Monday, June 7, 2021

JLA: Year One #6 (June, 1998)

At Doom Patrol Headquarters, The Chief used technology mostly cribbed from Robotman's spare parts to offer the Justice League temporary prostheses to compensate for their missing parts. Fitting for the era and for why such devices aren't the focus of Niles Caulder's life's work, the devices are very bulky, cumbersome, inaccurate, and overpowered for use by the general public. With the exception of J'Onn J'Onzz and the fully able-bodied Aquaman, the dismembered Leaguers were also hobbled by doubt, anxiety, and self-pity. In the case of the Manhunter, he had a large dome visor covering most of his head that aloud him to see with poor depth perception and delays as through a fog. Caulder had done his best to navigate the maze of a Martian nervous system, and wondered how many senses his subject possessed. "With my eyes missing? Eight."

The Leaguers weren't sure if they could function well enough to continue, but Manhunter insisted "We... We have responsibilities, nonetheless. Thanks to the Brotherhood, the people of Manchester are equally... disadvantaged. We must reclaim the Genegraft device that caused all of this... and reverse it." Back in Alabama, the Brain had used his power ring to build his own energy construct castle, and refused to surrender any of his ill-gotten gains to the Locus attack force buzzing outside. The Brain wasn't using his, simply employing the League's eyes, voice box, and legs for natural purposes. He focused solely on the ring, unaware of its vulnerability to the color yellow and limited charge. Robotman and Aquaman not only made a fine pair... but they also exploited those weaknesses.

Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, and Elasti-Girl were the second group. Rita Farr tried to offer solace over her partners feeling like freaks, but J'Onn J'Onzz did her one better. "Which is what puzzles me most about Earthlings-- How they can perceive such differences between themselves. Even with my eyes, I could see that people were distinct... but not truly different. Not enough to drive such wedges between them. Some days, I fear that I will never understand the artificial divisions you create among yourselves. Other days... I fear I shall... I've been meaning to tell you, Ms. Farr, how disappointed I am you're no longer making films... When I first came to Earth, television was my window to language... to culture. I saw many of your 'chiller' pictures, and... well... I suppose I became a fan." Elasti-Girl gave him a kiss on the cheek, then saved the Leaguers from Monsieur Mallah when they proved useless against him.

Green Lantern, Flash, and Negative Man were clearly the most effective fighting unit, though what exactly caused the castle to collapse was never made clear. Regardless, The Brain still massacred the Locus forces and imprisoned most of both super-teams with his power ring. Canary tried to administer first aid to one trooper, who spoke of a coming holocaust. Flash and Aquaman teamed up to bring an end to the matter at hand, as the Sea King used his superior will power to command a ring construct cutlass to decapitate The Brain. Hal Jordan confided to Larry Trainer, who had recognized his fellow pilot, that he was shaken to see the ring used for a potentially lethal action (aft-shadowing "Emerald Twilight.") Every body was restored, and the two teams gently ribbed each other about dibs on hero of the day Aquaman. Rita assured J'Onn that Sigourney Weaver would have approved of him, and explained to her cohorts that the heroism they'd learned from being ostracized from society simply came naturally to the League.

"Sum of Their Parts" was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson with Michael Bair & John Stokes. Haven't read this issue in a couple of decades, so it's fun to rediscover the Doom Patrol from a place of greater knowledge. Madame Rouge makes a good case for how stretching powers work better for villains willing to fully exploit them for creep value. Cliff Steele really is just Ben Grimm at this point. It's fun seeing the JLA riff of character logos being statted into the openings of spotlight scenes, but with the twist of lesser-knowns like Black Canary and Negative Man. I'm guessing they're still using Xerox instead of Photoshop though, because they are tiny with a curious disparity in sizes. It would have been nice to have gotten an older vintage Manhunter logo than 1987, but it's still his best one, and DC's later offerings since have been so hideous that it's more than welcome to see. Also, I just realized from this issue that one of the most endearing aspects of J'onn is that he's the Linus van Pelt of the League. He's the one who'll grind the story to a halt to explain the subtext in a heartfelt but objective way. It's a comic book, so that's exactly what super-heroes should do, and anyway, Linus is the best character in Peanuts. Not sure if that makes H'ronmeer Baby Jesus or The Great Pumpkin, but there it is.

1990s, Aquaman, Black Canary, Doom Patrol, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, Martian Manhunter, Retcons,

Monday, May 31, 2021

JLA: Year One #5 (May, 1998)

Coast Guard Officer Perez was almost caught in the Secret Sanctuary by Snapper Carr while at the meeting table going through files regarding the League and referencing Locus. Hmm. Speaking of, J'Onn J'Onzz called a meeting to discuss his extensive findings about Locus, alternately geneticists and survivalists, but consistently "ruthless to the extreme." Aquaman was glad that at least one of them was still pursuing the case (conveniently omitting his own lack of said pursuit,) but when Flash wondered why J'Onn hadn't shared sooner, "It did not occur to me to do so." Again, one of the most thin-skinned and stand-offish members questions the dynamics of a team despite contributing to its toxicity.

The individual Leaguers continued to struggle with work-life-vigilantism balance, with the recent revelations about her mom's affair prompting Black Canary to pointedly question her teammates' marital status. "I am... Or, rather... I was. My life on Mars was rich with a wife and a daughter. Just before an errant teleportation beam brought me to your world, they were taken from me by a tragic accident. To this day, I sometimes think I hear the song of their laughter in the still night air. I am mistaken." Well, anyway, Canary doesn't want to talk about the JSA anymore. Also, this was a tweak to Manhunter's post-Crisis origin, as he previously still labored under the delusion that the pulp-fueled fantasies of Saul Erdel were his true life on Mars. J'Onzz had embraced this fiction in part to escape the painful reality that his people were wiped out by a plague, not an accident. The then-upcoming Martian Manhunter ongoing series would clarify this while removing all vestiges of the Pre-Crisis/imaginary Mars from the narrative.

Manchester, Alabama was either so rural that they still waited anxiously for the delivery of stacks of newspapers, or this story was intended to be set in the mid-80s (there's a Reagan reference.) We're so old, you guys. A couple of men were discussing "the Green guy" from the Justice League, and when one thought he meant "The Martian," the other clarified that nobody in the general public ever talks about the Manhunter unless he's a suspect. Then a bunch of citizens were shot with that Locus "genegraft ray" cannon that takes chunks off of people and aggregates those chunks into humanoid purple protoplasmic minions. It's like Gardner Fox trying to do body horror, appropriate to the villainy of The Brotherhood (of Evil.) This unsurprisingly attracted the Doom Patrol, a heroic team of "freak" accident survivors, provoking the public's reticence to being saved by such a lot.

