One of the things I've had on my "to do" list for, oh, two and a half years or so is to have all of the Idol-Head's posts organized in a series of easy to reference archives (like the frequently long-out-of-date link icons running down our sidebar.) This would be particularly helpful for my op/ed pieces, since even I have trouble tracking some of those down when certain subjects come up. I also really want to edit/rewrite some of the ones done when I was under time pressure/exhausted/inarticulate/etc. Until then though, I'll occasionally revisit some of this stuff via the wonder of cut & paste, either as filler material on my down days, or due to a need I foresee.
For instance, comments on yesterday's, Justice League Animated Style Miss Martian Custom Figure by Victor Kraven have focused heavily on the prospect of nurturing a "Martian Manhunter Family" now that the hero has returned to the land of the living. With his new costume and mission, it seems folks are interested in revising areas where the character has had problems in the past, this being one of them. As it happens, this topic was discussed at length at The Absorbascon blog way back in early 2005. Stumbling upon Scipio's suggestions on the matter, I wrote up a two part response post that I thought I might reedit and revisit here.
About halfway through the February 15, 2008 post Grant Morrison and the Absorbascon, I began talking about J'Onn J'Onzz's shaky history with supporting casts. The only two reoccurring characters to turn up in the first few Manhunter from Mars strips were Professor Mark Erdel, who died in the first story and had his passing revisited with every origin recap, and Lieutenant Saunders, who was in charge of detectives on the Middletown Police Department. Saunders was soon replaced by Captain Harding, who served mostly to sit at his desk and provide exposition to John Jones at the start of his cases. From there were a bunch of "one appearance wonders," whom Scipio was kind enough to cataloge in "Support Your Local Martian!" A few years in, a rival/love interest was introduced in the form of Policewoman Diane Meade, but she only appeared irregularly in a handful of Detective Comics strips over the course of its nine year run. Toward the end of that period, an other-dimensional pet/sidekick named Zook began joining J'onn J'onzz's adventures on a monthly basis, continuing into the majority of the Manhunter strip's House of Mystery entries. Once that ended in 1968, not a single member of the strip's supporting players would make another appearance for at least thirty years.
Beginning in the 1970s, the only support the Martian Manhunter received was in the form of fellow super-heroes and whatever normal characters also played into his various team books. Since J'Onn J'Onzz is such a workaholic and so rarely has his own title anyway, it makes sense he spends most of his time with other super-heroes. I realize supporting casts have always been a comic book staple, but so too has the general apathy among fans and public alike regarding those types. For every Alfred Pennyworth or Mary Jane Watson, there are dozens of examples of Dulla McLovintrest, Guy Bestpal, Dr. Arther Tayfigure, and the rest. Rather than surround John Jones with expendable, forgettable cop buddies, why not get the exact same mileage with far greater levels of interest and resonance out of middling-to-obscure super-heroes?
That seemed to be Scipio's logic, as his original vision of a Martian Manhunter series was something of a clearing house for maintaining old trademarks. March 27, 2005's Are You Sleeping, Brother J'onn? saddled J'Onn with a supporting cast consisting of some of the least viable old DC properties imaginable. Besides looking to revive moribund franchises through association, Scipio also thought this would play off his theory of DC's Dynastic Centerpiece Model, which assumes that "a hero is not a single character but the centerpiece of his/her own array of good and evil forces... a constellation of characters is clustered around the central figure, which helps make him/her seem even more important...You may not always like how such a pattern's being used, but, like it or not, characters who lack the pattern have trouble standing on their own."
The granddaddy of the Dynastic Centerpiece model was the Marvel Family, which were ripped off wholesale by the Superman Family, which the Batman Family initially plundered. A detail more along those lines in my own attempt at following Scipio's pattern, The Dynastic Centerpiece of Diabolu, but I'll cut to the chase and showcase them now:
Junior Counterpart: Jemm, Son of Saturn
Since Morrison connected the character to Mars in "Rock of Ages," and especially with Ostrander's follow-up in J'Onn's own title, this was an early lock.
Female Version: Miss Martian
Not so long ago, this would have either been a reach or just a token slot for the next candidate down. Now, simplicity itself.
Kid Sidekick: Gypsy
Cindy had to get in here. Ever since her reappearance in JLI, Gypsy and J'Onn have been closely linked as surrogate daughter/father.
Black Sheep: Glenn Gammeron
Never heard of Gammeron, the bounty hunting frienemy with history dating back to before J'Onn lost his family? Speak up now if you're hot for an entry on ol' Glenn. I dig this cat a lot, and the JLTF synopsizes remain a ways away...
