Friday, February 21, 2014

Transforming leopards and spots.


Recently, both Justice League and Transformers fans were surprised with teasers of long-time villains seemingly now on the side of the angels: Lex Luthor on the Justice League, and Megatron now sporting an Autobots badge. Both reveals remain to be seen in the comics themselves, and could turn out to be complete frauds; making these teasers the equivalent of a Silver Age comic cover where Superman kills Lois Lane (or vice versa) and then nothing of the sort happens in the actual comic; but neither heel-turn may have been possible before.

Pre-new 52, not only was Lex Luthor a well-known bastard, but Superman had a level of respect that would seem to preclude Lex ever being asked to join the team--it would be like inviting the Joker to the Justice League Christmas party. But Superman isn't visible in the teaser image, so may not be there; and in the reboot Lex doesn't have the seemingly hundreds of murders, betrayals, and sundry crimes he racked up both pre- and post-Crisis. Except, yeah, he kinda does: I'm not even a regular reader of DC lately, but I've seen him commit multiple murders in the previews! Actually, not quite: I took half a second to pull up the preview of Forever Evil #2, where Luthor runs into a security guard named Otis, a callback to the Donner Superman movies: before the end of that issue, Luthor has Bizarro beat Otis to death, as a test or on a whim. Like most of Luthor's victims in the New 52, poor Otis will never be brought up again: Batman's not going to work his case, piece together the evidence, find the smoking gun that implicates Luthor: it's villainy in a vacuum, done just to make Luthor look badass, but having no other impact whatsoever. And he's going to be on the heroes' team.

But DC has kind of a poor track record on that front: both Bane and Sinestro have made heroic turns to various degrees, with their victims seemingly swept under the rug. Done well, this would almost make the reader complicit in those crimes, identifying with a character who has done both good and evil things, perhaps struggling for redemption, or merely forced by circumstance. Instead, these are usually cash grabs, trying to milk the popularity of a villain by making him a more palatable or marketable "anti-hero." Think Venom: Lethal Protector: the "hero" is a murderer who by rights should be locked up forever at best, facing villains possibly just marginally worse, but allowed to do so by the force of popularity.

The Luthor thing could turn out to be a fake-out as well: the good Luthor from Earth-3, or perhaps Superman in Luthor's body or something. And I think there may well be stories to be told in Luthor trying to see how the other half lives, maybe seeing it isn't easy to be a super-hero. I don't have a lot of faith in that, though.

Meanwhile, the Megatron-to-Autobot teaser may be, as they say, more than meets the eye. (Boo!) If you're only familiar with Megatron from the cartoon or the movie (or most of the comics...) he's a pretty one-note, cartoon villain. Megatron fights the good guy, Optimus Prime. Why? Well, because he's evil? Because he wants to rule? Because that's how we set up conflict and sell toys? But in the IDW continuity, his bio opens with "Megatron waged a battle to destroy the evil forces of the Senate! Then he continued to wage a war against the evil forces of freedom, organic life, and the very idea of an Autobot living." Originally a miner, intellectual, and poet; Megatron railed against the strict caste system of Cybertron at the time, against a corrupt ruling class; but over time became more and more cruel. And why not? Violence was the only tool to change society that ever yielded results. And when your war goes on for a ludicrous amount of time, you may be inclined to use violence on any other problems you come across, too.

Of course, I kind of wonder how the Decepticons and Autobots would ever be able to live peacefully, since they were at war for some absurd amount of time--like four million years or so--you'd think any of the survivors could be inclined to hold a grudge, since they would remember any number of lost friends, or personal injuries. "Didn't you take a potshot at me off the shoulder of Orion?" "Yeah, but you shot me in the face by Tannhauser Gate!" (Scan from The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye #22, "Little Victories" Written by James Roberts, art by James Raiz. And they're in the GCD now!)

IDW's continuity takes from a number of sources, but has made Optimus Prime's lineage more contentious: several of the previous Primes were either corrupt, incompetent, or both. But Optimus wanted to change a corrupt system without bloodshed, and respected other sentient lifeforms like humans; both of which seem completely beyond Megatron. I'm curious where Megatron's redemption will take him, or how long it will last; although I wouldn't bet on either Lex or Megs staying on the straight and narrow for too long.

3 comments:

SallyP said...

Yeah, having Lex up there with the Justice League rather stuck in my craw. He has been awfully murderish lately.

plainwater said...

What a beautiful little exchange in "Little Victories"! Makes me want to start reading Transformers comics.

Dale Bagwell said...

Megatron is a good guy now? It'll never last. A gimmick if I ever saw one, much like Luthor in the JL. Outside of Injustice that shouldn't be happening, so I'll actually have to read why Batman would let him and Captain Cold join up.

Neat short one though. I can so see that scenario going down.