Like Vixen, Gypsy was one of the teen survivors of “Justice League Detroit”, the super team so 80’s it hurt. Like many characters representing cultures other than white American in superhero comics, her concept is… problematic rather than feeling truly representative of diversity.
The odd thing is that as written, despite her wild black hair and “gypsy girl” costume, Gypsy doesn’t actually have much to do with Romany culture. While her origin claims she is of Romany descent, her family appear on the surface to be quite ordinary suburban Americans who don’t themselves identify with the culture she used for her superhero identity. It’s basically an excuse for the costume, and little else. (Having said that, after her mid-90’s recostuming she was briefly drawn with a reddish colour of skin, not sure if that was supposed to signify anything or if it was just an artist’s interpretation)
Cynthia “Cindy” Reynolds ran away to Detroit at the age of 14 when her powers of illusion (including invisibility and chameleon-like tendencies) began to develop, and apparently thought that dressing like an old timey carnival girl (including hoop earrings and serious gold bling) was the thing to do on the streets.
It worked for her, in any case, and when Aquaman threw his famous hissy fit leading to the new “no superheroes with their own book allowed” Justice League Detroit, the new team moved into Gypsy’s neighbourhood. She used her powers to sneak in to their covert headquarters (ha!) and was eventually cheeky enough to help them fight off their enemies, earning herself a place in the League.
When Justice League Detroit (and with it the “Justice League of America” title itself) folded after the deaths of Gypsy’s teammates Vibe and Steel, Gypsy/Cindy returned to her family and disappeared from the narrative for some years. J’onn J’onnz, the Martian Manhunter who had been their leader and father figure, continued into the new title, Justice League International.
Despero, a recurring Justice League villain who was the alien embodiment of hatred, later returned to wreak revenge upon the Justice League who had bested him – and having not received the memo about the new team, he went directly for Gypsy, now living out a normal schoolgirl life though still, oddly, dressing like a carnival performer. He killed her parents and brother, sending her on the run so that he could locate the other members of the Justice League, and a violent and bloody battle ensued. J’onn put an end to the rampage by bestowing a unique Martian “gift” upon the alien warrior, giving him the illusion that he had destroyed them all and could disappear into a blissful eternal peace.
Quite rightly, the question was asked: why didn’t you do that BEFORE, and J’onn replied that it could only be used once in a lifetime.
Gypsy was left miserable and homeless, but a new start was offered to her by Booster Gold, a brash hero from the future who had become frustrated with the lack of benefits afforded to superheroes, and was putting together a financially viable team, the Conglomerate. This led to all kinds of interesting stories around corporate sponsorship, compromises and “selling out.” While these stories, told through the pages of Justice League International and Justice League Quarterly, were mostly set up to see the effect it had on the fractured friendship of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, as well as the rivalry between Conglomerate head Claire and her ex-husband, the Justice League’s manager Max Lord, Gypsy also got to explore some of the issues, and as an orphan it’s not surprising that she needed to combine super-heroics with some practicalities.
Other characters in the Conglomerate included Praxis, Maxi-Man, Echo, Vapor and even Vibe’s brother Reverb (yes, REALLY) and this team had such an astonishingly 90’s look that they came close to putting Justice League Detroit to shame in the “most rapidly dated super team” competition. Ultimately the team collapsed due to the pressures brought upon them by their corporate sponsors, the rebellious nature of the superheroes themselves, and their growing suspicion that they were participating in something morally dubious.
Gypsy found another home for herself in a later Justice League title, Task Force, alongside her old mentor J’onn J’onzz. This was initially a team up book where J’onn and Gypsy would assemble a new team every issue or two, to match a particular mission. This had the benefit of combining quite a few lesser used characters from Justice League’s past, and even reunited Gypsy with Vixen in my personal favourite story from this run, the one where they needed all women for a rescue mission to the jungle, and J’onn showed that his shape changing abilities could apply quite easily to gender.
I liked J’oan J’onnz! I’d have kept her.
It’s nice that the partnership/father-daughter relationship between J’onn and Gypsy was allowed to continue, with him providing some of the stability that she had lost when Despero destroyed her family. During her time in the Task Force, Gypsy changed her previous look twice, first for a more glammed up version of her hoop earringed ‘gypsy’ costume (no more patched skirt) and later for red battle armour (matching the rest of the team) and a short haircut.
