Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Doomsday Clock (2017-2019)


Watchmen does to '60s Marvel Comics what Fritz the Cat did to funny animals twenty years earlier, but with pretentious transitions and leuprolide acetate. I'm morally opposed to a corporation exploiting works against the creator & owner's wishes because of an unprecedentedly aggressive anti-reversion strategy. But also, I'm specifically opposed to a bunch of pale grimdark Charlton Action Heroes analogs being integrated into the DC Universe. I think a bunch of self-conscious fanboys elevated Watchmen to "art" status back in the '80s to validate their fixations, but it's never been a favorite of mine, and arguably did more harm than good for the medium. Where were all the 'gaters when Rorschach was cramming his politics into childhood morality plays/power fantasies? Oh yeah, it was okay because their politics are Rorschach's. You know, the weird crazy stinky ugly homicidal son of a dirty whore who commits suicide by super-hero. Their guy.

So, I didn't read Doomsday Clock, but I have skimmed the heck out of it for a thought experiment. Most online resources are less than clearly written, and I think we can be a bit more concise than a three hour explainer video. Most of the early issues are very grounded in the Watchmen continuity, which is one of my problems with the book. I don't want to spend a third of a series on a Watchmen sequel that then transitions into a typical DC event series, and I doubt people in the market for a Watchmen continuation want to spend a third of the series on an Ostrander-period Firestorm: The Nuclear Man arc. I'm going to really speed through the early stuff.


So the grand scheme that ends Watchmen fails, and about half a decade later (1992), Adrian Veidt is ruined. He was exposed by the Walter Kovacs diary, with his businesses overrun by angry mobs. I'd argue that unsubstantiated ramblings from a criminal nutjob wouldn't have that level of impact, but then 2020 happened. A new incarnation of Rorschach breaks into a prison to release grim n' gritty analogues of the old Charlton villains Punch and Jewelee. Marionette & The Mime have enhanced killing-people abilities, and a young son that was taken from them after being born behind bars. Ozymandias is supposedly dying from a brain tumor, which he uses to convince Rorschach II to help him with a new global salvation plan involving Earth DC, and the quartet escape Earth-Sad-Bastard just before the nuclear war starts.

Speaking of their destination, the not-so-New 52 is living through its own retread of the immediate Post-Crisis deconstructionist "realism," especially John Ostrander-associated material like Legends. For the past six months, "The Supermen Theory" has plagued the popular consciousness, explaining the abundance of metahumans in the U.S.A. as the result of secret government experimentation inspired by the debut of Superman. It was first postulated by Dr. Helga Jace of the European nation Markovia from period The Outsiders comics. Metamorpho and Man-Bat were supposedly products of this Department of Metahuman Affairs project, which makes me groan because Rex Mason dates back to 1965, while the D.M.A. apparently was introduced 31 years later in a half-dozen The Power of Shazam! issues that barely anyone read. I realize we're nearly a quarter-century out from that, but the Department wasn't popularized until Allan Heinberg's brief Wonder Woman run in 2006, which to my old ass was five minutes ago. DC had given a big push to the D.E.O. back in the late '90s, and I vastly preferred them to the seemingly redundant D.M.A., if only for having better alphabet soup letters for my spoon. Anyway, who cares, Bendis probably bloweded them both up in his Leviathan story.


I think most people in the U.S. would be going "U!S!A!" over that, and the rest of the world would sigh and figure "that tracks," but instead its treated as a new "nuclear winter" type existential threat that casts a pall over all of increasingly panicky human life. Seeking metahuman research, LexCorp buys out Kord Industries (Blue Beetle,) Genetech (Mike Baron Flash comics) and the Sunderland Corporation (Swamp Thing,) while Wayne Enterprises muddles through ill-considered acquisitions of Dayton Labs (Mento) and Stagg Industries (Metamorpho.) Aside from filling out back matter to mirror that of Watchmen, these details don't amount to much. I guess it sets up that Lex Luthor has been tracking temporal anomalies for years, including a vast collection of duplicates of that picture of Jon Osterman and Janey Slater that Doctor Manhattan drops everywhere across space and time because he doesn't wear pants. He blue himself before becoming an always-nude.

Because layers, there's a side story where Johnny Thunder sneaks out of a retirement home, finds Alan Scott's original Green Lantern battery, and meets up with Rorschach and Saturn Girl. I'm going to assume at least a bachelors degree in DCology among my readership, because I'm not going to grind everything to a halt to explain what a Legionnaire is. They usually come in threes, though-- minimum. Dr. Manhattan brings The Comedian back from the dead for reasons, which include trying to kill anyone on DC Earth from Watchmen Earth that he can find. Batman and the Joker do stuff, while Lex Luthor stokes anti-metahuman fear, as he is wont to do. As part of a slavish devotion to the structure of Watchmen, the comic-within-a-comic Tales of the Black Freighter is now the mystery of the murder of golden age of Hollywood actor Carver Colman, who played Nathaniel Dusk. Spoiler, his success hinged on a friendship with Dr. Manhattan, and he was killed by his own estranged mother in the '50s after pushing back against her blackmail scheme regarding his sexual preferences. Which would be multiple-choice answer "D." No wonder he's so fond of Dr. Manhattan. His name starts with a capitol "D."

