Where the Wonder Women Are: #16 Ice

It’s so hard to write about Fire and Ice as separate characters rather than as a pair! They go together like cheese and chutney. But they are very much individuals, and two of my favourite comic book characters of all time, so I will do my best to tell their separate stories (with of course lots of references back and forth).

What surprised me was when I realised that Ice (Tora Olafsdotter) has the stronger storyline, and is actually the dominant member of the duo, from a narrative point of view. Fire is the one with the big power and big personality, but Ice… well. Ice has hidden depths.

Oh, and she’s the first major Justice League International member I have written about for this series which means this one’s kinda long. Sorry. You know it’s the best comic series ever written, right?

The Global Guardians were a super team who had their origins in the Super Friends cartoon, which attempted to create several superheroes who represented different cultures and ethnicities, and add them to the Justice League line up. Later, in the comics series DC Presents in 1982, some of these characters were presented as part of a larger, multicultural super team. Along with heroes from Australia, Japan, Israel, South Africa, Germany, Taiwan and all manner of countries, the Global Guardians included Green Fury/Green Flame of Brazil (Beatriz DaCosta) and Icemaiden of Norway (Sigrid Nansen).

In 1987, Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire created a new version of Justice League. Set straight after Justice League Detroit was trashed, and at a time when most of the Big Gun characters in the DC Universe were undergoing some kind of reboot, relaunch or revival, this new team created a Justice League with a more international flavour, and a lighter tone.

Minor and forgotten characters were dusted off and given livelier personalities; banter and sarcasm became the order of the day, and legends were made. The main difference between this and previous versions of the League was the corporate role of Maxwell Lord, a businessman whose patronage meant that for nearly a decade, the story of the Justice League would be one that actually examined the bureaucracy and management needs of a super team. The United Nations were also brought into the mix, meaning that members of the Justice League earned a wage, paid fire insurance, and had to justify their expenses as well as abiding by international conventions – and yes, it was an administrative nightmare. That’s where half the comedy came from! This era is unofficially known as the “Bwa-ha-ha Era” of the league because of how the characters often made each other laugh uproariously.

12 issues in, with UN approval, Justice League became Justice League International and two former Global Guardians were introduced to the team: Green Flame and Icemaiden. Due to a research error, the writers of JLI believed that Icemaiden’s real name had never been mentioned, and so they felt free to create their own identity for her: Tora Olafsdotter, ice goddess.

From the moment they appeared on the page, Bea and Tora were a double act: the comedy of opposites. Bea was outgoing, flirtatious and confident, while Tora was quiet, shy and kind. Bea was a born hustler; Tora was her conscience. They were the perfect BFF, often bouncing into I Love Lucy slapstick territory – Bea would get them into scrapes with her big plans, while Tora saved their bacon with grace and tact.

Joining the Justice League was Green Flame’s idea after the Global Guardians lost their funding, and it was clear from the start that both Beatriz and Tora were motivated from the pragmatic need to pay rent than any heroic desires. Within only a few issues, though, they had rebranded themselves as Fire and Ice, and were to remain at the central core of the team for many years to come. They also changed their costumes, Ice swapping her unimaginative frosted swimsuit for something far more modest and reflective of her personality.

Ice came to represent the moral voice of the team as a whole, and formed great friendships with many of her teammates, especially those hapless slapstick merchants Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, though of course Fire always came first. One of her biggest ongoing relationships was a weird, utterly fascinating unromance with Guy Gardner, a Green Lantern who had been revamped for this comic into a belligerent, sexist and obnoxious thug. Talk about comedy of opposites!

When Ice joined the Justice League, Guy was still suffering from one of a series of “comedy” brain injuries, which meant that her first impression of him was that of an adorable Softypants who loved animals and was kind to small children. This was sadly a massive misrepresentation, and when the real (horrible) Guy re-emerged after yet another blow to the head, Tora continued to have faith that he was, underneath it all, a good person.

She was, of course, wrong. But it was mostly fun seeing him trying (and rarely coming close to succeeding) to live up to those ideals. To Fire’s horror, Ice often gave Guy the benefit of the doubt, and experimented with dating him. While she was rarely rewarded for the trust she placed in Guy, she also would not let him get away with any kind of double standard, such as being on his best behaviour for her but then treating someone else rudely. While the writers flirted with the idea of them making a stable couple someday (including visions of the future in which they are married), and occasional declarations of love, it never quite transitioned into an actual relationship.