Civilian Companion: Cameron Chase
Damned if this DC thing isn't vindicating many of Ostrander's choices, but linking his run to D.C. Johnson's late, lamented series was a great idea.
Elder Statesman: King Faraday
Darwyn Cooke's notion of connecting J'Onn & King grew to be among his favorite New Frontier relationships. Mine too.
Animal Companion: Zook
Junior counterpart, kid sidekick... you just knew Zook would get in here, as well. I'm still not comfortable referring to Zook as a sentient "pet," but that was how the character was usually described.
Authority Figure: H'ronmeer
Don't get much more authoritative than your own personal Jesus.
Contextualizing City: None. I don't know when it was decided John Jones was a detective in Middleton, but his generic beat was almost never identified in the Silver Age. After he quit the force, whatever city he happened to be in was also rarely named, and pretty near never the same. Marco Xavier was all over Eurasia. There's just no good reason to pin J'Onn down to one burg, unless maybe Haven: The Broken City is still around somewhere. I do think J'Onn should have a cool base, whether it be a new Z'onn Z'orr, a repurposed Satellite/Watchtower, or what have you.
At this point, we get into super-villains. Scipio added a subdivision to his Dynastic Centerpiece model in the form of The Villainous Tarot, which expanded and clarified his positions on the roles played by figures in a rogues gallery. This caused me to reevaluate positions of certain villains between their Dynastic and Tarot entries, which I'll comment on here. If you want to see my Tarot in its original context, click here.
Arch Enemy/Opposite Number: Despero
As Martian Manhunter's nemesis, Despero seemed a natural fit for "Arch Enemy." Scipio would surely disagree, and his removing that designation from the Tarot saw Despero's become my "Opposite Number" choice instead, accompanied by a lengthy explanation.
It's no secret I'm not fond of Malefic, but he obviously has his role to play. As a loony pushover with a body count, he's an extra-green Joker.
Hero-worshipping Villain/Unhelpful Helper: Triumph
Clearly, Triumph had the best, though never remotely selfless, intentions. He wanted everything he touched to turn out to the good, for his own personal aggrandizement, and was constantly surprised when he failed epically. I can't think of many super-villains treated as harshly and hatefully by the Martian Manhunter as Triumph, but I can't say he didn't beg for every throttling.
Civilian Enemy: Director Bones
This one for some reason didn't make the transition into the Villainous Tarot, but ongoing thorn in the side with the law on theirs is a righteous role.
Untouchable Crime Lord: Vandal Savage
This is another category not in the Tarot, which is a shame. This was a tough call, as Savage is a greater DCU villain and Flash has some degree of ownership. The Faceless Mr. V could have gone here, but he was ultimately touchable. Savage, while not typically associated with J'Onn J'Onzz, was probably his second most common foe of the 90's. I look forward to providing greater detail, and only regret the trend didn't continue into the aughts.
Crime Lord: Mr. V/Faceless
What a difference a word makes. Quite a few characters could lay claim to Savage as a major foe, including (but not limited to) Rip Hunter, Resurrection Man, Immortal Man, and a sizeable portion of the memberships of the JSA and JLA. What made the difference was "unstoppable," as Martian Manhunter fought a lopsided war against Savage for over a year & a half in the 90's, with repeated run-ins for most of that decade. Still, Mr. V was the original ongoing crime lord of the Manhunter from Mars strip, even if his plans were consistently foiled and he (presumably) was killed in the final Manhunter chapter.
Magician: Lord Asmodel
Another Centerpiece-exclusive category. This was the only tricky one for me, as J'Onn tends not to deal with magic types. There was that one fight with Etrigan, and the witch he teamed-up with the Spectre to fight, but those were pretty weak reaches. Asmodel meanwhile has a history of kicking Martian Manhunter's ass, so he seemed a solid choice. The only others that come to mind are Libra and The Conjurer.
Evil Opposite/Rival Twin: The Marshal
There's quite a few evil Martian Manhunters out there, from B'rett to The Hyperclan to B’enn B’urnzz and a bunch of prior selections. Maybe it's just that awesome Chuck Patton cover, but there's something about the genetically-engineered military leader who led the first true invasion from Green Martians that still gets me going.
Femme Fatale: Bel Juz
Another role dropped from the Tarot. I had more options here than I expected, but since no one else can really claim Bel Juz as one of their own, she seemed appropriate.
