Love, Like Lightning
A Tale of the Legion of Super-Heroes
Disclaimer: All characters property of DC Comics. What I have done with them is mine.
For love of my brother, I joined the Legion.
...No, wait. I should start at the beginning.
My name is Ayla Ranzz, though you'd probably recognize me as Lightning Lass, or Light Lass--depends on when you followed the news. I was a Legionnaire. I'll always be a Legionnaire; that never leaves you.
But you probably already know all about me. I was born on Winath, twin sister of Garth Ranzz (himself a Legionnaire as Lightning Lad), younger sibling of the notorious criminal Mekt Ranzz, aka Lightning Lord.
You probably also know how we got our powers, how the three of us crash-landed on Korbal and tried to provoke a couple of lightning beasts into recharging our ship's engines, and how we got caught in the blast instead and the lightning became a part of us.
You probably didn't know that despite everything that happened to the three of us afterward, I wouldn't change it for anything.
Three isn't the usual number for Winathian siblings, you know. It ought to be two, or four. It's a quality of our planet that encourages twin births, just like all Braalians have magnetic powers or all Imskians can shrink. But Mekt...was born an "only."
I hate that term. You can imagine how much more he hated it. Mekt was set apart from the rest of our world by lacking a twin, and soon as Garth and I were old enough to understand that we tried to include him in whatever we did. But Mekt had years of resentment built up before that, and I can't say I blame him. Winath is an idyllic planet, and I really do love my home--but our society failed Mekt in some pretty basic ways. That wasn't the only reason for Mekt's problems, of course. But it didn't help.
As for Garth and I, well, what else is there to say? Landing on Korbal really was our defining moment up to that point. I'm sure you could look up our school records if you were really interested, but why bother? Sometimes it feels like we were reborn in those lightning strikes, and I suppose in a way that's true enough. It certainly changed the course of our lives.
Soon as we got back to Winath, Mekt disappeared without a word. He'd always talked about leaving, making his own way somewhere else in the United Planets. Our new powers must have seemed the perfect impetus for him to do just that. Unfortunately...well, you probably know about that, too. Mekt's resentments and insecurities boiled over into psychosis, and the company he found didn't help much. Both Garth and I ended up battling him several times over the years. He'd go back to Takron-Galtos or Labyrinth or wherever they were holding super-powered criminals at the moment, there would be a prison break, and we'd start the whole stupid cycle all over again.
But back then all we knew was that our older brother--who Garth and I both worshiped, because he was so charismatic and uniquely himself--had vanished. So Garth took it on himself to find him, and on his way to Earth....
Oh, if you don't know that legend by now, what galaxy are you living in?!
Can you imagine? There I was on Winath, not doing anything particularly of note, and suddenly it was all over the news: how Rokk Krinn of Braal, Imra Ardeen of Titan, and Garth Ranzz of Winath saved the life of R.J. Brande--the richest man in the whole of the UP. Who also just happened to have a real interest in the tales of 20th Century heroes. And so the Legion of Super-Heroes was born.
I was so proud!
My brother. My twin. The young Legion was the only news for awhile, and I reveled in it. Every move they made, from gaining members--including the legendary Superboy!--to fighting super-villains; I was there for all of it, in the newsholos and in the transmissions Garth sent home.
Then Zaryan showed up, threatening to conquer the UP, and in the process of almost single-handedly stopping the invasion fleet Lightning Lad was killed.
He wasn't blasted into a coma. He wasn't frozen in suspended animation. Garth died. My parents were devastated. They had one son missing, deeply disturbed; and now the other, dead. Me, I'd lost...
My twin. The other half of myself.
I won't try to claim that losing Garth was somehow a greater loss than that of anyone else who's ever lost a sibling; I'm not that arrogant. Maybe there was just more emphasis on the Winathian twin-bond, something ingrained into me from birth. Garth had left for Earth but part of him was always with me, a deep knowing that he was well and safe. And when he died...it felt, quite literally, like a part of me had been torn away.
But he'd died doing what he wanted to do: being a hero, being a Legionnaire. I'd followed news of the Legion from the very instant of its founding, partly for Garth's sake but also because I loved it, the whole idea. Costumes and codenames, the glamour and the glory.
