I covered the first story from this issue here.
To save all of creation, the Silver Age Flash had to run faster than he ever had, and ever would again, in the midst of Crisis. Barry Allen’s speed broke down all barriers of time, until he could literally look back on all his past experiences. Eventually, he even managed to affect the past and future, initiating the events that gave Allen and others of his kind their powers. While his efforts ended his life, he assured that it had impact that would be felt forevermore.
At two points in the story “Changes;” written by John Ostrander, with the typically fine art of Norm Breyfogle especially focused by inker extraordinaire Joe Rubenstein; Allen reflected on his friends in the Justice League of America. “In every battle we fought, we always thought we could win. In every battle we fought, we knew there was a chance we would die. We accepted death as a possibility. Now is different. Now is certain. No one else near. Maybe never know. No matter. Fight for justice. For life.” Allen saw his protegee Kid Flash mourn his passing, along with their mutual heroic friends, and silently assured, “You will be greater than I. Later... You gather to mourn me. We were the original League. Together. Never be together again.” The Flash considered each of his fellow founders, at least according to the Past-Crisis assemblage of only five members that included Black Canary and excluded Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The Manhunter from Mars benefitted from this vacuum. “J’Onn. You are unchanged. You are unchanging. You give life where there is death, ever true to yourself. Goodbye, my friend.”
I enjoyed this tribute, both to the Barry Allen Flash and from him to his loved ones. I think his words revealed an understanding of the essential character of J’Onn J’Onzz that their author, John Ostrander, was unable to convey in his work on the Martian Manhunter series that he’d wrapped the very month of this publication. I’ve heard fans grouse about how J’Onn J’Onzz should more fully take advantage of his many powers to become a more imposing force to reckon with. Ostrander himself played up a grim characterization that saw J’Onn J’Onzz contemplating the murder of children and exploring extreme applications of his abilities. This path has continued into the present, with Manhunter’s new appearance, increasing inhumanity, and even the hint of villainy to come.
The pursuit of coolness cache fails to consider that part of the character’s enduring charm is his lack of coolness. There is a comforting predictability in the Martian Manhunter’s personality, motivations, abilities, and weaknesses, even when consistant in their inconsitancy. J’Onn J’Onzz, to my mind, took on the role of grandfathered Silver Age hero after the Crisis. No second generation to take on his name, explosive emotional entanglements, costume changes, and the like to alter the status quo in pursuit of sales. This is a world where, once every few years, even Superman briefly goes “bad” for shock value, or the misguided assumption of mining story value out of the cliche heel turn. It’s nice when you’ve got this slightly silly but still respectable green man in wrestling togs that, worst case scenario, requires you to flick your Bic in his general direction to ward off. Sure, he’s gone “rogue” himself a time or two, but it seems like a pointless direction when you could just as easily dig up evil White Martians with the same set of powers to do dirty deeds. J’Onn J’Onzz is a friendly alien who never quite integrates into our society, but is still plainly, inherenently good. He stays on Earth because he genuinely likes humanity and wants to help us help ourselves. He can assume any form, and has a wealth of powers we do not. However, he chooses to hue toward a few basic forms that have become familiar and accepted, while using his powers to gently protect his charges from wrongs comitted against themselves or by alien forces. J’Onn J’Onzz is basically inoffensive, mild mannered, and guided by the best and most considerate of intentuions. It really is a shame when his writers and editors are guided by dissimilar concerns while portaying him before the public.