So the new Rorschach is the son of the chubby African-American psychiatrist that treated the original Rorschach in Watchmen. The kid either was manipulated into believing his dad and Rorschach were friends, and also he's a lifelong cray-cray who manages to develop the same vocal mannerisms as Walter Kovacs. With his parents dead, he's institutionalized, gets befriended inside by Mothman, and outside following Mothman's death by Ozymandias.

Issue #5 is where the DC stuff really starts to take over the narrative. Hawk & Dove get busted in Saint Petersburg after a hostage situation goes south. Russia closes its borders and forms a new version of the People's Heroes, led by their most powerful metahuman, Pozhar. The Russians also ally with Markovia. Firestorm denies rumors that he was created by the same secret program Lady Clayface and Killer Frost claim to be products of. King Kobra was making big moves in the Middle East. Black Adam pushes back against his terrorism, and declares Kahndaq a safe haven for all metahumans. The Creeper is an early recruit, maybe, since he's also a double agent created by the project. There's a multi-page mock Newsweek magazine article where the writer groups together various international teams from his own DK DC Comics Encyclopedia for his homebrew Mayfair RPG campaign or whatever. I resemble this remark. I have already pasted these pages into a single .jpg for ease of reference for my own fanboy crap.

There's a meeting of villainous entries from Who's Who in a Gotham City subway that serves as the backdrop for the Marionette & Mime origin story (don't care.) The Comedian shoots Typhoon in the face, and backmatter reveals that he and Moonbow were both undercover agents for the Department of Metahuman Affairs. You can really see the influence Steve Dillon had on Gary Frank's art here, both from the exploding face and that face's having resembled The Saint of Killers. Ozymandias cloned a new fantasy cat that was part Doctor Manhattan so that they could find Dr. Manhattan so that he could do a half-issue long exposition dump so that Geoff Johns could sub-divide the team and foreshadow a bleak conclusion. *Deep sucking recovery breath* Firestorm gets into a fight with the People's Heroes and supposedly accidentally turns a crowd of people into glass statues. Lois Lane gets a thumbnail drive featuring newsreel footage of the Justice Society of America, which you may have forgotten don't exist on Earth... 0? Prime? K.I.S.S., in the New 52/Rebirth continuity. In a secret location, with all his might, Firestorm manages to revert one boy to normal. Superman backs him up on a return to Russia to save the rest, but Vladimir Putin gets heavy-handed (redundant?) and the glass people all get shattered in the ensuing skirmish.

Martian Manhunter finally joins the narrative in issue #9, but there's time-jumping and tension-building that I'm just going to cut through. Plus, it's dumb, and we don't feed dumb. That's Facebook's job. Somehow, Ozymandias got his cloned Bubastis-Manhattan pet (lost me at "trained cat") to turn all those Russian people to glass and to blow them up and to leave an energy signature to implicate Dr. Manhattan (it's a double-frame-job with Firepatsy) . So all of the Silver Age DC heroes (Rebirth editions) take spaceships to Mars to confront Manhattan. 100% attendance. Even the Charlton Action Heroes, in pretty much their original costumes. Not contrived at all. At. All.

"Is there a plan, J'Onn?" "We make initial contact, Ralph. We see what he wants. Hello. My name is J'Onn J'Onzz. Who are you? Where do you come from? What are you doing on Mars?" Guy Gardner goes full Guy Gardner on the naked blue guy, aided by the Mature Readers advisory that allows him to use for-real foul language, and J'Onn also reverts to the JLI days by barking, "Guy, that's enough. From your mind, I can see that you're confused." Yeah, the cat-astrophe in Russia sent all these tachyons from Earth to Mars, screwing with weather patterns and Manhattan's Memento-vision and stuff. Then Johns folds Secret Wars II into a single issue with the heroes seemingly eradicating Manhattan but he brushes them off and does a Japanese freeze-time porno with them for reasons. Oh, and in the absence of Silk Spectre, rapes Ronnie Raymond's childhood by revealing Dr. Martin Stein had founded the Department of Metahuman Affairs and in the absence of his own metagene, intentionally triggered his surrogate son's in the nuclear incident that created Firestorm. Plus an off-screen but unmistakably petty President Trump throws Superman to the wolves/Russians/outraged public. That will age painfully.

The big reveal is that Doctor Manhattan stumbled upon the DC Universe, became intrigued by its intrinsic optimism, and recognized that the central figure in the entire continuum is Superman. Besides the DC Multiverse, there's also "The Metaverse," which is basically the core continuity of the comics line that influences all of the offshoots. When people like the Anti-Monitor and Extant/Parallax muck with the space-time continuum, it moves up Superman's debut from 1938 to 1950-something to 1986 and so on. Superman's perpetual displacement in time has a butterfly effect that ripples throughout the multiverse so that all realities reflect the changing circumstances of the Superman in the current continuity on the Earth. So Doctor Manhattan tests this cascade effect by screwing with the circumstances surrounding Superman in each era, for instance moving Alan Scott's power battery out of reach so that he dies in the train wreck that was his origin story (literally, not figuratively.) Dominoes fall and typically the universe gets darker, until Superman resurfaces and pushes things back to the good. Even as this story's Saturn Girl and Johnny Thunder dry up and blow away, representing the collapse of Superman's past and future, they shall return in new incarnations once Superman is restored later in the timeline.

