Monday, April 11, 2022

Action Comics #1041 (May, 2022)

At the abandoned Casino Riviera, J'Onn J'Onzz confronted his past with the once thought "extinct" Vulture cartel. Inside, plainclothes officers Fox and Certa were led at gunpoint by masked men, until their heads were banged together by "The Alien Atlas!" The Manhunter was surprised someone as young as Fox knew that nickname. "My granddad told me about it." When the Martian Marvel told the cops to clear out for their own safety, the veteran Detective Certa knew enough about supers to believe him.

The Sleuth from Outer Space cemented the basic set-up of his late House of Mystery stories as modern canon: French Riviera, retirement of John Jones, Marco Xavier, et cetera. The one major new wrinkle was that he also meant to "Determine what, if any, connection they may have to Gotham's Court of Owls. The iconography is too close to be a coincidence."

Fighting his way to the casino floor, the Manhunter was reintroduced to Professor Hugo, Faceless, and a bunch of kids in Vulture masks called "The Wake." Hugo had devised a "neuro-scrambler" that can fry the brain of a Martian and cause him to cycle through his identities (like Bloodwynd) uncontrollably. The villains were all furious with Manhunter for having discarded them as "insignificant details. Easy to toss away, to forget when we no longer fit the story you wanted to tell. The life you wanted to live." Meta.

"A Face in the Crowd: Part Five" was by Shawn Aldridge and Adriana Melo. No story has ever done more to honor the entire history of the Martian Manhunter, especially the Silver Age material, as this serial. Including the quality of Jack Miller's plotting that felt like it was written on a napkin during a liquid lunch. It was practically written specifically for me, and being me, I still have to poke it in the eye with a stick. It's my nature.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Action Comics #1040 (April, 2022)

Lurking outside the first floor Middletown Apartment of J'Onn J'Onzz was Doctor Trap. I feel seen. After nearly a full page of social media baiting cat petting while explicitly referencing Marco Xavier in 1960s Silver Age stories, the trap was sprung. Double Stuff evaded the thermal that detonated when J'Onn reached for their kitty food in the cupboard. J'Onn began melting like he'd been eating The Stuff before the story started while Trapp kicked down the door declaring a "House call." In a tell that makes me think a pass wasn't made at reading the original stories, the two characters exposit Who's Who bulletpoints while Trapp's voice sounds off for the character. Hired to capture the Manhunter, Dr. Trap decided he just had to kill the former Bronze Wraith, just about the time the cat attacks him. Yes, the big fat orange cat bought J'Onn the time to recover, then was safely "caged" in his abdomen.

The point is made between punches that our boy self-identifies as the Martian Manhunter, not Bronze Wraith, Marco Xavier, or even John Jones. Besides being arch and not exactly relevant, I think the one direct punch connecting would have done Doctor Trap in. I'm glad we moved past the untrained stand-ins for classic rogues to the non-powered real deals as an escalation, but like, what exactly was he going to do with that leg trap he kept swinging? His mind can't be read because of an implant by a guy named "Hugo. Funny looking dude. Head four times too big for his body." Trapp had been sent to give J'Onn a message. "If you want this to end, find them at the place you first met." The implant was in Dr. Ttap's jaw, which J'Onn shattered, then telepathically shut him down.

The next day, Certa and Peters investigated a dilapidated mansion property bought eight months prior by the presumed deceased Marco Xavier. Apparently, Ostrander was under concussion protocols from... um... I don't know? There wasn't a car crash last issue. Anyway, they got shot in their necks with tranquilizer darts. Is this comic a 1970s' TV show? Weird installment.

"A Face in the Crowd: Part Four" was by Shawn Aldridge and Adriana Melo. I know that it's a relatively small thing, given that these are only eight page monthly installments, but I'm really glad the creative team on this strip has been consistent. I liked Melo's work on Female Furies, and her mix of quirk and menace has really defined this story for me. I'll be so disappointed and have to track her down at a con for a commission if we don't get to see her Arnold Hugo in this arc. I've timidly dipped my toe into the waters of Shawn Aldridge coverage because, put indelicately, past interviews with previous Manhunter writers have led me to the conclusion that they're a bunch of f***bois. Honeyed words, crappy intentions. I mean, Aldridge even kind of looks like the new Getaway King. But he seemed like a good guy in the podcasts I've heard him on, and he's clearly done the work here. He's not just slapping legacy names on his own creations (well... Zoey...) but clearly knows who all these characters were and could be again to our Martian Marvel.