The relationship between J’onn and Gypsy was further developed after the Zero Hour event which partially rebooted the universe, and was the beginning of a DC tradition of ‘zero’ issues which provide new starting points for readers. Task Force was part of a massive, multi-title crossover involving the Overmaster and his Cadre leading up to Zero Hour, and it was actually in that title that the heroine Ice of Justice League America was killed. In the same story, Gypsy was left for dead in the snow, and later quit because of this, feeling betrayed by J’onn who had gone ahead with the rest of the team to fight the battle rather than staying to look for her.
After the Zero Hour event and the various shifting of realities that occurred, the Justice League Task Force was developed as a teaching team made up of various young or inexperienced team-members – in many ways, similar to the original Detroit concept, especially with the Martian Manhunter as the mentor figure. Along with a returning, Gypsy and the Ray, JLTF provided home for Triumph, one of the most irritating results of Zero Hour. The concept for his character was that he was a founding member of the original Justice League – in fact, the leader and creator of the group – who had been caught in a reality rift on his very first adventure, and been promptly forgotten by the universe, until now.
It was a stupid idea. Never mind that the original Justice League was made up of characters who were all adults and experienced superheroes, but Triumph was young, entitled and bratty. I can’t imagine 1960’s Batman or 1980’s Batman taking any crap from him. His role in JLTF was mostly to sulk that he didn’t get the respect of the Big League Heroes despite being their ‘peer.’ Shut up, Triumph, no one believes in you.
Triumph’s creators decided that since DC fans universally loathed this character, it would be fun if all his teammates hated him too. Imagine how fun that was.
But Gypsy’s main stress in this group came from a different team member. Despero hadn’t stayed in the ‘happy place’ created for him by J’onn and had returned several times to destroy the League. At the culmination of the Breakdowns saga, they had finally conquered him by swapping his brain with that of L-Ron, Maxwell Lord’s comedy robot sidekick. Trapped in the body of a tiny and ineffectual robot, Despero had finally been wiped out by a random duck shooter.
Meanwhile, the comedy robot had a big pink alien warrior body to play with, and now he was back in town. Gypsy had to cope with the fact that one of her teammates and allies wore the body of the creature who had murdered her family and terrorised her. While this was an interesting character point for her to explore, it has to be said that the writing of this particular arc seemed to ignore all previous characterisation of L-Ron, so that his voice didn’t feel at all like the character that those of us who had read Justice League International actually knew.
Justice League Task Force was cancelled (with Triumph being accidentally pulled out of history again), but Gypsy and J’onn remained close and she made (very) occasional appearances in the Justice League or associated titles (such as Birds of Prey), back in her old and far more recognisable costume. Several of these appearances were in support of her former teammate Vixen. She also appears often in the background of the animated series Justice League Unlimited, though I don’t believe she was ever given a speaking role. She has, however, appeared in at least one issue of the associated comic.
In JLA: Incarnations, Justice League Detroit had one last ride in a story that involved the future Gypsy from Task Force travelling back to help her younger self save the day.
As of the New 52 reboot, there is no word as to whether Gypsy exists in this universe, but the Martian Manhunter’s history with the Justice League has been entirely erased so as to include him in the secret society Stormwatch. This basically means that almost nothing of Gypsy’s history can have existed up to the present day, though there is nothing to stop them bringing the character back in the future except, perhaps, that she has no particular fan following which probably means she is way back in the queue until someone comes into power at DC who has squishy nostalgic feels about the 1980’s and Justice League Detroit. Hey, it could happen!
Gypsy is one of those characters who could easily be written off as weak or passive, and she has had several times in her life where she doubted her own usefulness as a superhero, or had her powers criticised by other characters. However, as with many of the “lesser powered” superhero characters, it comes down to the cleverness and ingenuity of writers. She can not only turn invisible and camouflage herself, but also cast illusions which makes her an excellent stealth operative. On the other hand those powers alone are rarely going to cut it, which is why she works at her best in a team.
My favourite Gypsy era, apart from the early Task Forces, was actually her time in the Conglomerate, explored in the most depth in Justice League Quarterly #1, as it felt like this story really explored what it meant for those characters, all considered “minor” to be superheroes, and how it would affect daily life to have that as a job. I doubt Gypsy would ever have the name recognition or the oomph to headline her own title, but I’d love to see her as part of a team with multiple female characters, with a writer who appreciates the usefulness of her skills.
As long as that team doesn’t include Triumph, or Despero. Is that too much to ask?
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
19. Lady Sif
21. The Wasp