Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Podcast- Neron & The Underworld

Episode #35

Look for us on iTunes, ShoutEngine or directly download an art-tagged MP3 from the Internet Archive

On our newest episode and latest entry into a social media crossover, Best Event Ever 2018, Martian Manhunter traverses Heaven and Hell to confront the Faustian evil of Neron, the heretical arch-cherub Asmodel, and is introduced to the fallen angel Zauriel. We cover Underworld Unleashed #1-3 (1995,) Justice League Task Force #30, The Flash #127-129 (1999), Rogues Gallery, JLA #6-7 (1997), 35 (1999), & 60 (2002), and JLA: Paradise Lost, featuring creators including Mark Waid, Mark Millar, Christopher Priest, J.M. DeMatteis, Howard Porter, Angel Olivetti and more (one of whom has a brief cameo appearance here.) We also look at the 1995 card set SkyBox DC Villains: Dark Judgment and other related DC offerings.

1995 Skybox DC Villains: The Dark Judgment Trading Cards & Rogues Gallery
Underworld Unleashed #BestEventEver
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Friday, September 28, 2018

Martian Manhunter commission by Ron Frenz

When I was younger, I wasn't that into Ron Frenz, and by the time of Image Comics, I openly disdained his "old timey" style. A mix of both Buscema brothers with a healthy dose of Kirby, a smidgen of Jazzy Johnny Romita, and a pinch of Jack Davis for flavor, I was clearly a tasteless idiot beguiled by excess crosshatching. Today I really appreciate his figure work and clear storytelling, but I'm especially amazed by how well defined his characters are. Frenz has a ton of full figure (often full color) character commissions online that I intend to repurpose next month, but he didn't make it too easy, because you can't pretend someone he's drawn is anyone else. If you're at all familiar with a character, they're so recognizable and perfectly on-model that you cannot confuse them with any other. Luckily, there was some stuff from pitches featuring obscurities and rejects that will come in handy. This is a fabulous Alien Atlas rendering, and as with Ramon Bernado on Justice League Task Force, that Buscema vibe fits J'Onn to a T.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

1994 DC Comics Style Guide piece by Kerry Gammill & Dennis Janke

I firmly believe Kerry Gammill deserves mention in the same breath as José Luis García-López, while readily admitting that's based more on his potential at his peak than his output. Both artists had clean, handsome styles and clear yet dynamic storytelling in the Neal Adams mode, making them very attractive to licensors. Unfortunately, Gammill was far less prolific, and I feel his strengths not only better suited Marvel characters, but also that he isn't well served being compared to the Patron Saint of DC Style Guides on the exact same iconic characters but with more mullet/pouches/Chromium. JLGL was much more in his element in the 70s/80s than Gammill was in the Extreme Age, if only for the greater allowance for smiles. Still, this is a nice bit of work, and a rare instance of Martian Manhunter sharing space with the Magnificent Seven Fiveish Justice Leaguers at a point prior to Morrision's JLA canonization. And you don't know-- maybe someday The Green Flame or an ambiguous Oliver Queen/Connor Hawke hybrid might deserve to take the place of Green Lantern and Aquaman. Did you see DC having an entire slate of shared universe shows dubbed the "Arrowverse?" No you did not! The part where a show about an archer being the one that feels the most long in the tooth and ready to be put out to pasture being prognosticated by yourself, I'll concede.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

2015 White Martian commission by Matthew Fletcher

We had a good run. Much better than last year by far, and I'm definitely going to stick to the "weekdays only" format in future September anniversary months, but the well has run dry. All the thought and vitriol that went into essaying and podcasting on the newly announced maxi-series derailed the JLTF coverage and sapped my will to talk J'Onn J'Onzz, so thanks for that, DC. Now it's crunch time for a bunch of podcasts and plans coming due in October, so we're officially past the "trying" part on posts this month. I blew my schedule today, so a double post to cover two days stats now, and I'll likely mine Comic Art Fans to finish out the eleventh anniversary. There'll be another themed crossover podcast before Halloween, and I'll try to do four other weekly non-lazy posts for October (and thereafter, fingers crossed.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

2016 Martian Manhunter Emerald City Comic Con Convention Sketch by Tim Sale

Sorry gang, but I wasn't really up for writing or scanning tonight, so I decided to revisit an old standby in Comic Art Fans for my first Manhunter search in many years. I came upon this surprising piece by Tim Sale, who is of course revered by his trips to Gotham City and Metropolis, but who I don't recall ever going near Middletown. Given his minimalist style and tendency to work in a "Year One" setting, I'm sure some of you are disappointed that he drew the New 52 design, but I dig it.

