Monday, March 15, 2010

52/WW III Part Four: United We Stand #1 (June, 2007)

The Martian Manhunter's quest to understand human nature has forced him to confront his own failings and limitations. Having cast off his human aliases, J'Onn J'Onzz follows Black Adam's path of destruction toward a rendezvous with his own destiny

The heroes of Earth have gathered along the Great Wall of China and stand united to bring Black Adam to justice.

Or, put another way, Martian Manhunter still hasn't gotten his bulbous head around "human nature" after over half a century pretending to be one of us, also known as one of the most annoying cliché devices in popular science fiction. Meanwhile, as if the entire DC Universe of heroes being thrown under the bus on a regular basis to make Superman look good wasn't bad enough, Evil Imitation Superman holds off multiple teams of B-Listers by himself as well.

Week 50, Day 7.

Pretty much everyone was there, including the Justice Society of America, the remaining Teen Titans, the Seven Soldiers, Luthor's Infinity Inc., Green Lantern John Stewart  (looking like he had IBS) carrying Green Arrow (yeah, he'll be a big help,) the old school Outsiders, self-appointed Wonder Woman Donna Troy, Aquagirl, Guy Gardner, Black Canary, Plastic Man, Firestorm, Dr. Light II, both Steels, and most amusingly, Vixen flying in with a flock of birds.

Black Adam was battling the Great Ten on one side of the Great Wall, while the collected Western heroes were forced by the prideful Chinese government to wait on the other side until that battle ran its course. This afforded Martian Manhunter the chance to drone on about how he doesn't understand racism/nationalism/etc., and how humans are the craziest peoples. The Martian Manhunter also provided stock narration, about how the heroes girded themselves for combat, and the Great Ten fought valiantly, and "Within Black Adam, I have seen the darkest beat of humanity's heart. Facing him before, I was... broken... against the crux of his anger. It has taken far too long to put the pieces back together again." True, yet the Martian Manhunter continued to wander amongst his comrades invisibly, casually reading their thoughts, and offering fan service commentary for the more marketable heroes. "None of them want to admit that this might be it. The time they fail. That without Clark, Bruce, and Diana, perhaps Black Adam simply can't be stopped. The void created by their absence is too large to ignore." Can I just say again: Black Adam, who was routinely defeated by Captain Marvel from 1977-1999, and largely forgotten for thirty-two years prior as a one-off foe?

"As I listen to their conversations, their doubts and fears and failures... I begin to once more see myself reflected in the face of their humanity. To live is to doubt, to fear, to fail. Human nature is to stand up and try again. Not just human nature. My place is with them." ...As a fellow jobber-- another jerky C-lister to serve as grist for the mill while the Big Leaguers are away.

Green Arrow was first to acknowledge the materializing Martian. "Don't sneak up on a guy like that, J'Onn. I got enough gray in my scalp already." Black Canary exclaimed, "J'Onn, thank God! No one's heard from you, we've been so worried!" Ollie continued, "Your timing couldn't be better, m'man!" Just then, Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott announced that the Chinese government had decided to request the Western heroes' aid after all. "All lights are green. Let's go to work." In a nigh-splash with a host of heroes in the background, the Alien Atlas concurred, "Yes. Let's." Among those in the background was Vixen, flying in with her flock of birds.

"For the briefest of instants, Black Adam's eyes lock with mine."
"Come, fools. Meet your end."

Even though he was among the most powerful heroes and at the forefront of the charge, Martian Manhunter somehow ended up remaining in reserve. J'Onzz was simply commenting to himself on the battle, as a hoard of other heroes engaged Black Adam. For no good reason, Guy Gardner and John Stewart were each in Adam's striking distance and dealt severe blows. Dr. Light and Firestorm did the same, despite having powers that work best with broad range. Power Girl, a Kryptonian bruiser near Superman's range, was handled like a sack of potatoes. The usual crossover nonsense.

