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Comics/Graphic Novels

Comics A–Z: Heroes From Farr to Jesus

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S.W. Sondheimer

Staff Writer

When not prying Legos and gaming dice out of her feet, S.W. Sondheimer is a registered nurse at the Department of Therapeutic Misadventures, a herder of genetic descendants, cosplayer, and a fiction and (someday) comics writer. She is a Yinzer by way of New England and Oregon and lives in the glorious 'Burgh with her husband, 2 smaller people, 2 cats, a fish, and a snail. She occasionally tries to grow plants, drinks double-caffeine coffee, and has a habit of rooting for the underdog. It is possible she has a book/comic book problem but has no intention of doing anything about either. Twitter: @SWSondheimer

I’ve had a lot of time to think lately. Like many of you, I’m not a huge fan of too much mental downtime, and as this whole COVID-19 thing has stretched into its fourth month I’ve felt an increasing need to fill some of the empty spots between my ears. I’ve done so, at least in part, my giving myself little challenges that feel productive, if only to me. I’ve improved my bread baking skills. I’ve taken on knitting projects for which I had to learn new stitches. I made taiyaki for the first time. I wrote and submitted a horror novella.

Some of these challenges have gone well. Some have been less successful (why does this lace pattern scarf suddenly have 107 stitches? I don’t…damn it). As I was contemplating the sum total the other day, however, I realized I hadn’t yet done any sort of comics challenge.

And thus Comics A–Z was born.

We’ve finished up our first challenge: pairing comics/graphic novels. This week, we’re tackling part two of challenge number two: a hero for every letter of the alphabet.

Remember, I’m attempting to use naming conventions from the country of origin (Japanese heroes, for example, will be listed first name, surname as the surname is given precedence where as American/European heroes will be listen surname, first name). I’m also going to do my best not to use two heroes from the same series unless I’m really stuck.

F: Farr, Rita

An Olympic swimmer turned actress, Farr (code name: Elasti-Girl and later Elasti-Woman) was exposed to “unusual volcanic gases” (pretend I’m making wavy fingers) during a movie shoot and soon found herself able to expand or shrink her whole body, or individual body parts, at will. Though you’d think someone would have seen the advantage of saving on the special effects budget, her power-up ended her acting career. Niles Calder offered her a place among fellow “freaks”; Rita accepted and became a member of the Doom Patrol. She later married team member Mento and they adopted Garfield Logan (AKA Beast Boy). She was killed defending a town from the Brotherhood of Evil but resurrected after the events of Infinite Crisis.

Rita Farr as portrayed by April Bowlby on DC Universe’s Doom Patrol is a little bit of a departure from the comics version in origin and personality, but the sensibility and mannerisms are absolutely, 100% spot on. Highly recommend.

G: Gardner, Guy

The literal redheaded stepchild of the Green Lantern Corps, Guy gets a lot of grief for someone who’s actually pretty good at his job. After a difficult childhood in which his only escape was comic books, Gardner paid his own way through college and worked first as social welfare caseworker and then as a teacher for children with disabilities.

After a little bit of creative historical revision (AKA retconning), it turns out Abin Sur’s ring could have gone to either Hal Jordan or to Gardner; Jordan got it by virtue of being physically closer, not more worthy. Gardner was a backup Lantern of sorts until he was seriously injured in an accident, at which time John Stewart became Hal’s backup. Years later, when facing the Anti-Monitor, the Guardians needed to recruit extra Lanterns post haste and chose a revived Gardner to be one of their attack squad despite the personality changes brought about by his TBI.

Gardner’s road has not been an easy one: he forfeited his ring after losing a fight to Jordan, wore a yellow ring for a time, got his ass kicked by Doomsday, found out he was part alien, lost his alien DNA, got his ring back, became a Red Lantern (not entirely without justification), has his place in the Corps sabotaged by the Guardians, became a member of the Green Lantern Honor guard, defeated Superboy-Prime, freed several missing Lanterns from centuries long imprisonment, and currently helps Kiliwog train new recruits, which…yeesh. Who’s idea was that?

Through it all, though, he never gave up. Which means he may deserve that Green ring more than anyone else in history.

H: Hollowbone, Kat

In the absolutely delightful Beetle & The Hollowbones, Kat Hollowbone returns to the small town in which she grew up, and to her bestie Beetle, to find everything has changed, including her. She wants to spending time with Beetle and Beetle’s new friend Blob Ghost, to help them save the mall that’s BG’s home even though her aunt has sworn to tear it down, but her aunt has expectations and so do her parents and Kat can’t ignore them. Plus, she finally has her crystal, can finally do magic just as she’s always wanted to, and if her aunt isn’t happy, Kat might have to give that up. What’s a ghoul to do?

This one gets extra points for the tiny, kick-ass, goblin grandma.

I: Iroh

If Princess Leia is Space Mom, Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender is Fantasy Dad. Patient, kind, loving, and resourceful, he knows from the beginning that his hurt, angry nephew has the capacity to be so much more than what his father expects, than what everyone else sees. He knows, but he’s willing to wait for Zuko to find his own path to that redemption, no matter how long it takes, no matter how difficult the road. And no matter how infuriating Zuko is, how obstinate, how willfully self-destructive, Iroh never once leaves his side, never turns his back, never wavers.

A true hero.

Plus, he’s freaking adorable.

J:  Jesus

My 7-year-old daughter ran out of My Hero Academia books the other day and asked if I had any other manga. I gave her Saint Young Men because options are a little limited at the moment (though the library opened for pickup this week, yay!). I wasn’t sure how much she’d understand but she surprised me: she thought the running gag about Buddha winning the Buddha statue and he and Jesus keeping it in the front hall was hilarious. She also had to sort out a bit of confusion when she got to the Christmas scenes because “Mama, aren’t Jesus and Santa the same guy?” (In fairness, we’re Jewish.) But watching her read the books got me thinking about them again and about the message between those distinctive covers: it takes courage to acknowledge your privilege and then consciously set that privilege aside (or try to anyway—part of the comedy in the series is when that plan falls apart) to examine the world from a different angle. We may never be able to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but it takes a hero to be comfortable enough with discomfort to admit maybe you don’t understand quite as much as you think you did. Cracking yourself open hurts sometimes, but it gives you room to grow.

Quite a mix this week! Variety does make for much more interesting reading. We’ll see where next week takes us.