Monday, September 24, 2018

2016 Monty Moran Space City Comic Con Commission by Thom Zahler

Another groovy piece by Zahler, and I believe this was the last full size & full color I've gotten from him, at the infamous final Space City Comic Con before it was shut down by mismanagement. This is definitely my girlfriends' favorite of his, and probably mine as well. Besides capturing the Kentucky Fried goodness of the first actual Martian Manhunter villain to appear in Justice League of America, Zahler also conveys who The Getaway Mastermind is through the detailed "blackboard" of handwritten-cursive-annotated schematics where he's designed another of his hi-tech escape vehicles! The scan doesn't do justice to the skin color and other tones om the main figure, but as you can see, this is a lovely and intricate bit of work! I dialed way back on my Manhunter commissions because, as you can see, it's taking me 2-4 years to post pieces nowadays, and Zahler's sunny style hasn't matched the darker material I've been getting done more recently, but I definitely need to hit him up again!

Thom Zahler

Friday, September 21, 2018

2014 Comicpalooza Professor Arnold Hugo head sketch by Kevin Maguire

Unlike my buddy Joe Fixit, I only ever bought a handful of pieces of original art off eBay in its late '90s/early '00s heyday. There was a Sal Velluto Black Panther pencil sketch, an unpublished Michael Bair cover, and possibly oldest of all, a figure sketch by Kevin Maguire. When the great artist came to Houston a few years back, I took the latter faded, acid stained, flimsy sheet of barely visible pencils to ask if he could verify its authenticity. Maguire glanced at it, shrugged, and said something along the lines of "probably" dismissively. Maguire was only doing head shots at the show, and I was damned sure going to have at least one 100% bona fide piece in my collection. In fact, I decided to take both the certain and "probably" Maguire pieces together and turn them into a faux comic cover... in 2014. Since you guys already had a chance to see a tiny washed out and badly colored version of the art, I then proceeded to sit on a vastly superior scan for near on half a decade. Anyhow, my love of both Maguire and Arnold Hugo is well documented, and if I could only get a head, I wanted a real melon of a noggin. But man, if you could only see the Hank McCoy he drew before mine. It looked like he rendered every single hair on the classic Avengers-era Beast, but I couldn't find it online. If I'm finally unearthing mine, that dude needs to follow suit for all to see...

Kevin Maguire

Thursday, September 20, 2018

2014 The Human Flame Comicpalooza Jam Sketch Detail by Sam Lotfi

I've officially gotten too many commissions when I've got unfinished jams dating back over four years that I can only place and date by cross-referencing other portions of the same jam. Here we revisit Sam Lotfi, who has produced almost every one of his published comic books across his career since I spotlighted his take on TOR, the Robot Criminal of Mars, even though that was only a year earlier than this one. He's currently drawing Cyborg for Marv Wolfman at DC, by the way. Also, it's been a while since we talked Michael Miller hereabouts, and longer still since showing my other commission. I suck, I know, but better really late than never, right? Especially given how "never" my output on this blog was looking for a while there. Speaking of which, I still haven't started working on his profile page, a decade after Final Crisis.

Sam Lotfi

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Podcast- Martian Manhunter: Rebirth

Episode #34

Look for us on iTunes, ShoutEngine or directly download an art-tagged MP3 from the Internet Archive

Audio adaptation of a couple of blog posts with my hot takes on the newly announced 2018 Martian Manhunter maxi-series (scheduled to run as long as the previous so-called "ongoing series") by Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo.

We enjoy dialogue on the red planet, so here are our non-telepathic contact options:

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Martian Manhunter: Rebirth

The New 52 launched on August 31, 2011, and even though I speculated exhaustively about the presumed certain Martian Manhunter relaunch, it never actually came. However, something with a very strong BOLD NEW DIRECTION flavor involving the New 52 design and continuity arrived four years later on June 17, 2015 as part of a failed slate dubbed "DCYou." I guess it still counts as the New 52 series, despite its lack of branding as such, since that initiative didn't officially end until May 25, 2016. That's the date the "Rebirth" initiative began, course correcting the less popular alterations to return to a still changed but more familiar DC Universe. All of these dates are from Wikipedia, so excuse any errors, but "Rebirth" is stated as ending on November 29, 2017. However, I think J'Onn J'Onzz has another late entry into that theme. Since I exorcised my more pessimistic presumptions yesterday, let's seriously and more objectively take a look at The Hollywood Reporter's Heat Vision coverage of the December-launching latest Martian Manhunter #1 (of 12.)