One of my favourite Ice-and-Fire stories has Bea and Tora stranded in a European country without the plane fare home. Rather than admit to the League that they need help, they enter a back alley beauty contest to win the money. While Bea is in her element, dumbing herself down for the questions and stripping down to a teeny weeny bikini, Tora refuses to compromise herself and her feminism for the sake of money. So she seriously addresses the ‘world peace’ question through an informed political speech (with charts!) and finds humorous ways to survive the indignities of the other sections including the talent contest and swimsuit contest. Bea’s ego is seriously wounded when Tora actually wins first prize, and the fact that the contest turns out to be run by aliens who are looking for superior qualities in a mate does not make her any less offended! But of course she comes to her friend’s aid, green fire blazing.

Famously, the Justice League International (which by now included spin off title Justice League Europe) “stopped laughing” when Maxwell Lord was shot. In fact, the comedy of the team had been balanced with drama and violent emotion as early as 1990, when Despero (the alien embodiment of hate who had destroyed Justice League Detroit) returned and killed the family of retired teen superhero Gypsy, then went after the league itself. But the “Bwa-ha-ha Era” certainly ended with the “Breakdowns” arc which stretched across the JLI and JLE titles for more than six months, building on one devastating challenge after another: first the shooting of Maxwell Lord which left him in a coma, then the United Nations bringing in a new manager who fired multiple members including Ice and Blue Beetle, the Armageddon event which culminated in the “death” of JLE leader Captain Atom, the UN revoking the charter of both super teams, Dreamslayer and the Extremists taking control of Max Lord’s body, and finally Despero again. I may have missed a few there.

After Ice and Beetle were fired (he for lack of fitness, she for being too sensitive), they refused to give up and were among the core of members who came together at the end, determined to continue being superheroes despite lack of official government sanction. “Breakdowns” also brought mention of Tora’s family, whom she referred to only as “the ice people,” a reclusive but vulnerable race in the mountains of Norway. Their story was expanded in a ‘Secret Origins’ comic which revealed Tora to be truly a goddess, daughter of the Lord of the Ice People, and that because she was female, she was prevented from using her magic at home, or participating in any way other than as the getting-married-and-having-children princess duties.

By the end of the Breakdowns storyline, J.M. DeMatteis left the series, paving the way for new writers to put their own mark on the team. Justice League International became Justice League America. Dan Jurgens took over the writing for a little over a year, bringing Superman in as leader of the America team. He was also writing for one of Superman’s own titles at the time, which meant that the Justice League were given a front seat to the Doomsday action, forming collateral damage in the famous fight that killed Superman.

Ice developed a crush on Superman, who embodied the heroic ideal to her. This had the added benefit of annoying the hell out of Guy Gardner (who still thought of her as his girl) and showing her independence from him. In the battle with Doomsday, as her friends fell around her, Ice was the one who stayed on her feet, showing how tough and capable she could be. In the aftermath, as Lois Lane sat weeping over her fiancé, it was Ice who covered his face discreetly with the ripped remains of his cloak, and later an ice sculpture of him at the Justice League Embassy as many past and present members of the League gathered in mourning.

Superman returned from the dead six months later, and yet it took even longer for the Justice League to fully recover from the battle with Doomsday. Fire’s powers had been drained in the battle, and she faced the possibility that she might never get them back. Booster Gold’s futuristic costume (which contained all of his power) had been destroyed. Worst of all, Blue Beetle had been so badly hurt that he lay in a coma.

A devastated Tora decided it was time to return home to the city of the ice gods in Norway. There, she not only proved her edginess by taking on a new, sexier costume (“more regal” apparently means “more cleavage”) but also discovered that the patriarch she had run away from was now a shadow of his former self, an old man manipulated by her ambitious little brother Ewald.

It all went a bit Game of Thrones after that, with Ewald killing their father (who had threatened to drop his previous sexist attitudes and make Tora, as his firstborn, the heir) and imprisoning Tora. When she called for help, a much diminished Justice League came to rescue her: including a Guy Gardner who was furious at his teammates for not realising his robot replacement wasn’t him even when it committed coldblooded murder, and the no-longer-in-coma Blue Beetle who had now lost faith in his abilities as a superhero, but managed to rebuild several new prototypes of armour for Booster, and create a blaster gun or two for the still-depowered Fire.

Despite the gang coming to her aid, Tora rescued herself. Determined to avenge her father’s death, she fought her brother and broke the mysterious staff that had expanded his powers. Ewald was killed in the resulting explosion.

