Where the Wonder Women Are: #18 FireAugust 25th, 2012 at 8:58
Bea’s costumes have often been an openly discussed aspect of her narrative. It probably didn’t hurt in this regard that her most active characterisation was settled in Justice League International, a comic which allowed for humorous poking fun and analysis of all that superhero meta.
The thing about Fire, though is… for once, the costumes are (almost all) justified. Because they don’t break her character – far from it. The costumes express her character beautifully.
I’ve already discussed Green Flame’s origins as the Global Guardian Green Fury, and how she and her best friend Ice Maiden crashed the Justice League International party after the Global Guardians fell apart. Bea, the fast-talking one of the comic BFF duo, was determined to talk financial backer Maxwell Lord into letting them on the super team, largely because it was that or modelling. They needed an income!
Luckily, several Justice League members had just quit, including the ‘only girl,’ Black Canary, and they were allowed in on probation, quickly becoming essential members of the team.
Fire and Ice are very much characters built on opposites – while Tora is kind, subtle, intelligent and restrained, Beatriz is bold, brash, flirtatious and often thoughtless. While she plays up her sexiness, shallowness and confidence, underneath it she does have hidden depths which she only reveals to those she trusts most. She reads Gabriel Garcia Marquez, after all in her native Spanish, and has been known to demonstrate sharp business skills in between being a zany diva and slapstick con artist.
In JLI, little attention was given to Bea’s background apart from the fact that she was Brazilian – even when the rest of the Global Guardians started turning into super villains, only occasional reference was given to Bea and Tora’s connction to them. But back in the old Super Friends cartoon where her character was first launched, Bea actually had a lot more story time than Ice Maiden. In particular, the original Green Fury’s powers (to fly and spit green flame, to project hallucinations and change her clothes at will) came from Brazilian mysticism, and in her daytime job Beatriz DaCosta was the president of the Brazilian branch of Wayne enterprises. In her Secret Origin title (I really feel that I have missed out on not having read these back in the day!) it was revealed that in the post-Crisis reality Beatriz Bonilla da Costa was a model and stage performer who had been recruited by the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, and later received her powers through a “protoplasmic explosion,” swapping mysticism for technobabble.
Despite the Wayne connection never being referenced in this new continuity, the business brain of Beatriz DaCosta was often bubbling below the surface, and in the Armageddon storyline that revealed alternate futures of our heroes, she was shown to be a ruthless and successful corporate executive.
Early in the JLI run, Fire was caught in a “gene-bomb” explosion during the Invasion crossover storyline, and was rendered temporarily comatose. As she recovered, her powers went haywire and massively increased. The same gene-bomb was responsible for the changing and creation of other superpowers at the time, notably the mild telepathic mind-control ability acquired by Maxwell Lord, which caused him a whole bunch of nosebleeds.
Fire trained with legendary Apokolips warrior Big Barda to learn control, and took great pleasure in her massively expanded powers which transformed her into a being of pure flame.
She also pursued a flirtation/romance with Oberon, the dwarf manager of Mister Miracle, Barda’s husband, who ended up serving as a Justice League administrative assistant even after his charges had left. It was hard to tell if it was a sincere romance on Bea’s side as she did tend to mostly flirt with Oberon in order to unsettle him and then skip off to her next adventure, but at least one vision of the future showed them engaged to be married.
The most important person in Bea’s life, however, was Tora Olafsdotter (Ice). She was greatly protective and defensive of Tora, whether in battle situations or romance.
Other important friendships in the League included Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, and while Bea occasionally flirted with them both, there were no particular romantic ties between them – though the Armageddon future shows her in her new corporate life betraying Beetle so badly that he tries to kill her. For the most part, she is shown in reality to be a deeply loyal friend and comrade, and Booster’s own “betrayal” of the league by moving to another, better-paying super team made Fire angry on behalf of them all. You don’t want to mess with Bea’s friends, or you’re going to end up burned.
The big post-Breakdowns reshuffle brought Superman’s Dan Jurgens into the team, and Bea’s flirtatious personality was taken a few steps further than ever before. In particular, her new superhero outfit of this era starts out as a jumpsuit with flames down the legs and changes swiftly to a loosely-tied swimsuit with nearly everything showing – given that she appears to be a naked green flame while actually fighting crime, I don’t know that this is especially out of character, but it did annoy me that she was also shown wearing no pants in casual situations, when out of “uniform”. Funnily enough, the skimpier her outfit got, the dumber she was written…
Then Doomsday struck. In the violent battle with the monster that eventually killed Superman, Fire gave up all her juice, falling into a stupor once the last of her power had been exercised. Later when they were picking up the pieces of the League, she discovered that she was not recharging, and might in fact be powerless forever. This was one of the most interesting periods of self discovery for Beatriz, despite her lack of pants. With Blue Beetle in a coma, she and Booster (whose super powered costume had also been destroyed) found themselves at a loose end in the Justice League Embassy, wandering around like ghosts while the rest of the team went off fighting monsters with their new recruits. The lack of Ice, who had left the team while grieving the death of Superman, allowed Bea to be explored as a character in her own right, rather than the pushy half of a double act.
