Marvel and DC have always taken characters from each other, but the Legion of Super-Heroes’ version of Hulk might be DC’s best new character.
Spoiler Warning for Legion of Super-Heroes #11
The comic industry is built off of homage. Whether it be obvious references such as Marvel’s Justice League, Squadron Supreme, the numerous parodies of superheroes found in The Boys, or even more subtle references such as Marvel’s Wasp and DC’s Bumblebee, comic books have always taken past creations and remade them. While sometimes these characters are just blatant ripoffs, the decades of comic book continuity usually allows these homages to become wildly different than their inspirations. Such is the case for DC’s riff on the Hulk, Rose and Thorn, and she is quickly establishing herself as one of DC’s freshest characters.
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It would be wrong to say that Rose and her violent counterpart Thorn are new characters. Thorn first premiered as a Flash villain all the way back in 1947, where she was a supervillain with the gimmick of having a split personality that made her super strong and ultra-violent. Later writers would cure her of her Thorn persona and have her marry the first Green Lantern, Alan Scott. Eventually, Thorn resurfaced, put her children up for adoption, and tried to face the Justice Society. A different version of the character would premier in the Silver Age of comic books with a different name and backstory, but with the same concept and appearance.
The character remained a relatively obscure point of interest in the DC Universe until Spider-Man writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Symon Kudranski revived her for the upcoming Legion of Super-Heroes reboot. This version of the character would portray the most Hulk inspiration yet, as she was now immortal in addition to her other powers. This would be explored to heartbreaking lengths in the miniseries, Legion of Super-Heroes Millenium, which showed the character experiencing the DC Universe’s history from the present all the way to the far-flung future of The Legion of Super-Heroes. Her adventures would lead her to meet President Supergirl, Batman Beyond, and Booster Gold before he was Booster Gold, all leading up to her joining the Legion.
In Legion of Super-Heroes #11 readers see that Rose has not transformed into Thorn in decades. Her Legion comrades are surprised to discover that she is over 1000 years old and can’t help but question her about it what it was like to live in the age of heroes. All the excitement is cut short when a villain attacks. Though Rose tries to fight it, the resulting violence awakens Thorn, causing her to go on a violent rampage to the horror of her companions.
It’s easy to see the Hulk inspiration here. Banner being put into a bad situation and trying to suppress his angrier half is a classic Hulk story for a reason. Yet her living for over a thousand years adds so much to the character. Most future versions of the Hulk see Bruce Banner and his various personas coming to some sort of understanding. Whether they merge, like in the MCU, or one dominates the other, future versions of the Hulk always seem to take away the Hulk’s defining characteristic, his ability to transform. What makes Rose and Thorn unique in Legion of Super-Heroes is that, after a thousand years, she’s still dealing with her split personality.
Comic books have rarely been great at portraying mental health issues. The outdated term insanity is still used to explain the evil actions of villains like the Joker. This is readily apparent in the first incarnation of Rose and Thorn, where the character’s dual identities lead her to do horrible things and then commit suicide. This latest reinvention of the character, much like the best versions of the Hulk, makes readers empathize with her struggle by focussing on her. She isn’t just a supporting character, Rose is important to DC’s history now. Rose and Thorn’s reinvention might be radically changing the character, but these changes make her one of DC’s most exciting characters.
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