Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Underrated Comicbook Characters: Vera Lynn Black

The world's greatest Manc superheroine!

What do you get when you cross...

Jenny Sparks, from the original Stormwatch and Authority series...

with Major Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell...

With her second in command/semi-best friend Batou's eyes as sunglasses...

And Inspector Gadget?

Vera Lynn Black, that's who!

Well who is Vera I hear some of you cry! Well to explain Vera, we kind of have to explain her older brother first...

- Manchester Black
Vera's brother was the "dark superhero" turned supervillain Manchester Black, a man who thought that traditional superheroes like Superman and his ilk were old fashioned and ineffectual, and that the world needed heroes who were willing to kill in order to genuinely change things for the better.

The results of that can be found here.

After his defeat Manchester kind of went more than a little nuts. He couldn't understand that Superman could act the way he does without some kind of ulterior motive. In the months that followed Superman's fight with the Elite, Manchester's powers slowly returnd and he was placed in charge of a new Suicide Squad by Lex Luthor, then President of the USA, where he played such roles as reprogramming Doomsday's mind to make it serve humanity during the Imperiex War event.

After this, Manchester used his powers to discover Superman's true identity, and sent dozens of mentally controlled supervillains after various people from Clark Kent's life, ranging from his old football coach to his current dentist. After Superman (of course) defeated all of the supervillains, he flew back to his apartment, where it appeared that Manchester had murdered Lois. The psychic then tried to force Superman to kill him, trying desperately to make Superman kill and thus prove that his persona was all fake and that he was just as bad as Manchester was.

Superman ignored him, and despite fantasising murdering the villain, he first saw to making sure that Lois' body was in a safe place, and then told Manchester that he would always ensure that whatever he did, Manchester will always end up in a prison, never a morgue.

Rapey Grin Not Available In The Original
The fact that even attempting to murder everyone that ever knew Clark and killing his wife wasn't enough to break Superman's beliefs, caused Manchester to have a nervous breakdown, crumbling the illusion that he'd been projecting and showing that Lois was in fact still alive.

Realising at long last that he'd become what he'd attempted to always fight against, a supervillain, Manchester erased Superman's secret identity from all the various supervillains he'd implanted the information in (including Lex Luthor), and then using his powers to make his own head explode.

The explanation for his nihilistic beliefs and cynical attitude to heroes? Well apparently he was abused by his parents which, coupled with his little sister getting maimed in an industrial accident (yeah, I'll get into that later), caused him to go on violent rampages against authority figures when his telepathic powers finally emerged.

With her brother, their horrible childhood caused him to lash out at people he saw to be bullies and hypocrites, and violently remove them in order to make what he thought would be a better world. With Vera, however, the experiences she underwent effected her in ways that were both similar... but also different at the same time. Maybe it's the result of having something violent happen to her as a child, or the effect of her brother mutilating people with his mind when she was very small, but either way she also went out to make the world a better place for everyone, but in ways that didn't involve murder.

Vera's Introduction
Vera was introduced in JLA 100, at a time when Earth was being effected by dozens of natural disasters happening around the world for seemingly no reason. The JLA are baffled by the goings on, but other than helping the survivors as the events happen they don't know what to do either.

But when the US Senate meet to discuss the bizarre events, but naturally can't get to an agreed interpretation as to what's going on. And, in response to their lack of effort to try and find a solution, Vera and the new Elite show up, and announce that the governments of the world have been dissolved due to wars, pollution and institutionalised hatred they are now the new management of the planet. They then give the world 12 to announce their surrender.

In response to this, Superman rushes to the capital, only to be met by Vera, who explains how when she heard about her brother's death, that she had mechanical arms grafted onto her and reformed his old team so that she could get revenge. She promptly blasts the heck out of her with her arm-cannons. After this, the rest of the JLA arrive, and they battle the Elite on the streets of Washington DC... and lose. The people of the world panic, with the JLA defeated it seems that there'll be no one to save the world from being enslaved by the Elite, then two hours before the world is to be handed over to be ruled by the villains, Wonder Woman makes an inspirational speech at the UN to tell people that if they stand together united they can beat the bad guys.

So at the twelfth hour, the world's armies united together and defeated the Elite, causing several days of unanimous joy and good feeling throughout the world, wars coming to a ceasefire, and generally everyone having good vibes going on... Which was exactly what Vera and the Elite wanted to happen.

It turns out that she had contacted the JL before the "attack" on Washington, and informed them that the reason why there had been so many natural disasters lately. Apparently a member of her group had a special connection with the Earth, and had found out that the natural disasters weren't of a scientific origin, and were infact the build up to the spirit of the planet wiping out humanity, as she'd finally had enough of their bickering and internal fighting. The only way, Vera said, to stop the planet from killing everyone was to unite the world against a common enemy and show Gaia that humanity are capable of actually being nice to each other, even if it's just for a little bit.