Martian Manhunter was too busy being in psychic turmoil again, reading the minds of all the bad people on Earth, including the Chinese government officials debating nuking everyone within the battle's range, and the U.S. officials fine enough with that. Amanda Waller was at Checkmate headquarters, looking past the present battle at the conflict to come over which nations would claim what was left of Bialya. The ghost of slain Gotham City police officerCrispus Allen had yet to assume the role of the Spectre and join in, but his sitting on his hands about the matter was acknowledged by J'Onzz, whose telepathy was now metaphysical, I guess.

Back at the scene, colorful cannon fodder continued to be tossed at Black Adam, while Vixen and her flock of birds flew in the background. I didn't know chickens could reach those altitudes, much less sustain then. Even if she were ducking the battle, at least she would be mentally present and admittedly useless outside of helping with a sensational body count. The Martian Manhunter, levitating above the
archrival and nemesis of Captain Marvel, with powers comparable to Black Adam's, was just sitting on his mind bullets.

"In spite of their fear, no matter the pain, one sentiment echoes through their minds. Get up. Stop Black Adam. It is a mantra of courage. I am humbled by their determination. This is no longer a battle defined by human nature. The time for thought has long passed. It is about who I am, and what I choose to be. It is not about thought. It is about what I do."

So, Martian Manhunter got over his distancing himself from the violence and horror of the human condition by watching the violence and horror of super-human combat? Without a thought in his head, the Alien Atlas punched Black Adam with all his might in his Ancient Egyptian junk (must have learned that from Dick Grayson's brief JLTF stint,) then shot him in the face with Laser Vision, then punched him in the lower vertebrae.

Despite his right eye nearly popping out of his head from that shot to the ballzack, Black Adam recovered to deliver a head butt. With half his face burnt and hanging loose, Adam declared "You are a fool, J'Onn J'Onzz! A fool fighting against the wrong enemy. I have walked in your mind, Manhunter, and you have walked through mine. We are the same, you and I. We have both lost our families. They fear what they cannot control, J'Onn J'Onzz. The power in our hands is beyond them. Someday soon, they will hunt you down. They will destroy you unless you draw first blood. I showed you mercy in Bialya out of kinship, Manhunter. Do not make me regret my choice." Black Adam beat Martian Manhunter bloody, and punched him so hard he landed like a missile amongst other heroes. "When next we meet, my wrath will devour you. That is my word, Manhunter, not a promise. You deal with power far beyond your reckoning." The Martian Manhunter pulled himself up with, "As do you."

Geo-Force, Natasha Irons, and Green Lantern Alan Scott wrestled with the villain, giving the Manhunter another chance to telepathically latch on. "We end where we began, Black Adam. Once more, I am in your mind, Adam. This time, you will go no further. I have known your pain, evil one, and I could not bear it. Can you stand beneath the weight of mine?" Black Adam experienced J'Onn's memories of the plague death of Mars, as well as the collective memory of Bialya's dead, plus the D-list heroes Adam killed, and possibly your childhood trauma over flushing your goldfish for good measure. Black Adam screamed, but soon collected himself to swear "You have earned a mortal enemy this day, Manhunter! I will see you broken once more!"

As if it weren't bad enough that Martian Manhunter stole Professor Arnold Hugo, Despero, Vandal Savage, Darkseid and more villains from other heroes to build a rogues gallery, writer John Ostrander decided to add Captain Marvel's arch-rival to the list. A massive change in Martian Manhunter's appearance and m.o., leading into his only mini-series of the decade, all due to another guy's big bad. Also note that it took Black Adam a page and a half to man-up from a psychic attack, not three-and-a-half issues of out-emoing Red Tornado.

"Last time, you called down fire from the heavens to save yourself, Black Adam. This time, the lightning comes for you." While still held in place by the trio of heroes, Captain Marvel struck Black Adam with a magical lightning bolt, which adversely affected J'Onn J'Onzz through his mental rapport. Black Adam vanished in a blinding light, while the Manhunter fell unconscious. Heroes rushed to J'Onn's side, fearful he might have been killed, while others searched in vain for Black Adam. J'Onzz began to change physically before their eyes into the José Ladrönn-designed Coneheadhunter from Mars before finally getting up.

