Monday, June 27, 2011
Miss Martian and the New World Order
The DCnÜ has inspired a whole host of posts yet to be written here about the past, future, and overall conceptual framework of the Martian Manhunter. They tell us not to call it a reboot, that it isn't the start of a whole new universe, but we know too much about the changes to not recognize DC's history has been altered in fundamental ways. Further, we've heard little about the masses of lesser known characters, but the peeks we've been given indicate that many once familiar faces may turn up barely recognizable. I mean, have you seen Harley Quinn? What then will be the fate of M'gann M'orzz, blessedly spared inclusion amongst the hideous revision of the Teen Titans*, but far from a sacred cow as this thing progresses. For now, I think the way forward is back, by looking at what the character has meant up to now.
My initial reaction to the debut of Miss Martian in 2006 after the last, largely negligible DC history "shake-up" was of surprise and resentment. After the Martian invasion of Earth in 1984, the race was persona non grata at DC Comics. Four years later, J'Onn J'Onzz was retroactively made the last living Martian, and all prior appearances were deemed a fantasy planted in his mind by Dr. Saul Erdel. After John Byrne decreed that he took Superman's "Last Son of Krypton" nickname very seriously, we still had three alternate universe Phantom Zone criminals, a new Supergirl, and even a separate entity acting as Superboy within just the two years Byrne worked on the character. The singularity of J'Onn J'Onzz held true for nearly a decade, with any other Martian survivors introduced and killed with the same isolated story. Grant Morrison reopened the door with the debut of the White Martians in the first JLA story arc, but they were treated largely as separate entities, essentially DC's answer to the Skrulls. The Whites would appear in random titles like Son of Vulcan with only tangential ties to the Martian Manhunter at best (the JLA arc "Terror Incognito" being a notable exception.)
Suddenly, there was a new Green Martian super-heroine almost twenty years into the Martian Manhunter's revised continuity. From her dress and attitude, she was blatantly a swipe of the Silver Age Supergirl, because the Alien Atlas hasn't had enough reasons over the years to be compared unfavorably to the Man of Steel. As it turned out, Miss Martian was just one of a throng of newly created "legacies" to serve as red herrings surrounding the latest traitor found amongst the Teen Titans. These contrived and wholly unnecessary kid versions of DC heroes who barely support themselves (the world really needed an evil girl Captain Atom?) were the shark jumping point for the Titans' revitalization under Geoff Johns and Mike McKone. It almost felt like the fledgling franchise was intentionally derailed as revenge against the killing of yet another Superboy, since the title never recovered.
As it turned out, Miss Martian was in no way related to the Martian Manhunter, and was in fact a disguised White Martian. However, M'gann M'orzz's sweet, awkward personality was not a put-on, and she stayed with the Teen Titans as a member for the next several years. Since the primary line-up of the series had been thoroughly traumatized, and most of her fellow newbies were of questionable character, Miss Martian ended up being a pleasant throwback to old school heroics that in many ways outshone the rest. However, echoing the Supergirl of more recent decades, Miss Martian had a concealed dark side that predicted villainy in her future, and led M'gann to decapitated her future self. Pretty grim stuff.
Again, I personally took issue with the character, despite having read very little of her adventures. I found the Supergirl "homage" too overt, and the longer she served as a Titan, the more pronounced her distance from relevancy to the Martian Manhunter became. I tried to come up with ways to make her more distinct and purposeful. One idea I had was for her to reassert her White Martian heritage, becoming a transgressive tats-n-piercings Suicide Girl type to contrast against the stuffy old John Jones, in some ways proving herself the more human of the two. Something of a Lisbeth Salamander, I suppose.
A funny thing happened over time. Miss Martian, as she was, developed a solid fan base. Where Supergirl lives under the pressure of selling a monthly comic to at least twenty thousand people in an ever dwindling market, M'gann M'orzz could remain her sunny self. Rather than being chameleonic, M'gann became more like her original outward presentation, and discarded the darker affectations. Miss Martian could just be good and nice, a quality in short supply these days. In this sense, Miss Martian is very much like her predecessor. The Manhunter from Mars as we've known him for the past quarter century simply co-opted the pathos of 1950s Weisinger Superman shed since the 1980s revision by Byrne, so why can't Miss Martian be the sweetheart Maid of Might DC has tended to run screaming from for at least as long? It seems to me she even attracts a different type of fan, bridging the gap between a Supergirl and a Sailor Moon as a mainstream super-heroine for the shōjo set.
Perhaps most importantly, Miss Martian has made the transition to animation in Young Justice, offering her exposure on Cartoon Network to a generation of kids unlikely to ever read a physical, printed comic book. I've only seen clips of the show, but what I have seen has been solid characterization reminiscent of Matrix, and she seems to be the more prominent girl on the team. There's certainly no shortage of fan art available online, although as is common with super-heroines, you might need to search Google with a firm family filter on. My own standards indicate that this transition offers Miss Martian a certain prestige and immortality. After all, the Martian Manhunter himself was something of a secondary character on the Justice League cartoon, so what right do his fans have to dictate terms?
To my mind, Miss Martian's impact works in reverse, as something of a game changer for J'Onn J'Onzz. The Martian Manhunter has been a character without a strong sense of personal history or much fidelity to a supporting cast. M'gann M'orzz is the first other Martian who's not going to just fade away into obscurity. In fact, the need for her to establish some solo credentials has forced Miss Martian into J'Onn J'Onzz's world and led to her giving the Martian Manhunter a berth to make appearances on her cartoon show. The tail is to some degree now wagging the dog. By extension, I've come to appreciate Miss Martian greatly for being such a breath of fresh air in comics, and for allowing J'Onn J'Onzz to finally have a reason to tend his garden, instead of constantly walk toward greener pastures.
That said, I worry what place a retro character has in the extreme '90s DCnÜ to come. I make a point of adding the extraneous umlaut to reflect the company's emphasis on the stupidest, most crass and poorly thought out "bold new directions" possible for six to twelve months at a time (before changing direction again.) I've talked about where Miss Martian has been and the positive results, but for once I hope nobody at DC reads this blog. If M'gann M'orzz turns up in three months looking like someone processed a picture of Yolandi Visser through an inversion filter, I'm going to feel a pang of guilt.
*Hopefully, unless she one of those two new(?) heroines.