Death was never supposed to enter into it.
And I thought the Legion needed its Lightning Lad, its founding elemental, and so....
Mother-God, it sounds so stupid now. But he was my twin, and I had the same powers, and I was still young and didn't look so much different from a teenaged boy, after all. So I made up a story and became my brother, returning the lightning to the Legion.
The deception didn't last long, of course. Go figure it was Dirk who ferreted out the truth; even then he had an eye for the differences between the boys and the girls.... My lack of an Adam's apple, what did you think I meant?
(The problem with writing this all down instead of telling it to a holocorder is that you can't hear me giggling. I wish he could hear me. I miss Dirk. He's still on Earth, but things there are bad and I'm worried for him. I miss his laugh.)
But anyway, after I was found out Lightning "Lad" became Lightning Lass and I stayed for Garth's memory. It wasn't enough to simply mourn him; every mission, every action I took was in his name. Being there ensured no one would ever forget him.
And then, and then he came back.
A ritual and a sacrifice--one that both Imra and I were willing to make, but the decision was taken out of our hands by the Antarean shapeshifter Proty--and Garth Ranzz returned to both life and Legion. That was the first time a Legionnaire cheated death, though it wouldn't be the last. But what we did had too high a price and would never be repeated.
I say a prayer for Proty's spirit every year, and thank him for my brother's life.
And me? Oh, shortly after that Dream Girl came along and changed my powers. Just like that, I went from being Lightning Lass to Light Lass because--oh, don't laugh--I could make things "light." Spirits, we were young then!
Nura said it was because Garth had returned to the Legion that she altered my powers, but I think she was hedging her bets; maybe she foresaw herself in the Legion years later and me without the lightning, and engineered things to make that happen. I mean, really; everyone ignored the whole "no duplicate powers" rule. Like we would turn down the power of Mon-El because we already had Superboy. Even then we weren't that naïve.
But hey, I was still in the Legion as "Light Lass" and that was fine with me. I got pretty good with those powers after awhile. But it wasn't the lightning, and let's face it, my antigrav powers never made that much difference in a fight.
That was the first time I thought about leaving.
For love of Brin Londo, I stayed.
Poor, confused Brin. When we first met him, he'd been brainwashed into believing that he was an android and not his father's robot Karth Arn. Imagine a boy so lacking in self-identity that he'd believe he wasn't even human.
He needed me, so badly. His whole sense of self depended on me telling him, over and over, that he was real, human, worthy of life. His father--what kind of man could do such horrible things to his own son?!--had made Brin into an experiment, an attempt to create the perfect Zuunite. Changing him against nature, body and mind and even, I think, in his soul. Faster, stronger, more sensitive to the input of his senses; and more primal, angrier, raw.
That called to me in a way I can't explain, even now. I think I shocked some of my fellow Legionnaires when we became a couple. I know they whispered about it: "Sweet little Ayla. Nice little Ayla. Whatever does she see in him?" Which I understood, because maybe in comparison to everyone but Vi--back then, I mean, shy little Shrinking Violet--I was the nice girl. The sweetest thing among the Legionnaire women. Imra had her no-nonsense attitude, Tinya her cattiness, Lu her varying personalities, Kara her legendary status, Nura her flirtations, Jeckie her regal poses, Shady her heritage as a planetary champion. Me? I was just nice. Garth's little sister with those cute little antigrav powers.
...I'm grinning as I write this, because I want you to understand I don't mean that to sound resentful at all. It's who I was. Still am, for the most part. What can I say, I like people. Winathian philosophy embraces contentment and serenity, and those attitudes I grew up with helped me to accept whatever happened as part of the natural order of things. Mekt had problems that made it impossible for him to do the same, and Garth…I don't know, maybe joining the Legion so young and being exposed to such pain--dying, even--made him forget.
But--where was I?--oh, right. They whispered. I ignored them. So what if my teammates didn't understand; we knew we had each other. A few learned, eventually, to accept Brin for all he was. Val, especially; Val's death later on was a greater blow to Brin than anyone knew, I think. Most simply saw the animal rages and refused to look deeper to the man inside; and if you guess I'm thinking specifically about Phantom Girl here, you're right.