Even after Blue Beetle returned from his coma, and started rebuilding a series of flawed-but-potentially-good armour systems for Booster, the best he could do for Fire was to arm her with blasters. One of the more interesting scenes of this era concerned two alien teen criminals on the run, to whom Wonder Woman (currently the leader of the league) was giving refuge.
One of them cornered Bea in a room, trying to chat her up and when she dismissed him with her lack of interest, made a more forceful mood that was obviously intended to lead to rape. She not only fought him off, she smacked him down with a series of tight, practiced moves, while lecturing him about her time in the Brazilian Intelligence Service, and the kind of bare-handed combat she was experience in. This was a revelation to me at the time, as I knew nothing about the pre-Justice League history of the character, and I think it was an important turning point because after this, you didn’t see Bea complaining about her loss of superpower any more.
When Ice called for help, Bea and the others ran to her rescue, regardless of their powers. Which was fine, really, because Tora’s new powers were enough to protect all of them put together. Oh and this marks the point that Bea starts wearing pants into combat too, though the various artists who drew her from now until the end of the series were apparently in a competition as to how skin-tight they could make said pants, and how low they could cut her top. By the end she was basically wearing green paint with a zipper and was not being overly generous with the paint…
Back at the Justice League Embassy, Bea struggled with this new Tora, who seemed so different to the shy friend she was used to protecting. Even the fact that Ice could now fly, while Fire could not, was a reversal of their past friendship. It shook Bea’s sense of identity quite badly, even more so when her worry that there was something terribly wrong with Tora was proved right, and her friend became a villainous minion to the Overmaster.
Ice turned back to her good self, and was promptly killed. Her death had a profound effect on Fire. Her powers came back in one furious burst, allowing her to survive the battle and return to her life as a superhero. The emotional effect of losing Tora, however, was to take far longer to recover from.
The death of Tora Olafsdotter, and the way her friends dealt with it, led to some of the most emotionally honest and raw scenes I have ever seen in comics. And maybe it was partly because I was so invested in these characters after so many years, but it broke my sixteen-year-old heart. In particular, I was devastated at the storyline that broke Bea’s friendship with Ted Kord (Blue Beetle) when he went against their agreed policy about discussing Tora’s death with the news media. While he felt he was doing the right thing, to set the record straight with all the stories flying around about whether she had died a hero or a villain, Bea flew into a rage that later turned cold-blooded, and simply could not forgive him.
When the Justice League teams reformed again, Booster and Beetle went to one team while Fire went to another, and from that point until the final reboot that sent them all into comic character oblivion for many years, there was no reconciliation.
Possibly this is the reason I hold such a grudge against the Grant Morrison JLA.
The final run of Justice League America, which showed the new team including Fire taking over the mysteriously squishy and a bit suspicious former spaceship of the Overmaster as their headquarters, continued to deal with the loss of Ice through Fire’s character. In particular, the introduction of the “original” Ice Maiden, Sigrid Nansen, showed how badly Fire was still hurting from her friend’s loss.
Despite the wishes of others, especially Guy Gardner, Fire became quite obsessed with training with Sigrid as her new partner, and it was very clear that she was trying to replace her friend, so as to damp down her grief. But Sigrid was not Tora, as became very clear when she revealed to Beatriz that a) she was deliberately emulating Tora to get closer to Bea, b) she was bisexual and c) she was in love with her. It was also noted that Bea’s controlling and jealous behaviour around Sigrid was far less appropriate with a new friend than it had been with Tora, who had been an equal in their friendship. (Though frankly it wasn’t ALWAYS that appropriate with Tora)
Not one of DC’s greatest moments in the portrayal of alternative sexualities, considering the creepiness of this plot line, and the added fact that Sigrid was constantly portrayed in sexually revealing and degrading poses. But at least it shocked Bea into realising that her friend was gone, and that she was at least partly complicit in the unhealthy friendship she had formed with Sigrid.
Seriously, for a fun, character-rich comic, the JL-JLI-JLA comic run of 1987-1996 ended on such a depressing note.
Fire wasn’t forgotten, and neither was her grief about Ice. She turned up from time to time in Guy Gardner’s Warrior title, with both of them trying to work through their loss, which led to a smidgen of comfort sex and potential romance.
