Monday, October 11, 2010

Bel Juz: The Third Most Important Martian Manhunter Adversary

Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone's Scale of Evil Rank
12) Power-hungry psychopaths who killed when they were "cornered.”

Why Bel Juz has been selected for 3rd Place:
  • Bel Juz was the first evil Green Martian.
There were a bunch of Martian criminals who turned up in the Silver Age, but they were usually of the Silver Age, meaning they were simple thieves and thugs. The two truly murderous Martians prior to Bel Juz were of races other than J’onn J’onzz’s, with the insinuation being that Green Martians/Desert Dwellers were morally superior. Bel Juz disproved this by being about the third most self-centered and genocidally treacherous Martian of all time. Further, with the long-standing extermination of most Green Martians as of 1988, there haven’t been many other evil Greens to turn up in the interim.

  • Bel Juz betrayed the entire surviving Martian race, nearly dooming them all to save her own neck.
Once your planet is rendered uninhabitable and your race becomes an endangered species, you figure it’s time to really stick together with whoever is left. Instead, Bel Juz not only sold her people out at the first hint of trouble, but was also willing to lure anyone else who came down the pike into traps.

  • Bel Juz was the second relevant female Martian introduced, and among the few in the cannon.
J’onn J’onzz’s dear old mom made her first appearance in one of the earliest Manhunter from Mars strips, would appear once more in the Silver Age, and then a wildly divergent Post-Crisis incarnation would finally receive a name over forty years later. Suffice to say, she wasn’t especially important to any stories over that time. Meanwhile, Bel Juz was the first named survivor of Mars’ destruction, the only named Martian debuting from 1969-1976, and the primary motivating character within her first story. No female mattered more to the Martian Manhunter mythos before J’Onn’s wife and daughter were introduced in 1988.

  • Bel Juz betrayed J’onn J’onzz personally.
The Martian Manhunter was desperate to find his fellow survivors, who had fled Mars without him. It took a few years in real time, but he finally tracked them to the planet Vonn. Delusional from exhaustion, J’onn finally laid eyes on the first other living Martian… and she immediately lied to his face and set him up to fall. Even after her treachery was uncovered by one of J’onn’s friends, she lucked out when the buddy was sent back to Earth before it could be related to J’onzz. Bel Juz then proceeded to continue lying to J’onn and the rest of the people she sold into slavery, presumably for the next dozen years or so. Even while they targeted the Martian Manhunter, all of his previous foes were relatively straight shooters about being evil. Bel Juz’s duplicity and personal offense are nearly unparalleled amongst the Vile Menagerie.

  • Bel Juz fought Superman.
The Martian Manhunter could make a second career out of being the jobber who fights Superman villains and loses to set up the Man of Steel’s eventual victory. Kal-El doesn’t really reciprocate, as he either has rare inconclusive run-ins with the Vile Menagerie or fights Martian Manhunter-related rogues outside that specific capacity (see: Despero.) Bel Juz is the one instance that comes to mind of a character specifically created for a Martian Manhunter story to take on the Last Son of Krypton… and lose… while he was de-powered, but still.

  • Bel Juz made the Martian Manhunter look weak and foolish in front of his friends..
So much of the Alien Atlas’ pride and very identity is derived from his relationship with the Justice League of America. J’Onn left the team back on the husk of Mars to find his people, but was himself found by Superman before making direct contact. While the Martian Manhunter was compromised by his arduous journey, Bel Juz found the pair. J’Onzz fell for her lies without a second thought, leaving the Martian Detective looking seriously inferior to the deductive abilities of the sometimes dense Man of Steel. Bel Juz exploited J’onzz’s weakness so fully, Superman sent him away like an errant child so that he could deal with Bel Juz without any interference. Thanks to Bel Juz, in a super-heroic team-up story, the Martian Manhunter looked more pathetic and useless than Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen. Plus, to cap off the indignity, J’Onn was still completely duped by Bel at the end of the story. You know that all went into the League log.

  • Bel Juz is the only Bronze Age Martian Manhunter villain to survive the 1970s.
As has often been noted, reoccurrence is a notable feature in Martian Manhunter rogues. Exactly one villain created to fight the Alien Atlas from each decade representing the 1950s-1970s has ever reappeared in continuity during a later decade, and no such beast existed for the 1980s. Unsurpringly, all three made this list.