This really is the closest we'll ever get to a Batman: Hush or a Who is Wonder Woman? where the entire rogues gallery Vile Menagerie turn up in one Batman: The Movie style romp. The Diabolu Idol-Head, Human Flame, Monty Moran, Vulture, Mr. V... I'm not arrogant and I try not to be excessively paranoid, but it definitely feels like somebody's been reading this blog. Or the reference sites that borrowed heavily from here. There's a vague semblance of payoff for all these years of largely thankless effort. But also a bit of wistfulness, as there was always that not-so-secret hope that I'd get to do something like this someday, mixed with gratitude that somebody with actual motivation and any accomplishment within the industry actually did.

Monday, March 21, 2022

2022 Justice League International 35th anniversary art by Kevin Maguire

Click To Enlarge

Now that the JLI 35th anniversary passed, I got to thinking what they might look like now and I think they MIGHT look something like this...

Monday, March 14, 2022

2018 Garden State Comic Fest sketch cover by Jason Baroody

I used to think posting links to Comic Art Fans posts was lazy and redundant, but man, a lot of stuff disappears without notice from CAF. When I'm bone dry for content, I guess there are worse crimes, like skipping weeks entirely.

Monday, March 7, 2022

35 Years Ago

I don't believe I owned or read "The Origin of the Justice League-- Minus One!" until after I started this blog, but it swiftly became one of my favorite Martian Manhunter related stories. That statement is thick with disclaimers, among them being that the Manhunter is at best a supporting player in the overall narrative, and I'm not all that enamored with the actual script. It's down to the conceit. Retroactive continuity grounded firmly in established lore, supplying an untold story of how most of the original Justice Leaguers first met, researched to the month of proposed publication, referencing exactly where the players in DC hero comics would have been at that exact moment in time. Obscure characters and continuity minutia are my kink, so a story working in the little seen original Robotman (All-Star Squadron wasn't even a twinkle in Roy's eye yet) and contextualizing where vanguard teams like the Challengers and Blackhawks would have been relative to one another? *Ecstatic shudder* It was obviously a primary influence on Darwyn Cook's The New Frontier, made rare direct nods to actual Manhunter from Mars strip elements, and grounded John Jones so firmly in one of the most fascinating periods in United States history that he was still acknowledged as a 1950s hero as canon during Zero Hour? The event series designed to euthanize surviving 1940s heroes? It's positively miraculous that this thing still has a toe-hold of relevancy, much less an actual artistic legacy.

That mid-century, postwar, paranoiac, conformist, xenophobic period is such a perfect milieu for the Sleuth from Outer Space. It's also the overlooked middle child between the roaring 20s/Depression/WWII and the revolutionary 60s/Me Decade/80s excess that it speaks to a Gen-Xer like me. Eternally, horrifically tainted creative ped(-o-)gree aside, Martian Manhunter: American Secrets remains a top contender for my actual favorite story that not only unquestionably stars the Alien Atlas, but is also about exploring the same themes as the character himself. In 1994, J'onn J'onzz was explicitly stated as arriving "35 years ago," which supported that 1977 Steve Englehart's setting for only the year Zero Hour #0 was published. I'm sure the intent was Marvel method, where Reed & Ben went from serving in World War II to Korea to... jeez, didn't they end up in the Persian Gulf at some point? And yes, J'onn J'onzz did have a bunch of '60s & '70s set stories published in the '90s & '00s, but he never felt unmoored from the 1950s. The Justice Society exited, and the Manhunter from Mars quietly, covertly entered. I big part of his appeal, certainly to myself and in my experience others, was that he was a rare super-hero "holding the line" before the likes of Clark Kent was (functionally) born, much less "The New Heroic Age" begins. Even when my fandom exploded in the late '90s, it was hard to swallow 40+ years of no one else appearing in the JSA's stead. It was even harder when I finally read "Minus One" another decade (and century) removed. Today, it's too great a logistical hurdle.

It should surprise no one that after decades of writing about the Martian Marvel, I have oodles of stories conceived for the hero swimming around my head. Every comic fan carries some fan fiction within them, whether they express it or not. A lot of mine involve continuity patches. When DC Comics bought Wildstorm, they had a fair amount of continuity set in the '40s and '60s that could have been absorbed by DC to fill those "lost decades" before Batman had his Year One. My feeling was that a lot of DC's properties really only worked for the time period in which they were conceived, so why not just leave the Sea Devils or the Metal Men in the 1960s? DC so radically altered the Charlton heroes when reintroducing them post-Crisis that there could have just as easily been a real "Watchmen" made up of their inspirations who had come and gone in times past. If I wanted to keep some vestige of "Minus One" in continuity, why not recast the Barry Allen Flash as Johnny Quick, or really lean into a want of mine, Superman replaced by Captain Comet for even more fifties team-ups?