Last two issues folks-- almost done. Because of the tachyon smog caused by the Russian explosion, Doctor Manhattan has a final lingering vision of meeting and getting punched out by Superman. This event supposedly either kills Manhattan or the universe itself. Ozymandias' master b-plan is that Superman won't kill Manhattan, but instead inspire him to also be a "Man of Action" who will go back and save the Watchmen-Earth instead of just letting his wiener float in the breeze of human nuclear extinction. Johns doesn't know what to do with Wonder Woman, so she's mostly M.I.A. before being kidnapped by Themyscira so that she doesn't get killed by Black Adam and the metahuman army of Kahndaq once they march against the U.N. Assembly and White House. Batman is running around trying to stop the DC U.S. from launching nukes. All of the other major DC heroes are still on Mars or wiped from continuity. Superman stands alone against the greater world's metahumans looking to arrest him for the Russia debacle. Manhattan shows up. Superman winds up the punch...


...and hits Pozhar, who was coming up from Manhattan's exposed rear. No single image better exemplifies the cognitive dissonance/wrongheadedness of this entire event than Superman brushing past Doctor Dingaling to pop a minor Cold War-era alternate Firestorm. Johns is so on-the-nose as to have a Black Rorschach in the midst of an existential crisis over the collapse of his paranoid far-right fantasies against the backdrop of riots threatening a new Civil War getting battered by a red-capped MAGA cracker. It's entirely possible that this was a one image refutation of everything Watchmen represented, or a summation of Johns' cluelessness that he built his entire DC career on the Alan Moore deconstructionist aesthetic. Choose Your Own Adventure.

The insufferably smug Ozymandias gets his wish, Doctor Manhattan declares his fandom, and restores the Pre-Flashpoint paradigm. The Post-Crisis Justice Society of America returns, while the rebooted Bendis/Sook Legion of Super-Heroes also show up, both backing Superman against... international heroes? Yay xenophobia? Also, the Multiverse realigns again to better match the Pre-Crisis conception, so I guess the Earth-One JSA is back to being the Earth-Two one, and the New 52 Earth-2 one never was? Gen-X gets an Earth-1985, and there's even an Earth-52, so the Earth-2 JSA and priest collar battlesuit Superman are saved! Johns does that thing where he turns the closing pages of a book into a teaser trailer for future storylines, except DC just had another major round of layoffs and 5G isn't happening and Johns & Frank have bolted for a creator-owned project at Image and there's a really good chance AT&T is planning to shutter the comics line entirely.

In the more gooder post-Rebirth revised continuity, Nathaniel Dusk actor Carver Colman was not murdered, and instead became a trailblazing "out" gay performer and LGBTQ+ activist. It's all very Ryan Murphy. Lex Luthor "kills" The Comedian by restoring him to the point in time he was snatched from-- mid-fall in Watchmen #1. I think Mime & Marionette stay on DC Earth to raise their newborn daughter. Doctor Manhattan "dies" to restore Watchmen-Earth, but he invests his remaining essence into Mime & Marionette's son and sets him up to be adopted by Night Owl and Silk Spectre. Both Ozymandias and Martin Stein go to prison on their respective Earths. A new Global Guardians line-up is teased.

I thought this would be shorter. You?

Friday, November 13, 2020

2019 A-Mortal convention jam sketch by Robert Henry

Click To Enlarge


I thought this A-Mortal piece would be a perfect Halloween post, but couldn't find a scan until after the holiday. Oh well. I guess Friday the 13th will do as a theme in a pinch. At least this one hasn't been sitting in a queue for half a decade-- just for long enough that I can't remember whether this was from Comicpalooza, North Texas Comic Book Show, or Other. I'm not familar with Robert Henry, but he was sitting next to Tim Vigil at a con while I was getting one of my personal character creations drawn. I liked Mr. Henry's book and offered him a selection of references to contribute to one of my unfinished jams. As such, his layout was dictated by available space, but I think he did a good job working within those restrictions. It's one of if not the first of the jams I started back in 2014, but I think I can maybe squeeze one more piece in before finally putting the whole thing up here. Won't happen this year, obviously...

Friday, November 6, 2020

2016 Tybalt Bak'sar Amazing Houston Comic Con Commission by Brad Garneau

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I've often mentioned my regrets over holding artists' work "hostage" to my severe downturn in blogging from daily to, in some cases, not even annually. I've stepped up a bit since this blog's thirteenth anniversary in September, though noticeably drifting from a weekdaily schedule that month to weekly-ish in October. This has been one of the longest weeks in the longest year in recorded human history, so I wanted to go out on a high note by releasing a piece I've saved far too long for a special occasion.

If I recall correctly, Brad Garneau started out in gaming before going into commissioned art with a specialty in painting. I really liked his work when I first saw it in 2015, but I'm not in a painting patron price bracket. Thankfully, he also does line art commissions, with a style recalling the likes of Angel Medina and Sam Kieth. He contributed The Vixen to a jam that was completed in 2017 (one of the few, in fact) that I'm only just now realizing as I type this that I've yet to publish. God, I suck.