  • 1. The Writer
Real time here: I've barely read anything Steve Orlando has done (possibly only his Vixen special,) so I'm taking it back to grade school with context clues. As people who grew up with too much time and not enough money are want to do, I bought the Virgil graphic novel three years ago and have yet to read it because I can now afford to throw money down the hole where my unmet childhood wants lies. Anj seems fond of his Supergirl work. Justice League of America volume IDK seemed like a well-intentioned attempt at diversity. He's been something of a one man '90s nostalgia machine, and I ain't mad at that. Actually, no one seems mad at him, which is a minor miracle in this age, and his reception on Wonder Woman stands in stark contrast to James Robinson's. That's heartening. I guess I need to finally sit down with the Martian Manhunter/Marvin the Martian Special and that Terrorsmith issue that has been collecting dust next to Virgil? Regardless, I'm heartened by Orlando's obvious great affection and enthusiasm, who states J'Onn has "always been my favorite character since I was younger."
  • 2. The Artist
I've had a bit more exposure to Riley Rossmo, particularly the grim n' gritty first arc on Bedlam, but I have to say that I much prefer his current work. I confess that I initially briefly mistook him for Robbi Rodriguez, which should be taken as a compliment. (Before anyone's butthole clenches, getting mistaken for Ethan Van Sciver would also be a compliment #GoodArtOnBothSides.) I'm a Bronze Age baby, and I've internalized a lot of that How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way jive, but I appreciate the fun and creativity on display in the preview art. Most importantly, it's weird, and J'Onn J'Onzz always works better in Portland than in Gotham City, as far as I'm concerned.
  • 3. The Story
We don't know much, but I'm a bit of a Martian Detective, so I have some hunches. The easiest, obvious assumption is that Orlando is a fan of the John Ostrander series. He references Ma'aleca'andra in a tweet, and I'm old enough to recognize the similarities between Orlando's and Ostrander's talking points in pitching their individual series ahead of the launch. While I like to see J'Onn go places more iconic heroes can't, I also think writers with no clear affection for the character like A.J. Lieberman and Rob Williams "break" the property in pursuit of bold new directions. Orlando's desire "to fire our best shot across the bow of doing an evergreen story with him" indicates to me that we're in Man of Steel/Year One territory, reestablishing the basics of the character after literally decades of neglect toward the Samachson/Miller premises, but with a modern twist. We'll get to see Mars and the J'Onzz Family perish again, but also more character building on Earth in his life as John Jones, which was treated as an afterthought by Ostrander. Orlando's insistence that J'Onn was too "perfect" makes me wonder if he'll have a Lieutenant Jim Gordon type arc.
  • 4. The Characters
Nobody says nothin' on this front, but obviously Police Detective John Jones is b(l)ack, and his female associate is for sure Diane Meade (who I haven't done a biography for because... um... the patriarchy?) It would be nice if Captain Harding got in there, but I wouldn't count on it. More probably, a revised Malefic will at least turn up in the flashbacks, if not serving as the overall villain. The Martian serial killer M.O. in the first issue strongly recalls D'Kay D'Razz (another female character I've yet to profile, but is it my fault nobody uses Bel Juz or Cay'an?)
  • 5. The Costume
is funky. I know Jim Lee's New 52 redesign has not been universally embraced by Manhunter fans, but I like it a lot, and it's been a solid bridge between the classic suit and the José Ladrönn Coneheadhunter that has set the tone for his media adaptations since 2006. As much as I love J'Onn, I really do feel that he was way too basic for the first half century of his existence. I think you lean into the science fantasy, and dressing like Casual Friday Hawkman just doesn't cut it. Rossmo brings the stripes, discs and boxer briefs back, but trades in the cape for... arm warmers? He's got sleeves but no shirt? Is he a stripper? M'Ajik My'Ke?
  • 6. The Politics
DC has teased John Jones as African-American since the New 52, not to mention the Daryl Wessel persona in the previous series. Listen, DC needs better representation, and the vast majority of actors to portray J'Onn in live action and animation have been black (plus on the Supergirl TV show, they're the default human race for their Martians.) It's about time DC committed to this. But also, we're seeing John as a cop for the first time in the 21st century, and his police badge appears prominently in multiple promotional images (while bleeding from the mouth in one.) Whether intentional or not, it sure feels like #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter have been threaded into this piece.
  • 7. The Martians
Grant Morrison perhaps infamously (to my mind, anyway) pointed out his theory that one of the reasons Martian Manhunter never caught on despite much lip service of folks liking him was racism... his otherness and the cultural imprinting upon him as a result. J'onn was at his most successful when he was a white guy in all but coloring running as a back-up strip in a book starring a white guy and his young ward. Probably his worst selling book was "The Others Among Us" mini-series, where his alienness was most pronounced. A manifestation of this unconscious racism has been the modern age Martians, a species of shapeshifters, being portrayed as naked aborigines of almost universal body type and complexion. All the greens and all the whites looked the same within their racial type, an odd thing given it was the aforementioned Morrison who reintroduced the White Martians. For the first time since the Silver Age, Rossmo is depicting Martians with varied appearances, and leaning more heavily on the shapeshifting than any artist before him (and without doing another Geiger/Lovecraft xenophobic riff.) Finally.
  • 8. The Expressiveness
Another element that may have hurt J'Onn since the Bronze Age is the tendency to let the beetle-brow do all the work. I remember reading years ago that Japanese audiences had largely rejected Western-style comics in part because our characters were too "realistic" and inexpressive, where an obvious hallmark of manga/anime is its embracing broader, more cartoonish expressions of personality. Rossmo's preliminaries look like a Pixar character sheet, and after I got over the initial shock, I approved of this outreach. Maybe now nitwits can stop dismissing J'Onn as "boring"?
  • 9. Whatever That Red Creature Is
Orlando has referenced Per'elandra on Twitter, which is derived less from Ostrander than his original source, C. S. Lewis. Perelandra is Venus, a planet not represented among the solar syndicate of Silver Age criminal from the Sol system. H'ronmeer save us from another Mars-centric story, but I'd love to see more of their interaction with the rest of the solar system's unearthly inhabitants.
  • 10. The Tone/Influences
Series editor Chris Conroy tweeted, "If I had a logline to give you, it'd be "TWIN PEAKS meets DUNE." This is a weird one, and all the more rewarding for it." He also called it "a very intense MISTER MIRACLE-esque take." That comparison has been made with such repetition, especially among DC staff, that it's worryingly "party line." That said, what I've read of King & Gerads' maxi-series would well suit the Sleuth from Outer Space. I've often noticed the similarities between F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper and Detective John Jones, and cited another yet Kyle MacLachlan vehicle, The Hidden, as a template for a Manhunter movie. Odd that DC reached out to Albert Rosenfield for J'Onn and had Coop play Superman instead. Steve Orlando also claims, "I’ve read ever solo J’onn issue ever, we will be drawing not just from those but from Mars literature in general across the last 100+ years," which would be a first, while also finding time for "Space Bar Mitzvah". While I have my misgivings about the sway the modern era series seems to have this project, the creators have made a lot of smart associations and seem overall to be headed in the right direction. The more I look at the art, the more clever bits I catch, like the solar system contained within the telepathic waves while J'Onn is addressing the iguana, or that cover where all of the parts of Detective Jones in the light are human, while the shadowed portions are Martian. I really dig the swirls and textures across J'Onn's emotive red eyes. They're whispering sweet somethings in my ear, and I start to swoon, but I've been hurt before...

