Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Unbearableness of Being Dr. Light--Part 1

Its time once again to answer questions posed to me by my rabid readers via their carefully considered comments.  My recent rantings on the overall distastefulness of Identity Crisis and the general lameness of Dr. Light moved one reader to inquire:
"Didn't Doctor Light die in Suicide Squad? I know comic book characters never STAY dead, but still... Also, I thought there was a female Doctor Light who used a similar-powered suit as a hero. She served in the Justice League for awhile. What happened to her?"
This query inspired me to do a little surfing on the wild, wild web and digging through back issue bins at the recent Mid-Ohio Con in order to cobble together a  retrospective on the four characters from DC comics who have borne the name of Dr. Light over the course of the company's seven and a half decades of cranking out funny books.  The most surprising thing I discovered in my investigations is that there have, in fact, been four characters calling themselves Dr. Light, whereas I had previously been aware of only three.  Since we are dealing here with a quartet of  characters and a time span of over sixty years, this expository essay may just tend a little toward the longish side.  Therefore, I shall be dividing it into at least two parts.

The first of our photonic foursome is a Golden Age villain so obscure that even Rascally Roy Thomas has probably never heard of him.  He was a foe of the original Dr. Mid-Nite and, like his more notorious Silver Age successor,  was a rogue scientist who used a number of light based weapons and gimmicks to enrich himself through illegal means.
It seems like a no-brainer that a hero known as Dr. Mid-Nite, whose main  weapons were blackout bombs that thrust the surroundings into total darkness and whose only real power was the ability to see clearly in said darkness, should face an antagonist called Dr. Light, whose whole schtick was based on light. Alas, Dr. Light never quite achieved the status  of  Dr. Mid-Nite's archenemy, appearing in only three tales published during 1947 before shuffling off to comic book limbo, never to be seen again.
Through the magic of retroactive continuity, the second Dr. Light in the timeline of DC Universe is the last to actually appear in a comic book. In 1989's Secret Origins #37, we were introduced to Dr. Jacob Finlay, a researcher at S.T.A.R. Labs who hoped to use his discoveries concerning the properties of light to join the newly formed Justice League of America in the guise of Dr. Light.  In his first foray in costume, he confronts an intruder at S.T.A.R. who is stealing scientific secrets to sell to criminals, only to discover that the spy is none other than his lab partner and best friend Arthur Light.  Finlay allows Light to escape, but Light misinterprets this act of friendship,  choosing to believe that Finlay let him go in order to use the knowledge of Light's criminal activites to blackmail him.  The next day, just as Light is poised to confront Finlay, Jacob is accidentally incinerated by an experimental light projector.  Finlay's ghost, blaming Light for his death, appeared to haunt Light whenever Arthur found himself in total darkness.  Arthur claimed the name and costume of  Dr. Light as his own and set out to make a name for himself as a super-villain.  This retcon makes the choice of Dr. Light as the costumed code name of a man named Dr. Arthur Light into more of a coincidence than a symptom of a staggering lack of imagination, which is how it always struck me prior to reading this story.
The third Dr. Light made his initial attempt to destroy the JLA in Justice League of America #12 in 1962. Over the ensuing two decades, he would fight the members of the League, both individually and as a group many times before turning his attentions to the Teen Titans. In New Teen Titans #3, he assembled a group of villains he dubbed the Fearsome Five to aid him against the young heroes.
The Fearsome Five eventually turned on him, and his fortunes declined steadily after that. In the wake of his infamous defeat, as detailed in the "Bonus Book" bound into Flash #12, at the hands of a group of pre-teen boys who had assumed the identities of Golden Age kid gang Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, Light hit upon the bright idea of hooking up with Amanda Wallers Task Force X, a.k.a. The Suicide Squad.
Regarding his defeat by Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, let me say, in Light's defense, that he had just escaped from prison and found  himself stranded in rural Pennsylvania without his costume and weapons.  Had he been properly equipped, he could've fried the little twerps.
In Suicide Squad, John Ostrander continued the comic characterization of Light as cowardly and inept begun by Marv Wolfman in The New Teen Titans.  In Suicide Squad #36, Light, egged on by Finlay's ghost, joins a mission to Apokolips in order to prove himself the hero that Finlay convinces him Dr. Light was always meant  to be.  However, when he makes his grand heroic stand, he is immediately killed by Darkseid's parademons.  He ends up in Hell, doomed to do battle with the spirit of his former partner and friend  Jacob Finlay for all eternity.
Eternity is longer for some than for others, and, as my commenter rightly observed, death in comics is rarely a permanent condition.  Thus it was that Amanda Waller found herself, in the pages of Suicide Squad #52, confronted by the resurrected Dr. Arthur Light. Light relates to Waller the tale of how a minor demon named Biff A. Stopholies had decided to amuse himself at the expense of Light and Finlay by repeatedly resurrecting them in turn only to have them quickly be killed again and return to Hell.  Finally, Biff was ordered by the "big guy", presumably Satan himself, to cease and desist, leaving Light alive and Finlay still in Hell.  Light then makes his way to Belle Reve prison, former headquarters of the Suicide Squad, hoping to rejoin the team, but is turned down by Waller.
After that, Light made a handful of appearances over the next few years, including as a member of Lex Luthor's Injustice League in the "Rock of Ages" storyline in JLA #10-15, before taking center stage in Identity Crisis.
This seems like a good point to pause with a promise to pick up the narrative in a day or two.  At that time, I'll attempt to talk about Identity Crisis without ranting angrily and we'll come at last to the fourth Dr. Light.

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