...Tinya's gone now; she died in a shuttle accident three years ago. She was my friend, and Mother-God, I'd give anything to have her back with us. With Jo, spirits help him. But I'm telling truths here, and Tinya was also one of those who made life most uncomfortable for Brin in the Legion, because she never gave him the benefit of a second look or a second chance. But that was Tinya Wazzo; once her mind was made up, there was no changing it. And her attitude toward Brin really didn't have anything to do with everything else she did as a Legionnaire. She was one of the best.
I'm sorry, I didn't mean to digress. It's just...writing about my life means writing about the Legion, all of my former teammates, and there's so much to say about them. I love them all, I really do.
The years went by so fast. Brin needed me and I loved him, fiercely. Because I loved him, the passion and intensity and honor of his spirit, I gave him all that I had and more. The lingering remnants of the Zuunium in Brin's system--well, Brainy could give you the clinical rundown, but it's easiest just to say that that the physical and emotional effects never went away, not even when Brin underwent surgery to make himself look more human again.
I guess that sounds like I was more of a nurse to him than a lover. That isn't true at all. We--well, I can only say "we loved each other" so many times before it starts to sound trite. But if there was one thing Brin could never do, it was hide his emotions. He wore his heart on the outside for all the galaxy to see.
Somewhere in all that time Garth and Imra found the time to get married. I know a lot of people don't understand them. Imra...can be hard, sometimes. She's very guarded, because her telepathy is so strong that she might read people's minds by accident if she's not careful. Garth is really good for her because she can relax around him, and she gives him the kind of stability that he needs. They've got two kids now and two more on the way; being "Aunt Ayla" is fun 'cause I get to spoil them rotten.
Families within families. Garth and Imra, Brin and I, and the rest of the Legion stood around us as the best teammates and friends I ever could have wished for.
Of course, even in the closest families, sometimes things go wrong.
For love of Brin--and in anger at what I thought was a betrayal of that love--I left.
One last time, for the record:
No. Nothing happened between Brin and my brother's wife on that asteroid when they were lost and alone and afraid. I know this. It's nothing less than the truth.
But at the time I wasn't sure, and that on top of everything else....
Cham had taken Vi and Brin to Khundia and the mission had gone terribly wrong, leaving them stranded on a barren asteroid. People who think Imra is cold or distant should have seen her then--she went after them solely because I was desperately worried about Brin. She risked her life so that her husband's sister could have her lover home safe.
It was awful timing all around, because at the same time Garth was having problems that made his term as Legion leader more stressful than it should have been. Maybe he felt driven to live up to the example of the two other founders, who'd also served at leader and done so brilliantly. Garth's being married to one of them probably only made it worse; bad enough to think about Imra's strengths as a leader during the day, but to have to face her at night--and feel he wasn't measuring up?
Me, I don't think it's a crime or a failing to admit that not everyone has the same strengths, the same skills. Unfortunately, a growing "electrical disturbance" in his brain chemistry intensified Garth's problems as leader--how's that for irony!
All of this came to a head with our missing Legionnaires and loves. Garth quit as leader, leaving the others to scramble to arrange rescues--not just for Brin and Imra and the others, but for all the other crises that needed the Legion's attention at the same time. Dawnstar and I went after the missing Legionnaires...and found them thanks to her tracking powers.
We found Imra and Brin in an embrace.
Years later and ages wiser I can remember that and say, "so what?" As if a single moment of comfort between them could negate years of devotion. And it wasn't as if we found them naked and impassioned, either. A hug. Between friends. Wow, did I overreact.
But right then, at that moment, with Garth's breakdown and the problems in their marriage and my concerns about Brin and our own relationship colliding all at once--I wasn't sure about what I was seeing.
We probably would have worked it out fast, too, if the greatest battle in the Legion's entire existence hadn't started immediately afterward.
Darkseid came and blotted out the stars with his great darkness, and fighting him became like a cancer at the heart of the Legion. In my heart. I needed the sun of Winath after that, the warmth of its land and the peacefulness of its waters to drive away the dark.
It came down like an ultimatum, and I feel badly about that. I really felt that I didn't have any choice about leaving. There were too many losses for all of our victories and it just hurt too much to stay any longer. I asked Brin to go with me.