  • Bel Juz is so good looking.
The Flash popularized the term “rogues gallery” in relation to the main collection of villains who fight a single hero, to the point where his foes are recognizable as simply “The Rogues.” Superman has his Revenge Squad, Wonder Woman her Villainy, Inc., Spider-Man his Deadly Foes & Sinister Six. When I built my first Martian Manhunter site, the goal was to expand general knowledge of and respect for the hero. Part of achieving that initiative was to define and dub the Alien Atlas’ collective rogues. Since the vast majority are positively beastly looking, whether inhuman aliens, deformed Earthlings or just plain unattractive, “The Vile Menagerie” seemed entirely appropriate. Besides being the rare female in that collective, she’s also the most objectively appealing to look at, giving her distinction through exception.

  • Bel Juz branded J’onn J’onzz a traitor (again) and successfully ruined him politically (finally.)
Retroactive continuity made the Bronze Age J’onn J’onzz a science-leader among his people. He was captured by the opposition leader from another race, tried in a kangaroo court, and ended up exiled on Earth. Nobody seemed to hold that against him, as he was again accepted as a leader among the Martian survivors on Vonn/Mars II. Then J’onzz got involved in R’es Eda’s murder plot, and was again called a traitor and hunted near to death for abandoning his people. Regardless, the evildoers were exposed, and J’onn J’onzz restored. Finally, the Manhunter ran afoul of the Red Brotherhood, made a beeline for Earth, and helped the Justice League members that turned up push back a Martian invasion. That seemed to be the last straw, as J’onn J’onzz was politely left behind on Earth until continuity decided all the other Martians were dead. Bel Juz did that.

  • Bel Juz estranged J’Onn J’Onzz from his only lady love to that point.
A case could be made for his relationship with Diane Meade being more than professional, but does anyone believe John Jones made hot monkey love with a fellow officer of the law? For nearly thirty years, J’onzz was among the more chaste super-heroes around, and his one obvious girlfriend over that time was introduced after the couple had already been estranged by her involvement with the Soldiers of the Red Brotherhood. The wise Manhunter doesn’t let things like repeated attempts on his life go, no matter how much he might care for his J’en. Once again, Bel Juz’s tree bears bitter fruit.

  • Bel Juz manipulated the Marshal and his Soldiers of the Red Brotherhood into doing her bidding.
The Marshal was the ultimate genetically engineered Martian warrior created to lead his people back to greatness. Bel Juz hit that. When insufficient progress was made through legitimate channels, the Marshal developed an underground army that could wrest control of the Martian government. Bel Juz initiated that. The Red Brotherhood then used a manufactured slight as an excuse to launch an invasion of Earth. Bel Juz orchestrated that.

  • Bel Juz started the Earth-Mars War to escape J’onn J’onzz’s prosecution.
When you’re as unconscionably self-possessed as Bel Juz, people tend to notice, and your burden of karmic debt can really pile up. With so much sin on her shoulders, Bel Juz did the natural thing: start an intergalactic war with the potential to cost millions of lives, set Martian cultural evolution back millenia, and essentially ruin the reputation of her scarce and highly vulnerable people throughout the universe. Earthlings used to break out into a bit of Wellesian hysteria and maybe get ticked when Martians would tear into the occasional bank vault. Since 1984, the peoples of the Earth simply set their Bic lighters to immolate against any Martians in sight, including the often crispy J’Onn J’Onzz.

  • Bel Juz prevented “Jemm, Son of Mars.”
“Jemm, Son of Saturn” was supposed to be from Mars, and most of the cast from his mini-series were lifted directly from Bronze Age Martian Manhunter stories. Without Bel Juz’s manipulations, J’onn J’onzz would have continued his jerky characterization from the ‘70s, and been relegated to a supporting role in Jemm’s mini-series. There’s a good chance the Martian Manhunter would have never returned permanently to Earth, or if he did, he might have missed catching lightning in a bottle by co-founding Justice League International. Jemm might have been included in Ice’s role as the naïve one, but more likely, Martian continuity would have just faded away, with occasional revisitations in the same pattern seen in the ‘70s.

  • Bel Juz was indirectly responsible for the destruction of the JLA Satellite, the disbanding of the team, the formation of “Justice League Detroit,” and Martian Manhunter’s renewed association with all of the above.
Without Bel Juz, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog right now. The Martian Manhunter would likely be a completely different character. There may have never been a Justice League International. Forget the Vile Menagerie—Bel Juz may be one of the most important and transformative villains in DC continuity.  

The Counter Argument:
  • Nobody remembers Bel Juz. She was in one early ‘70s issue of World’s Finest Comics and was a minor presence in a mid-80s Justice League of America arc during one of its lowest selling periods.
  • Bel Juz isn’t in continuity anymore, and neither are any of her stories. J’Onn J’Onzz never left the Justice League, and all but a few Green Martians are dead or no longer existed.
  • Bel Juz never did anything for herself. She tried to fend off a depowered Superman and once drew a gun on J’onn J’onzz, but she’s just a negative female stereotype with green skin.
  • Bel Juz? Seriously? I can’t even get past the name.