Anyway, I don't get a lot of color pieces, and I wanted this one to get showcased at a time when it would get a lot of eyes... so instead I sit on it for four years after my traffic has dwindled to double digits from inactivity. Sigh. The toothpaste is out of the tube. Nothing to do now but brush. If you're interested in the subject, Tybalt Bak'sar, he has a profile page in the Vile Menagerie (now free of Photobucket branding), as well as a battle against The Cheetah...

Brad Garneau

Monday, October 26, 2020

JLA Martian Manhunter head sketch by Neal Adams



So my thing is that I hate stock head shots. I rarely commission head shots anymore because I always want for a fuller image, and even when I do, it's a custom of an obscure character so that it feels like it's "mine" in some respect. I once knew a fellow who got a head sketch of Jesse Custer from Steve Dillon that said "Cheers," only to learn soon after that it was entirely his default piece, with probably hundreds or even thousands of that same "cheers" drawing out there in the world. Why would I pay for an original photocopy, y'know?

That said, Neal Adams is one of the greatest artists in comic book history, and his style informed Michael Nasser's on the '70s solo serial. I didn't get to see Adams on J'onn J'onzz very many times, and while Adams does a little bit of sketching at shows, time and expense are admittedly both major factors in getting one of those. If I was going to own an Adams original, especially one involving the Manhunter from Mars, my best opportunity was going to be one of his many pre-worked sketches available for sale at his sprawling con set-up.

This particular piece isn't dated, but it was on yellowed paper with the Morrison-era "JLA" logo that may very well have dated back to that brand's heyday in the late 1990s. Frankly, that was a motivating factor in my finally picking up one of the pieces, since I'm very nostalgic for the Magnificent Seven period that represents "my" Justice League. At the time, I think it was the only J'onn J'onzz in his book, but I've found others when I've visited his table since. I did make a point of comparing them, and while similarly positioned, they vary enough in size and style that you're still getting something of a one-of-a-kind, plus I like mine best.

I'll also confess, I was hoping that buying a piece would butter Adams up for a very brief interview for a specific project that I had in mind, and somewhat to my surprise, he actually agreed. That was a funny experience, but perhaps one for another time...

Monday, October 19, 2020

2014 Justice League of America commission by Rodney Buchemi

Very rough day at work and a heavily distracted weekend bode ill for my podcasting ambitions, and means we'll at least start the week with a mere image post. I like this piece, but for some reason the artist doesn't seem to want to let go of a scan with any serious resolution. I'd normally link out for an enlargement, but why bother for 720px? Anyway, the timing of the piece (at least with regards to Martian Manhunter) is clearly Brightest Day despite being produced a few years into the New 52.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Atari Force #15 (March, 1985)



You may recall that J'onn J'onzz only returned to mainstream comics in 1984, so it's curious that less than a year later, he was offered a cameo in a licensed comic copyrighted by the gaming company Atari. It was a DC license, at least, in the brief time period that Warner Communications also owned Atari.

Atari Force started as a series of relatively self-contained episodes in the adventures of near-future space explorers featured in "mini" comics packaged with certain Atari game cartridges. The comics were closer to digests than what we generally consider mini-comics today, running 48 pages on high quality paper with dimensions similar to a thin TV Guide. The ongoing Atari Force standard edition comic book series launched a couple of years later, set a couple decades later. It featured a ragtag second generation team drawn together by circumstance and the original team leader's obsession with the mini-comics' main villain, the Dark Destroyer. It was a fun book by talented creators who bailed after about a year and whose overarching story was carried meekly across the finish line by lesser hands. The book limped along less than a year before getting the ax, and most of that second year was handicapped by truncated lead stories and filler back-ups of varying degrees of amusement value.

For instance, a three-parter was dedicated to a prequel story for Pakrat, a reluctant Atari Force member that was a cross between Rocket Raccoon and... actually, pretty much just a toned down and cowardly Rocket, as depicted by Marvel Studios. Pakrat is arguably cuter, with more mouse and monkey-like features (he's an alien, not Splinter.) Pakrat's whole species likes to steal, which is how he ends up pulling a high stakes burglary of one world's crown jewels with the rodent equivalent of Paris Hilton. This occurs at a sort of royal ball, and Martian Manhunter can be seen in one panel, hobnobbing at the party.

"To Catch a Pakrat" was by Andrew Helfer, Mike Chen, & Joe DelBeato. I'm not familiar with the art team, but I was amazed by their similarity to early Longshot period Arthur Adams as inked by Whilce Portacio. Most of the inker's other credits was over Herb Trimpe on G.I. Joe Order of Battle, which was... nah. So I assume the spark came from Chen, but he didn't have much of a career beyond some Robotech and Elementals material. A shame, based on the effort put into this three-parter.

Monday, October 5, 2020

2020 Martian Manhunter Movie Fan Casting: William Jackson Harper as Commander Blanx

So here's the deal-- Jason Isaacs is still my guy. Like Avery Brooks, his is the voice that I hear when I read Commander Blanx's dialogue. Despite being 57, he's still in pretty good shape, as evidenced by his turn on Star Trek: Discovery a few seasons ago. That said, it's been just under seven years since that initial casting post, and if I want to hold out again until 2030, I should probably recast with an eye toward longevity.