  • 11. The Solicitation
written by STEVE ORLANDO
art and cover by RILEY ROSSMO
variant cover by JOSHUA MIDDLETON
blank variant cover available
No matter what you know about J’onn J’onnz, you’re not prepared for this! The acclaimed team of writer Steve Orlando and artist Riley Rossmo (BATMAN/ THE SHADOW, BATMAN: NIGHT OF THE MONSTER MEN) reteam for a reinvention of the Manhunter from Mars in this twisted, unexpected series. Back on Mars, J’onn was about as corrupt as a law officer can be, and when a reckoning comes for his entire society, he’ll get a second chance he doesn’t want or deserve! One shocking murder, and an unexpected fragment of the Mars he lost, will change his life—and the course of the Earth—forever!
  • 12. The Twist Ending
I've got a reputation for negativity, and I spent an entire post trying to purge my well founded concerns that DC was going to screw up my guy again. I took in all the information from the Heat Vision article, and I think from this breakdown you can see that I was giving the project the benefit of the doubt. I actually had hope that this would be a book that I could enjoy. And then the solicitation copy completely ruined it for me. I had questions about Orlando's comparisons to Peter Parker's allowing Uncle Ben's killer to go free after the robbery, and his tragic misreading of Bruce Wayne's origin involving "failure" on an eight year old's part has already been mocked online. J'Onn J'Onzz as a corrupt cop though is such a fundamental misinterpretation of anything that has ever been known about the character that it makes me long for the Martian Murderbot from the last series. At least that book had Darryl Wessel, Mr. Biscuits, and other fractured aspects of a J'Onn J'Onzz I could recognize and who, having been mislead about the very nature of his existence, yet defaulted to his essential humanism. There are many ways to play J'Onn J'Onzz as a flawed figure in a noir setting, but "corrupt" is absolutely not one of them. In a noir, J'Onn is the dupe, too naive and idealistic to see the true evil right under his misguided brow. He's the sucker who gets in way over his head and pays a heavy price for his mistakes. Part of J'Onzz's appeal is his inherent tenderness; someone a little too sensitive and reserved for this cruel world. He's the soft center of a cool shell, penitent for his missteps and inability to arrest the darkness in others. If this solicitation is a true reflection of Orlando's knowledge of the character, he knows nothing about J'Onn J'Onzz. Furthermore, deciding the first canonical comic book series to portray John Jones as a black man is also the perfect time to reveal that he was the Red Planet's answer to Alonzo from Training Day in the current climate is frankly nauseating, and I'm not at all sure that I can support such a book. I'm angry and disgusted and heartsick over this unfortunate turn, and I can only hope this is a misunderstanding on the part of myself or the copy writer. I have strong reservations about placing a pre-order under these circumstances, but if I do and find anything like what this copy represents to me, I will drop it like a bad habit.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Martian Manhunter Returns In New Series Canceled With Twelfth Issue To Soften The Inevitable Blow!