The arrival of "matinee idols" the Justice League was more warmly received, and the two teams joined forces against the purple people. However, Manhunter warned "Be careful! My telepathy suggests that many of these creatures are melded to innocent, frightened victims!" It was mostly down to the League to route and contain the monsters, leaving them vulnerable to a blast from the genegraft ray that ripped away their key attributes: Canary's vocal cords, Lantern's ring arm, Flash's legs, Manhunter's eyes, and Aquaman's... um, actually, he hung back with the Doom Patrol. But anyway, The Brain created a new body for himself out of the pieces of Leaguers. The Brain is a super-genius whose brain lives in a motorized jar and leads the Brotherhood. I should have mentioned that sooner.

"A League Divided" was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson and still "guest inker" Michael Bair. I'd had a few exposures to the Doom Patrol in the past, but never really "got" them. This issue offered me insight that they were influenced by the early, quarrelsome Fantastic Four, but had likely influenced the X-Men, which went a long way toward seeing the potential appeal of the premise.

1990s, Aquaman, Black Canary, Doom Patrol, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, Martian Manhunter, Retcons,

Thursday, May 27, 2021

JLA: Year One #4 (April, 1998)

Even though Snapper Carr had been retconned into being a constant presence within the Secret Sanctuary as resident tech wizard and maintenance man, Green Lantern still manhandled the "handykid" as a suspected intruder, and couldn't be bothered to remember his name. Admittedly, the League had been out all night fighting Starro the Conqueror (with a key assist from the already forgotten Carr,) so they were all likely punchy as they raced off to tend to their day jobs. This left Aquaman indignant, as Locus continued to be a threat, and were less likely to be taking the day off.

Hal Jordan flirted with FAA investigator Lora Denton, but a slip-up inspired by the distraction of the League forced Carol Ferris to ground him. Barry Allen got held up by chatterbox new detective Paris Jackson and was almost too late to prepare dinner for his fiancé Iris West. Here was a second instance of a hero being caught flat-footed by their significant other when asked about their unaccounted-for activities, and I do wonder if artists ever get tired of redrawing the cover to The Brave and the Bold #28. Aquaman went swimming at Ocean World to check on his "imprisoned brothers," and ended up with hysterical guards screaming and pointing guns at him. The angle continued to be Aquaman as "freak" who doesn't understand social norms, but his concern for sea life tracked with his environmentalist streak since the '70s. Officer Perez of the Coast Guard showed up to defuse the situation, and we learned that in off-hours, he'd exposed Aquaman to Planet of the Apes. There's actually several comedic beats like that in this issue that reminded me how funny the writers can be when allowed, and it's also a nice nod to the JLI. There's a moment when one of the Ocean World trainers sincerely took advantage of the Sea King's abilities to check on the marine life's well-being, and lets just say this fictional amusement park got higher marks than real world documentaries would lead one to believe.

I've never been as into Black Canary as I wanted to be, but seeing Dinah Lance dressed for The Matrix with a raven bob certainly helped bridge the distance in that moment. I wasn't well-versed enough in the DCU to fully appreciate Dinah at a birthday party with the retired JSA in 1998, so it hits harder on rereading today. Still weird to have a female character referred to as "Junior," but maybe that was more of a thing with the "Greatest Generation?" Then-recent Starman material had turned a series of '60s team-up stories with Canary into an extra-marital affair, perhaps too on the nose, but still an intriguing development. Seeing the awkwardness between Ted Knight and the widowed former Dinah Drake, especially once deduced by "Dinah Junior" (weeird) was a highlight of the series.

Not going to lie, I did a little fist pump when I saw the sign reading "Middletown Police Headquarters." John Jones helped Diane Meade read her date (Detective Vince Logan) for filth. Meanwhile, Locus had indeed kept busy, securing a Starro tentacle for its regenerative abilities and working with T.O. Morrow & Professor Ivo on promising, under budget projects. They were also plotting mad science to be perpetrated against Blue Beetle as an unwilling "graft donor" captured by the Brotherhood of Evil. They played it coy for most of the issue, but I can all but guarantee you that a stretchy woman and a gorilla in shadow were not cluing me in at this point in my DC fandom.

"While You Were Out..." was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson, joined by "guest inker" Michael Bair... for the rest of the maxi-series. I'd noticed the richer, crisper ink line from the second page, and Aquaman's face in the second panel of that page was a dead giveaway. That collaboration would continue for a while, and Bair would rightly (see: Infinity Inc.) help define the look of spin-off/begetter JSA with Stephen Sadowski. I'm a fan of Bair's, and only just realized one of my most treasured pieces has a younger sibling. I'd obviously be curious to know what it went for. Anyway, Bair added that touch of post-modern darkness that compliments the writers' efforts, as the creative team textually and visibly references a Silver Age milieu. It parallels James Robinson's work on their Golden Age progenitors, reflecting a period that was always kinkier, weirder, and more violent than the Justice League's time. Bair lends that little bit of edge, but not so much as to tip it outside of somewhat genteel Boomer nostalgia. Still can't believe how talky and decompressed this series was, but I'm grown, so I can dig it.

1990s, Aquaman, Black Canary, Diane Meade, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League International, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, Martian Manhunter, Middletown, Retcons,

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

JLA: Year One #3 (March, 1998)

Storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson offer another action-light, interaction-heavy tale of the Post-Crisis founding five Justice League. Locus had employed T.O. Morrow to help vivisect the Appellaxian bird to create a new humanoid automaton, but it failed to launch. Vandal Savage wondered how they would topple the League before they found their feet, but Locus' Aryan leader remained confident. Meanwhile, in Chicago, the old Blackhawk foe Killer Shark and his men attempted a heist at Kord Industries... where the League was meeting with disheveled college-aged tech genius Ted Kord about outfitting their headquarters. It didn't take Ted long to decide that he had more interest in super-heroics than the family business.

On Rhode Island, the military dropped off the fire Appellaxian at the League's cave for safekeeping when their own study efforts proved far less effective than even Locus'. Simon Carr suggested to Aquaman that they use it to start a trophy room, while his nephew Snapper was reintroduced as the team's on-site mechanic and electrician. Still fairly insufferable, but at least no longer completely useless. Snapper had even rewired the speaker system, asking Martian Manhunter, "You like Aerosmith, right?" J'Onn J'Onzz had been to Metropolis to pick up newly created signal devices from S.T.A.R. Labs. 1971. I winced a little. "They're uplinked to a global satellite system. With them, we can summon each other as well as stay in constant contact. I have never seen anything quite like them.

At various points, couplings of Leaguers discussed their origins and motivations, usually with a single panel to highlight these milestones. No, Manhunter and Aquaman did not get one. They're not invited into the brewing love triangle either, not that much of anything will come of it. J'Onn asked if Flash had noticed anyone strange checking him out in his civilian identity. "Just curious." Aquaman referenced (I believe) meeting Superman in a Man of Steel annual, and seemed to be cagey when it came to others like him in Earth's oceans. "I share your loneliness. I myself am the last of the Martians. An otherworlder." J'Onn offered an All-Star Manhunter two line origin. "I have been here many years... but I still struggle to adapt." Aquaman was happy to note that Manhunter was the only surface person who didn't have a problem with his default quiet voice. "I'm a good listener." J'Onn also had to explain what a bulb wrench was, or rather wasn't...