The best thing for me to do, if I'm not going with a literal representation of the comic book imagery for the villain, is to think outside that box. Cast backwards both from the actors that I've already selected and by finding a character for performers I'd like to see in any production of this sort. For instance, I enjoyed watching the full series of The Good Place over the last year or so. Chidi Anagonye was my favorite character on a show that plays heavily with themes of philosophy and existentialism. Chidi is the moral center of the show, thoughtful and concerned to the point of near total inaction. William Jackson Harper was excellent in that role, but he was also a rare point of interest in the mostly interminable Midsommar, playing a duplicitous toxic academic douchebro. It wasn't a complete departure from Chidi, as both characters are academics focused on observation, but it did demonstrate range and Harper's ability to make me turn on him while playing an unsympathetic character.

Parker also has elven, slight otherworldly features, including a severely arched brow-line and intensely puckish smile. In a better world, he could have been a perfect Captain Marvel/Shazam with those Howard Porter eyebrows of his. When he smiles, he radiates joy, goodness and warmth. Unfortunately, we're on Earth-Zachary Levi, one of the really crappy Earths, and so I'm instead casting for subversion. What if you took the expectations that come from this guy's presence and prior roles, and employ those qualities for the charismatic demagogue Commander Blanx? Though both men are in great shape, Jonathan Majors has nearly half a foot on Harper, but Blanx was never played as a major physical threat. His whole thing was that he was a charming fascist who bullies and connives his way into a position to commit global genocide for his sole personal gain. I think Harper could act the hell out of that, and I'd love to see his malevolent glee played against J'Onn's quiet virtue.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

2020 Justice League International COVID-19 PSA by Kevin Maguire

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Super-heroes wear masks. But I wouldn't be me if I didn't point out that this is a coronavirus safety message that explicitly notes the year is 2020 despite the JLI being on-model for 1987. I do like that all of the masks are branded, especally Bat-Mask 'natch, but it's a bummer than Martian Manhunter's is the most "there." I guess it's a view of Mars from space, and it's better than that man-symbol they floated in the Morrison JLA, but it's easily the worst of the lot (and Max Lord just has a green mask with a dollar sign.) I wish my mask had an atom symbol on it, though I'll admit the best one is Blue Beetle's.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

2020 Martian Manhunter Movie Fan Casting-- Patrick Fischler as Professor Arnold Hugo

I can tell you the exact moment that I lost the thread on the 1968 movie casting. It was the abortive spotlight entry for Anthony Perkins as Prof. Hugo. At some point, Hugo was going to or already had kidnapped Diane Meade. I had recently read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five for the first time, and was tring to come up with some way to paraphrase the passage "She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies. Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right away." Beyond wanting a tall, lanky performer and not having the strongest command of obscure 1960s character actors, I thought casting a bisexual performer would help to take a bit of the edge off a line intended to show the attitudes Meade faced as a period policewoman (and the menace Hugo represented.) That said, neither the actor or the character of Hugo really suggested that was an appropriate interpretation, and I felt skeevy about it without ever quite being able to let the impulse go. I also couldn't connect the dots between where I was and where I wanted the story to end up. Point being, I like Perkins and didn't want to besmirch his memory with ill-considered shenanigans. I also appreciate Hugo too much to hand him a mentality better suited to Dr. Psycho.

And this is a bone of contention with me, because the proportions of Hugo were a bit wonky in his debut Batman story. This led J. Bone to render Hugo a midget in his first comic book story in over forty years. So there's a Dr. Psycho comparison. And of course he's a super-scientist with a violent aggression directed at an extraordinarily powerful alien super-hero, a hydrocephalic Lex Luthor to go with Superman Green. It's easy to dismiss Hugo as a derivative goof.

The Joe Certa drawn Hugo appearances in the Manhunter from Mars strip, easily the largest body of work representing the character, demonstrates that "The Wizard of 1000 Menaces" is built more like Jack Pumpkinhead. His first campaign of terror on Gotham City was his most audacious, and he got beat by two non-powered vigilantes, one of whom couldn't legally drive yet. Given that his origin was so tied up in Gotham itself, it's weird that he never had another story set there. Also, he traded Batman & Robin for the Martian Manhunter, and I imagine whether you see that as punching up or down from the Dynamic Duo will shape your view of Hugo. My take is that Lex Luthor is a mad science would-be Caesar-- a De Niro or a Pacino or a Brando-- perhaps a Hackman would be most apropos? Hugo's a Joe Pesci. He's never going to be a Don, but he's a viscous bastard who demands a measure of respect or he will put some kind of hurt on you. When I was going to do the fake Smallville spin-off "Middletown," I really wanted Joe Pantoliano for the part, and he's still sort of my ideal in the way Avery Brooks is for J'Onn.

For a while there, I had Sam Rockwell in mind, but he's too darned endearing and really just plain too famous at this point. His comic book character is Justin Hammer forever, anyway. Then I saw Jimmy Barrett on Mad Men, and was reminded of Hugo. Barrett was a Rickles-style insult comic who was an even bigger jerk off-stage. Barrett had the swagger (and powerful connections) of a Rat Packer, but y'know, more Joey Bishop than Frank Sinatra. The actor Patrick Fischler even looked a lot like the Certa Hugo with those big blocky eyebrows of his. When he turned up years later as a very different character on Twin Peaks: The Return, I still recognized him as my Arnold Hugo guy. He's got the right look, accent, build, and makes me think of Hugo whenever I see him.