The character herself returned to her roots in Brazil, in between comics, and later surfaced as an (appropriately dressed!) operative in Checkmate, a military government kick-arse team, in which her old secret agent skills, and the darker side of that life, were strongly emphasised. Beatriz spent several years being manipulated, blackmailed and generally screwed up by the ruthless Amanda Waller, which allowed for a whole lot of backstory and angry-angst plots about her father and her history as an assassin to come out.
When Formerly Known as the Justice League and its sequel appeared, restoring some of the comic joys of the early JLI, Fire was shown as being her old self if a little older and wiser – and her “big sister” friendship with the adorably innocent Mary Marvel was a whole lot less creepy and overbearing than it had been with Sigrid Nansen. Guy and Bea’s equal love for Tora was also expressed quite seriously in the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Justice League story where she was set up as Eurydice to their Orpheus – and it was Bea who cracked, sending Tora (if it really was her) back to the underworld.
When Tora really did return from the dead, her friendship with Bea proved to be far more resilient than her romance with Guy, and it was mostly Bea she went to for home and protection. In the Generation Lost storyline, the new tough and ruthless Checkmate Bea still worked well in contrast to Tora’s new vulnerability, though once again the tables were turned when Tora’s ice turned her into a beserker-style warrior. I like very much that Bea’s storyline in this series played up her loyalties to the old JLI vs. the current Checkmate team and that her reputation as a Checkmate operative was completely trashed to the point of them believing her to be mentally unstable. But her friends stuck with her, and she stuck with them, and oh boy did they all save the day from weirdly evil Max Lord (I can’t get used to that part).
Generation Lost also provided Bea with a new clueless boy (her favourite kind) to play with: Gavril the new Rocket Red, who seemed very much to enjoy playing straight man to her comic vixen routine.
Though I do have to address the scenes in which the new Justice League International team disguise themselves in Rocket Red armour to break into a Checkmate base. It is established that Rocket Reds are all male. It is established that Bea and Tora are the first women to wear Rocket Red suits AND YET the artists thought it appropriate to draw them wildly different shaped sexy female Rocket Red armour, with waists and boobs, instead of just having them running around in the pre-existing masculine suits.
You realise what this means, inside character. That means that instead of borrowing a bunch of suits, they DELIBERATELY took time out of their seriously dangerous pursuit of a maniacal all-powerful megalomaniac to forge new sexualised feminine robot suits for the female members of the team, despite the fact that this would be instantly suspicious to anyone who knows anything about Rocket Reds. Because God Forbid that the women on the team be seen as less than sexy on every single panel.
I really needed to get that complaint off my chest.
While I’m complaining, HELLO THERE NEW 52 JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL. Dan Jurgens, who previously produced some really intriguing material for Fire to work with (though when I look back, he also made her sound like, like a California girl the second she, like, put that stringed swimsuit on) managed to write a comic super team with four women on it, that only provides actual story material and regular dialogue to one of them: Fire’s former Global Guardian’s colleague Godiva.
It’s obvious why he should do so. Godiva was the closest Jurgens had to a blank slate and so he went to town on developing her character, while ignoring the women with pre-existing personalities. The personality he chose to develop for Godiva was that of a brassy, sassy flirtatious vamp.
DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR?
Oh, yes. He gave her Fire’s personality, while failing to capture anything like authentic voices for the (sparse) dialogue he allowed to Fire, Ice and Vixen. He later blew up a building in which only Godiva, the magic hair lady, survived unscathed, while the superhero WHO CAN TURN INTO A LIVING FLAME was left in a coma along with her friends.
Jurgens didn’t like Gavril either, killing him off in the same assault.
The only good news in all this was, frankly, the cancellation of JLI, and I never thought that I would say that because it was the comic I was most excited about them bringing back in the New 52. All the lovely Fire-Ice-Guy-Booster-Rocket Red emotional and plot baggage, lost. Ignored. Dumped. So that Booster Gold would have someone cute and new to flirt at him.
Dan Jurgens, you make me sad.
This is the final New 52 Justice League International rant on behalf of Where the Wonder Women Are. In case you were wondering.
But there is a tiny spark of delight and hope. Because Fire and Ice (who only appeared briefly in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon) have both become semi-regular characters in later seasons of Batman: the Brave and the Bold. I have those episodes to look forward to.
Until someone respectful takes up my favourites in a new title, it will have to do.
Where the Wonder Women Are:
1: Black Canary
4: Black Widow
5: Wonder Girl
6: Captain Marvel
8: Abigail Brand.
15. Jean Grey
17. Emma Frost