Friday, October 12, 2012

SurVILEvor Island: Kanto

Darkseid appeared in several issues of the 1998 Martian Manhunter series, and was heavily integrated into the origins of the Martian Manhunter and Malefic as a result. Given that the series never so much as mentioned a legitimate prior Vile Menagerie rogue by name, lasting three years on new and borrowed villains, I really resented that. Still, Darkseid is a popular character, Ostrander/Mandrake fans seemed to embrace the relationship, and I even acknowledged Darkseid as the 10th Most Important Martian Manhunter Adversary as a result. Now, in a poll with 22 respondents, Darkseid was voted off SurVILEvor Island by a better than 2-to-1 margin of 68%. I shall surely cry myself to sleep over that. Surely....

With Brimstone similarly dismissed by blog readers, I thought that we might as well complete the Apokolips suite by putting Kanto on the chopping block. I must confess though that outside of his Martian Manhunter appearances, I'm really not that familiar with the character. I read a collection of Jack Kirby's New Gods years back, before they started packaging all of his "Fourth World Saga" together, so I managed to miss most of his work on Mister Miracle. Kanto debuted in its seventh issue, in a story where Scott Free and Big Barda returned to Apokolips so that they could prove their ability to escape it again. Kanto got off on souping-up medieval weaponry with hi-tech tricks and pitted his craftsmanship against Scott's escape artistry. Mister Miracle kept managing to not get caught and killed by Kanto, which impressed the master assassin so much that he eventually waved the couple on to continue their screwy mission of self-aggrandizement. Kanto returned a year later as part of a troop sent by Free's craggy father to capture Scott and Barda, which turned into a wedding party for the pair, in Kirby's eighteenth and final issue of the title. Three years later, the series was briefly revived with the original numbering by Steve Engleheart and Marshall Rogers as part of the ill-fated "DC Explosion." This was the dawning of the age of the fan-pros, so rather than continue the Kirby tradition of innovation, the revival faithfully cycled through appearances by characters established in the Kirby run. Kanto showed up in more than half of their seven issue run before line wide cuts saw the book join a cavalcade of cancellations.

A minor presence in the Fourth World Saga, Kanto only made a few small appearances across the next two decades, including a Who's Who entry and John Ostrander's use of him in a Suicide Squad two-parter. Kanto was overlooked in the late '80s New Gods series, not to mention the mid-90s one, but he was at least present for John Byrne's continuation of Jack Kirby's Fourth World. Mister Miracle had two series come and go in the same time span without any significant involvement from Kanto. A mentor/pupil affair with the Wonder Woman frienemy Artemis was retconned into the Genesis crossover, but never went past it. A convoluted new origin had slightly more traction. "Kanto" was turned into a title. A kid from Apokolips named Iluthin traveled to Earth during the Renaissance, but was hounded by an assassin with the "Kanto" name, who murdered Iluthin's new bride and was killed in retaliation, only for Darkseid to make Iluthin the new Kanto. God, that sentence was longer than my attention span for its contents.

Martian Manhunter is tied with the first Mister Miracle volume for containing the most Kanto appearances. When Ma'alefa'ak made contact with Apokolips, Kanto was among the representatives to visit Mars. Kanto befriended and mentored J'Onn J'Onzz, only to betray the young Manhunter and visit atrocity upon his people. Malefic being rendered a proxy for Darkseid in the genocide of the Martian people was highly problematic, but tweaking that bit of continuity wouldn't necessarily impact on Kanto's history with the Martian Manhunter. While there's a part of me that would prefer Martian and New God mythology to be wholly segregated, I feel sort of bad for Kanto, since he's been abandoned as a Mister Miracle foe with no other major role to play in the DC Universe. If the Alien Atlas won't have him, who will? Then again, Kanto did appear on Superman: The Animated Series and the Justice League cartoon, so he might be just fine as a minion of Darkseid on the periphery. Does the Sleuth from Outer Space really need to be associated with another villain of such questionable sartorial inclination?


mathematicscore said...

There's something about aristocratic assassin versus warrior poet that just works for me.

will_in_chicago said...

I am going to vote no, as it seems likeliest that DC will go with Mars having been uninhabited for an incredibly long length of time. J'Onn J'Onnzz may be separated from his home and his people by millions of miles and millions, if not billions, of years. (Remember, Commander Blanx's devastation of his home world came after we knew that Mars was not inhabited. It seems unlikely that water flowed on the surface of Mars for a very long time.) As such, the Kanto stories do not work. Mathematicsscore, I do agree that aristocratic assassin. So, I can see Commander Blanx and Ma'alefa'ak, either on their own or together, dooming Mars. There really is no need for Darkseid to be involved, and the failure of the self-proclaimed and self-righteous Guardians of the Universe to help Mars could be one of their early failures. (These days, the Guardians seem to have a lot in common with Darkseid.)

If Kanto is around, maybe J'Onn ran into him after he left Mars, allowing Kanto to look like a Renaissance Fair refugee and keeping J'Onn's storyline separate. Human history shows it is possible to come up with people as ambitious and as insane as a Commander Blanx or a Ma'alefa'ak without outside influence.

Diabolu Frank said...

I'm honestly a swing vote. My initial negative vote was to get the ball rolling, and I'll always vote against Apokolips being part of the Martian Manhunter's origin, but I'm ambivalent about Kanto generally. Despite being left entirely out of Kanto's Wikipedia history, J'Onn gave him a purpose lacking since his early days. There's no danger of Kanto overshadowing the Alien Atlas, and it's not so bad to have your own "pet" New God as a foe. I'll surely take him over Mantis, Verminn Vundabar, and other lamer options.