"The moment the lightning struck, my connection to Black Adam's mind was lost. Obliterated in a blinding white flash. Whether he is dead or alive, I do not know. All I do know is that I can no longer detect his presence. In that moment of searing heat and pain, I both died and was reborn. No longer am I exactly what I was. No longer will I deny what I am. J'Onn J'Onzz. The Manhunter from Mars. The time has come for a beginning."

Yeah, the beginning of the end for the Dill Pickle Wrapped in Blue Vinyl from Mars, who would die a yearish later. There was also a one-page epilogue with the Watchers (er-- "Monitors,") that led into Countdown to Final Crisis, but the first rule of CTFC is that we do not talk about CTFC. The art here was by Jack Jadson and Rodney Ramos, which was weird and off and bounced from realistic to caricature and obviously referenced the work of a bunch of other artists.


LissBirds said...

"but his sitting on his hands about the matter was acknowledged by J'Onzz, whose telepathy was now metaphysical, I guess." *snicker*

Here's what I don't understand: if he was rendered unconsious, wouldn't he revert to his natural Martian form and not an entirely different look? I mean, choosing a new look would mean you'd have to be, you know, awake? Or is it not worth applying logic to this?

Tom said...

They did a four-issue mini-series to explain why he became a conehead. Wouldn't it have been simpler to say he was watching Saturday Night Live reruns and decided to be his favorite Dan Aykroyd character (which, fortunately for The Comics Code Authority, was not Fred Garvin, Male Prostitute)? But, yes, I know, since when do modern superhero comics do things the easy way?

And thank Jesus the writer remembered to include the bad guy's "We are the same, you and I" speech. I never get tired of that.

Diabolu Frank said...

Liss, maybe J'Onn was in a semi-conscious state, or his mind was active while his body was occupied by the changes. Lord knows those dang caption boxes never, ever ceased. All I know for sure was he went down head first, and was initially unresponsive.

Tom, I thought maybe the Martian Manhunter mini-series might have been a good place to explain changes to the character, but I haven't had my tall cool glass of bass this morning, so I might not be thinking straight. J'Onn never really got tired of doing Elwood Blues, though.

Tom said...

But did anything else change besides his appearance? Why do we need a mini-series to explain why a character has a new look? Maybe he just got tired of the old look? This is especially stupid when you have a character who can change his appearance at will, and who has assumed many identities during his time on Earth.

will_in_chicago said...

I think that my comments on J'Onn needing better writers stands.

First, J'Onn is better equipped than most alien heroes to understand humanity via his telepathy and length of time spent among human beings. I could easily see J'Onn in his FIFTY plus years among human beings trying to seek out the best and brightest among us to understand humanity. (J'Onn could have meet with any number of historical figures from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to any number of authors, poets, psychologists and philosophers.) Icon, an import to the DC Universe from image comics, seems to be the only other alien hero I can name who has spent as long or longer a time on Earth than J'Onn but he seems to understand humans fairly well without the benefits of telepathy.

With Black Adam, we are seeing a case of power creep. Power Girl, J'Onn, and a few of the other heroes should have been able to take Black Adam down unless he had somehow gained a lot more power -- and that was not part of the plot.

Okay, I may be a stickler for continuity but I don't think it is particularly creative to make a villain look powerful by just making established heroes look weak.

Tom said...

Will, in that one post you made more sense than 90% of what DC and Marvel have published in the past 20 years.

LissBirds said...

Will, what bugs me more than continuity is lack of logic. Specifically, when writers/editors streamroll a character's identiy to satisfy their own personal whims or to follow current market trends. It reeks of artificiality and it ticks me off.

Though, to play devil's advocate, J'onn may have the capability to understand humanity after 50 years of being here, but he might choose not to. Or something.

will_in_chicago said...

LissBirds, I believe that J'Onn could chose not to understand humanity but it seems a constant that he tries to understand us.

As for logic, I fear that some of the writers and editors would not get your concerns if they went into a Vulcan mind meld. Consistency in character presentation is a virtue.

will_in_chicago said...

Tom, thanks for the compliment.

As for good use of continuity and logic, I would recommend the Babylon 5 television series -- as there was a good series bible on where things were going. (I am not familiar with J. Michael Straczynski as a comic book writer, but I am curious how he might handle a character as complex as J'Onn.)