The "why not" is pretty obvious. DC's love-hate relationship with the JSA for sure, and those historical ties to the Golden Age are often considered an albatross. All that continuity that I wanted to patch was cast aside in 2011 by Flashpoint and "The New 52." Even after Rebirth and Dark Nights debuted an all-inclusive Hypertime omniverse, there's little editorial appetite for deep dive continuity implants. With 89% of DC's current output being Batman Family titles, where would you even put one? Frankly, dear as the generational legacy aspect is to my heart, World War II was nearly a century ago. Do we really want to be conjuring up Nazis and straight patriarchal Caucasian heroic hegemony into infinity? That's rhetorical. No rando partisan gater comment bombs are being solicited here. You guys are a little too into Kylo Ren, right? "Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to."

Speaking of solicitations, for two years next month, I've devoted entirely too much time to obsessively crafting fake ad copy for a line of books in an alternate DC Universe as part of Siskoid's Who's Editing. "Why" is an excellent question. I have a number of answers of varying degrees of quality and desperate raving madness that I vaguely allude to in a companion podcast, The DK Encyclopedia Diaries: The Drunken Guide To The Characters Of The DC Universe. Hopefully I can slur out a semblance of a satisfying response before my liver gives out. But one of them is to serve as my personal island of misfit ideas, aborted concepts lost to space and time and lack of ambition... tears in the rain streaking down little seen comments. This entire post was a ploy to fill a week of blogging with a visual aid I roughly threw together of a final alternate draft for the DC You Moi "Minus One." I had Captain Marvel still active in the 1950s in my "DC Comments Challenge," while Captain Comet is otherwise engaged, so he got the Superman spot. Knight & Squire, the Fury, Max Mercury, and Neptune Perkins stand in for the rest of the proto-JLA. Rex the Wonder Dog from the original story is rendered Thor the Thunderdog here, and a non-pictured Tommy Tomorrow takes pre-GL Hal Jordan's place. Variations of this substitute League have swirled in my subconscious for at least three presidencies. It's never to be, and acknowledging it here as a pure fan fiction is cathartic for me. Thanks for indulging my eleven-hundred word blogging therapy session.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Action Comics #1039 (March, 2022)

"Three days ago, I decided to live a more grounded life, connect with my adoptive home and the people I protect. Two days ago, I fought a gig economy knock off of an old adversary. Now I sit across from a thirteen-year-old girl who says she's my biggest fan..." Zoey... "Zook" had watched the break-in, and relayed the details over milkshakes at a Metropolis diner. The waitress, Blu, seemed to be familiar with J'Onn J'Onzz and his Choco-Shakes.

The plainclothes detectives, Lt. Jack Certa and Ostrander, follow Zoey's lead on kids recruited to crime while wearing gold variant Court of Owls facemasks. They stake out the home of a kid named Justin Miller who seemed a prime candidate for the operation. I actually thought the partner was Peters from the first chapter, and it makes clear that a byproduct of diverse representation is that I wouldn't be confusing three different brown-haired white guys that basically all look like me and who all work together. I have to wonder if they're setting up a fake-out with that. Anyway, MISTERTWENTYTWO slid into the kid's DMs, and involved him in Katharsis Aureus, which Ostrander had researched. "It's like Greek or Latin for 'Golden Purify.' And it's kind of the scientific name of vultu'"

The conversation abruptly stops as the cops tail the kid after he exits his home with a packed dufflebag. Following directions on his cell phone, Justin ends up in a white van with dark tinted windows full of men in owl masks. A high speed pursuit follows, the van driver looking like a J. Scott Campbell rogue with an imperial circle beard, his vibrant red hair in a high fade slickback over his flaming neck tattoo. This would be our New 52 Getaway King. I can dig it. "Told ya, bro, no one catches the king." Well, a Martian Manhunter can. "I let the driver escape... for now. He is of no consequence. The kid is the priority." Cue a very special riff on that moment from All-Star Superman. Or maybe "You Are Not Alone." Well, probably not a Michael Jackson number, right?

The Sleuth from Outer Space has no patience for the threatening henchmen for info track when he can just reach into their minds... only to "hear" a voice. "Hello, J'Onn, it's been a long time... Let's call it a telepathic wiretap. Nanotech implants, really. All our operatives have them. You should feel proud, J'Onn. They were designed specifically for you." The voice chides him for not being the detective of old, unable to figure out the riddle before him. Another hint? "What's a kettle? ...It's a circle of... vultures. And vultures, J'Onn... only circle the dead."

"A Face in the Crowd: Part Three" was by Shawn Aldridge and Adriana Melo. Sorry for basically taking the month off, but I was pursing other obsessions. I've been watching Mutant X for podcasting purposes recently, and an episode referenced the "Infantino Hotel" on "Carmine Street" or some such, and it made me think of this strip. I will be seriously surprised if Vulture and the Court of Owls aren't explicitly connected, maybe leading to a continuation in Gotham City? I was going to point out that town will soon be down a Batman, but for all I know, this nostalgia parade is a long goodbye to our own imperiled Alien Atlas in the run-up to "Death of the Justice League".