Monday, September 28, 2020

2020 Martian Manhunter Movie Fan Casting-- Michael Rispoli as Captain Harding

If I'm trying to focus on the Detective Comics run of John Jones in this casting, Captain Harding is a pretty immediate concern. I hopscotched to Diane Meade on the basis of a thin thread of gender balance, but he's an inevitablity. In all honesty, I thought this might be my first pass, and was prepared to just nod at Ryan Daly's Michael O'Neill selection. It turned out that I actually had cast Harding for my fake 1968 motion picture with Simon Oakland, and it was a pretty darned good take if I do say so myself, but I got blocked and abandoned that project without ever giving him a spotlight post.

The truth is, I don't have strong feelings about Captain Harding, who never got a first name despite appearing in about 75 comics. That says a lot right there, as does his absence from Who's Who or any other common fan reference books. Harding wasn't in the origin story, and he spent a decade being the exposition guy in an unheralded back-up strip. I could have done a race-swap, but I felt like it would be a disservice; another instance of low stakes lip service to diversity. Ultimately, I just Googled for a guy with the right look and a resume that suggests a notable actor willing to take a fairly thankless role. Michael Rispoli is best known for almost playing Tony Soprano, but he's a solid character actor from some well loved productions who could bring the right presence to probably being the story set-up guy here, too.

Friday, September 25, 2020

2020 Martian Manhunter Movie Fan Casting: Amber Stevens West as Detective Diane Meade

The first time I tried to cast a Manhunter from Mars movie in the '90s, I was too ignorant of his history to bother with Diane Meade, going with the more tertiary Cameron Chase to be played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (but I nailed it, right?) I also skipped her in the 2011 draft, though that was less a slight of the character and more about my fixation on sticking almost exclusively with other Martians (Bel Juz, B'rett, Ma'alefa'ak, Commander Blanx, ad nauseam.) Most of those picks hold up, although admittedly the actors themselves were often on the older side of viability even then.

This time, I'm trying for a grounded and youthful approach geared more toward the detective than the alien, so naturally J'Onn's longest serving partner on the police force comes to mind. Ryan Daly offered Katee Sackhoff in his fan casting. For my fake Smallville spin-off "Middletown" I went with Victoria Pratt. I was supposed to cover the entire first season, but never followed through, and really wanted to recast with Courtney Thorne-Smith if the pilot had gone to series. Finally, for a batch of faux 1967 movie posts that I also never wrapped up, I selected Jill Ireland. Jeez, I'm the Rob Liefeld of fancast blogging.

In 2020, I'm more conscious of "why should this exist" rather than "Joe Certa drew Diane to look like Kim Novak. How can I translate that to today?" It's really tough to insert diversity into a universe as lily white as DC's has been historically, which explains why there's been pushback to attempts like The Flash's that have left us with two distinct Wally Wests (which for my money is already two too many.) On the one hand, you've got sixty-some-odd years and hundreds of comics featuring white lady Iris West. On the other hand, how many super-heroes with lady reporter loves can you differentiate by hair color alone?

As with the collective acceptance of a race-swapped John Jones without dudes in khakis getting up in Tiki torches, when a comic creation has made maybe 55 appearances in about as many years as a peripheral character to a super-hero with a modest cultural presence, Hollywood has a wide latitude in their interpretation. Aside from being a moderately recognizable brand that can be adapted for a budget-conscious production foregoing a Snyderverse scale with a greater allowance for authorial vision, the best reason to even do a Martian Manhunter movie is because you can be as race liberated as you want to be. I've liked Amber Stevens West in everything I've seen her in, she comes off as sharp enough to play a detective, but she also has a warmth that can off-set modern writers' annoying tendency to treat Meade as "Lois Lane on menses without Midol." I really hated the televangelist hair Riley Rossmo gave her in the recent maxi-series, and while the romantic interest angle isn't required, I do think that the tendency to treat black super-heroes as sexless in these adaptations is increasingly problematic. Since you can go colorblind with the Sleuth from Outer Space, I figure you should to serve an audience hungry for representation in this genre, and hopefully I can now stop being so Caucasian in bringing that up in each of these postings.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

2020 Martian Manhunter Movie Fan Casting: Mandy Patinkin as Professor Mark Erdel

The Manhunter from Mars has one of the simplest origins in comics. Scientist accidentally teleports Martian to Earth, dies from the shock, and strands the alien. What takes up the entire first act of most pictures is less than five minutes here, especially if you just do it in narration or a flashback. My first impulse was to do a cute, cheap stunt casting. Bill Mumy an O.G. Silver Age comic book nerd who was a close friend and co-writer with the late Miguel Ferrer, one of my favorite character actors who voiced J'Onn J'Onzz in Justice League: The New Frontier. Done, right?

You know who else's origin could have been told in under ten minutes? Captain America. Scrawny draft wash-out volunteers for experiment that transforms him into a super-soldier. The scientist who made it possible is killed by a Nazi, leaving the weight of the entire program's success on one patriotic man. Two sentences, so twice as long as J'Onn's. But see, how much lesser of a movie would The First Avenger be without the greatest hype man in all of comic adaptations, Stanley Tucci as Doctor Abraham Erskine? Tucci is one of America's most beloved character actors playing a character with deep convictions and a true hope for humanity. Tucci makes you love Erskine before he bites the bullet, and his admiration and confidence in Steve Rogers makes the audience feel the same towards him.