What Bel Juz Represents:
The Manhunter from Mars doesn’t deal with female power very well. The Silver Age incarnation of mother J’onzz was your typical atomic age housefrau, and his modern age wife and daughter served no purpose other than to be mourned. Patrolwoman Diane Meade’s handling was sexist, and there wasn’t a single super-villainess in the entire run of J’onn’s solo strip. A retcon turned J’Onn’s mother into a Manhunter herself, but that was nearly thirty years after Bel Juz’s introduction. Jezebel is the revenge of the wo man. No matter how powerful Samson may be, she subverts him with her feminine whiles, turning the “lesser sex” designation to her advantage. In film noir, the gumshoe’s greatest threat is the femme fatale, so what kind of Sleuth from Outer Space would J’Onn be without his Bel Juz?

  • Bel Juz is to the Martian Manhunter as Circe is to Wonder Woman or Poison Ivy is to Batman or Baron Helmut Zemo is to Captain America or the J. Jonah Jameson is to Spider-Man.
While gender issues or other extant concerns may remain present, there’s no genuine attraction between the aggressors beyond the compulsion to address grievances from the past. Manipulation and indirect confrontation is the name of the villain’s particularly deadly game.
  • Bel Juz is to the Martian Manhunter as the Two-Face is to Batman.
Our villain isn’t completely without remorse, and our hero has a history they can’t quite shake, so the conflict is as devastating internally as externally.
  • Bel Juz is to the Martian Manhunter as the Two-Face is to Batman.
Our villain isn’t completely without remorse, and our hero has a history they can’t quite shake, so the conflict is as devastating internally as externally.

Who isn't ranked because of Bel Juz:
  • Bette Noir: Bel Juz wasn’t one to do her own dirty work, so I guess Bette’s willingness to get her—um—mind dirty made for the more visually potent villainess. However, Bette isn’t exactly accomplished, despite more attention and appearances than most Martian Manhunter foils.
  • Cay'an: Appeared in a few panels of one issue of a mini-series nobody wanted to read, to little impact.
  • R’es Eda & N’orr Cott: Bel Juz may have taken a peek at Re’s Eda’s playbook, but her scheme was far more elaborate and consequential. Continuing the parallel pits N’orr Cott against the Marshal, which is another failure for the boys of ’77.
  • Scorch: I know this girl has her fans, but think about it: what did she do? Temporarily cure J’Onn of the fire weakness before Fernus took over his body? That mattered for exactly one story arc. Scorch got the soap opera coma treatment and hasn’t been heard from since, Fernus remains disintegrated, while J’Onn was unchanged for years afterward.
  • Triumph: The boy could scheme, but it was usually about trying to make himself look good, and he couldn’t even manage that. Triumph was an egotistical annoyance, not an adversary.
  • The Thythen: Tubby jaundiced bald guys with Zooky antennae. I didn’t want to funk up the Vile Menagerie with their inclusion. They may have been the ones to enslave the Martian survivors, but they were done away with in the final pages of their one appearance.
  • The Marshal: For all his huffing and puffing, the Marshal proved unsatisfactory in both brain and brawn. All the plots were whispered in his ear by Bel Juz. The ships that nearly blew up J’Onn J’Onzz while in pursuit were led by Commander J’en. The Challenger robot did most of the damage to the JLA and their satellite. The only chance the Marshal had to prove himself was in combat with the Martian Manhunter. The Marshal proceeded to get beaten like the punk he is despite his supposed physical superiority and a case of cheats.
  • Commander Synn: Synn was the Bel Juz analogue in “Jemm, Son of Saturn,” which is a gas, because how often are characters no one has ever heard of ripped off to create very slightly less obscure new characters? Synn was much more of a physical and overall commanding presence, and she’s Jem’s most important living foe, but she needed a whole gang to take on the Alien Atlas.

In Closing:
Bel Juz had such an enormous impact on comic book continuity, she could arguably be in contention for the top spot. However, like scores of women throughout history, her role has been marginalized and minimized to the point that few readers even know she existed. Regardless, Bel Juz charted the course of the Martian Manhunter’s life away from footnote and toward “heart and soul of the Justice League.”


Diabolu Frank said...

This was supposed to have auto-posted at midnight. Blame the brotherhood of man for conspiring against Bel Juz!