I confess a shudder at that last page reveal. Excellent line. I guess once Marco Xavier shed the Faceless fat suit, he swore off ever donning it again. In fact, the modern Mr. V is positively anorexic, better reflecting his favorite bird and running counter to the common Kingpin trope of a literal "big man." I did the last write-up in one minimalist steam of transliteration burst. This one was an off-and-on hours long summation. A lot to digest here...

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Podcast: Mark Waid at Comicpalooza 2018

Amazing Heroes Interviews Episode 6
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The original interview from which clips were deployed in past episodes of The Idol-Head of Diabolu Podcast, now in one handy presentation (although I did save about three minutes of material for one planned episode to come.) Interview conducted at Houston’s Comicpalooza, on either May 26 or 27, 2018. The interview has been edited for time, content, consistency and quality. We spend a lot of time on his early career as a writer and editor, including Amazing Heroes, Comics Week, Secret Origins, The Legend of Aquaman Special, Who’s Who in the DC Universe, DC Cosmic Cards, Doom Patrol, Daily Planet Special Invasion! Edition, Atlas of the DC Universe, !mpact Comics, Legion of Super-Heroes, Underworld Unleashed, the death of Tora “Ice” Olafsdotter, and surely more Martian Manhunter questions than he ever had to field in one sitting. Finally, a brief tribute to the late Brian Augustyn via a critical review.

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Monday, January 24, 2022

Action Comics #1038 (February, 2022)

The Martian Manhunter told Mrs. Heath to run from this rookie Human Flame, not the original and "first super-villain I ever fought." He made short work of the suit's flame jets with laser vision, as even though this Flame had been told of the Martian vulnerability to fire, he didn't exactly wilt at the sight of birthday candles. The Alien Atlas carried the imposter "ten thousand feet" in the air, then dropped him as an intimidation factor to get the facts. Apparently, telepathy wasn't an option anymore? He'd only met his benefactors once in person, to get the suit. It was all set up on an online forum. They wore white face masks, and had offered him half a million dollars to kill the Manhunter. As least he could still verify the store with his mental powers, seeing only those familiar featureless masks.

Metropolis Police Department Lieutenant Certa was soon knocking on the door of the parent of another teen taken in by the site. He was met at the door by his protesting (and all-too-similar looking) partner, Ostrander, who still believed that there were times when he wasn't on-duty. Sarah Garber's dad didn't know anything about Katharsis Aureus, respect her boundaries. Was he wrong for that?

Back to the Metropolis Museum. "Elements of my past, previously unrelated, now parts of the same puzzle." Shredded bits of white cloth on an air vent to small for a "normal-sized person" to access. In an alley outside, a young girl brown-haired girl in a orange hoodie claimed she'd seen kids perform the break-in. "I kinda patrol this area... Name's Zoey, but most people call me Zook. And you're Martian Manhunter. Big fan."

"A Face in the Crowd: Part Two" was by Shawn Aldridge and Adriana Melo. This is the part where the inevitable tweaks begin. Not my Zook, but better than a flower, at least. Getting used to the quirks of the art, and still appreciating that Pugh vibe. Good fit for the material. I'm calling Ostrander as the bad guy, but that may just be my bias when it comes to the Sleuth from Outer Space.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

2021 “The Legend of Isis” fanfic commission art by Jean Sinclair

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I got so into my fan fiction 2021 “DC Comics 1999 Editorial Presentation: Countdown To The Millennium” project for an appearance on Who’s Editing #14: No Man Escapes the Editors that I solicited several commissions to be produced to support it. Where I asked Brad Green to do specific characters for “Lords of the Ultra-Realm” and “Primal Force”, for my first piece ever from Jean Sinclair, I gave him the stacks of reference I'd accumulated and let him have his picks.

One of his choices was Mary Marvel, and since the premises at the back of the "book" were less formed, I figured to mostly work backward from his art to expand upon her entry. That said, I wanted the members of the Marvel Family to have new identities, and asked Sinclair to make Mary a hybrid with The Secrets of Isis from the Filmation "sister show" to Shazam! While I made some suggestions, really Sinclair came up with his own amalgamation on display here. As you can see, there's a lot of crossover between his character selections and the ones already in the other commissions, which gave everything continuity, and guided the writing end of it. So glad the Big Red Cheese was available to, as the Dude would attest, tie the room together.