I've got a lot going on. I won't bore you with the details, or trouble myself obfuscating those details on account of my well-documented internet phobia, but just trust me on that. Life stuff, mostly happy, but also the hobbying you handful of people distract yourselves from the gnawing pit of existential doom with at my various poorly trafficked, money-losing avenues of folly. I'm trying to get out a (work) week of daily blog posts (thems some rusty muscles) at least throughout September to make up for my near total neglect last year (and return to we(a?)ekly offerings thereafter.) I'm also stockpiling to make sure I don't blow a giant hole in the weekly Rolled Spine Podcasts schedule while also intermittently shepherding some ambitious projects in development for next year. I'm putting in a valiant effort to waste my remaining life tossing dubious content into the void, is what I'm saying.

So anyway, I had to go across town for a meeting the other day when my Twitter started blowing up, and to make a long story about me into a longer rant about what me thinks about a thing, there's a new Martian Manhunter maxi-series that I suppose I ought to address. I wasn't sure I'd have time for this distraction from barely covering J'Onn J'Onzz in the context of synopsizing a poorly received 23 year old team book on my moribund Martian Manhunter blog, but the dudes were nice enough to launch this project as a twentieth anniversary gift to me personally, and so I wanted to thank them by over-analyzing the modest details of their announcement from a place corrupted by anger, jealousy, resentment and disappointment until I kill any enthusiasm and the book gets cancelled after eight issues instead of its intended expiration date. You're welcome, gents! Try the Zoloft. It helps. Also, I couldn't get to the first day of a local con without paying $45 for, like, two hours, so I decided to pout and not go at all. I have a few hours to kill.

I'm one of The Olds, so to get a deeper look into this announcement, I naively first went to the big comic book websites, where people who desperately need proofreaders breathlessly drafted clickbait headlines on their smartphones about movie rumors interspersed with dutifully dumped press releases about those comic book things without additional comment. Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter did 1,100 words and posted a wealth of (initially) exclusive preview art. I can't overstate enough that Newsarama did 350 words, and CBR seemingly less with only one picture. I can't say for sure because of the ad blocker blocker that drives me to any other site but trash fire home of the limp lame both-siderism hot take CBR. I guess they were busy doing a series of articles about the potential of a Mark Wahlberg Mile 22 shared universe or listing things alongside an opposing bunch of things.