Pairing off, Aquaman related another retconned story, this time his first meeting with the Flash in Time and Tide, noting how he was hung with the name simply by a brief initial association with a super-hero. He was irritated by the presumptuousness of these people. "Like you, I avoided them for the longest period. In time, however, I came to realize that they were more accepting than I'd given them credit for... As a general rule. Some regions of the world are more relaxed, some less... but I eventually found, after years of living in hiding, that it's best to be yourself around the people of Earth." Black Canary offered a bit of pushback on that, and an angry Aquaman sauntered off, given that Dinah had played along with Green Lantern's joke about his needing a "bulb wrench..." Canary was dismissive of oh so common male aggression, and thanked J'Onn for treating her as an equal in the field after numerous "chivalrous" acts by Flash and GL specifically. "Why would I not?" Exactly.

The meeting table in the Secret Sanctuary was unveiled, complete with circa-1997 JLA logo, as well as personalized chairs with the heroes' own symbols. I still feel a pang of guilt for not having bought the DC Pocket Heroes version, but they're still relatively cheap on eBay if I ever change my mind. There was a chair with a Superman shield at Flash's aspiration, prompting a team debate, until Superman seemed to show up and take his seat. Turned out to by the Manhunter, who then turned into some sort of Elmer Fudd / Mr. Mxyzptlk* hybrid. Initially shocked silent, the team broke out into laughter. "You're a shapeshifter, too? That's so wild!" He actually turned into the giant monster last issue, but I guess they meant his gift for mimicry. "Geez, J'Onn... how many more powers have you got? You're a regular--" This led to teasing Black Canary over her constant JSA name-dropping. J'Onzz was relieved that his attempt at humor hadn't fallen flat, and the team seemed to be bonding enough that another member besides J'Onn almost revealed their true identity. Aquaman had a poorer sense of social propriety than a Martian though, and picked that moment to sullenly confront Green Lantern about making him the butt of a joke over his difficulty adapting to matters like screwing in a lightbulb with superhuman strength. Green Lantern sorta-kinda "If I offended..." and called the meeting to a close. Everyone else retreated, leaving the Alien Atlas alone to gaze silently at the Appellaxian for a full page before flying up to pass immaterially through the ceiling...

*Spelled from memory like a boss... nerd.

1990s, Aquaman, Black Canary, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League International, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, Martian Manhunter, Retcons, Vandal Savage

Monday, May 10, 2021

JLA: Year One #2 (February, 1998)

Locus made contact with Vandal Savage to seek his help in ending this new age of super-heroes before it could begin, just as a few well-placed senators had done to the Justice Society of America. Savage had already gathered a group of four super-villains to target the new group, consisting of the Thorn, Clayface, Eclipso, and Solomon Grundy. Meanwhile, Manhunter met with Aquaman on the dock to offer him a lift into downtown Gotham City. The Sea King was struggling with learning to read and speak English, to which J'Onn offered, "Learn German first. It's more logical. That's what I did." The meeting was not prearranged, and Aquaman took note of the Manhunter's possessing telepathy that far outstripped his own empathic abilities.

To the relief of Aquaman, he was soon set back on dry land to attend a press conference at the JSA's old headquarters. Not so fast, as Aquaman's soft mumble and ignorance of the surface world ("I'm sure that Sea Devil is a fine man...") plainly irritated the reporters. J'Onn J'Onzz avoided the microphone entirely, with only Black Canary and Green Lantern demonstrating any aptitude in public speaking. While the team was official out and named, lots of questions remained about their jurisdiction, politics, nationalism, and so forth. These deeper questions were set aside upon the thunderous crashing of the affair by Savage's quartet of villainy.

The heroes of the League had never been targeted before, and were thrown by the unprovoked assault, as well as the need to protect the host of imperiled collateral bystanders. Martian Manhunter did one-up Clayface after being threatened that the crook could transform into his worst nightmare. "My. How frightening. Try this one. It's from Mars." Clayface creamed at the sight of a giant alien beast with claws and teeth a third the size of the bad guy. Another unexpected power for the Alien Atlas.

Eventually, the three-quarters of the quartet turned on a rampaging Grundy, allowing the League to regroup and strategize. Manhunter recovered from a temporary blinding from a black diamond eyebeam to emit his own Laser Vision to harden a water-saturated Clayface. However Grundy collapsed the hotel ballroom, and the quartet were teleported away from the scene. Home audiences cheered another victory for the new Justice League of America being reported upon by the likes of Vicki Vale, Lois Lane, and Jack Ryder. Even "bystanders" Ted Grant and Alan Scott signaled their approval, though The Batman had every intention of running them out of his town.

In the aftermath, Vandal Savage tried to quit his association with Locus, though they seemed to perhaps persuade him otherwise. On the scene, when Ryder launched into a heated criticism of the League, the newly arriving Green Arrow sent a shaft through his mic. Seemingly in tow was Simon Carr, representing a wealthy anonymous benefactor offering to bankroll the team. An inventor named Ted Kord had already been retained to facilitate anticipated advanced equipment, vehicles, and facilities...

"Group Dynamic" was by storytellers Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson. Since this was arguably the least issue of the maxi-series, I think it's the best place for heavy nitpicking on my part. I realize that this was a new story from the early days of the JLA, unbound by prior continuity, except it isn't. The 1988 Secret Origins story had been edited by Waid, and the maxi-series studiously avoids retelling the actual 1960s League tales while simultaneously referencing them. What's the point of having a walking DC Comics Encyclopedia co-write a project like this without having it steeped in established continuity? The scene with Aquaman learning to read is nice... except Arthur Curry taught him to read (cursive diary entries no less) in The Legend of Aquaman (also edited by Waid.) The villains for the issue include the Matt Hagen Clayface (introduced in December of 1961) and Eclipso (August '63), with cameos by Metamorpho (January '65), The Atom (October '61), The Creeper (April '68), Blue Beetle (November '66), and the New Blackhawks (June '64) in a story that would be contemporaneous to The Brave and the Bold #28 (March 1960). The League are supposedly putting the Sea Devils out to pasture, even though they won't debut for five months? The only non-Golden Age heroic cameo that legitimately predated the League was the Challengers of the Unknown (February '57). Story wise, I get having the most stripped down "action heroes" reacting to the new super-hero team, but nerd-wise, it breaks my brain. Further, there's a new version of the "Justice League of America" naming sequence, already trod in Secret Origins. The Thorn was an exceedingly weird pull, given that she had barely appeared in the Golden Age and Infinity Inc. made a story point of her having disappeared completely following the births of Jade and Obsidian. Likewise, Eclipso had mostly kept to his own strip in House of Secrets until being revived for a Green Lantern subplot in the '80s, so why have him battle Hal Jordan twenty years too early? Grundy and Eclipso are especially dangerous villains, so it was a shame they offered so little a threat. Plus, Green Arrow may have been the first expansion member, but do we really need him around this early? This issue was... fine... but it clearly raised my geek hackles.