What I wanted was the kind of snap decision he'd always made. The kind of unquestioning passion that had brought us together and kept us together through the years. But instead, he said... "I have to think about it."
So while I packed, he thought about it. And as it turned out...Brin needed the Legion more. He stayed when I left, and that hurt me too. That after all I'd given him, he couldn't give me his time.
I understood why, even then. It was all the same story; the Legion was his identity, and without it he feared he would lose himself. But that decision, implying that I could never be enough despite everything, that was the final blow.
I was happy on Winath, for a time. Without the responsibilities of the Legion it was easy to relax. I'm ashamed to admit that after the hurt faded, without Brin I felt...free. It was easier than I'd expected to let him go.
I wasn't bored. Honestly. People think I was, that I was just looking for an excuse to return to the Legion. But that wasn't true at all. Unlike both my brothers, I could have stayed happily at home all my life, serene and joyous on a joyful world. As I've said many times, there's something special about a culture that honestly believes there's nothing wrong with being happy. Back among friends and lovers, old and new, I truly was at peace.
But the lightning wasn't done with me yet.
For love of myself--for the hero I became--I returned.
Issues revolving around one brother were part of the reason I left the Legion. My other brother was the reason I returned. Nice symmetry, huh?
It'd always been inevitable. Given a Legion of Super-Heroes, there had to be a Legion of Super-Villains. Until that point, every group with that name had been more pitiful than threatening.
It was Hart Druiter, the old Legion traitor Nemesis Kid, who'd gambled on strength in numbers. He'd gathered together as many of our old foes as he could find, and between his alchemy and their sciences he'd conquered Orando and its queen, the ex-Legionnaire Projectra. Remember what I said about being a Legionnaire? Ex- or not, the Legion was there to help. Unfortunately, Druiter was ready for the Legion. Each of the villains had sworn to kill a Legionnaire, they were organized, they had a plan. They had my brother.
Mekt stood at Druiter's right hand, at the height--depth?--of his madness. He'd sworn to kill Garth, his own brother. But unlike the others, it wasn't out of hatred or simple love of mayhem; it was because Mekt wanted me for his own.
I was Garth's twin, you see. And without Garth...I could become his.
I was kidnapped from Winath and brought to Orando, and there Mekt told me about this plan of his. When I refused to accept it, he hit me. With the lightning. Over, and over, and over again.
I should have died.
Except that somehow Mekt's attack gave me back my own lightning powers ever stronger than they'd been before, and when we fought that final time I had the upper hand. Things became very clear suddenly. I told him so, too. "When I left the Legion, it was because I thought life had gotten too complex, the battles too abstract. But you've done a great job reminding me, brother. You're insane, and you don't care who you hurt. That's evil, as pure and obvious as it gets--and that means I have to stop you."
In the light of that, Winath seemed too small suddenly.
Along with my returned powers I discovered a need for action again. I never believed those who said that the lightning was the cause of my brothers' troubles--Mekt's insanity, Garth's instability--because I never had any such symptoms. But it was like a tingle in my blood, the power, and it seemed wasteful to keep it hidden when I could put it to good use.
Ironically, it was at about the same time that Vi--
I should say a little more, here. Salu Digby, Shrinking Violet, was a Legionnaire before I came along. She and I were friends, more or less, same as we all were. But I was wrapped up in Brin and she--well, she was too busy hiding from herself to reach out to anyone else.
But she was kidnapped shortly before the Darkseid affair and came back to the Legion only a little before I did, and suddenly we had an awful lot in common. She was remaking her persona in a big way, becoming a real warrior, and I wasn't satisfied with being anyone's little sister anymore. I had the lightning back and I was going to use it.
First time we were teamed together was transferring super-villains from the ruins of Takron-Galtos to the prison on Labyrinth. We worked really well together, and I'll never forget the conversation that turned out to be the start of so much more.
I'd really just wanted to tell her what I'd noticed: "We both seem to have grown a lot lately. And I think we're better for it, don't you? Stronger, more assertive--more sure of ourselves."
Her reply was a lot more personal than I'd expected. "I've rethought a lot since I was trapped in that sens-tank, Lightning Lass." And then she looked at me, really looked at me with an intense expression I didn't know how to read, and said, "I changed my whole life, Ayla. What about you?"
