Livewire Rising

Over the past few years I've been noticing a certain character showing up from time to time in comics, usually without any reason, or even a plotline of any sort of importance. She shows up, says a few quick lines, gets absolutely annihilated by whoever she's up against (regardless of whoever she's up against), and is then forgotten about completely.

Now, this happens from time to time with different characters. It's called “jobbing” by most and it's something that tends to be universally disliked and mocked. This phenomenon is most pronounced when the jobbing character is someone with no business being defeated by anyone at all.

This is about one of these characters, a Superman villain by the name of Livewire. It's about time someone spoke out for her.

Livewire is a tough nut to crack. She's one of those characters that gained enough popularity to jump ship from cartoons to comics (like the characters Harley Quinn and Firestar), even though it took her almost a decade to do so. However, during her time within the DC universe, she's fluctuated so wildly that it's difficult to tell whether or not we're even seeing the same character at all.

Leslie Willis, better known as Livewire, hit the scene on Superman: The Animated Series in 1997. She was a legitimate (and serious) threat to the Man of Steel, and while he obviously managed to use her single glaring weakness (water) against her by the end of the episode, she got an encore not long later, teaming up with Parasite and showing once again that not only was she powerful, she was cunning, ruthless, and just downright nasty. Even as a normal human, Leslie was a viciously sharp-tongued “shock jock”, a radio personality who thrived on slander so wicked it bordered on illegal. Now, in the cartoon, Livewire develops her powers after an encounter with a lighting storm that used Superman as a conductor to give Leslie some kind of vaguely-defined electrical abilities (if only Lex Luthor – already a big fan of her show – had found out about this! I have a feeling he'd make an army of kryptonian-conducted super lightning-people).

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Being a generally bad person before getting superpowers, waking up with white skin, blue hair, and the ability to turn herself into an avatar of elemental electricity and magnetism drives Leslie to evil pretty instantly. She focuses on Superman right away (since it's his show), and things get ugly fast. Livewire has the ability to completely control anything and everything that runs off of electricity (all at once), can move at light-speed, become living energy, and most importantly, blast Superman to her heart's content. Unable to harm her in any way, they play a savage game of cat-and-mouse (with Leslie as the cat), until Supes finally manages to exploit her one and only weakness – water.

Now, in my personal opinion, this episode (along with the sequel that uses both her and Parasite), established a very cool character. In a world of increasingly-sympathetic or gray-shaded villains, Livewire was refreshingly awful. There was no motivation to her crimes, no rhyme or reason. She was bad to the bone and that was all there was to it. Superman accidentally gives you incredible electrical superpowers? Great! In that case, let's terrorize and kill him!

Now, I can't say exactly how she rose to popularity, but for me personally, it was this combination of bad attitude, cool design, and incredible voice-acting (hi, Lori Petty!) that made Livewire a quick star. She even eventually got a “bad girls” crossover episode where Supergirl and Batgirl take on Livewire, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy, which immediately established Leslie as the alpha-female even among these better-known and obviously deadly femme fatales.

Honestly, it wasn't until 2006 that the character got... a little funny. She made her comic debut in Action Comics #835, under the pen of the thoroughly-adored Gail Simone.

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However, it was quickly apparent that things with Livewire aren't quite... the same, as they were before. Leslie still starts off as a shock jock and generally despicable human being, but she is also given a strong feminist angle right out the gate. Her origin is not only changed – it is removed. Leslie loses her job for being too volatile, but even before that she is simply shown... having these unusual abilities. Whether she always had them, or psychically anticipated the fact that she was about to be fired (this causing her to develop superpowers for no reason at all), is never explained.

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This is where inconsistencies begin. Livewire has no origin story – she merely goes berserk after getting fired, and it's only a few panels before bodies start to hit the floor. While she is still shown using electrical control over a city-full of television screens, and making Supes say uncle, her speed now... no longer exists. Her ability to become living, intangible energy also vanishes, and even Superman acknowledges that she is no longer a force of energy – she's a normal, albeit powered, human.

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This Livewire starts off her new career of being comically humiliated in her opening issue, by getting pegged by a hamburger....

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...Not to mention shin-kicked by a small child. She threatens to incinerate him for it, but it still happens.

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Eventually, she is defeated by Superman who, rather than simply flicking her (which seems that it would be quite effective, considering that she was hurt by a little boy), pulls her up into the atmosphere and beats her using lightning.

Yup.

Lightning.

He beats Livewire with lightning.

I mean... I guess that's the idea I'd come up with too if I was fighting against an electrical superhuman. Fry her with lightning, right? But hey, as long as it works for you, Supes.

Her humiliation does not end with her debut, however. She is later casually defeated by Stephanie Brown, and even Misfit – a teleporter with slightly-above-average stats.

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What happened? I can understand a few weaker showings – everyone has some. But when did Livewire go from a nearly-unstoppable, bad-to-the-bone Superman villain, to a D-list pretender who can get one-shotted by Batgirl?

We haven't seen Leslie Willis or Livewire within the New 52 yet. I suppose we can always just wait and see what happens to her, but after her treatment turned her into a literal joke, it may be a while before DC Comics decides to give her a moment in the limelight again. Hopefully, when they finally do, we'll see a return to the implacable, omnipotent bad girl so many people loved in Superman: TAS.

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