I was of course pleased when he chose the Martian Marvel to join Mary, especially after research I was doing for the project uncovered Karmang, the perfect bridge between the properties and a happy surprise for me. It just now occurs to me that I could have worked The Gray Man in there somewhere, but things were already pretty crowded, and I was just glad the artist could oblige my requested inclusion of the sorcerer. You know I'm happy with all this Red Planet representation, especially that big Manhunter recalling EVS (especially since the actual guy is now persona non grata.) I was also happy with Garn Daanuth and Maaldor the Darklord, who I really wanted to work in, but hadn't asked for.

The Demon is among my favorite DC characters, and he tangled with J'Onn J'Onzz during the '90s Ostrander/Mandrake series. I confess to struggling to find Etrigan's role in the larger story, but I was still pleased to have him, and an angle finally presented itself. This is a fun piece that pleased me, and Sinclair was a joy to work with. He enthusiastically tackled oodles of characters, more than I ever expected, and totally delivered. I recommend him for your own future commissions, perhaps via the links below?

Jean Sinclair

Monday, January 3, 2022

2021 “Gypsy Zook and Cry'll - In Color” commission by Val Semeiks & Tom Ziuko

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I had planned to finish out running original material commissioned for the fake DC Editorial Presentation this week, but I felt like the artist didn't get the traction his work warranted on social media due to the holidays and so many people being on vacation. Also, I only got one day off each of those weeks, so I didn't set aside the time to draft those posts. Thankfully, derekwc alerted me to this delightful work.
So love Val's version of Detroit Era Gypsy and asked him for a commission. I wild idea came to mind to add Zook and Cry'll the alien sidekicks of Martian Manhunter and Space Ranger. Val said it was very unique commission but think he had fun with it. I asked him to add a small Space Ranger in the background as he already had Martian Manhunter.
Lots of fun choices made here, and I'm always up for an untold adventure of Zook in the right spirit. Here's the original black & white art. By the way, there's no apostrophe in Cryll... or Zook for that matter, and don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
My crazy commission piece - by Val Semiks now in glorious computer color. Tom Z knocks it out the park again.

Monday, December 27, 2021

2021 “DC Comics 1999 Editorial Presentation: Countdown To The Millennium”

Click To Digital Catalog

Since 2020, Siskoid has co-hosted with various guests Who's Editing, "the show where armchair editors re-imagine the DC Universe based on single issues of Who's Who!" Basically, the participants have to pitch a new ongoing series for every protagonist (and an optional antagonist) featured in a given 1980s issue of "The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe." I took to the podcast like a pig to slop, creating my own fan fiction universe of titles with running mock Previews catalog-style solicitation blurbs for every entry (and then some) in the comments section of each episode. I figured with the round robin guests, Siskoid would eventually get around to me, with the natural assumption I would get tagged for the Martian Manhunter edition. Then he called me up way earlier than I had planned or prepared for, Who’s Editing #8: Flashes in the Pan. I made my initial intentions toward Vol XIV clear, and since Siskoid figures to cycle through most of his first run of guests twice, that about suited his own needs.

Since I'd called dibs, I wanted to make this one extra special, so I glommed onto the old 1992-94 DC Editorial Presentations as a template. To compete with all the better selling flibbertigibbets in the Chromium Age, DC would outline an entire year's worth of titles in two page spreads, one of art, and the other copy. There were some that fell through the cracks or were altered, but more or less, you could reliably see what a given year had in store for DC readers. I also wanted to do a line devoted to the Alien Atlas, because look around the page, man. I got a little work in early, other matters demanded my attention, and then a few months ahead of deadline I committed hard to producing the mock catalog linked above. While the Manhunter from Mars maintained a strong presence, the demands of the other subjects sent things into more of a fantasy direction favoring the Marvel Family and sword & sorcery types. For instance, The Warlords of the Ultra-Realm. But hey, more on that later...

Monday, December 20, 2021

DC Comics 1999 Editorial Presentation: Manhunter



The first ever ongoing series devoted to the Manhunter from Mars launched out of DC ONE MILLION with an innovative campaign. Debuting with a special #0 issue detailing J'Onn J'Onzz's earliest days on Earth living as an African-American, and why he ultimately instead chose the role of a white male authority figure; continuing into a premiere GHOSTS Annual; followed by the #1,000,000 issue co-written by GRANT MORRISON accounting for the Alien Atlas' far future. Finally, the #1 edition, examining the sole Manhunter's decision to drop part of his title following repeated White Martian incidents, and his position as the most prominent super-hero outside the United States.

In this initial story arc, the International Ultramarine Corps have assumed an aggressive role in defending South America, naturally bringing them into contact with the Manhunter. The U.S. government still views many of them as military deserters, and their push back against Latin exploitation in the wake of the tragedy in Montevideo has earned them vicious enemies. When a despicable new incarnation of corporate metahumans The Conglomerate perpetuate a horrific assault upon the team in Superbia, the Manhunter's response places him at odds with the U.S.

As the new creative team take over, Bloodwynd alerts Manhunter to strange activity in the Guyana of Venezuela. Soon joined by Swamp Thing, Aztek the Ultimate Man, and Rima the Jungle Girl, they discover a source of the Endless Energies of Entrop, indicating it as one of the twelve prime mana sites on Earth. Despite his status as a fallen angel, Asmodel and a fraction of his Bull Host will make for strange company in defending the reserve from the forces of Grendel, a new player in the Underworld. Next, we'll see Manhunter guard the Watchtower against the cybernetic assault of Lord Havok, as J'Onn tries to reach the humanity in his old friend, inflaming his awkward standing with former JLA teammates.

Manipulated by the psychic residue of Despero into believing that he's developed a soul, and romantic feelings for the illusion casting Gypsy, L-Ron becomes an increasingly brazen stalker... violently colliding with his friends in a clash of wills. Soon, sharing his base in the frigid Martian city of Z'Onn Z'Orr with a new super team, J'Onn's supporting cast is joined by Oberon, Gypsy, and L-Ron. When Castle Carnage is rediscovered by the Star Hunters along the shores of the Weddell Sea, J'Onn recalls a 1970s adventure involving retiring veteran policeman Dan Richards, playboy Marco Xavier, the international crime cartel of Vandal Savage, and an army of Paul Kirk clones led by the soulless Stalker.

A new incarnation of the Hyperclan is formed from the handful of White Martians that had previously escaped capture, guided by an ancient evil far more deadly than the Manhunter has ever known. Closing out the year, "Alex" Luthor succeeds in creating a bridge to Earth³, but attracts the CSA, whose Ultiman enjoys amplified abilities in the presence of magic... a major modern hazard for the Martian Marvel!

Monday, December 13, 2021

The Vile Menagerie: KARMANG THE EVIL

Alter Ego: Karmang
Occupation: Sorcerer
Base of Operations: Castle Karmang, Mount Olympus, Mars
First Appearance: All New Collectors' Edition, Vol. 7, No. C-58 (1978)
Eyes: Blue
Hair: None
More than a thousand millennia ago, an exceptional White Martian sought immortality at any cost. "Like Ancient Greece on Earth, [Mars] was a civilization of thought and wonder... and of all thinkers, of all its men of science, one was there who dared more... who probed the farthest realms of the imagination... One there was... named Karmang the Good..."

Despite protestations from his friends and fellows, and supposedly in the name of science, Karmang engaged in forbidden experiments that tampered with the forces of sub-nuclear energy to disastrous result. Whether through cruel fate or merely his close proximity to the source of the energy storm that he had ignited, the "would-be wizard" survived while one billion surrounding Martians perished. The "sorcerer" gained the immortality that he had sought, but as a consequence, would be haunted by the spirits of the multitudes that had paid the price for his arrogance.

For what seemed like a million years, far beyond sanity, Karmang sought a means to reverse the tragedy that he had caused. Driven mad by his endless existence, Karmang devised a plan wherein he would cause the multiversal worlds of Earth-One and Earth-S to collide, supposedly releasing a specific, incredible amount of energy which would allow him to resurrect the wraith-like Martians that haunted him. To this end, he summond Black Adam and the Sand Superman, forcing them to do his bidding upon pain of torture. Each planted destructive devices on a given Earth, then used violence and devices to provoke combat between Superman and Captain Marvel, the only beings who could stop Karmang.

As the powerful but bedeviled heroes fought for hours across Earth-One, Supergirl, Mary Marvel, and the wizard Shazam joined forces to end the contest, restore sanity, and ambush Karmang at his castle on Mars. Karmang was so engrossed by the clash of titans that for the first time, he felt ecstactic relief from his haunting. When the heroines attacked, he cast spells powerful enough to thwart even the Maid of Might and World's Mightiest Girl. However, Supergirl used her knowledge of advanced Kryptonian science to analyze Karmang's equipment. She uncovered a button that would send Castle Karmang into a state of limbo, and with her superhuman speed, managed to escape beforehand with Mary in her arms. When last seen, Karmang was screaming endlessly, unable to escape the spirits that tormented him.

Powers & Weapons:
Karmang commands significant magics, which he casts via rhyme. He can project fireballs that immolate foes, while summoning a shield to protect himself. Karmang once cast an "illusion spell" to make Black Adam appear to be Captain Marvel that was capable of deceiving Superman. Through unknown means, Karmang culd monitor actions from worlds away. Karmang provided his unwilling agents with the Judgment Ray, a green palm-sized device, which among other things emitted red sun radiation. The ray could temporarily blind and distort the reality of mortals as mighty as Superman and Captain Marvel, allowing them to be provoked into hours-long irrational rages. In his bid to bridge the dimensional gulf to cause a cosmic catastrophe, Karmang crafted a space-time engine that would cause parallel-reality Earths to collide. An engine would need to be correctly placed on each affected world, and once the control-nodule had been activated, a magnetic aura would surround the device that was capable of repelling all but the most awesome physical forces. Within two hours, the space-time engines would theoretically become acclimated to their host world, adjusting their magnetic fields until the worlds would be attracted to one another across all known boundaries. Disrupting the engines once activated would still cause untold destruction through the altered magnetic field's impact on climate and geothermic structure.

It is unclear whether Karmang is able to leave his sacred citadel, or if he is trapped along with the billion Martian ghosts inside Castle Karmang. He has been driven insane, causing him difficulties in concentration and linear thought. He does not appear to suffer from the vulnerability to flame that plagues most Martians, and in fact displays none of their typical superhuman abilities.
Distinguishing Features:

Karmang's eyes are asymmetrical

Quote: "The Undying Ones! By all our ageless gods-- let me be! Why won't you ever let me be?"

Created by Gerry Conway & Rich Buckler

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Action Comics #1037 (January, 2022)

In Metropolis, a variety of people of different races, ages, and genders all end up at Middletown Apartments, unit 225. They are all explorations of J'Onn J'Onzz, who wonders about whether the harder choice is just being himself, "But what the hell does that even mean?" As the Martian Manhunter, he feeds his housecat Double Stuff, reflecting on his own time in that role (along with Isobel de la Rosa, also deriving from the 1998 series, plus Bloodwynd.) "An endless list of endless aliases. Of endless lives. Yet none my own. I'm more vagabond than manhunter." Next he pours himself a bowl of Chocos cereal, and plops on the couch to watch a news program on the television. He reflects upon his disconnectedness from his adoptive world, still moored to lost Mars, and wonders if it's time to finally settle in.

Under the identity of Certa, essentially still John Jones, he's a plainclothes officer with the Metropolis police. Another brown haired white man named Peters visits his desk to discuss an ongoing investigation. Something to do with unconnected young people from all walks of life being linked to some crime, presumably the museum theft from the TV. A break in the case-- they visited an internet sub-forum called "Katharsis Aureus."

It's the Martian Manhunter who visits the Metropolis Museum. Admiring the painting "Lost" by Kyle Rayner that seems perhaps inspired by J'Onn himself, he's met by a stylish Black woman named Gwendolyn Heath. The Museum Director, she reports that the only items missing were pieces of an artifact they had been storing. The Sleuth from Outer Space perks up on learning that the "worthless" pieces were from "a large bust known as the Idol Head of Diabolu," which J'Onn confesses to having broken himself.

The discussion is interrupted by a brutish man in a sealed protective uniform featuring a series of bilateral small flaming jets running vertically up the chest. "Enough talk, nerds. I didn't come here to learn... I came here to burn! It's me, ya boy, HUMAN FLAME."

"A Face in the Crowd" was by Shawn Aldridge and Adriana Melo. I was passingly familiar with the Brazilian artist, who did work on two runs of Birds of Prey with Gail Simone, recalling Ed Benes and Terry Dodson. I'm a bigger fan of Steve Pugh, who she seems to be taking more cues from these days. I must confess to being completely unfamiliar with the writer, whose credits in the industry seem mostly in the lettering department. There was a four-parter in the Dark Horse Presents run that I've had sitting unread in a box since 2015, so that's on me, as well as the mini-series Hack/Slash vs. Vampirella and The Dark and Bloody. According to the podcast playing in the background, he's from Kentucky. For what it's worth, I tried to buy a physical copy of this issue from one of the biggest Houston comic shops, but they only had copies of previous issues left on the shelf. I can't speak to the Mongul lead story, as I've bought almost no new DC content this year, but am waiting for the trade of this arc.

Associating the Martian Marvel with the Man of Tomorrow goes back a long ways, but I still tend to chafe at stuff like basing the character in Superman's city. That said, the scripter goes further out of his way than anyone I've ever read to accommodate me specifically as an entitled fanboy. I considered various ways of highlighting all the fan service in the synopsis, but decided it would look like a heavily redacted transcript. One of the complaints I've heard about movies I've chosen not to see like Ghostbusters: Afterlife and The Rise of Skywalker is that filmmakers appeased hardcore audiences by just cobbling together images of all those things they like, so that they can point and say "look at that thing I like on the screen, making me happy by association with the familiar." I usually poo-poo such a thing, but I'm a whipped dog monkey after nearly a quarter century of creators thinking that naming a plant "Zo'ok" was all they needed to do to nod toward my character's history. To me, this story is like the comics equivalent of Lilly's brain mapping experiment. Ook! Thing I blogged about on WebTV! Ook! I'm fully recovered from Ma'alefa'ak's torture! Decades of stink weed traded for a tiny eight page bag of black tar heroin. Get in my veins!