Monday, May 3, 2021

JLA: Year One #1 (January, 1998)

In a darkened room, a series of unidentified individuals watched television monitors with reports of freshly emerging super-heroes the Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Manhunter from Mars, and Black Canary. Notes were taken, specifically locations of sightings. The last images were of J'Onn J'Onzz and the combined heroes, for which no notes were written, of the Appellaxian invasion. "...rumors for years of a Manhunter from Mars in Middleton, Colorado... but those rumors are now fact." In a cringey splash page for Martian fans that doubled as a house ad and store poster, all the Leaguers get their trademark epithets ("The Emerald Gladiator",) even ones unfamiliar and perhaps dubious, ("The Blond Bombshell"?) except "The Manhunter from Mars." To paraphrase Henry Jones, "We named the strip Manhunter from Mars." Stuff like that drove me to create this blog, with preferable canon epithets including "The Alien Atlas" and "The Sleuth from Outer Space." Anyway, it's a personal speed bump on the way to the inspirational "They were young... They were new... and still, they forever set the standard for all who would follow. Ten years ago, five powerful heroes came together... for a world that needed one unbeatable team. Just Imagine."

The League wasn't "official" at the end of their first case, leaving the prospective members to mull the decision in their private identities. Central City Police Department forensic scientist Barry Allen was uncharacteristically impatient and testy, as he's introduced to incoming detective Paris Jackson (less than six months before the more famous bearer of that name was born.) In Star City, Dinah Lance unpacked shipments to her floral shop while discussing the team with her mom. The elder Dinah (née Drake) was maybe putting the mother in "smother," especially when she got a new beat cop named Sherman to promise to keep an eye on her nineteen-year-old "little girl." A mild Canary Cry and numerous busted pots later, the junior Dinah was out the door for her meeting. Aquaman tried to make friends in a rough dock bar, but between his soft-speaking, heavy accent, and costume, he nearly ended up in a brawl instead. Things were calmed down by a kindly Coast Guard named Perez. At Ferris Aircraft, Hal Jordan ignored his buddy Tom Kalmaku's pleas to eject from the experimental $30M X-90 jet (or at least wear his power ring during test flights) in order to impress his boss Carol into a dinner date. Successfully landing, his next step seemed to be sweet-talking FAA investigator Lora Denton, but he fumbled.

In Middleton on a rainy night, Detective John Jones sat in a parked car with his partner Diane Meade on stakeout. He asked if she thought of him as a trustworthy team player. "God, John. Warn me when you're gonna speak. I'll alert the media. At least clear your throat or something... You're the most curious detective... You have a spotless record, you always get your man... and no other investigator has yet to find your sense of humor. What more do I need to know right now?" Twitch's tip about drug manufacturing at the back of Angelo's Restaurant panned out when armed dealers showed up to punish his skimming off their operation. Jones expressed his lack of understanding about addiction and violence, which the sassier Meade mocked. Pinned by erupting gunfire, Meade called for back-up while an invisible Jones used laser vision to heat the guns out of their hands. As the only armed man present, the suddenly visible Jones could easily arrest the lot. The press arrived before the reinforcements, with Channel Twelve News' Cal Redmond looking for the scoop on this hero cop. The taciturn Jones bowed out to meet with, perhaps, others like himself?

The quintet of super-heroes had agreed to turn over the two surviving Appellaxian battle drones to the Air Force, specifically General Eiling, but a small army of masked and armed individuals were already at the seaside caves where the team had hidden the alien proxies. A battle ensued, with the reawakened fire giant putting J'Onn J'Onzz out of direct action. Black Canary critiqued the heroes by comparison to her "family" in the Justice Society, but included a Golden Age Flash Fact that helped her and the Scarlet Speedster to bring down the also awakened bird giant. When not undermining the only woman on the team, Green Lantern bailed on yellow bird duty to help Aquaman leave the fire giant all wet in a grotto. Jordan was surprised to learn of the Manhunter's weakness to fire, and tried to walk back a faux pas statement of bring sick of these aliens. "You mean no insult. Go. I will shield the soldiers."

More than that, the Manhunter executed a maneuver that would be adapted to animation in the Justice League TV pilot "Secret Origins." When armed assailants pointed their rifles at him, the Martian disappeared into the ground immaterially, only to arise behind the men and bash their heads together. So much for "The Martian is weak! Quickly! Before the others come to his rescue. --We will reduce him to Martian ash--" Green Lantern noticed, and wondered if his power ring could do that, too? The attackers tried to destroy what they couldn't steal, but were disarmed by the Flash. As a fail-safe, their leader leaped onto the bird giant and had his fellows "triangulate a portmatrix" to teleport them both back to base. General Eiling had ordered his men to stand down for their own protection, and openly admired the super-heroes who'd saved the day (if not the bird giant.)

After the USAF airlifted the fire giant for study, the quintet hesitantly agreed to remain a team to investigate the robbers, by order of Flash, Canary, Lantern, and Aquaman. Only Manhunter offered an unreserved "You... each of you... has treated me as you would one of your own race. You have included me where others might turn away. I am... grateful. I would be honored to join you." Meanwhile, the uniformed members of Locus watched video of this meeting remotely at their base, taking notes on the League's confessions to one another, while their field agents were already in play on the ground to gather intelligence...

"Justice League of America: Year One" was by Mark Waid / Brian Augustyn / Barry Kitson. I grew up on Super Friends, and the first JLofA comic that I remember seeing was 1983's #217 with the George Pérez cover, but it wasn't until the late '80s JLI era that I ever bothered to read any of the things. While I have a fondness for many periods of the property, it wasn't until the 1996 JLA relaunch that the premise finally sung for me, and it was during this period that I truly and eternally became a fan. That half-decade under Morrison and Waid will always be "my" League, and this maxi-series played a big role in that. Since I'd yet to read any but the earliest Detective Comics stories, I had no idea Diane Meade was a preexisting character, and I was still 100% sold on the Post-Crisis Middleton, CO shtick that I'd reject years later.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Secret Origins #32 (November, 1988)

On the planet Appellax, whoever kills the world's leader succeeds him as the new kalar. With seven total claimants, the dispute could only be resolved through trial by combat, and impossibly destructive proposition. Instead of sacrificing 85% of their world to devastation, as occurred in the previous contest, it was decided to play out the scenario on the backwater world of Earth instead. The contestants would have their minds transplanted into various battleforms, and the last one standing would become kalar.

