Monday, April 30, 2012

1988 Justice League International Postcards: Icemaiden

Art by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubinstein

Singrid Nansen of Norway has absolute power over ice and snow. She uses that power in her adventures with the Global Guardians as Icemaiden!

The above card had the weakest, least assured art of the set, which was produced so far in advance of the character's being established in the book that they didn't get either of her names right.

Icemaiden was a blue-skinned super-heroine created for the Super Friends comic in the 1970s to represent the people of Norway amongst the Global Guardians. A decade later, the Justice League was short on girls, so they turned the Green Flame and Icemaiden into the infinitely more generic but duo-monicker-friendly Fire & Ice. The new Ice, Tora Olafsdotter, had honky-colored skin, and was a naive Pollyana protected and pressured by virtual "big sis" Fire.

Readers took to Ice because of her sweet nature, her undercutting of Fire's overbearing tendencies, and her effectiveness as a foil for the violent braggart Green Lantern Guy Gardner. Tora's willingness to find the goodness in a thoroughly loutish character and find love elevated both parties, and poo-pooing it gave Fire something to do. Unfortunately, once the International League went from funny adventures to outright terrible "seriousness," Ice tried to better deal Guy with Superman. When that didn't pan out, creators decided it was time for Ice to step out of everyone else's shadow and allow her to be a more fully empowered and proactive heroine. The thing about ice is that it tends to hold up poorly in direct sunlight. Readers hated the new, "colder" Ice, so she got whacked in a crossover, and became the Barry Allen of third rate gimmick characters with breasts.

In the aftermath, somebody noticed that Ice had been completely different from Icemaiden, and retroactively assigned that concept a new life, personality and League membership. Screwing up and killing Tora might have played a tiny little part in Sigrid's return and characterization, mind. For years, Fire had been a reflection of Ice more than her own character, and Sigrid Nansen mirrored this dynamic with Bea. A weak, insecure, and almost cowardly being, Sigrid tried to redefine herself by assuming the responsibilities of Tora, including overreaching by trying to initiate a lesbian relationship with Fire. Even with sales of the Justice League books reaching their nadir, it was still a daring adventure in sexual politics for a mainstream book in the mid-90s. Of course, as a queer heroine, Nansen was inevitably dispatched as brutally as possible, skinned alive by a villainess intent on stealing her powers.

Tora was eventually resurrected, after a lot of moaning and hand-wringing, but the damage couldn't be wholly undone. You can't have an innocent, meek heroine once you make her trifling, put her through a Dark Icicle Saga, throw a haughty cape on her, and drag her out of the freezer after a universe had moved past her. More recently, she received a new origin as a Popsicle Rogue. Her glory days were past before her death, and the aftermath has seen her mostly standing around, propping up male characters and filling internal quotas. I kind of liked Tora for what she was in her time. Today, I'd rather see Sigrid sewn up and the DCU move past old tropes and homophobia to offer an alternative heroine, instead of a simple base competent in the team formula.

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