I wouldn't have pegged J'Onn as someone who keeps pets, as I myself don't, but then he also had children, so maybe that's me projecting. He's definitely more of a cat person (same,) and I just spent too much time looking at pictures online to hazard a guess at its breed being Ragdoll (???) So I suppose I'm into it. It's fun, something sorely lacking in Manhunter comics, and I hope he gets to do some straight comedy in this serial (a stated goal in the podcast.)

Other things I'm not into? I didn't make it halfway into the last maxi-series, a prequel that featured a costume much closer to his Silver Age look. I don't know if that was used to pivot back to this '80s JLI look in the current continuity, which I'm sure many fans have missed since Infinite Crisis. Meanwhile, I always had an issue with the old costume, and wholeheartedly embraced the New 52 design, which I think would better fit Melo's style besides. The references to some momentous change are lost on me, and mentioning it without any context is vexing. I doubt every issue is somebody's first anymore, but it's my first in a long time, and I miss the brief recaps of comics in my youth. "Certa" is way too on the nose for me, and we don't need a white John Jones in the comics when he's now invariably portrayed by African-American performers in other media.

Yeah, that's about all I've got. It's been decades of my banging the drum for a representation that respects and builds upon the Alien Atlas' lore. This story intentionally draws from as many well loved eras of the character as could be reasonably expected within the space and then some, with direct references to Silver Age stories entirely erased for decades. I'm super-duper gun-shy about having any expectations going forward, but for at least this brief shining moment, I'm Montgomery Brewster and "This is the room I could die in."

Monday, November 29, 2021

“Interview: Martian Manhunter” from JLA Secret Files #1 (September, 1997)

As I discussed in previous weeks, JLA Secret Files and Origins #1 was a key book for neophyte Alien Atlas allies turned on by the surprise success of JLA. You had a new Starro story by the hot creative team of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter, bridging the gap between Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare and the relaunch. You had "Lost Pages" from between JLA #4 & 5. You had profile pages of the individual team members by the creative teams of their solo titles. You had "A Day In The Life: Martian Manhunter", probably the first J'Onn J'Onzz solo story for many. And finally, this mock interview by Mark Millar & Don Hillsman for the fictional in-universe "The Brave & The Bold" magazine.

Along with a series of Playboy style headshots at the top of the piece, there was the full figure above, which served as "the" Martian Manhunter image of the turn-of-the-century internet. Despite the weird organic foam finger action, there is perhaps no greater example of broad fan rejection of Tom Mandrake's years toiling on the ongoing series than the ubiquity of this picture in the same time frame. An editorializing quote from Who's Whose DC Timeline: "John Ostrander’s Martian Manhunter delves into the soul of the only founding member of the JLA never to have his own title, much to the disgust of fanboys who apparently expected something else. Lots of punching and kicking maybe? Still, the series lasts 36+ issues." Well, as a fan who was kicking and screaming by the end of those three years, perhaps it was because everything in this issue geared readers for a title about the Pacific Rim's greatest protector, and the actual ongoing tossed that aside with a single issue robotto manga pastiche?

The piece opens with the interviewer acknowledging J'Onn's sensitivity to their possible concerns over being seen in public with a Martian, offering to change for discretion, though the admitted clout-chaser declines. They then discuss the JLA's internal conversations regarding nations' discomfort with a Justice League of America following the dissolution of the U.N. sanctioned international operation, their commitment to preserving their humanism, protests against perceived League authoritarianism, and the Martian Marvel's specific efforts to address the imbalance of metahuman protections outside the Anglo-Saxon West. Clearly saving all that deep "my evil twin brother, Gumby Venom," for Ostrander. Nothing communicates the sociopolitical impact of superhumans like writing a one-off of Beatriz da Costa talking like Charo while battling a racially caricatured voodoo doctor from a '70s Blaxploitation Bond movie. But I'm not bitter.

There's talk of Z'Onn Z'Orr, the ancient Martian city destroyed in the first extended arc of the series in favor of... a generic pyramid? There's a multiplicity of international identities offered, with endless story possibilities teased, replaced by the tired exploration of duality in a super-hero comic, itself abandoned for the monotony of simple Martian Manhunter Team-Up. TIL there's a sly reference to actor Gregory Reed playing J'Onn in a potential movie. There's acknowledgement of his loneliness as a widower, but also his deep religious convictions and romantic incompatibility stemming from his alien nature. Unlike that time he shagged Jemm's fiance, centuries his junior, from a race still suffering the effects of slavery and colonization by Martians, coloring his long history of mentoring young girls? We're still having fun, right? Considering what could have been? Yeah, this is fun.