J'onn J'onzz flew over his city, wondering how people would react if he revealed his true Martian self, as he was tired of spending his life invisible or disguised. However, he spied stone statues littering the streets, and was discrete in checking them out. He realized these were not statues when he saw two police officers that he recognized in their midst, and heard the thudding footfalls of a stone colossus. Eyebeams from the battleform were petrifying people, so the Manhunter attempted to put a stop to it. Telepathy was particularly ineffective, as its overwhelming evil pained the Sleuth from Outer Space. The stone Appellaxian began taunting J'onzz, as the attempted probe had backfired, revealing J'onn's secrets-- including his weakness to fire! Sparks from stony fingers against a demolished gas station ignited an explosion, but J'onzz saved himself by landing on a fire hydrant. He briefly considered waiting the flames out, but recognized the continued harm the colossus would do in the meantime. Focusing totally on launching himself like a missile, the Alien Atlas flew through and exploded the proxy body of the Appellaxian. Waking up on the street, J'onn was not greeted by fear or anger, but the bemusement and incredulity of the citizens he'd saved. The mind probe had alerted Manhunter to the other invaders, and he set off to stop them before they could hatch from their cocoons.

In turn, Aquaman, Black Canary, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and The Flash had faced their own battleforms. Likewise, each had been captured at the site of a sixth Appellaxian cocoon, turned into trees. Or as Barry Allen put it, "I feel like such a sap." The quintet were to march from Florida to Antarctica to help the wooden Appellaxian confront the remaining battleform. Luckily, Aquaman used his telepathy to break the alien's control to trigger a domino effect of super-heroes using the smallest measure of their remaining power to free parts of one another. This culminated in the entirely freed Flash turning the Appellaxian into toothpicks. The Manhunter asserted that there was no time for self-congratulation, and thought it logical to stick together, so Green Lantern used his power ring to fly everyone to the final invader.

The Martian noticed that the Lantern was the only hero entirely at ease with his presence, having seen more than his share of extra-terrestrials. The fast friends started calling each other by their first names. Up ahead in the frigid wasteland, "By Tarkas! Gentlebeings... we've been upstaged." Superman had destroyed the battleform and flew off without even noticing the approaching heroes. Dubious, given his super-senses, but we'll go with it. Despite the anticlimax, the Flash thought that it would be a great idea to stay together as a proper team. J'onn hated it, as it would necessitate going completely public. Still he was eventually convinced of the good they could do, "And it would be good to have... friends." Besides, it would be excellent P.R. for the Martian's coming out. Inspired by Black Canary's Society ties, they became the Justice League of America.

"All Together Now" was by Keith Giffen, Peter David, and Eric Shanower. I once asked David why he didn't do any more JLI-era material, since this was a swell story with an appropriate sense of humor for the time. Sadly, he was never asked, aside from a two part JLTF. The art nicely conveyed a Silver Age vibe, as well. Nearly three years after Crisis on Infinite Earths, with lots of weird and vague potential line-ups offered (such as in Secret Origins #29,) the answer to who exactly founded the group under the revised circumstances was finally decided. Taking its basic plot from the first team origin story from 1962's Justice League of America #9, Wonder Woman is swapped out for Black Canary and Batman is omitted entirely. While the World's Finest duo were late additions to the team and the tale the first time, here Superman is reduced to a cameo without interaction with the team at all. I really like the quintet model, at least for the early founding members (favoring Diana over Dinah, but still...)

Thursday, April 22, 2021

2015 Jonah Hex/Batman/Martian Manhunter pinup by Greg Moutafis


This piece is an example of a commission I created for a client.
I am currently taking commissions and if you would like more information, please view my commission info


I have an interest in all three of these characters, just like I enjoy eating kippered herring, bleu cheese, and mint ice cream... just not all at the same time, Right? Anyway, I considered doing a more substantial post earlier this week, but then today happened, so you get this.

Monday, April 19, 2021

2021 Zook Sketch Card by Fred Hembeck

I didn't post last week, despite The Irredeemable Shag sending this to me weeks ago. Hope to have something more substantial up later in the week to make it up to you.
Fred Hembeck Color Sketch Card: Zook

...This card is a fully finished, unique piece of art by cartoonist Fred Hembeck (Fantastic Four Roast, Fred Hembeck Destroys The Marvel Universe, The Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus, and the recent Marvel collection, House of Hem). It is one of a collection of sketch cards being offered by the artist.

The card is drawn on 2.5" by 3.5" smooth surface bristol paper that Strathmore produces under the "Artist Trading Cards" specialty designation. The back of the card has a hand-lettered declaration, reading "This is a genuine FRED HEMBECK SKETCH CARD!!" A "Fred Head" caricature as well as the name of the character depicted are also included on the opposite side.

The card will be slipped into a sleeve and then put in a top loader.
Please note that "1 of 1" refers to the specific illustration on each card, NOT the character depicted. Inevitably, some characters will appear on multiple cards in different poses. Each card is hand drawn, therefore unique.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Power of the Atom #5 (December, 1988)

I'm pretty confident that I covered this ground years ago, but while working on Power of the Atom Podcast #607, I got to thinking about relationships within the Justice League again. It's easy to think of the team as one big family, but the '90s hammered home that there are multiple groups within the sprawling League itself, and some folks seem to spend more time together than others.

As a side effect of Superman and Batman being held from early Justice League covers, they come off as being maybe just a little stuck up? I mean, the pair and Robin hung out on so many World's Finest Comics covers before the League was "born" that they had their preexisting clique. Obviously both the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader would happily team-up with most anyone in the DC Comics Presents / Brave & the Bold days, but after the mission was over, they probably gave you the bum's rush. Batman has more tolerance for street level detectives like Black Canary and Green Arrow, and various retcons have had him spend quality time with Zatanna. Due to being fellow travelers in rarified cosmic circles, Superman and Green Lantern pair up more often than you might recall.

Martian Manhunter is in an interesting place because he doesn't have an especially deep connection to anyone in the classic Justice League. Like Batman and Superman, he's had enough one-off team-ups over the years to get credit for starting the practice that Batman later took over in TB&TB. That said, serving as Batman's back-up for over a decade allows him some special access, especially in the JLI years when they were basically co-leaders of the team. I mean, Captain Atom was running Justice League Europe, but it always seemed to come down to J'Onn and Batman pow-wowing with Maxwell Lord about the overall JLI. Outside of the League though, J'Onn has appeared in a ton of Superman comics, and was something of a mentor to Kal-El in the aughts. When Morrison and Porter took JLA to #1, you'd think they'd lean on the DC Trinity with Wonder Woman, but it was obvious Manhunter and Batman did most of the oversight while Superman was a contributing figurehead. Ultimately though, Manhunter's loyalties are to the lesser loved Leaguers of the '80s & '90s.