S'pose I've stalled as long as I can to avoid discussing the actual topic without it being really obvious that I don't really want to do it. Look, when I started this blog, the Martian Marvel was starring in the JLA Classified serial "Ghosts of Mars" and was announced to costar in a new series of Batman and the Outsiders. Then JLA Classified was canceled and not only was Manhunter out of the Outsiders, but the creative team was fired and the material they produced was replaced without ever seeing the light of day. In the eleven years since I started this blog, J'Onn's been murdered without being avenged, turned into a homicidal zombie, given a bright new start that was terminated within a year, got New 52'd, is no longer a founding member of the JLA, was barely a member of Stormwatch before erasing everyone's memory of his ever being a member, appeared in an unwanted Justice League spin-off title that was promptly cancelled despite launching with 52 variant covers, appeared in another unwanted Canadian Justice League spin-off title that was cancelled even sooner, and when he finally rejoined the Justice League people cared about, there were murmurings he was about to turn evil and finally betray the team.

There weren't a lot of people reading the Ostrander/Mandrake ongoing series, but most liked it, and I was not like them. I criticized that book ceaselessly on DC's message boards, wanting another book, but bought every issue for three years. DC gave me a different book five years later, which was far worse, so I didn't buy that one. DC heard my complaint, and went another eight years before trying again. I had high hopes for that title, with a promising if unfamiliar writer and a "fan fave" style artist. They killed Martian Manhunter in the second issue and did a year long adaption of the 2003 Shyamalanian thriller Identity (62% on Rotten Tomatoes) starring a cross between Forrest Gump and the Elephant Man called Mr. Biscuits. That was the series where it turned out everything we knew about Martian Manhunter was a lie and that he was really an automaton created through necromancy as a genocide machine against Earth that ended with his becoming a giant anime mech and killing Mars instead or something. I'll be honest, I hated that series the most of all and never finished reading it. You might not think it's fair to harshly criticize a book you never finished, but I also never did freeze frames on the walls of John Doe's apartment in Se7en. I'm pretty sure I got the gist of it, and I knew I didn't want none of that.

Point being, I've financially supported a lot of Martian Manhunter comics that I did not enjoy and knew full well I could get cheap as a back issue if I felt compelled to inflict that upon myself, probably in service to writing a character-centric blog as I watched blogging in general die all around me and was subsidizing the evidence that none of the effort I was putting into educating the public about J'Onn J'Onzz was having any appreciable impact on the quality of his representation. Whether I speak out against them or keep silent, they all fail in short order, and the frustrating futility of being a vocal fan crushed the light and life of that very same fandom.

Okay, here's another series. It's advertised as getting a year, which in today's market is pretty generous, so it's got that going for it. I'm supposed to pontificate on this, but I'm flashing back on all the hours I spent drafting pieces around the months of speculation about whether he would die or be reborn or get his own New 52 series or join a new Justice League International. Remember that time I did a run of synopses covering the Image/Wildstorm issues of Stormwatch that didn't even feature the characters on the team J'Onn was on for two trade collections that were essentially retconned? Why am I still doing this? Why are you reading it? The writing of Martian Manhunter on the Supergirl TV show is better than anything in the comics since I've been running this blog, and all those Berlanti shows are horribly written (I never finished season two, tried to jump back on season three, but lost interest again.) The best writing overall in the past decade +1 was on the DC DTV animated movies, but only when Dwayne McDuffie was still there, and he died in 2011.

Everything sucks. It's been a soulwrenching couple of years. And now I get to contend with another Martian Manhunter book that'll probably bum me out and cost me $48 a year retail plus I'll feel obligated to buy the trades and maybe even finish that damned Williams/Barrows series before the end of the year. Ugh. At least I vented a bunch of the negativity I'd rather not ooze all over a perfectly innocent (until proven guilty) incoming creative team like this was The Evil Horde Slime Pit. Maybe tomorrow I can approach this subject with more objectivity...

