Nov 1, 2012

Irrational Love Week: Lyja the Lazerfist, on Pop Medicine

It's Irrational Love Week at the Comics Cube, where we each pick a character that we love but think is overlooked or doesn't get enough love, and explain why they're some of our favorite characters. Click here for the archive!

Today's Cube columnist is Pop Medicine's Travis Hedge Coke, and he picked Lyja the Lazerfist!

She's a Lazerfist!
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

Why isn't Lyja awesome? Lyja is the Gypsy of the Marvel Universe. What kind of stupid universe is this, that lets a collection of excellent traits that has great dynamics with several other characters just waste away blandly? Oh, sure, it could have something to do with Lyja being a less than rounded fictional person, and more of a tool that facilitates some story changes. Could be that even her creators seemed to have no clear idea what to do with her or who she really was. Could be Dan Didio's fault. (Everything wrong in comics, is Dan Didio's fault, right?) Or, that she is, after all, the equivalent of DC's Gypsy. But, no matter the reason, it is damned unfortunate.

When we first met Lyja in Fantastic Four, even the talent on the comics didn't know she was there. (This is not a good beginning.) John Byrne fully intended to set up the Thing's old girlfriend, Alicia Masters, with Fantastic Four teammate, Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. They fell in love, they got married, it was a nice thing, with both maturing and the family concept being further cemented in the title. And, two or three talent-changes later, it was decided that the marriage needed to go and the characters should reset to earlier dynamics. So, despite all evidence to the contrary, Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan revealed to us and the team, that Alicia was in fact Lyja, perhaps the greatest spy of the entire Skrull Empire, who wormed her way to Earth, to the team, to their home, disguised as Alicia. The marriage is over, Alicia is rescued and loves the Thing, the Torch is single, and the Thing is uncomfortable with the whole situation. And, because Lyja is a tool and not so much a person, something for other characters to react to and not necessarily someone whom we have to invest in, they do the one thing you can do to a tool to ensure they feel like a living being; they killed her off one issue after the reveal.

A handful of issues later, Lyja returns! Comatose in a glass tube, the talent on the title, and her former lover and former boss, Paibok, decided that being shape-changing, super-strong, super-fast and one of the greatest spies in the galaxy is not enough, and a device should be crammed up her ovipositor that allows her to fire bursts from her hands… almost like Earth's superspy extraordinaire, Black Widow, or, more to the point, anyone with a gun, ever.

But, still, it's charming in its inanity and how it alliterates; Lyja, the Lazerfist. She's got this ponytail that keeps climbing up to become a topknot, a very unskrullian 90s-style sexy body to help remind us she's not too alien, exceptionally competent but never shows it, and has to be the least loyal career military personnel in fiction. Anytime someone gives her an order, she jumps to, but when someone else gives her an order in the other direction, she jumps to. Her emotions allow her only two options at all times: mad and sulky, or happy and sulky. And, probably because she is a spy, she loves everybody and everybody loves her, hates her, or lusts after her by turns.

If you think this makes her complex, yeah, it does in its way. If you think it makes her a rounded and considered character, you've obviously not read these comics. She remains, for the entire DeFalco/Ryan run, a collection of traits with a name. It is virtually impossible to predict how she will react from moment to moment, simply because her actions aren't motivated internally, they exist to direct and redirect other characters and to instigate scenarios. Why does Lyja obscure the facts about her pregnancy? Because it motivates the actions of other characters. Why does Lyja stalk her ex-husband simultaneous to trying to convince him she's more trustworthy? It motivates other characters and creates new, exciting scenarios. Why does Lyja never have a plan or a reason to do anything she does? Because she. Because. Be.

Lyja is never not an odd fit in Fantastic Four, in canonicity and continuity. The team love her, but don't like her. She often does not like herself, but she is determined to prove herself against others. There is a term you see applied to a lot of Japanese entertainment, "moe," that can mean the relationship between audience and character (or character and character), that Ken Akamatsu defines by the following qualifiers: It does not include sexual action ("moe is being calmed/soothed by watching from afar, is not an object of sexual action"), the person feeling it must be stronger, and that it affirms the present situation. You can feel moe for a shy character, a child, a character who wears glasses or has a limp, or is the continual underling. Lyja's displacement, her ill fit, engenders a moe-type response from me and from, I'd wager, most of her fans.

There comes a point where you either already love Lyja irrationally and are okeh with the perpetuation of her role as it is now, or you give up and admit all those subplots, all those twists and reveals were a waste of time, hollow plot points as useless as the rails on a ladder that you never touch as you ascend. This has a sort of soap opera logic to it. If a character is around enough, some of the audience will develop a familiarity. That's probably what happened to me, in conjunction with the novelty of the character and the awkwardness of her position. That she is threatened with removal or being forgotten again, by characters and talent, gives extra oomph to any appearance or mention she warrants.

DeFalco and Ryan were trying with Lyja, and they are talented, so why is it she didn't leap out more, as a character? Why, even in their run, as essentially a pet character, did she always feel jeopardized?

The DeFalco/Ryan team were better at riffing on established characters, I think, than generating their own, though they kept trying all the way through that run. The abovementioned Paibok the Power Skrull, Devos the Devastator, Occulus, that yellow skinny thing that appeared to kill Mister Fantastic and Doctor Doom, the guy who accidentally stole Lyja's lazerfist powers and then never showed up again. Lyja being Alicia all those years/stories made no sense, her lazerfist power had nothing to do with lasers at all, and there was never any good reason for the FF to befriend her after her betrayal was clear, or to trust her even as little as they did. But, DeFalco and Ryan kept using Lyja, all the way through, from the first issue of the run, to the end (which Carlos Pacheco ended up drawing, not Ryan), so they must have liked her. Every chance to ditch the character, they found a reason to bring her back. That works for me. That makes me love her more. Tenacity.

Tenacity, awkwardness, and change. Lyja continues to be a work in progress and she'll never go away for good. When her being evil stopped working, she wasn't evil anymore. When the whole being dead thing ceased to be interesting, she was really alive. Lazerfists overcomplicated her power set, so she lost the powers. Nothing to hold her to the family of the FF; she's pregnant with Johnny's baby. Romance with Johnny was a dead end, so things heated up with the Thing, instead. Ages passed, years, and then Secret Invasion was in full swing, so Lyja made a comeback, being left in the same place her former husband ended up being an undead world-conquering whatever-he-is. It all comes around, and it's always coming up Lyja.

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