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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Where the Wonder Women Are: #30 Maya

December 6th, 2012 at 8:20

This teen super heroine stems from the period (1993-94) when Justice League Europe transitioned into the second incarnation of Justice League International, and made a serious attempt to be actually globally representative with the team, rather than filling it with mostly Americans and a couple of token “exotic” members. The JLE moved from their Paris Embassy to a haunted castle somewhere in London (handy for the shops) and while they lost the management of the competent Catherine Cobert, Sue Dibny made a very good replacement. Sue had joined the JLE as the wife of Elongated Man, and soon took over the computer and communications systems as her regular job, freeing the others up to actually fight crime.

The new JLE/JLI that set up home in England included Aquaman of Atlantis, Power Girl of Ancient Atlantis (this was the period when they were pretending she wasn’t Superman’s cousin), Crimson Fox of Paris, Tasmanian Devil of Australia, Dr Light of Japan, and occasionally even included British superhero Lionheart. And of course a handful of American male superheroes too (wouldn’t be a superhero book without them): Elongated Man, the Flash and Metamorpho.

The team also acquired a teenage runaway from India, Chandi Gupta. This frightened thirteen-year-old found her way to the JLE castle in the hopes they could help her deal with the water and fire powers that had come upon her with the onset of puberty. Chandi, who took the name Maya for superhero purposes, could transform into an older and more controlled version of herself, whose weapon of choice was to form a bow and arrow from either mystical water or mystical flame.

Maya acquired a sprawling and chaotic substitute family in the Justice League, becoming particularly close to Dr Light, Elongated Man and Tasmanian Devil. She also had something of a kid sister relationship with Wally West’s Flash. But she was still haunted by what she had run away from, and eventually (to be honest not that much later, her whole arc was done within less than two years) this was revealed when a JLI conference brought her to Bombay, and she was kidnapped.

When Dr Light and Power Girl flew to Maya’s rescue, they discovered to their horror that she had been betrayed by her parents, who belonged to a cult that believed the girl was the reincarnation of Shiva. This same cult, and her parents’ involvement with them was the original cause of her running away from home in the first place. This foreshadowed an ongoing Justice League Mega Crossover Event plot involving strange cults springing up all over the world.

So, ah yes. On the one hand, an interesting and fun dark-skinned teen superhero firmly grounded in Indian culture, adding to the diversity of a not undiverse superhero team. On the other hand, it’s hard not to see it as problematic that Chandi/Maya’s story relies so much on treacherous, religiously obsessed parents, and the whole evil cult trope. Not to mention the idea that the gods of India are monstrous or demonic. I seem to recall Xena getting into trouble for something similar a couple of years later, but I guess comics fans weren’t quite as advanced in noticing problematic things as Xena fans back then…

There is a happy ending, with Chandi’s parents eventually seeing sense and coming to find her after the world was nearly destroyed by the Overmaster, and Chandi forgiving them. But still.

I do feel that both Chandi and her Maya identity rose above the squicky cultural appropriation issues to be a great character in her own right. Having a teenager among the more self-involved adults of the JLE/I was good for the team, and she was a downright fun character, snarky and brave but also vulnerable underneath. Her power and the way she used it was pretty awesome and surely qualified her for some kind of Green Lantern ring, not that she needed one. Thanks to Ron Randall, who was the artist for most of the JLE/I run featuring Maya, she was also drawn very well, and while her Maya costume was a lot skimpier than the t-shirt and jeans she favoured as Chandi (and her Maya identity was noticeably more physically mature), she was usually drawn in powerful rather than sexualised or demeaning poses. Which, considering she was thirteen, BASICALLY THE LOWEST BAR OF DECENCY I CAN IMAGINE.

Chandi’s growing paranoia and fear about what her powers might be turning her into were a strong feature of her storylines, and worked nicely in parallel to the kind of physical and emotional changes that a girl in her early teens go through naturally. A favourite scene of mine is one in which she is obsessed with the idea that she is transpforming into Shiva and has a major panic attack about suddenly growing a couple of inches in height. Everyone else is all ‘hey, it doesn’t mean anything, relax,’ whereas in fact this is a vital clue to the fact that they have all been replaced by almost-identical robot doubles containing all of their memories. Yes, really. Maybe you should have listened to the teenager freaking out in the corner!

Maya developed maturity and responsibility throughout her JLI membership, even leading a mission to help refugees in a disaster zone because her knowledge of that region’s languages made her the most qualified for the job – and she acquitted herself admirably. Even when the inevitable ‘she turns against the team’ plot was played out, it was not something the narrative blamed or shamed her for, and she fought against some intense brainwashing to return to the trusting arms of her superhero family.

It’s a shame that Maya was written out so quickly, when Justice League International came to an end, though her writer and creator Gerard Jones did at least give her a finale that made sense for her character and brought her arc full circle.

Maya didn’t disappear entirely from the DCU, though she may as well have done. She was briefly considered/auditioned for the Teen Titans during the Final Crisis event, but passed over for other candidates, and has not made an appearance in the New 52 range of comics, as far as I’m aware. It’s a shame, as she is a character with great potential, who could add to the diversity of the range of teen characters in comics. While the whole ‘evil cult’ backstory is problematic, her personality holds up remarkably well on rereading those comics, considering that she is a teenage character who was created in the 90’s. (My personal era of maximum cultural cringe. Your mileage may vary depending on when you were in fact a teenager.)

She would certainly not be out of place in the current Teen Titans or Young Justice, with only a few tweaks to make her feel more contemporary. I’d like to see her back.

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
16. Ice
17. Emma Frost
18. Fire
19. Lady Sif
20. Supergirl
21. The Wasp
22. Gypsy
23. Misty Knight (and Colleen Wing)
24. Mystek
25. Kitty Pryde
26. Crimson Fox
27. The Invisible Woman
28. Dr Light
29. Hawkeye
30. Maya

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One Response to “Where the Wonder Women Are: #30 Maya”

  1. Magpie Monday | Robert E. Stutts Says:

    [...] Rayner Roberts’ 30th Where the Wonder Women Are post is all about Maya, whom I didn’t really know anything about until reading this post. Learning is fun, [...]

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