Mental Challenger I/Gadgeteer: Professor Arnold Hugo
The man! The myth! The melon! Scipio kept the "Mental Challenger" role, but I reassigned Hugo in the Tarot version. Hugo invented one device after another that put the Martian Marvel out, but almost never truly endangered him. He often set circumstances into motion that would occupy the Alien Atlas, but really didn't overwhelm him. I love me some Hugo, and he's undoubtedly formidable, but ultimately more a nuisance than a mastermind.
Mental Challenger II: Bette Noir
This is clearly the weakest link in Manhunter's "tarot," and its adverse effect on the hero is extraordinary. Typically, villains who can shut down Manhunter's telepathy are Justice League class threats. Even overlooking that advantage, few of Manhunter's foes are as smart as him, either scientifically or strategically. Dr. Trapp doesn't rate, because he really hasn't manage to take the Sleuth From Outer Space on by himself. Vandal Savage, despite his skill, seemed more a test for early members of the JLA and the JLTF than someone who could plausibly take J'Onn on. Bel Juz pulled the wool over J'Onn's eyes once, and helped install the Marshal, but posed no direct threat. Only Bette Noir has troubled J'Onzz on several occasions, through both telepathy and maneuvers. She's no Despero, but he already has a slot, so she slides into this place.
Physical Challenger: Brimstone
He's big, he's strong, he's made of fire, he has ties to Darkseid, and several fights with the Alien Atlas under his considerable belt. If anything, Manhunter has too many of these. Nearly every creature released from the Diabolu Idol-Head qualified, as did most notable VULTURE and Middletown threats.
Twisted One: The Prophet
This is the one category in which the Manhunter excels. It seems like religious fantatics, fascists, and the like are drawn to him like Mr. Moth to a Human Flame. I went with the Prophet, as he was created for the Martian Manhunter Special and held his own. Tybalt Bak'sar, Brimstone, Cabal, Director Bones, and others appearing later could have served as well.
Misguided Idealist: The Master Gardener
A fellow Martian who arrived on Earth first to help lead his adopted planet toward the Great Evolution? That's swell! Doing it by manipulating the media, violently supressing dissent, and binding a fungus that causes spontaneous combustion within the bodies of the populace? Uncool!
Friend-Turned-Foe: Re's Eda
J'Onn J'Onzz became a fugitive from Mars and beat on a slew of innocent super-heroes in the name of poor R’es Eda, the victim of an assassination. Except he wasn't, and instead framed J'Onn J'Onzz in order to lead his people in an invasion against peaceful co-habitants on Mars II. That's forgetting N'or Cott's inglorious death besides...
Sexual Challenger: Scorch
A case could be made for Manhunter getting his freak on right through the Bronze Age, whether it be Diane Meade, J'en , or the plentiful arm candy from the Marco Xavier days. When his status as a widower was revealed, he went through a lengthy dry spell. Around the time of his ongoing series though, he started running buck wild with a number of flings and near misses. All told though, I can think of only one "bad girl," one "villainess" who ever got her hands on the guy mind, body and spirit-- to horrific consequence. While Scorch's intentions were the best, based on her history and the unlikelihood of her remaining "straight" should she return from her coma, Scorch is the only truly qualified selection.
Evil Genius: Darkseid
Another massive weakness of the Martian Manhunter-- his best foes aren't "his." I could have used a number of other gadgeteers and tried to cover by placing Prof. Hugo in this spot, but the truth will out. Most of the villains Manhunter has faced who are remotely at his mental level; Savage, Gorilla Grodd, Professors Ivo and Fortune, Despero; could just as easily be removed as options due to prior or multitudinous committments. Darkseid was the primary villain after Malefic during the "Ostrander/Mandrake" series, which is another reason I freakin' hate that series.
Manipulator: Commander Blanx
The guy managed to bushwhack J'Onn J'Onzz, pass him through a kangaroo court into exile, nearly ruin his Earthly reputation, and slaughter most of Mars-- all for the sake of a real estate deal! I'm still not sure he isn't alive and well, hidden within the Bush Administration. Dick? Karl?
Contingent Foe: Fernus the Burning Martian
Were there no J'Onn J'Onzz in pursuit of a cure for his people's natural(?) weakness, a bunch of White Martians and troops of Vandal Savage would still be alive today. I can't say I like Fernus, but maybe fanboys will think twice the next time they beg for the Manhunter from Mars to "realize his potential."
Personal Foe: N'or Cott
A bit of a cheat, but most anyone else who could have fit this role have been taken up elsewhere. The Manhunter tends to be pretty unambiguously in the right, so beyond occasional lapses into New Age passivism, he doesn't mind blasting most foes overly much.