So, working the Justice League, they created an elaborate ruse in order to trick the rest of humanity into accepting World Peace, even if it was only for a few days. And it worked! And all it took was making herself and her team the reviled people on the planet, wanted criminals by every nation on the planet who want her dead because of her threats. And this is a price that she thought was perfectly fair in exchange for saving the world. Because she's that kind of person.

The JL Elite
With her plan to save the world having granted her some leeway with the Justice League, she came to them with a proposal. She will run a team alongside the Justice League, one comprised of reformed supervillains who also share her views that will infiltrate genuine supervillain groups to stop their plans before they start. And, as a rule created by the Justice League and strictly enforced by Vera and her co-organiser of the team Sheikh al Naif, they will do it all with NO KILLING. To them that was important, because if the team started killing people, then it could be seen that they are going to start going down the slippery slope that Manchester Black started on. And unlike other "proactive superhero teams", such as the unnamed one formed by Hal Jordan, Green Arrow (himself a former member of the JLElite), this one actually had considerable organisation, resources and actual GOALS in mind when they set out to do things.

And did the "Grand Experiment" of having a fake supervillain team to handle the jobs the JLA wouldn't or couldn't get involved in actually work? ...Both yes and no.

The team certainly had a larger success rate than most other teams based around a similar idea, and they definately had a couple of major successes under their belt. For example, they broke up an intercity gang that happened to be selling alien drugs on the streets, the addicts of which were abducted and used to power their ship, so that the guy running the whole operation could steal a reality warping device known as the Whorlogog.

And outside of their own series, they were called in to help the JLA fight their evil otherdimensional versions from Earth 3, the Crime Syndicate of Amerika. Despite Vera not being happy with having to operate so openly, the team manage to both hold back the Syndicate and stop them from building a slave-build fortress in China.
"Manchester's" Return
The team, however, did eventually dissolve due to some factors that the originally hadn't planned for. For example, the team member Menagerie had been driven insane by the aliens that had bonded with her body, causing her to mindcontrol her lover Coldcast into assassinating a head of state (implictly version of either Myanmar or North Korea) in order to get the team disbanded by the Justice League. She did this as revenge for Manchester forcing the alien creche onto her sister (the first Menagerie) as it resulted in her being left catatonic.

The aforementioned emotional issues caused by Vera's tramatic childhood also played a major part in the dissolution of the team, as the stress of the above murder caused a latent form of disassociative personality disorder to awaken within Vera, with her cruel and murderous side taking the form of her dead brother. When the team encountered the Whorlogog, however, it allowed her "brother" to incarnate, destroying London in the process. Only the combined efforts of the then-disbanded team managed to stop the destruction by helping Vera mentally defeat her "brother", resurrecting the city in the process but effectively driving the final nail in the coffin for the group.

Other issues such as Green Arrow's implicit attempts to usurp Naif and Vera while having an affair with the team's magic expert's wife, Batman planting Cass Cain on the team to spy on them throwing the dynamic slightly out of whack etc. really didn't help matters either, despite Cass eventually coming around to the fact that most of the team actually believed in what they were trying to do there.

But, despite it all Vera regained her sanity and was able to come back good as new afterwards. Effectively, her last official appearance in the DCU was when the JL ELite series ended, where she gathered up the members of the teams that were still able and willing to take part, and drove off into the sunset to continue their quest to make a brighter world even if on one knew that they were doing it...
- Why Do I Like Vera?
I think that Vera is a great character because she's got a great sense of humour, and actually has multiple levels to her character. Unlike, say, her partial inspiration Jenny Sparks, she manages to be mostly good humoured whoever she's dealing with despite her horrible childhood and the guilty for her brother's actions, which would have driven most other characters into becoming gloomy angsty buggers.
I like Vera because she actually seems to be working towards making the world a better place, not by being an example like Superman or by preaching like Wonder Woman who are making the world better in their own way, but Vera's actually seems to be working a little faster to one extent or another, due to Supe's and Diana's other commitments (ie punching folk).

Idealistic heroes that aren't played for laughs or to be deconstructed fascinate me. And the idea that there was a group travelling around in the background of the DCU during all the morose, "dark" traditional superhero stories of the time, like Identity Crisis for example, who wholeheartedly believed that despite there being terrible things in the world the world can still be an awesome place for everyone...

Well, it makes the DCU at its darkest not seem such a terrible place after all.

Plus, the DCU could do with more nonvillainous transhumans, just saying.

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