Realistically, the safest route to introducing J'Onn J'Onzz as a solo feature is to use The New Frontier as a guide. You don't have to open with J'Onn in Erdel's home laboritory, but at some point you'll want to orient the audience to his situation. In the old comics, J'Onzz wandered around in an unprecedented human identity for a few hours before deciding "I'll just be a cop, because." Even if the origin is a low priority, the audience is going to expect more than that. The most accepted explanation came from Mark Verheiden with elaboration by Darwyn Cooke. J'Onn continues to live in Erdel's house for a time, assuming Erdel's form as needed, and otherwise learns about Earth culture from watching too much television. Detective John Jones comes into being because Martians are susceptible to copaganda.

While communicating this evolution to the audience, we'll need a performer who can play both Erdel and J'Onn pretending to be Erdel. He's got to explain to the audience the set-up, endear himself so that his death has emotional resonance, and then help put-over a likely silent Martian impersonator as a lovable protagonist. Mandy Patinkin's one of my favorite actors, nominated for seven Emmys with one win, plus a Tony besides. You wouldn't likely be able to get him for a comic book movie, and he's not going to sign any nine-picture deals. He's one of the warmest and most human actors on the planet, and while I'd avoid using the Post-Crisis "Saul" given Patinkin's eight years playing a character by that name, I'd like Erdel's (probable) Jewish heritage to be acknowledged through the casting. Yeah, Patinkin could out-Tucci the Tucc if given half a chance.

Monday, September 21, 2020

2020 Martian Manhunter Movie Fan Casting: Jonathan Majors as J'Onn J'Onzz

About every decade, I try to do a contemporary casting for the super-hero that I've devoted more of my life and resources to than any other. At the end of the 20th Century, my selection to play the Manhunter from Mars was Avery Brooks, whose last film role was in 2001 and who on my meeting him was clearly... eccentric. Still, various re-castings aside, he's always been the voice in my head when I try to "hear" John Jones.

There have been other attempts made by fans online in the years since, with my personal favorite being Jon Hamm, given that he already played a variation on a period American Secrets-flavored take over eight years as Don Draper on Mad Men. That said, I don't see that there's any point in casting a tall brunette WASP for an adaptation from of a comic book universe that already has Superman. What are you going to do, play him as an exceptionally stupid and immature 14 year old in an adult body with implied superiority over a collection of final act POC supporting players who are granted only a single portion of his many powers?*

In 2011, I settled on Lance Reddick based on the one season of The Wire I caught coupled with his being an internet casting favorite who openly expressed interest in the role. That said, I wasn't entirely sold on my own choice, and felt like my friend Ryan Daly did me one better by offering Giancarlo Esposito. Still, both of these guys were long in the tooth back then, and are now nearing federal retirement age. Notably, Hollywood seems to agree with our logic to seek out African descent actors, because in the years since these attempts David Harewood and Harry Lennix have joined Phil Morris in portraying the character in live action on television.**

The whole reason for this post, besides being about time, is the first instance since Avery Brooks to call out to me for this role. I loved the early episodes of HBO's Lovecraft Country, and immediately noticed lead character Atticus Freeman's exceptional build. In my earliest days of getting to know the history of the Alien Atlas, Adam Benson had told me his fan-casting of the 1960s version that he grew up on was the 6′ 4″ decathlete Woody Strode. The visual similarity of their lean muscle may have initiated the association, but Majors' pensive portrayal sealed the deal. It's tough to act "thoughtful," and he nails it, but he's already offered so much more than that. We've seen "Tic's" righteous simmering rage, his uncertainty, and most his emotional agony at the loss of a loved one. I very nearly cried myself over that last one, and its the sort of reaction I'd want an actor to inspire when depicting the enormous tragedies of the Martian people. Also, he's only 31, so he'd be an excellent long term investment for the cinematic debut of the Sleuth from Outer Space in a slew of shared universe films. Sure, he's already been cast as Kang in the worst Marvel Studios franchise, but if a retired Batman can fight Spider-Man or Thor, the same tide can sweep back in the opposite direction. Besides, it's a Marvel villain. Who's even going to remember in five years?

* Why yes, I did hate Shazam! very much.

** I know that stings, Snyder-stans, but it's no less true.

*** It's so sad that I have to copy and paste my posts into a WordPress comment now that Blogger doesn't offer spellcheck, but you get what you don't pay for, I suppose.

Monday, September 14, 2020

2015 “MIB vs...” intercompany commission by MC Wyman

I had another one of those "manically active without actually working on projects that are coming due" weekends, and instead of having multiple posts in the can, I'm typing this single one up at 2:23 a.m. on Monday morning. I never made anybody any promises, since I'd undoubtedly break them, and I have no aspirations of maintaining a daily schedule. We'll see how Tuesday goes. 

While searching for reference, I stumbled upon this fun piece featuring the original Malibu comic book Men in Black looking on at an aerial battle between Lobo & Rocket Raccoon, Superman & Gladiator, Hawkman & Thor, and Martian Manhunter & Silver Surfer by former Thor artist M.C. Wyman. Since the default image size for this blog is 400px and I'm now using Google as my exclusive image host, I just took the relevant snippet of the piece to save on bandwidth. There's a link to the whole shebang at Comic art Fans if you click on the pic.