While her mother begged her to stay behind and take up her father’s throne, Tora wanted to return with her friends to the Justice League, and felt that the best way forward for her people was to elect their own leaders. She still loves politics! (As it happened, the person that her people ended up electing was Tora’s mum, which isn’t a brilliant stab in the direction of democracy, but seemed to work out from a feminism point of view)

All this had changed Tora: not only the grief she felt for her father, and the fact that she had basically killed her brother, but physically as well. It didn’t help that the art style of the book changed at this point, rendering her (and everyone else) extra angsty and melodramatic. The extra powers that Tora’s brother had taken from the staff now manifested in her, giving her super-strength and the ability to fly. No one would ever say that Ice was the weakest team member now! (though um, some of us never thought that about her anyway) At the same time, she began to distance herself from those closest to her, especially Fire and Guy.

If you’ve read all the essays so far, and particularly the one on Jean Grey, you can probably tell where I’m going with this. Rapidly expanded powers, odd mood swings… uh oh!

Yes. Ice was killed. After turning evil, no less!

A villain called the Overmaster who had been responsible for a great many artefacts like Ewald’s staff, called in the favour that Tora had never known she had received from him, and took control of her mind. She joined his Cadre as a villainous sidekick and fought her friends and colleagues until the Martian Manhunter used his psychic abilities to appeal to her heart and remind her who she really was. She promptly led the charge against the Overmaster, and was obliterated by him.

Mark Waid, who wrote those issues, later talked about his regrets about killing Ice, especially in light of the long, long list compiled on the Women in Refrigerators website, of women who were damaged and killed in the comics universe:

‘I’m responsible for the death of Ice. My call, my worst mistake in comics, my biggest regret. I remember hearing myself ask the editor, “Who’s the JLAer whose death would evoke the most fierce gut reaction from readers?” What a dope. Mea culpa. But I’ve learned my lesson. In fact, one of the only reasons I still hang on to FLASH is because I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that the moment I walk, the next guy’s gonna drop a safe on Linda Park’s head before my last voucher’s been paid.’

He was certainly right that Ice’s death would provoke a visceral response. Tora’s death sent shockwaves through this version of the Justice League, which never entirely recovered from her loss. Fire (whose powers had returned in her fury at the death of her friend) was devastated, as was Guy Gardner, and the ghost of Tora (in some cases, literal) haunted both of them for many, many years. Blue Beetle and Fire’s friendship broke irretrievably because they disagreed about how to handle the publicity surrounding Ice’s death. The League itself fractured into new teams, based on who could stand to be in each other’s company.

During the last gasp of this version of the League, it appeared for a moment as if Ice might have returned, but it was instead the first Icemaiden, Sigrid Nansen, attempting to honour her namesake. She joined the Justice League and formed a friendship with Fire, to the disgust of Guy who refused to accept a replacement for Ice. I think it’s also worth mentioning that the idea that there was any romantic attachment between Fire and Ice, or that their intense friendship was anything other than platonic, became an ongoing narrative theme after Tora’s death and was particularly shown with Sigrid, who fell in love with Fire, but also implied in many of the Guy-and-Fire-work-out-their-Tora-issues stories that turned up from time to time.

1996 rolled around, and the last vestiges of this version of the Justice League (including four linked titles at the time) were dropped in favour of a revamped team written by Grant Morrison, made entirely of the ‘big gun, has own book’ original Justice League characters from the Silver Age. I remember being particularly disappointed that only one woman (Wonder Woman, of course) featured in the initial line up. While Morrison did later bring in some great less famous characters such as Huntress, Big Barda, Steel and Oracle (though frankly he loses a million points for including Plastic Man), there was a notable absence of certain characters who had represented the heart of the Justice League for the previous nine years. And I stopped reading.

Several years later, Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire produced a funny 6 issue mini-series, the Eisner-Award-winning “Formerly Known as the Justice League” (2003) which featured many of the old JLI and JLE characters such as Maxwell Lord, Fire, Beetle, Booster, Guy Gardner, Elongated Man and Sue Dibny, brought together as a super team calling themselves the Super Buddies. Lacking the presence of Ice, the new lineup introduced Mary Marvel, a character who radiated innocence and sweetness. The sequel, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Justice League,” (2005) incorporated the ghost of Tora in an Orpheus-style storyline.

Also in 2005, “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” was published, a much darker one-shot comic detailing Blue Beetle’s investigations into the true criminal (and megalomaniac) nature of Maxwell Lord, which ends with Max murdering Beetle to keep his secret. Wonder Woman later killed Max execution-style to stop his relentless mind-manipulations. Between all this and the 2004 series Identity Crisis (I know, a lot of Crises!) which had Sue Dibny killed and retrospectively raped, people were seriously starting to wonder if someone at DC had a grudge against the Super Buddies and their comic of origin.