Wonder Woman gets along with everyone, but gravitates more toward Superman than anyone outside of her core supporting cast. I'd argue that she's been treated as tighter with the Man of Tomorrow than any of her fellow Wonder Women like Donna Troy, Cassie Sandsmark, Artemis, or Nubia. I'm thinking more Steve, Etta, the Kapetalises, a few key Amazons, Barbara Minerva in recent years, and her mom.

The first non-World's Finest clique begins with the Flash. Barry's one of those pivotal figures that everyone likes and wants to be friends with, and Allen is emotional available enough to be such. Elongated Man, Superman, Green Lantern, Black Canary, the Atom, and Zatanna are all close friends and romantic prospects of Barry Allen's. Part of why Barry works better than Wally West is that despite spanning two generations of heroes as a Titan, Barry's sphere of influence is still larger. It's easier to list people that Barry isn't tight with, and who within his circle are closer to each other.

Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Black Canary are something of a typical trio where you've got two buddies and one of their girlfriends. I have zero recollection of Dinah having any kind of relationship with Carol Ferris, and I don't see her being particularly friendly with Hal, either. Speedy is in the mix as well, but that's still Ollie's family and also his best friend Hal.

The Atom can be a bit of a judgemental jerk at times, but Hawkman is defined by being aggressively unpleasant. They shared a book together, and always have team-ups on the occasions that they have solo series. Oliver Queen is also a bellicose partisan, so Carter Hall is a partner in pugnacious discourse, but Ray doesn't much mess with Green Arrow. The Mighty Mite will ride the odd arrowtip, but they're not drinking together.

Aquaman is another stand-offish one. He clearly wants to be friends with Wonder Woman and Superman, but they don't give him much ground. Martian Manhunter clearly cares about Arthur, but it's not really reciprocated. His social pool is shallow.

Zatanna is broadly well-liked with a surprisingly large network. She's also something of a guy's girl, not especially close with heroines beyond Vixen (and not even her once they quit being roommates.) Excepting her recently seeming to take over the role once held by Kendra Saunders going into the New 52, Shayera Hol remains fairly joined at the hip with her husband. I think many people prefer her, but hardly anybody will suffer through Hawkman to get to her.

Looking back, the League cliques are something of a cohort. The Satellite era members seem to be a tight pack. If they were a solar system with Superman as the sun, the rest of the system would likely play out as Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Zatanna Zatara, Bruce Wayne, Dinah Lance/Drake, Oliver Queen, J'onn J'onzz, Diana Prince, Arthur Curry, Shayera Hol, Ralph Dibny, Katar Hol, and Ray Palmer. Firestorm and Red Tornado have the lowest Q-ratings. Ronnie was forced out of the League going into the Detroit era, and sat every other one out until Extreme Justice. His book wasn't exactly rife with guest appearances, and he was usually a youthful nuisance to the likes of Blue Devil and Captain Atom. Nobody liked John Smith much, and even in Young Justice he was like the one grown-up who would buy you beer.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Secret Origins #29 (August, 1988)

People forget that the impact of momentous events is not felt universally nor instantaneously. DC Comics' super-hero publishing from December 19, 1985 until August 31, 2011 is referred to as "Post-Crisis," theoretically a closed expanse of in-universe continuity. You would then assume that everything DC put out in 1986 would be "Post-Crisis," and if you mean "published after Crisis on Infinite Earths #12," you'd be right. But see, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" wasn't out until June of that year. The supposed "New Adventures" of Batman began with a Legends tie-in that August. Wonder Woman was a mound of clay until her book relaunched in November. Wally West may have taken on the mantle of Flash during Crisis, but his solo book kept until March of 1987. Supposedly everyone was starting off more or less from scratch, but Green Lantern and Aquaman have arguably never had a proper reboot. Whether or not "Aquababy" is still in canon today, the Sea King picked up roughly where Brightest Day left him in 2011 as the "New 52" continuity was ushered in. Hell, DC was coy about whether the "New 52" launching after the Flashpoint event series was a line wide reboot, and in retrospect it's pretty clear that DC editorial hadn't fully committed to that as the titles were coming out.

I mention all this because my recent revival of the Power of the Atom Podcast, fueled by early April Fool's Day pranking and my guest appearance on Justice League International: Bwah-Ha-Ha Podcast, meant revisiting Secret Origins #29 for a second time in audio format. John Byrne and George Pérez had committed to full reboots of Superman and Wonder Woman that did not include their ever having been members of the Justice League of America. Batman's membership was firm, but not his foundership. Their single panel appearance in this Atom origin story includes Hawkman, who notoriously had his ground zero reboot in mid-1990, almost five full years after Crisis and including his own solo ongoing series and a slew of guest appearances. Suddenly, a character presented here as a co-founder had never even been a member. They had to create Thanagarian spies who had been members of the Post-Crisis Justice League international, who were emulating the Golden Age Hawkman Carter Hall, who years later would get retconned into an early Justice League member himself. It was quite a mess.

A few months later, a different issue of Secret Origins finally determined that the founding members were Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Black Canary, the latter not having joined the League until the seventy-fifth issue roughly a decade into the property's life. And technically, that was the mother of the character depicted in Secret Origins. From the very beginning, Wonder Woman was in that very first League story from 1960(ish,) part of the cover-featured quintet. It's more than a little off to see the sausage factory heptad depicted here, and presumably only here. We saw a variety of permutations of the founders before and even after Secret Origins #32, but Dinah Lance was pretty much a staple from 1988 until the New 52 (though things got fuzzy after Infinite Crisis.

Another constant? Martian Manhunter. Unlike pretty much any other hero picture, nobody cared enough to make spurious claims about J'onn J'onzz's status as a League founder. He just wasn't that popular, and his continuity didn't pose serious problems, plus his status had been romanticized by "lost" stories featuring this M.I.A. member in the 1970s. If anybody could confidently be named a founder, it was the Alien Atlas, and this morphed over years into his being the most resolute and reliable member. Yeah, in the actual publishing, he was gone from the late '60s until the mid '80s. In the Post-Crisis canon though, he became "the" Leaguer, who never left in this continuity, and that construct did as much to elevate the Martian Manhunter within the universe and outside media like cartoons and movies as anything else done with the character. Throwaway images like this helped to build the Martian Manhunter that I built this blog to serve. Just Imagine...

"The Secret Origin of the Atom" was by Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Martian Manhunter in Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)

So, I guess my first question would be, do the makers of modern super-hero movies all have Oedipal Complexes? I mean, I'm of the opinion that Rosemary Harris, aged 75 years in 2002, was the best cinematic Aunt May. Sure, she's sweeter and prettier than the sentient prune Steve Ditko drew, but this was still the same Hollywood that cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as the protagonist in Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale". I thought Sally Field (65 in 2012) was too young and attractive for the role. Now we're at Marisa Tomei, barely 52 during filming, who has yet to have a picnic with Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette, and Amy Schumer. At least Hope Davis' Maria Stark was from a quarter-century flashback! But move over to the DCEU with Nicole Kidman as Aquamom and Diane Lane as Ma Kent? There's some serious kinks at play here. The age difference between Lane and her "son" Henry Cavill was the same total years of life as the teenager he was dating at 33 after Man of Steel wrapped.