Friday, September 14, 2018

Justice League Task Force #24 (June, 1995)

The so-called Baron Üman Von Mauler had gotten the drop on Gypsy, carted her to his house, bound her to a table, and begun to psychically assault her (often involving sexually suggestive scenarios.) Outside, her friends had dug up a corpse and drawn Chokula's ire. The distraction allowed Gypsy to get free physically, and to draw Von Mauler into her head for a home turf advantage. Gypsy engaged in mortal combat with Chokula's "virtual reality ninjas."

Flashing back to age fourteen, runaway Cindy Reynolds was picked up by a lecherous old priest named Father Tierney who kept calling her Nakia and fondling her in his car. Cindy elbowed the old man in the eye, the car crashed, and both passengers were thrown through the windshield. Cindy appeared to survive, and the priest did not. In the present, Von Mauler continued talking about Nakia in familiar ways, taking her to "their" homeland of Romania and telling her she had yet to tap a fraction of their shared powers. Gypsy "killed" Von Mauler on the psychic plane with her energy baton piercing his chest. Von Mauler left an aged corpse in the real world. Who was he? What did it all mean?

Gypsy went back to stay with her former lover Bronze Tiger. John Jones waited as long as he could before visiting her. Gypsy reflected, "J'Onn was watching. He knew. Knew about him. And did nothing to help me... Yes, J'Onn is a Martian. But how does he justify not helping me? ...Guess it's too easy to think of him as human. Every now and then he just does something... inexplicable. Something you can't figure out. Something you can't forgive."

John Jones defended, "I knew he'd come for you one day. That's why I kept a file on him. That's why I wanted you in the Task Force..." Gypsy cried at the betrayal, and over what John had knowingly allowed to have happen to her without intervening. "I also knew you couldn't run from him forever. Triumph's setting up a new headquarters for us. It should be operational in a week. I hope you'll answer my call."

"Bride of Chok" was by Christopher Priest, Ed Benes, Sal Velluto, Emir Ribeiro, Mark Stegbauer, Mark McKenna & Rich Rankin.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Justice League Task Force #23 (May, 1995)

"God... this was supposed to be a gag... and I suppose, my way of one-upping Martian Manhunter-- getting back at him for snapping orders at me like I was some kind of fool. I am a fool. Trapped outside reality for nearly a decade-- trying to overcompensate-- jealous of all the heroes who started with me who have gone well beyond me..." Triumph couldn't find Gypsy and the Ray, even with L-Ron's telepathic third eye. Had he gotten them killed?

Ray managed to find a small electrical source and escape the energy-dampening room, soon flying to Paris... France. Will (or "Billy Mac," as he accidentally and unhappily slipped into calling himself while with L-Ron) eventually reached Ray through his new belt communicator device, and called him back to Paris, KY. At city hall, they found a picture of Baron Üman Von Mauler, dated 1722-1797. Ray talked the team into digging up his grave, just to be sure. The unearthed corpse attacked the team, firing eyebeams that disfigured the left side of Triumph's face. "Count Chokula" appeared to fry Ray's skull and cause the arms of the buried dead to seize Triumph.

L-Ron was not so easily handled, as he used his third eye to draw Von Mauler into his psychic control room, then beat him with a virtual baseball bat. It seemed Despero's murderous instincts were reasserting themselves on L-Ron's ginger psyche, so threats against Chokula's life were not idle. It was determined that this Von Mauler was merely a descendant of the recorded one, but he was also a mutant empath (one of the most powerful in the world) capable of creating illusions, who had been preparing for a confrontation with the Justice League.

Cue Martian Manhunter. "--which was why I had Von Mauler under surveillance. I had planned to deal with Von Mauler in my own time. Your unfortunate prank forced his hand before I had time to prepare her... Gypsy. And now, because of your interference-- we may have lost her forever."

"Chok II" was by Christopher Priest, Sal Velluto, Mark Stegbauer, Mark McKenna & Mick Gray.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Justice League Task Force #22 (April, 1995)

"Savage is a powerful and ruthless foe... and we embarrassed him. He will go to great lengths to avenge himself." In the rubble of the building from which the entire young team escaped unscathed ahead of an explosion, Triumph yelled at the holographic projection of their immortal enemy, who responded, "I trust I've made myself clear, Martian Manhunter... [Your interventions] have earned you my enmity. I shall make it my driving ambition to be a worthy foe. The destruction of your headquarters here on Task Force Island has been a down payment. Be grateful I did not destroy the entire island. Next, alien, I shall destroy your children." With that, J'Onn J'Onzz flew away, without saying a word.

