Illuminance

So much of superhero mythology depends on the symbolism of the heroes and villains. Their code names, costumes, gadgets, and powers combine with their motivations and actions to create a very particular mythological purpose that transcends the individual – Batman represents order and justice regardless of whether it is Bruce Wayne or Dick Grayson under the hood; Crystal Frost, Louise Lincoln, and Caitlin Snow all embodied the force of entropy by becoming Killer Frost; and both of the villains who have taken the name Zoom have likewise taken up a campaign of obsession with the Flash. In essence, the mantle carries deep mythological significance and those characters who have shared or passed on their mantles have also shared or passed on their symbolic meaning.

Arthur Light as the villainous Doctor Light - DC Comics

Arthur Light as the villainous Doctor Light – DC Comics

If this is true, then how is one to interpret the mantle of Doctor Light, which has been held simultaneously by both the villainous Arthur Light and the heroic Kimyo Hoshi?

Arthur Light was a scientist at S.T.A.R. Labs, where we shared a laboratory with his research partner Jacob Finlay, who had developed a costume capable of absorbing, projecting, and manipulating all forms of light. After he accidentally causes Finlay’s death, Light goes insane and steals the suit, taking the name Doctor Light and becoming a supervillain. As Doctor Light, he was one of the Justice League’s most brutal enemies, attacking the heroes as well as their sidekicks and loved ones. In one of his most horrific acts, he broke into the Justice League’s headquarters and raped the Elongated Man’s wife, Sue Dibny. As a result, certain members of the League voted to have Zatanna magically alter Light’s personality to make him less of a threat, but the ritual effectively lobotomized him. Afterwards, he became a joke villain, often defeated not only by the League, but also by the Teen Titans and other young heroes.

Kimyo Hoshi as the heroic Doctor Light - DC Comics

Kimyo Hoshi as the heroic Doctor Light – DC Comics

The other Doctor Light, Kimyo Hoshi, was an astronomer in charge of a major observatory in Japan. Ambitious and egotistical, she was the supervisor of an astronomical study during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, but when her team fled in fear from the devastation she chastised them for what she perceived as cowardice and remained behind. Alone in the observatory, she is struck by a massive beam of energy sent by the Monitor, which bestows her with incredible photonic abilities. She dons the name and costume of Doctor Light and joins the other heroes fighting to save the Multiverse. She plays a major role in the Crisis, including protecting the Monitor’s vibrational fork, saving Superman, and heavily contributing to the ultimate defeat of the Anti-Monitor. Following the Crisis, she remained a superhero and was an off-and-on member of the Outsiders, the Doom Patrol, and various incarnations of the Justice League, though only part-time, as she was equally dedicated to raising her two children.

These two opposite Doctors Light share many characteristics, from their nearly identical costumes and power sets to the fact that both worked as scientists before gaining their powers. But none of these similarities are deep-rooted enough to warrant sharing the same mantle. In fact, they are such different characters with such different moralities that it is difficult, at first glance, to discern what the symbolic meaning of the mantle of Doctor Light could be, that both characters should share in its mythology. Ultimately, the mantle has less to do with what their powers are and more to do with what their powers reveal; for both Arthur Light and Kimyo Hoshi, becoming Doctor Light did more than bestow them with incredible abilities, it brought their truest selves to the surface.

Black Lantern Doctor Light (Arthur Light) vs. Doctor Light (Kimyo Hoshi) - Justice League of America #40, DC Comics

Black Lantern Doctor Light (Arthur Light) vs. Doctor Light (Kimyo Hoshi) – Justice League of America #40, DC Comics

Before he became Doctor Light, Arthur Light was a relatively good man, his only real crime being the result of financial duress. With debts mounting, he attempts to sell scientific secrets, but is stopped by Finlay wearing the light suit. Finlay lets him go and one is left to wonder if Light would have reformed had his hand in Finlay’s death not driven him insane. From the point where he donned the costume and became Doctor Light, Arthur Light indulged his every twisted and evil impulse. Insane or not, it is unlikely that those impulses were not present before his transformation, but becoming Doctor Light removed the facade that held them in. The evil, sadistic side was Arthur’s true self.

There is deeper proof of this in the mythology in moments when his evil is subdued. On a couple of occasions, Arthur Light’s evil nature has been tempered: once, during a bout of insanity he believed himself to be haunted by the ghost of Finlay and was overcome with guilt; in the other, Zatanna’s magical interference artificially altered his personality to make him more benign. The latter case resulted in him losing his edge as a villain, no longer able to hold his own against the Justice League, or even the Teen Titans. In essence, suppressing his true nature manifested itself in a diminished ability to harness and utilize his powers. In the former case, his “haunting” drove him to attempt heroism, in which he was promptly killed by Parademons. Just as is the case in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, disrupting the natural order has disastrous effects. In the context of Arthur Light, every attempt, internal or external, to either contain or curb his natural evil resulted in death, destruction, or disaster. And upon his resurrection, or the restoration of his memories, Arthur Light would revert back to his inherently evil nature, fully in control of his powers.

The Doctors Light fight - Green Arrow #54, DC Comics

The Doctors Light fight – Green Arrow #54, DC Comics

Kimyo Hoshi experienced a similar kind of revelatory experience when she became Doctor Light, but where the mantle exposed Arthur Light’s inherent evil, in Kimyo it revealed her inherent good. As a scientist, she was both selfish and arrogant. When she allowed her fellow scientists to flee during the Crisis, it wasn’t out of concern for their safety, it was because their fear disgusted her. Sending them away not only rid her of their “weakness”, but it allowed her to study the Crisis herself, presumably giving her all the credit for any findings made. When she became Doctor Light, she was gifted incredible power which she no doubt believed was earned, but it was in using those powers to fight the Anti-Monitor, during which battle Supergirl laid down her life to save the Multiverse, that Kimyo’s heroic self was awoken. From that point on, Kimyo was not only a compassionate hero, she was a dedicated mother. All through the mythology of the DC Universe is evidence of the inherency of morality, so it stands to reason that Kimyo was always, at heart, a compassionate and dedicated hero. Her previous arrogance and selfishness do not negate those qualities, but they did suppress them. It was becoming Doctor Light which allowed her true inherent qualities to come through.

It is fitting that this idea of revealing one’s true nature is embodied by the mythology of Doctor Light. The photonic powers associated with the mantle are an appropriate metaphor for the symbolic meaning of its mythos – in both Arthur Light and Kimyo Hoshi, becoming Doctor Light illuminated the qualities and moralities that each held as an inherent, inner truth. It is one of few mantles to be held by multiple characters at the same time, and possibly the only one to be held simultaneously by both a hero and a villain, but in its revelatory symbolism it makes sense why two such different characters would choose to embrace the mantle of Doctor Light.