In 2007, Gail Simone brought Ice back. Because she is awesome.

On a mission which united the Birds of Prey and the Secret Six, the two teams that Simone wrote for at DC, an “ice princess” and “goddess” was resurrected by Creote, one of the Birds of Prey allies who intended to use her for his own political gain. Furious upon her awakening, Ice went on the warpath but was eventually subdued and reunited with her friends. JOB DONE.

But what to do with her next? No one seemed to have much in the way of a plan.

Ice appeared sometimes in the Checkmate comic which now featured Fire as a military operative, and occasionally in the Green Lantern comics as Guy Gardner’s sometimes-girlfriend, but only tended to be given serious plot time when she could be used as a villain who attacks her friends – first as a “Justifier” in the Final Crisis event and later as a Black Lantern (angry zombie ghost person) during the Blackest Night event. She could be a useful supporting character as long as Fire or Guy had their own title, but did not really have a place of her own – and nearly everyone who picked her up seemed more interested in portraying her anger/power issues than recapturing anything of her previous personality.

Then in 2010-11, Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi wrote the mostly excellent 24 issue limited series Justice League: Generation Lost. The story revolves around Max Lord, returned from the dead (again) who sets off a brain-wiping virus to make the world forget about his existence – everyone except his former JLI colleagues Fire, Ice, Booster Gold and Captain Atom. A cat and mouse game ensues, in which Max uses all of his powers and wealth to denigrate the reputation of the handful of people who remember who he is and what he has done.

Tora is marvellously showcased in this series, which captures everything that was important about the character: her good heart, her cleverness, her perfectly balanced friendship with Fire and not-quite relationship with Guy Gardner, her loyalty to the League, and her untapped ice powers. The fact that she actually had spent some time dead is acknowledged both by the story and by Ice herself – we see at the beginning how hard she is finding it to fit back in to the real world, and when asked what death was like she replies, “Cold.” Once again, though, the story revolves around her having wild, uncontrollable powers, and sometimes attacking her friends, which seems to be a core theme of the new, post-death Ice. Almost as if the writers are uncomfortable with a female superhero who is just plain nice?

A weird inclusion is a new backstory for Tora. It’s not clear whether this cancels out her magical ice castle family as revealed in the storyline that led to her death, or if it’s compatible, but here she talks about a childhood on the run with a family of grifter gypsies, and how her developing ice powers ultimately meant that her parents gave her up to her grandfather (who might, if squinted at, be the old white-bearded man she previously called her father). While this new backstory could be seen as more “realist,” it makes no sense to anyone familiar with Tora’s previous origin. Also I’m pretty sure that it’s not okay to tell thieving gypsy stories any more, just saying.

At the end of Generation Lost, the team are together, beaten but not bowed, and Batman suggests to Booster Gold that the answer is to bring back Justice League International. Which, based on this re-introduction to the characters, could have been amazing.

But it wasn’t. I’m not going to rant extensively about the New 52 Justice League International again, because I did it for the Vixen post, and I’m going to do it again for the Fire post. But when it came to Ice, we got the least possible interesting interpretation of the character, the shallowest possible interpretation of her relationship with Guy Gardner, and dialogue that showed the writer had no interest in her personality. Which might have been forgivable if the writer in question was not Dan Jurgens, who wrote her just fine nearly twenty years ago.

The last issue I read of the New 52 JLI had Ice (and Fire, and Vixen) comatose in a hospital bed, with Guy Gardner looking sad briefly before he went out to fight the bad guys. As far as I’m aware, no one’s planning on waking those women up before the title is cancelled at issue 12. Frankly, I hope they stay there with their eyes squeezed shut until a writer who respects what their characters have to offer comes to rescue them.

Any time now, would be good.

Where the Wonder Women Are:
0: Introduction
1: Black Canary
2: Rogue
3: Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman
4: Black Widow
5: Wonder Girl
6: Captain Marvel
7: Vixen
8: Abigail Brand.
9. Jubilee
10. Batwoman
11. Catwoman
12. Huntress
13. Robin
14. Batgirl
15. Jean Grey

2 replies on “Where the Wonder Women Are: #16 Ice”

  1. Boosterrific says:

    Great article. I’ll point out that Ice makes a brief appearance in final JLI issue just to remind us that she’s not dead. Hopefully we’ll get to see her in a more involved role going forward. As the Justice League’s demure and endearing girl next door, she’s deserves far better than she’s received in the recent past.

  2. tansyrr says:

    Thanks for that! I couldn’t bear to keep reading after #8 or so, but I do like to know how it turns out.

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