Hopefully, that tangent was enough spoiler space ahead of discussing the reedited extended cut of a 2017 movie wherein the director already spoiled everything via social media and the trailer. There's a scene from Josstice League, written and directed by Joss Whedon, where Ma Kent visits Lois Lane in the Daily Planet break room to discuss mourning her dead son and her would-be daughter-in-law's doing "light duty" reporting since. In the original version, Lois had taken an extended leave of absence, and Ma visited her at the apartment she shared with her would-be fiance. Ma urges Lois to return to work, which Lane ultimately agrees with, but not before spending a final day visiting the Superman Memorial. At the end of this scene, it was revealed that Ma Kent was really a disguised Martian Manhunter. Because there's two similar scenes in twin edits of the movie, I want to head cannon one as the real Ma and the other as Manhunter, even though it is impossible within the circumstances of either film, but said hopeless attempt makes more sense than the actual Snyder scene. It accomplishes nothing for the plot, and betrays a scene some had found emotionally rewarding, all for a sad grasp at the gasp fans inhaled in an episode of Supergirl two years earlier.

Back in 2013's Man of Steel, somebody saw African American actor Harry Lennix wearing some sort of x-shaped harness, and perhaps recalling Phil Morris' gun holster on Smallville, theorized that he would be revealed as J'Onn J'Onzz. That didn't come to pass, and given that his character of General Swanwick let thousands die in the Kryptonian invasion, then agreed to nuke Superman in Dawn of Justice, I would hope that was never the plan. In a recent issue of Vanity Fair, Snyder revealed of the closing moments of the revised film that, "We shot a version of this scene with Green Lantern, but the studio really fought me and said, 'We really don't want you to do Green Lantern.' So I made a deal with them, and they let me do this..." Need I remind you of screenwriter David Goyer's take? My guess is that Snyder was well aware of the old fan theories, and exploited them. Otherwise, Goyer was trolling us, and Snyder just had terrible ideas and no continuity in deploying the 6′ 4″ Lennix as an Alien Atlas.

Setting aside that as written, the Martian Manhunter (ironically his only given name, given Goyer's insistence that it would never be used on screen) is a nonsensical coward, what are my thoughts on Snyder's take? It stinks. They gave him glowing red bobbing googly eyes that make them look like an old dashboard liquid compass with an LED light inside. Lennix's voice is fine, but there's too much of his face in J'Onn's, so that it looks more like cosplay bodypaint than an actual alien. All of the ritual scarring lines all over his body make him look like cherimoya. The iron cross cape clasps make him look like a Nazi, and the x-shape on his chest is crude and ugly, By the end of the movie, Manhunter is the third member of the Justice League in an all-black costume with a cape, which is hella drab. The whole Tars Tarkas vibe means he'd probably explode perps brains with his telepathy like in Scanners, and it's altogether inferior to what the CW have managed across six years of UHF television. Any comic design would improve upon this. I'm sorry that this happened, am thankful that it technically isn't Manhunter's cinematic debut, and wish that it never darken our screens again.

Monday, March 15, 2021

2020 New Zealand Mint 1oz Niue Justice League 60th Anniversary Martian Manhunter .999 Silver Proof Coin

This coin features a glorious green image of MARTIAN MANHUNTER alongside his logo. Additional engraving in the background, showing him in flight,completes the lively design. As a legal tender coin,the obverse features the Ian Rank-Broadley effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the year 2020-60 years exactly since the formation of the Justice League.

Key Selling Points:
Sixth release in the officially licensed JUSTICE LEAGUE 1oz Silver Coin Collection.
Celebrates the 60th anniversary of the original super hero team.
Features two images of MARTIAN MANHUNTERTM. In the forefront he is shown in colour with his logo and, in the background, engraved in flight.
Acrylic coin case allows easy access and display-arrives inside a complementary box.
Limited mintage of 1,960 for each coin reflects the year the JUSTICE LEAGUE was created.
Ideal for any collector, especially one of DC Comic memorabilia.
I got excited for a minute when I thought I'd missed a sixtieth anniversary coin for the Manhunter from Mars from six years ago. Read the fine print, and it's from last year, in celebration of the JLA's anniversary. On the one hand, DC really should do a better job of celebrating the world's greatest super-heroes as a team, given that most of us are quizzical over that Green Arrow 80th anniversary special when the dude hasn't supported an ongoing in a few years. On the other hand, J'Onn J'Onzz's entire existence continues to be bound up in the group he co-founded. Admittedly, as a solo character, he would rate neither a coin nor a special on his own, so I should be happy that he'll always be a Beatle, even if only Pete Best.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Best of DC #74 (July, 1986)

Picking up the numbering from the Firestorm and Aquaman Blue Ribbon Digests:

DC, 1979 Series Price: 1.75 USD; 2.25 CAD
Pages: 100
Indicia frequency: Monthly
On-sale date: 1986-07-03
Indicia / Colophon Publisher: DC Comics, Inc.
Brand: DC Blue Ribbon Digest
Editing: Barbara Randall

Martian Manhunter

cover / 1 page
Pencils: George Perez
Inks: George Perez
Colors: ?
Letters: Gaspar Saladino; typeset
Genre: science fiction; superhero

Martian Manhunter

Table of Contents / 1 page
Script: ?
Letters: Typeset
Indexer Notes: On inside front cover.

Menace of the Martian Weapons!

John Jones Manhunter from Mars / comic story / 5.67 pages
Script: Jack Miller
Pencils: Joe Certa
Inks: Joe Certa
Characters: Martian Manhunter [John Jones; J'onn J'onzz]; Captain Harding (supporting); The Buggsy Roach Gang (intro, villain)
Synopsis: A cache of Martian weapons falls to Earth and into Buggsy Roach's hands.
Reprints: Detective Comics (DC, 1937 series) #264 (February, 1959)

The Origin of the Justice League-- Minus One!