Anonymous said...

Frank, what do you think about comic continutity. Do you like it or not and if so why?

mathematicscore said...

I may have posted this before, but to be sure; These posts are the best.

Informative and entertaining. Your analysis helps enrich J'onn's history and genesis (such as it is)


Diabolu Frank said...

Thank you very much, M.C. These posts are really time consuming, and they don't always generate much of a response, so I'm always happy to get such positive feedback. Do you think the argument for Bel Juz holds up? She was my last left field choice, but I believe in her.

Anonymous, continuity is tricky business. There's lots of Martian Manhunter stories I'd love to "overrule" and discard, but that same mentality saw the excising of all those Silver and Bronze Age stories a lot of people love. I think if you value history, you can use it to build stories that bridge numerous interested groups, and if you ignore or malign history you risk great alienation. Don't let continuity get in the way of a good story, but correctly incorporating it can yield an even better tale.

mathematicscore said...

I've not yet read the JLofA arc yet (although it's now much higher on my to do list) so my only experience with her is the Worlds Finest first appearance (Which was not listed on Comic Vine, and I have already submitted a correction). So, to answer your question, yes, It truly does. On consideration, I thought Mr. V's larger volume and genre cred should perhaps usurp her, but you are right there with the continuity importance and the femme fatale archetype. I still a bigger fan of of Despero, Mongul, the Human Flame and even Malefic, but Bel Juz has become a person of interest and definitely an importatn Martian Manhunter villain.

Diabolu Frank said...

I'm surprised you didn't get Brimstone in there, as well. I'm there with you. Despero, Grodd, the Hyperclan, Mongul, Prof. Hugo, and Vandal Savage are all favorites of mine that either didn't make the list or were lower rated.

mathematicscore said...

Good call! Brimstone is more of a giant punching bag. Straight cannon fodder... but man do I love 'im.

Tom Hartley said...

It took two tries, but I guessed it.

Another great post.

Diabolu Frank said...

You did indeed!

will_in_chicago said...

This is a good choice, as Bel Juz hurt J'Onn in many significant ways and impacted his development. (All characters can be blind under the right circumstances.) A femme fatale is a good foe for a hero like J'Onn.

Anonymous said...

I vote for a piece on the Marshall as well. I was hoping this was going to be him. Dont get me wrong though, this is another excellent and well written piece Frank.

Diabolu Frank said...

Thanks, Will!

Anonymous, the Marshal was Tom's first guess for the #3 spot, so you're not alone in rooting for him. I'd never considered going backwards to include/rank other characters. Let me get the top 10 finished, and I'll see if I can think up strong enough additional material to publish.

LissBirds said...

Ahh, I finally got a chance to sit down and read this. Frank, this is by far, the best of your Vile Menagerie posts, and you make a great case for Bel Juz's importance in comics history.

I was just going to say how she's a femme fatale to the straight-laced J'onn, but then I got to the bottom of the post and you said exactly the same thing. A femme fatale does wonders for a noirish character. Also, she's a foe with a personal connection to her nemesis, which makes her a better villain, so the Two-Face analogy fits in more ways than one.

And she is really pretty. I love the look of her blond hair against green skin...way more exotic than Pam Isley. I actually think her name is kind of cool, but I guess it depends on how you pronounce it. (I hear "Bell Jooze" in my head when I read it, with the same "J" sound as J'onn.)

Diabolu Frank said...

Liss, I like "Bell Jooze." I usually hear "Belle Juhz," from the "ah" in "Jezebel," which sounds like gastrointestinal disorder. Do Northerners use an "eh" or an "ooh" when they say it?

I don't actually like the blond hair from her JLofA appearances, as it reminds me of Jarella from the Incredible Hulk, and by extension, Erik Larsen's She-Dragon. I find the lavender from her first appearance more flattering (not to mention the '60s cat's eye make-up.)

I don't recall hearing from you on Mr. V, but I think that's a character you have little use for, so it's understandable. I can only get so excited for Faceless myself.

LissBirds said...

I hear "oo" when I see that "u," so maybe it is a regional thing.

I thought the purple hair in the first photo was a coloring mistake! Okay, I change my vote to purple now.

I intentionally didn't read your Mr. V post, becuase I still haven't gotten around to reading the end of those stories, and I didn't want his secret identity given away until I read them. Though I have my theories as to who it is...

Diabolu Frank said...

I've tried really hard to tiptoe around Mr. V's identity on this blog, just in case it proved such a spoiler. Avoid the Vile Menagerie bio page like the plague then, as it gives away the farm almost immediately.