Friday, September 11, 2020

"Recent" Comment Round-Up

I was away from posting anything but podcasts for so long that I wasn't aware that I had a years long queue of unmoderated comments. Out of the 30-something I reviewed after it occurred to me to keep any kind of track, a good quarter or so weren't trying to sell me imitation Viagra in Sanskrit. By the way, when did Google decide to take away spell check? My receiving eleven years of free web-hosting still entitles me to all the frills, right? Oh wait, it's in compose view. I guess that makes sense.

Where was I? Oh yeah, it also occurred to me that I could milk a free post out of answering a few of those comments from people that probably will never read them or visit this blog again. For posterity.

So one guy wanted to let me know that Mongul is a weak villain. That was before I was saving the names or posts. He made sure to tell me exactly that in two comments. Counterpoint: I like Mongul. I think he's cool. He's in competition with Lord High Papal for my favorite knock-off of Thanos, and I'm counting all the Thanos rip-offs, not just Starlin's home-brewed ones (side-eyes Synnar the Demiurge.) He's also the villain in one of the best ever Superman stories which hinges on his villainy, so that's not weak. I feel like I should end with some sort of white dad rap, but that would take effort and rhyming, so I'll just end this statement with "Word."

 On the post Martian Manhunter in the 1980, Anonymous said, "Hi. I think you missed JLA 228-230." Well Ann (may I call you Ann?) the truth is that I started my coverage of the Detroit era with Justice League of America Annual #2, and planned to work up to the "War of the Worlds: 1984" arc as the conclusion of my Silver-To-Bronze Age coverage. Then I never finished, in large part because I got podcasting. But as a consolation, my very first ever podcast appearance was to cover those issues with Rob & Shag on The Fire and Water Podcast.

 Amusingly, Doppelgänger asked of my Comrades of Mars bios in 2018, "Where are the obvious ones like Zook and Diane Meade and Miss Martian?" It was a literal copy & paste of the same request made by MartianManhunterIsBetterThanCyborg in 2013. The seventh anniversary of that request is in three months, so I guess that's a goal to work towards? My answer remains, "I haven't written their profile entries yet." I'll add that I would need to reread a bunch of comics, and I already got a bunch of other comics in line way ahead of them. G'way kid, ja bodderin' me.

On a more constructive note, The Time Trust offered in early 2019 that "I think it's worth noting that Patrolman Slade may have made a rare second appearance, as John Jones is partnered with a policeman named Slade in Detective Comics #268, just 8 issues after Patrolman Slade's initial appearance. This second Slade looks identical to the first." I can probably read a single eight page story to follow-up on that. Thank you, T.T.T.

Ahead of the most recent Martian Manhunter maxi-series, I groused on Martian Manhunter Returns In New Series Canceled With Twelfth Issue To Soften The Inevitable Blow! about how I didn't really like anything done with the character as a soloist for the previous dozen years and was tired of supporting all those misfires financially. Full disclosure, I only bought several different versions of the first issue or so, didn't appreciate that take, and abandoned it to trade-waiting.

Dr. Anj & Martin Gray both commented at the time, but I had nothing to add to the dialogue. Four months later, Slimmy did, saying, "First time I read your post I thought you were unfair to Williams and Barrows'run, called "Epiphany" and "Red Rising". I thought I kinda enjoyed it.

But then I realized that I actually disliked what it was : There was no Martian Manhunter in it for quite a while. I only enjoyed it because it was an inconsequential bad story that gave the character a new origin that I kinda enjoyed. I foolishly thought that this new origin would allow the character to get a fresh start, and was different from Ostrander's stupidity. (Yes I preferred when the epidemic was just a disease going around, like Dematteis implied, rather than a biological weapon and Malefic is a ridiculous concept and who the [expletive deleted] writes evil twin brothers unironically ?). I enjoyed this origin story, I really did. I thought it had greater tragedy than ever before while still building up the world and culture. Nonetheless, we share a common hatred of this new book. I grew up with Carl Lumbly as the Martian Manhunter, and picturing him as black was the norm for me. But a freaking corrupt cop ? The origin story retconned AGAIN ? The atrocious art style ? Just cease and desist."

 I did buy the trade, as I did with the Williams/Barrows series, after supporting that entire run in floppies. I've finished reading neither. I love Barrows' art, full stop, and Riley Rossmo was very not that. However, I actually enjoyed his quirky visuals and they suited the story Orlando was telling. It's just that the story wasn't intended for me any more than the Williams one was, but in different ways. They both let their freak flags fly, which I encourage on a Martian Manhunter book, but those stories didn't involve a version of J'Onn J'Onzz that I recognized or cared to associate with. Issue for issue, I preferred what Orlando did, if only by virtue of a guy named J'Onn in a familiar setting being present. I wasn't feeling it, and I was tired of throwing out good money after bad, plus I simply lost interest in reading after issue #3 or 4. I couldn't even muster a hate-read. Just decompressed meh.

Finally, kevin from new orleans has let a series of supportive comments on the recent posts that I appreciate. I really do need to at least watch the Carl Lumbly scenes from Supergirl. I was not aware that Ma'alefa'ak was on the show until recently, and was didn't know at all about the additional stunt casting. That could be really fun. I have the Blu-Rays through season 3, so I should get on that already...