I was so surprised I couldn't answer her right away, and she said, "...Never mind. Maybe that's not fair. Maybe we don't know each other that well."
I wanted to talk it out, but we were interrupted by a would-be stowaway on our cruiser, and that was the end of that. But I wanted to get to know her after that conversation, to understand if she'd said what I'd thought she was saying, and we started spending time together off-duty.
It was so easy to fall in love with her.
Vi was strong, passionate, and--okay, she had a lot of the same qualities I'd seen in Brin, though with a different kind of intensity. But Vi was discovering her own strengths in a way Brin never did, or could.
We got close and would have gotten closer if she hadn't withdrawn a little, and it took a talk with Dirk to tell me why. I shouldn't have gone to him, except I knew he and Vi had had a fling shortly after she returned to the Legion, and I was hoping he could give me some insight. Of course, being Dirk, his first comment was along the lines of, "Does this mean I don't have a chance with you myself?"--which was cute of him. But he told me a bit about how it'd been with them, and about Imsk's cultural attitudes.
I'll never understand why people shouldn't love as they choose. There just isn't enough time in all the worlds, in our lives, to deny love wherever it's found. I can't imagine--
But not every planet is Winath, and I should remember that too.
So Vi wasn't sure if she wanted to make that kind of change in her life, and she was still figuring out who she wanted to be. I wasn't in any hurry, though there were times...well, it's not easy to stand next to someone you're falling in love with and not touch her.
It's sort of ironic that it took a super-villain to change that, but when you're a Legionnaire.... I guess it makes sense. A villain killed my brother and brought me to the Legion; a villain cast his darkness over the galaxy and helped drive me from the Legion; a villain, all unknowing, allowed what was growing between Violet and I to finally express itself.
Universo--well, you know what he did. Hypnotized everyone on Earth, disbanded the Legion, made us all civilians under his absolute rule. All of us "ex-"Legionnaires were placed in ordinary jobs, ordinary lives, and I can't complain about where I ended up: living with Vi. His mind-control only extended far enough to make us glad for the dissolution of the Legion, not anything else, so it wasn't hypnosis that had us together and happy.
Do you know, I almost resented Imra for figuring out the truth and taking him down?
But that's silly, of course. That's what we do. And afterward, I figured that there wasn't any reason what had happened during those few weeks couldn't go on now that we were in our right minds again.
I got scared.
That's hard to admit. The thing is, we remembered everything that happened during those "lost" weeks, and it'd been...intense. It hadn't been that long since I'd left Brin, and maybe it was just too soon. We sort of mutually agreed to slow down, let things develop in time rather than rush into the serious commitment we both sensed it could be.
I cast around for something uncomplicated, and found Pol.
Pol Krinn, Rokk's little brother, had joined the Legion when his brother retired. Something about him drew me--maybe his resemblance to his elder brother who I'd always admired, maybe he just seemed safe somehow--and I started flirting with him.
I think I scared him. He was so young, nearly innocent, and maybe...oh, I don't know. Maybe I thought it could be a relationship I could control, rather than the more difficult give-and-take I had with Vi. But he wasn't interested and when I turned around Vi was right there, and neither of us could find any more excuse to deny what we had. From then on we were together.
I still feel pretty unsettled about Pol, because not long after that he died, sacrificing himself to prevent a galactic catastrophe.
His death was the beginning of the end.
For love of a dream, I left again.
That one's harder to explain. The Legion was falling apart, everyone could see it. But it didn't happen all at once.
In June of 2989 the Legion fought the Arch-Mage and won, thanks to Pol. In October the UP economy failed and Earthgov seemingly lost all sense. After that point, the Legion somehow became the enemy and our every move was watched and measured, as if no one wanted us around anymore. In 2990--
Well, the litany of disasters went on. The Validus plague on Winath; the resignation of Imra and Cham, two of our most essential members; the closing of the Legion Academy, which Lu and Chuck had worked so hard to build; and in July, Terra's secession from the United Planets. Can you imagine what that felt like, from our side? Most of the Legionnaires weren't native to Earth, but we'd all lived there long enough to feel like her adopted sons and daughters. Earth had been the heart of the UP. Suddenly the Legion was on strange ground. After all that time--17 years since the founding--everything we counted on to support us had utterly changed.
