(art by Jaime Hernandez in Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #21, November 1986)
After flaking on AT’s February theme month tradition for a couple of years, I decided that 2016 would be where I got back on track and made a mental note to begin researching potential subject material…
…a mental note which I promptly forgot, until February 1st rolled around and I’d made fuck-all preparations for it.
Short on ideas and long on desperation, I turned to my Twitterpals for input by way of a poll asking which character should get the spotlight. The choices were Scarlet Witch, Black Orchid, Shrinking Violet, and Venus — female characters I’ve had a long-standing place in my heart for and whose appearances were near enough at hand that I could set things up on extremely short notice. Violet won by a thin margin, and thus this feature came to be.
I’m glad it did for a couple of reasons. Violet is a pretty interesting example of how a compelling character can emerge from the most iffy of initial concepts. Her very name was dismissively reductive, a clever-yet-obvious play on a slang term used to describe a shy and socially awkward woman. For most of the Silver Age, her only distinguishing features were her long-distance relationship with Duplicate Boy and her membership in the Legion Espionage Squad.
While a certain level of surliness and assertiveness crept into Violet’s Bronze Age characterization, it wasn’t until after her 1980s post-abduction recovery that Violet truly began to bloom. Shorn of her long locks and romantic relationships, she developed into an extremely driven young woman with a massive chip on her tiny shoulder. She honed both her combat and investigative skills, while refusing to suffer any fools, either friend or foe.
(As much as I like to snark on some of the peculiar writing tics of Paul Levitz’s LSH runs, the man did take pains to elevate both Shrinking Violet and Dream Girl into something more competent, compelling and interesting than the problematic feminine stereotypes both characters began as.)
Violet was also one of the first queer characters in Big Two comics, though an excess of editorial caution meant that the romantic nature of her relationship with Lightning Lass was heavily implied rather than directly stated (until the past decade, at least). I don’t want to overstate it — and can only speak from the perspective of a cishet dude who was a teen at the time — but between Violet, Zot‘s “Earth Stories” arc, and hanging around with some Real Live Gay Folks in high school, you could feel the stirrings of the massive cultural shift to come.
The character’s prominence towards the trailing end of the “classic” Legion Era ensured her plenty of face time and story arcs during the multiple reboots and relaunches, as well as appearances in the LSH animated series. There’s something about her combination of name, powers, and personality traits that lends itself to multiple compelling character configurations.
I’m also glad I was able to roll with Violet for these past twenty nine days because it gave me a chance to reconnect and reread a shitload of old Legion comics. My love of the franchise dates back to my childhood, but was shaken off after a reboot or three too many and a general fatigue with funnybooks in general (see also: why Nobody’s Favorites entries have been sporadic for the past year or so). Going back and reading these comics again has been a treat, albeit a bittersweet one in light of the franchise’s fall into under-performing irrelevance. It’s a shame that the super-team that was a direct inspiration for the X-Men with a fandom just as fervent can’t seem to gain marketplace traction anymore, though the twenty five years of do-overs didn’t help the Legion, either.