Despite Triumph's stated intention to, "Move on. Chapter two," and lack of concern for J'Onn's hurt "wittle feelings" on the matter, Will was indignant over this silent dismissal. Since he was technically still living in J'Onzz's Colorado cabin, he decided to investigate his benefactor to uncover his secret true identity. In the weeks he'd lived there, Triumph never bought into the place's "Andy Griffith homeyness," or why an alien would hew to 1950's bourgeoisie decor like a "Lazy Boy" recliner. Speaking of such, Gypsy found documents hidden in the hollow center of a globe of Mars related to a person named Baron Üman Von Mauler. Triumph was convinced that this was really J'Onn, brokering a land deal in Kentucky for a new headquarters, and wanted to show him up. Gypsy repeatedly protested this invasion of J'Onn's privacy, but was also desperate for an excuse to back peddle on her announced departure, as she had nowhere else to go. While the Ray had more important matters needing attending, he always seemed to go along for the JLTF ride, even if it meant a trip to Kentucky.

Triumph orchestrated a game intended to expose and shame Von Mauler, employing Ray and Gypsy as role-playing pawns. Except, Von Mauler isn't J'Onn, but he is very old (sometimes) and rather dangerous (consistently.) Before long, Ray is trapped in an airtight room that saps his energy powers, while Gypsy is beaten and subjected to unwanted sexual advances...

"Chokula" was by Christopher Priest, Sal Velluto, Andrew Lepoy, Mark McKenna & Mick Gray. For the record, Cindy & Ray's ages are revealed to be 19 in this story, and Will's 21. The majority of the issue is a Mad Magazine-style parody of Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film Bram Stoker's Dracula, with Winona Ryder & Keanu Reeves swapped out for two of our heroes to confront a very Gary Oldmanesque pseudo-vampire (who to this day is the closest thing Gypsy has ever had to an arch-rival, Despero notwithstanding.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Justice League Task Force #21 (March, 1995)

Vandal Savage was, of course, furious to learn that the descendant who had tried to kill him was still alive. Martian Manhunter was also angry, but at Westlake Defense Systems, the arms dealers Miss Watkis had been employing against Savage. The Justice League Task Force wrecked shop in retaliation. "You attacked Task Force Island, Gene [Rabuzzo.] You shot at my children... Do not ever attack me again. This visit has been a courtesy. Next time I shall not be so lenient." Speaking of which, J'Onn also had a firm warning for Triumph. "You deliberately disobeyed orders, modified my plans, and worked to undermine my leadership. In doing so, the Task Force was nearly killed. From precisely this moment forward, you will obey my orders to the letter, Triumph-- or you shall answer to me."

Gypsy was disquieted by witnessing Despero use his hypnotic third eye to order one guard to kill another, before L-Ron caught himself and ordered a downgrade to "stun." Upon returning to her quarters, she kept replaying her latest near death experience as she packed her things. "Despero" tried to give her a gift, but she refused to continue abiding the creature that orphaned her. The Ray was sitting on the stoop outside, trying to figure out when to quit himself, since his personal life was overwhelming him even before adding the distraction of a super-team. Meanwhile, the already aggrieved Triumph had just learned that his investment in a QVC-type operation before he got lost in time was now worth $40 million, and would easily pay for him to set up his own operation.

Within L-Ron's "synthetic consciousness implanted within an organic being," J'Onn J'Onzz reassured the still shirtless simulacrum "You are a man, L-Ron. A being with full capacity to feel the sting of rejection. Your gift for Gypsy was very thoughtful." J'Onn was certain that she would eventually accept it. "This is all part of their growing process. Now that they have all decided to leave-- I shall summon them." Regardless of their prior plans and protestations, the lot were all wearing their sharp new team uniforms when all was said and done. "The training uniforms are meant to inspire unity and cohesion. They should remind each of you that you are no longer individuals-- or loners-- but parts of a whole." Further, Gypsy was given a new energy baton, fabricated by L-Ron based on a weapon Gypsy had devised while acting as a psychic image within his mind. She yet protested, but a holographic projection of Vandal Savage interrupted to vow revenge and detonate a bomb...

"Alive" was by Christopher Priest, Sal Velluto & Jeff Albrecht.