Friday, September 25, 2015

1992 “Along Came J'onzz” text piece by Mark Waid

Originally presented in DC Silver Age Classics Detective Comics #225, an article from one of J'onn J'onzz's best writers...
“The enduring heroes are the ones who are products of their time. Superman, protector of the weak and oppressed, was conceived during the Great Depression, when the American Spirit was at its lowest ebb and peo­ple longed desperately to embrace a symbol of justice. Batman, the righ­teous vigilante, was birthed by the feelings of helplessness within the common folk, who were faced with the reality of urban crime when the Industrial Revolution created dark, crowded cities around them.

The mid-1950s, by contrast, were a lighter time. As a nation, America had been tempered by victories in World War II and Korea. People throughout the country entertained a new prosperity...and a weird, paranoid fear that someone was going to take it away from them. Senator Joe McCarthy had everyone believing that "evil Communists" skulked around every corner, posing as normal Americans while threatening our moral fibre. Likewise, science-fiction movie mak­ers ran with that paranoia and used it to fuel films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and I Married a Monster from Outer Space, which enforced a "Keep Watching the Skies" mentality and personified the "enemy" as an Alien Threat. The message was clear: your life could easily be touched by aliens from that stellar infinity known (redundantly) as "outer space." Why, anyone you knew could secretly be an alien. That nice, new neighbor couple down the block...that remarkably clean-cut young man your daughter married just last week...anyone.

Little green men from Mars walked among us, undetected. They, could be barbers, politicians, insurance salesmen...or, in DC's case, a police detective.

In 1955, DETECTIVE COMICS was edited by a man named Jack Schiff, whom I believe—now that I've followed this "product of their times" theory out—was shrewder than I ever gave him credit for. Picking up on the mindset of the generation, Schiff commissioned writer Joe Samachson and artist Joe Certa to create a new science-fiction series for the book, one that used the element of paranoia to terrific effect. "John Jones, Manhunter from Mars" premiered in DETECTIVE #225...and to say it was a depar­ture from the norm would be a radical understatement.

While DETECTIVE'S star. Batman, had been enjoying steady success for over fifteen years, his co-stars hadn't been nearly as fortunate. During its Golden Age heyday, DETECTIVE played host to such exciting cos­tumed characters as The Crimson Avenger, Air Wave, and Robotman. As the 1940s gave way to the 1950s, however (and as the super-hero genre waned), they were systematically replaced by features that were— to be kind—substantially more mundane. During the '50s, the pages of DETECTIVE were popu­lated by Batman...and a whole slew of run-of-the-mill lawmen. A dime spent on DETECTIVE brought you the adventures of Pow-Wow Smith, DC's Native American crimebuster, who cor­ralled his share of prairie criminals; the seafaring sleuth known as Captain Compass, who bat­tled crime on the high seas (and just how much crime is there on the high seas?); and Mysto the Detective (my own personal favorite), who employed stage magic to bring criminals to jus­tice ("Hey, Rocky—watch me pull an embezzler out of my hat! Nothing up my sleeve...").

Now, mock them though I do, I'll personally attest to the fact that there's nothing really wrong with any of these characters. Not even Mysto. There's a certain inarguable level of craft that their artists and writers invested into their stories. They're not bad...but there's a numbing sameness to them all. It's almost as if Pow-Wow Smith, Captain Compass, Mysto, and the rest were really all the same guy.

And then along came Jones.

Acknowledged as the first of DC's Silver Age super-heroes, he had a lot of the same things going for him that Superman did. He was, after all, a strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men—but that's where the similarities ended. Unlike the Man of Steel, who col­lected accolades by using his powers openly and freely, Jones was forced by his otherworldly appearance to work in secret performing his deeds invisibly rather than risk exposing himself to a distrusting world.

Fortunately for John, those times are long gone. Today, he lives in an era where many of his fellow heroes are more horrific-looking than the criminals they pursue. Next to, say, Lobo, the Manhunter from Mars looks downright innocuous. It's been over thirty years...but John Jones has endured. And he has finally come of age. Our age.”

No comments: