Monday, May 17, 2010

The Tragic Tale of Triumph Monday!

What's in a name? Well, when you're trying to create a successful comic character, a lot is in a name. Once a character is established and loved by readers, it isn't that important that Superman and Captain America have stupid names now, because they've been selling comics for the past seventy years, and that justifiably garners respect among nerdlingers everywhere.

If a character has a name that doesn't work for the readers, the publishers aren't adverse to changing them. Consider the original Teen Titans - every last one of them had a different name by the time all was said and done. Aqualad became Tempest, Speedy became Arsenal then Red Arrow, Kid Flash took the mantle of the Flash, Robin became Nightwing and Wonder Girl took on so many names I'm not sure what she's called.

By the same token, when Kitty Pryde appeared in the X-Men, she was given the code names of Sprite (I know, it makes me cringe as well), Ariel, then just going by her real name, then Shadowcat.... and I'm not sure what she's called now because I gave up on X-Men about the time she became a central focus.

Sometimes, things go full circle and a name becomes cool again. Red Arrow recently became Arsenal again, we had a Kid Flash once again in the 90's, and there's even a Wonder Girl back in the Titans. They even got away with a new Superboy for years before killing him off.

But if ever a character had a tragically ironic name, it was Triumph:

Triumph was created in 1994 and history was revised so that he was not only a member of the original Justice League of America, but its leader. With a name like Triumph and that kind of cred, how could he fail?

Oh, he failed. And how.

He didn't seem to work out too well in the regular Justice League, so he was dumped on writer Christopher Priest to use him in Justice League Task Force, one of many "expansion" branches the League had at the time. When I asked Priest about why he had the character on the team that he did, he told me that the roster had been decided before he had been assigned the book, and groused more that he had been stuck with Despero than Triumph.

Triumph was then fired from the Task Force by the Martian Manhunter because he was such a tool. Later, he would sell his soul to in an attempt to get back his glory, turn evil in the bargain, and then get himself turned into ice by the Spectre (because selling your soul never works out well but a lot of people in comics keep giving it a shot anyway). Oh, but that's not all.

His frozen self is then stored in Justice League Headquarters. Later, Justice League Headquarters is destroyed, but writer Grant Morrison forgot to have him taken out of the building first. So, the character was accidentally destroyed because even the writer of JLA at the time forgot about him, giving him about the same caliber of a send-off as Richie Cunningham's older brother Chuck on Happy Days. Considering the source of the character's angst was that he had been forgotten for his heroics over the years, that was rather delicious and pitiful at the same time.

Can you imagine the editorial meeting where they realize they inadvertently killed off a character?

Hey, I was thinking of doing a story on Triumph.

Well, stranger things have worked out. So, where is he right now in the DC Universe?

He was turned into a block of ice by the Spectre, remember?

Yeah, that's right. So all you have to do is revive him from JLA Headquarters.

Say, isn't that the JLA Headquarters that was.... ah, crap! Morrison, did you get Triumph out of the JLA Headquarters before it was destroyed?

Ummmmmm.... I think I did?

Are you sure?


To their credit, the powers that be never tried to fix their mistake. Triumph was indeed killed when the JLA Headquarters went belly-up. The last appearance of Triumph was a Triumph from an alternate dimension. That's the thing about comics: When you write yourself into a corner, resort to an alternate dimension.

So, the moral of this story is to hold off on giving yourself a name that sets expectations too high. It will only end in tears.

At least we have established a new level of character fail. Whenever a character unceremoniously fizzles, we shall call it Triumph Level Fail(tm!).

Not to be confused with Captain Triumph:

That's right. In 1994, "Triumph" was a "no sale" with readers, but in 1943, "Captain Triumph" would be his birthmark-rubbin', mergin' with his dead twin brother self for a good six years, beating up people when they weren't looking:

whilst always making time for the ladies, especially ones with questionable taste in hair accessories:

So, you think we're finished? Not hardly! More on Captain Triumph tomorrow! Be there!


BrittReid said...

Well, he could've been the second Captain Marvel!
No, not Captain Mar-Vell!
He was the THIRD guy!
(And, no, not Capt. Marvel, Jr, nor the Lieutenant Marvels, nor Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny, but Captain Marvel alien android who said "Split" and separated into independently-operating body parts (Yuk!)

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, I believe the idea of Triumph was that in some alternate timeline, Triumph was an original JLA member, but he was somehow erased from the timeline. And in Zero Hour, amidst some weird time-changing goings-on, he reappeared. It was a slightly clever idea, I think, but not one that lent itself to the character lasting very long beyond the one storyline.

Adam Barnett said...

This was right around Zero Hour when post-Crisis continuity was at it's most confusing. Zero Hour solved all that.... HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I knew I couldn't say that with a straight face!

Tom K Mason said...

Looks like Captain Triumph should really be called by his club name: Captain Score.

J. L. Bell said...

I believe the ’90s were the one decade of the last five when DC didn’t have an active Kid Flash, but point taken.

okieqt said...

His muscles have muscles!

Adam Barnett said...

You are correct, J.L.! I would have sworn the Teen Titans ish took place in the 90's, but it was 2003!

Ben Evans said...

Keep in mind that Grant Morrison's stories tend to incorporate such obscure characters that nobody remembers as Zur En Arh Batman and B'wana Beast. And even he didn't care about Triumph enough to save him. That's almost an achievement in and of itself.

Josh said...

Apologies if another commenter has pointed this out, but it was Morrison who wrote the lines, "Captain Triumph? Nice guy, but he had the personality of a deck chair," in Animal Man#7. Morrison totally knew he was in the building.

dannyagogo said...

I'm not sure where this happened, or where I read this: not sure under what circumstances, Triumph's private bits were shrunk down to microscopic size (or something like that).