Aren't there 157 existing villains we could have used in this role, Golden-Agers or Earth-2ers or people who haven't been used yet in the nu52? The villains out there far outnumber the heroes--why are we burning off one of the latter, instead of using the former?

Why not make Alan Scott your bad guy, then? Nope, too popular, fans would be upset. We can't do that to any "important" character. Mister Terrific? Him we can use--he doesn't matter.

Hell, why don't you create an original character? Oh, wait, that wouldn't make readers go, "Oooooo, he's being edgy." And people would call the new character cliched and uninteresting. And inventing a new bad guy would require an excess of imagination. Never mind, let's just use this guy who has been lying around unused. And let's not even bother to spell his name correctly.

Because he doesn't matter. Sure, that's why they killed him off in the first place, back in Justice League #171 (1979)--because when you "need" to kill of someone for shock value, you do it to someone the writers don't know how to use, and to someone the readers won't care about. You do it to someone who doesn't matter.

Well, I'm here to tell you that Terry Sloane matters. Heroes matter.

Heroes are a precious commodity. You don't defame them and run them through the gutter and turn them evil just because you lack a better story idea. It's cheap, and it's lazy, and it's profoundly insulting to say, "This fellow has been a hero for 70 years, but let's just chuck that and make him Lex Luthor without the hair problem."

Yes, James Robinson, no one knew Terry Sloane, or had even read any comics that had Terry Sloan in them. Yet he was deemed enough significant to use in this new role, because you thought people would recognize the name. So you don't really believe he was that insignificant--you just did it for the shock value (again). And you're a better writer than that.

Yes, I'm admittedly corny and old-fashioned and twee sometimes. But I believe down to the core of my being that heroes matter. They belong to all of us, and you don't just flush them down the crapper.

Heroes matter.

And so does spelling....It's SLOANE!! Don't drop the E, dammit!!


SallyP said...

***Slow Clap***

Exactly. And every character, no matter how obscure, is someone's favorite.

I loved Starman, and I love Nicola Scott, but man, I am just not able to put aside my intrinsic feeling of ickiness, to be able to read the new Earth 2 books.

I really do miss my beloved continuity.

Siskoid said...

The difference an "e" makes.

I'm not quite as outraged as you are, though I do like how you spun it into something intrinsic to the philosophical fabric of superhero comics. I blame the damn Watchmen revival, the book partly responsible for the dark 90s DC is now trying to imitate (when it was never good).

Here's what I think is going on, and why I don't really care that Terry's been villainized: Over the past decade, we've had a new Mister Terrific who wasn't only a visible minority, but atypical of the way his minority was usually presented in comics. Black heroes have usually been of two types, either street (to the point of jive for those born in an early time) or straight up from Africa (bit of a cheat). When the animated series, later followed by the comics, took John Stewart and made him a marine instead of an architect, it felt racist to me, as if architecture wasn't a "black" enough job. Ridiculous.

With Michael Holt, we have the world's smartest man, and he happens to be black. I think that's a progressive portrayal. He appeared in Justice League Unlimited so has some visibility in other media, and DC thought enough of him to give him his own series in the New52, doomed though it was.

So now we've got Earth-2, the world that should actually have a Mister Terrific. Holt's series is killed, so he story can continue there. So either he's Earth-2's Terrific, and there never was another, or Robinson brings back Terry too and does... what? Well, he's chosen to make it a battle of wits between two Earths smartest men. That has potential, and Terry may believe he is a hero à la Ozymandias, manipulating events for a greater good only he can see. Now, I do think it lacks creativity to make him an Ozy, especially since Watchmen are getting comics again, but to my mind, it was either this or non-existence, because Holt is ultimately the more important character.

Perhaps the dropped "e" was done on purpose. Terry Sloane is still a hero, and there is no Terry Sloane who was ever a villain.

snell said...

Siskoid--Robinson could have chosen to spin it so Sloan(e) was inspired by the newly arrived Holt to become a hero/better person. That would have been fitting and knowledgeable about the characters (and admittedly that could still happen, but the "Sloan beats the crap outta Mr. T" isn't a good start). And as I said, there's no shortage of villains who could have been used, and still made a pretty engaging battle of wits. But that's why I don't write comic books...

Siskoid said...

I completely get where you're coming from on this. Being able to trace how the idea came up takes the sting out of it for me.

We should fight the power by blogging about the original Mr.T's Golden Age appearances, redeem the legacy and all that. I'll have to look at what I've got on digital.

PCabezuelo said...

Snell, I feel your pain. As someone who grew up with DC in the late 70s and 80s, seeing the trainwreck the company has become in the last decade has been exhausting - one of the reasons I just don't read any DC book anymore (although I do pick up Vertigo). I know I'm missing some good stuff - especially stuff by Snyder and Lemire - but I just can't support that company anymore. Their disregard for their own characters and legacy has been nothing but shocking - and very, very sad. Honestly, until Didio (and Lee and Johns) are gone, I don't think there will be any improvement.