Meanwhile Vi and I were together, stronger than ever, and maybe in relation to that everything around us seemed less dire than it was. Despite all the horror of that time, it was still one of the best years of my life because she was there every moment.
But things got worse. Jeckie resigned and Tinya was killed and Jo left in grief, and on June 12 of 2991 Vi left too, to fight for Imsk in the Braal-Imsk war. That...wasn't easy. Anyone who's ever seen a lover go off to war knows how I felt. But Vi was so determined, so full of righteous anger, that I couldn't stand in her way.
Before she went she urged me to leave too, go back to Winath and leave the Legion, which was dying by inches under Earthgov's new strictures. I wanted to stay and fight. But there comes a time when you just can't fight anymore. And to remember the dream as it was and not the tarnished thing it was becoming, I had to leave. Of course, it took another disaster to really make me do it.
Black Dawn tore our hearts out. Wildfire's sacrifice, and Brin was hurt so terribly...and for all our pain, all Earthgov could do was tell us how badly we had failed, as if saving the sun from being destroyed was something we ought to have done with no effort at all. Right after that a number of Legionnaires resigned, and I looked around to see a Legion I no longer knew. I think it took Jan--Element Lad--leaving to make me realize nothing could be salvaged. Jan had no other family, no home to return to, and he still left rather than see what was left of the Legion fall apart.
There were other reasons, too. The Validus plague--Darkseid's legacy and taint--had ravaged my home planet. Garth and Imra needed help running the farm, and I wanted to see my nephews grow up. Terra didn't want us as heroes, the U.P. was having more problems, and maybe it was just time to be for a while.
Masquerading as my brother, I joined the Legion of Super-Heroes on March 12, 2975. I left for what I thought was the final time on September 12, 2991.
The last three years have gone by in a blur. Vi and I traded letters back and forth the whole time--me from the farm, her from the military prison on Imsk. See, during the war Imskian High Command made some decisions, and when Vi disagreed with those decisions and went public with her protests, they threw her in the stockade.
I've missed her so terribly. She says that my letters kept her spirits up, which I guess means that making sure everything I wrote her was as positive as possible did help. Truthfully, it wasn't hard; I haven't had much to complain about except for not having Vi with me. But the plantation is doing well, and I've got my family around me.
My whole family--almost. Garth and Imra and Graym--Garridan, of course, is still on Quarantine, but Brainy says he's coming closer to a cure for the Validus virus every minute he studies it--and Mekt too. Finally.
After the last time Mekt attacked and was locked away, he started psychotherapy--not for the first time, but maybe he was finally ready to hear what the therapists and Garth and I and his own heart had to tell him. It took a long time and a lot of tears but he's back now, really back and part of our family the way he always should have been. He's not the older brother I remember as a child but in a lot of ways that's a good thing, since he doesn't have all that anger eating at him any more. It's been a true blessing to see Mekt well and happy at last.
Mother-God, I'm happy. Especially right now.
For love of Violet...I'm here, waiting at the spaceport, writing this all down.
My chrono says her shuttle should arrive any second now. She wrote me yesterday, saying that High Command had finally cut her loose and she was on her way home. "Home." I sat over the Omnicom and wept at that, in relief and just sheer joy. My heart feels so full--
As if that weren't enough, we got a call from Cham, who's on his way here as well. He didn't say as much, but I know--I just know this is a beginning. And I want it. I want it all again. Maybe it won't be the same, and maybe it won't work, but I want to try!
A long time ago I told Brin the Legion was more than a team, it an idea, an ideal, devoted to a principle. I believe that. I believe in the dream. I believe in us.
I'm tearing up again. It sounds more like a prayer than a battle-cry, now: Long Live the Legion!
And I pray.
Like lightning, she lives in my heart.
Thanks, as always, to Carmen--beta reader extraordinaire, who always finds the insight I've missed. And to Dannell, without whom not a word would ever have been written.
Sources include, well, 40+ years of Legion comics (sing it, everyone: research is fun!), and the Mayfair Legion of Super-Heroes Sourcebook. Everything here is in canon save for the idea that Vi and Ayla first got close during the Universo Project, and hey, that's what artistic license is for. :-)