Siskoid, I agree with what you say as well with one caveat. I know alot of people are accusing DC of trying to emulate Watchmen way too much - which I agree with. But I also lay the finger of blame on Millar's Ultimates. When that book came out in 2002 and was a runaway hit (especially with non-regular comic readers) it seemed like DC AND Marvel tried to make everyone of their books follow that formula. That's how we ended up with more "mature" work like Identity Crisis.

At least Watchmen had characters like Owlman and Silk Spectre who fit the heroic mold and were genuinely trying to do the right thing because they could. Millar's bunch were all self-centred and extremely unlikeable, including Captain America. THAT'S what DC has become.

End of rant : )

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I'm waiting to see what Robinson does to my beloved Hourman. I loved Terry Sloane, both those guys are in the JLA ALL-STAR archives.

My understanding is that Sloan-no-e wouldn't be cast as a legacy to Terry Holt because there have been no "wonders" (which I kind of like) in five years. The said, if written right, I like the idea of two guys, pretty much the same, as arch-rivals.

Which isn't to say I'm happy about it. I'm resigned to seeing Hourman as the Earth-2 version of Grifter. And no, there's no logic there, but when has that figured into the nu52? In WF, Power Girl & Huntress keep whining about Darkseid, when it was Steppenwolf the Trinity fought in E2#1.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

One thing I hope we might see, I'm not certain how, is how the heroes died fighting Steppenwolf because there wasn't as huge a "Justice League" like the one that beat Darkseid in nu52.

Which made me realize, just now, that Robinson could eventually make legacy heroes from Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. That would be a mess.

Siskoid said...

Presumably, if Apokolips had time to put down roots around the world, the girls know about Darkseid and other New Gods.

Siskoid said...

Well, PG and Huntress are the legacy. I don't think anyone will take the old names though.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

@Siskoid, on that double-page spread it mentions a reward for Steppenwolf, Darkseid is never mentioned. My guess is that no one told Levitz that the E2 bad guy was not going to be Darkseid. But I agree that it would be easy enough to include all of the characters from Apokolips.

Are PG & Huntress legacies if they were around when the originals were, as Supergirl & Robin?

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

A nice curve ball from Robinson might have him creating a Kid Flash by the name of Barry Allen somewhere along the line. Regardless of my little complaints, I do hope that Earth 2 has a long life.

As long as Hourman is not the E2 version of Deathstroke. "Oh, man. I only have an hour's worth of bullets!"

Siskoid said...

Hahaha, that's a funny Hourman, but yeah, NO.

And yes, Robin and Supergirl are legacy heroes, as much as (and you answered your own question) Wally West.

notintheface said...

No shortage of villains that could have been used? Like which ones? Gee, I'll really have to THINK. ERrrrr.... I'm drawing a blank.

Siskoid said...

There were tons of masterminds in the mold of Luthor and the Ultra-Humanite in the Golden Age. I'm sure Robinson could have resurrected someone.

Siskoid said...

Cross-promotional department!

I've gone ahead and written a piece on the Golden Age Mr. Terrific as suggested.

Just follow the link!

Martin Gray said...

Siskoid said it all, Snell. It's not the same Terry - Robinson will have left the E off deliberately, he doesn't get stuff like this wrong - and heck, at least this is a Terry who's not dead. Who knows, he may be being mind-controlled. How about we let the story play out, then make the judgement?

I'm off to read Siskoid, in the hope of learning whether Mr Terrific (v1) should have some kind of protected status. In the few appearances I've seen, he came across as Batman by another name, but without the interest villains and pals. And stories.

To me, it's not a stretch that someone who calls himself Mr Terrific might develop a belief he knows what's best for the world - look at Reed Richards, Mr Fantastic, who's been a bit of a controlling type since Civil War ... is he that far removed from Dr Doom with his 'solve everything' ideas?

That Terry Two calls himself the Smartest, while Michael reckons to be Third Smartest, is a hoot.

@PCabezuelo - I am reading current comics and it's simply not correct to say that all, or even most, DC characters are in the Ultimates mould.

Captain Blog said...

It should be pointed out that Robinson WAS the guy who tied up the original Terrific's death from an issue of JLA. A death that remained unavenged for many, many years (!) until the story was told by Mr. R.
He does care. He just tries to hard to amend perceived injustices involving discrimination at DC. (plus, it's great media-fodder)

-3- said...

Insulting is the right word for it. Insulting to the character. Insulting to the fans. Even insulting to the writer, for what it says about their need to destroy in order to create.
And it can backfire bad.
After that first Mission Impossible movie, not even John Woo could lure me back for another (I was a huge HK movie fan, with John Woo & Tsui Hark sitting at the top of one mountain of joy)
And that put an end to my ability to stomach Tom Cruise, too.

How many fans and potential fans are driven away by such tactics? I hear quotes from people in Hollywood & at Marvel comics that getting any fan reaction is a good thing.
But if that fan reaction is abandonment because you made them not care any more?
A lot of 'creators' seem to operate on the assumption that there's a shortage of things to entertain us if we go looking elsewhere.

I think maybe a Snell-style diversionary rant is trying to form here.
Better kill it now before it gets any bigger.

-3- said...

Oh, yeah.
You misspelled Sloane in the article title.
A counts, too.