Justice League / comic story / 33 pages
Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Dick Dillin
Inks: Frank McLaughlin
Characters: Justice League of America [Green Arrow [Oliver Queen]; Green Lantern [Hal Jordan] (also in flashback as Hal Jordan); Superman [Clark Kent; Kal-El] (also in flashback); Martian Manhunter [J'onn J'onzz] (on tape and in flashback); The Flash [Barry Allen] (flashback); Batman [Bruce Wayne] (flashback); Aquaman (flashback); Wonder Woman [Diana Prince] (flashback)]; Robin [Dick Grayson] (flashback); Challengers of the Unknown [Ace Morgan; Prof. Haley; Red Ryan; Rocky Davis] (flashback); the Blackhawks [Blackhawk; Andre; Stanislaus; Hendrickson; Chop-Chop; Olaf; Chuck] (flashback); Dr. Saul Erdel (flashback); Commander Blanx (villain) (flashback); Roy Raymond (flashback); Karen Duncan (flashback) Lois Lane (flashback); Jimmy Olsen (flashback); Rex the Wonder Dog (flashback); Congo Bill (flashback); Congorilla (flashback); Robotman [Dr. Robert Crane] (flashback); The Vigilante [Greg Sanders] (flashback); Plastic Man (flashback); Rip Hunter (flashback); Jeff Smith (flashback); Adam Strange (flashback); Alanna (flashback)
Synopsis: Featuring the near-origin of the JLA told by the Martian Manhunter via tape to Green Arrow.
Reprints: Justice League of America (DC, 1960 series) #144 (July, 1977)

John Jones' Farewell to Earth

John Jones Manhunter from Mars / comic story / 6.67 pages
Script: Jack Miller
Pencils: Joe Certa
Inks: Joe Certa
Characters: Martian Manhunter [John Jones; J'onn J'onzz]; Captain Harding (supporting); S'vor (introduction, villain); Jovians (introduction)
Synopsis: Jovians come to Earth searching for a criminal but they need Manhunter's help because their weakness is water and it's raining. Jones agrees to help them in exchange for a ride home.
Reprints: Detective Comics (DC, 1937 series) #267 (May, 1959)

The Invaders from the Space Warp

John Jones Manhunter from Mars / comic story / 11.67 pages
Script: Jack Miller
Pencils: Joe Certa
Inks: Joe Certa
Characters: Zook (intro); Diane Meade; R'Ell; Martian Manhunter [John Jones; J'onn J'onzz]
Synopsis: When alien criminals from another dimension escape to Earth, Manhunter rounds them all up, but they accidentally leave their pet Zook behind.
Reprints: Detective Comics (DC, 1937 series) #311 (January, 1963)

The Devil Men of Pluto

J'onn J'onzz Manhunter from Mars / comic story / 8.67 pages
Script: Jack Miller
Pencils: Joe Certa
Inks: Joe Certa
Characters: Martian Manhunter [J'onn J'onzz]; The Devil Men of Pluto [Nar; Xanadar; L'Lex] (villains)
Synopsis: The Devil Men of Pluto come to Earth looking for a stolen treasure.
Reprints: House of Mystery (DC, 1951 series) #159 (June, 1966)

Thantos -- The 3-in-1 Man!

J'onn J'onzz Manhunter from Mars / comic story / 8.5 pages
Script: Jack Miller
Pencils: Joe Certa
Inks: Joe Certa
Characters: Martian Manhunter [J'onn J'onzz; Marco Xavier]; Zook; Thantos (villain)
Synopsis: Thantos, a being from another dimension, attempts to collect the materials that will allow him to return to earth at will, but Manhunter defeats him.
Reprints: House of Mystery (DC, 1951 series) #168 (July, 1967)

The Last Angry God!

Justice League / comic story / 20 pages
Script: Denny O'Neil
Pencils: Dick Dillin
Inks: Dick Giordano
Characters: Justice League of America [Batman [Bruce Wayne]; Superman [Clark Kent; Kal-El]; Green Lantern [Hal Jordan]; Martian Manhunter [J'onn J'onzz]; The Atom [Ray Palmer]; The Flash [Barry Allen]]; Korge (villain)
Synopsis: J'onn J'onzz enlists his former teammates to help the Martians against the evil giant Korge.
Reprints: Justice League of America (DC, 1960 series) #115 (January-February 1975)

Digest Forum

letters page / 1 page
Script: ?
Letters: typeset
Indexer Notes Inside back cover. Letter of comment from reader Diabolu Frank. No editorial response.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Doomsday Clock (2017-2019)

Watchmen does to '60s Marvel Comics what Fritz the Cat did to funny animals twenty years earlier, but with pretentious transitions and leuprolide acetate. I'm morally opposed to a corporation exploiting works against the creator & owner's wishes because of an unprecedentedly aggressive anti-reversion strategy. But also, I'm specifically opposed to a bunch of pale grimdark Charlton Action Heroes analogs being integrated into the DC Universe. I think a bunch of self-conscious fanboys elevated Watchmen to "art" status back in the '80s to validate their fixations, but it's never been a favorite of mine, and arguably did more harm than good for the medium. Where were all the 'gaters when Rorschach was cramming his politics into childhood morality plays/power fantasies? Oh yeah, it was okay because their politics are Rorschach's. You know, the weird crazy stinky ugly homicidal son of a dirty whore who commits suicide by super-hero. Their guy.

So, I didn't read Doomsday Clock, but I have skimmed the heck out of it for a thought experiment. Most online resources are less than clearly written, and I think we can be a bit more concise than a three hour explainer video. Most of the early issues are very grounded in the Watchmen continuity, which is one of my problems with the book. I don't want to spend a third of a series on a Watchmen sequel that then transitions into a typical DC event series, and I doubt people in the market for a Watchmen continuation want to spend a third of the series on an Ostrander-period Firestorm: The Nuclear Man arc. I'm going to really speed through the early stuff.

So the grand scheme that ends Watchmen fails, and about half a decade later (1992), Adrian Veidt is ruined. He was exposed by the Walter Kovacs diary, with his businesses overrun by angry mobs. I'd argue that unsubstantiated ramblings from a criminal nutjob wouldn't have that level of impact, but then 2020 happened. A new incarnation of Rorschach breaks into a prison to release grim n' gritty analogues of the old Charlton villains Punch and Jewelee. Marionette & The Mime have enhanced killing-people abilities, and a young son that was taken from them after being born behind bars. Ozymandias is supposedly dying from a brain tumor, which he uses to convince Rorschach II to help him with a new global salvation plan involving Earth DC, and the quartet escape Earth-Sad-Bastard just before the nuclear war starts.

Speaking of their destination, the not-so-New 52 is living through its own retread of the immediate Post-Crisis deconstructionist "realism," especially John Ostrander-associated material like Legends. For the past six months, "The Supermen Theory" has plagued the popular consciousness, explaining the abundance of metahumans in the U.S.A. as the result of secret government experimentation inspired by the debut of Superman. It was first postulated by Dr. Helga Jace of the European nation Markovia from period The Outsiders comics. Metamorpho and Man-Bat were supposedly products of this Department of Metahuman Affairs project, which makes me groan because Rex Mason dates back to 1965, while the D.M.A. apparently was introduced 31 years later in a half-dozen The Power of Shazam! issues that barely anyone read. I realize we're nearly a quarter-century out from that, but the Department wasn't popularized until Allan Heinberg's brief Wonder Woman run in 2006, which to my old ass was five minutes ago. DC had given a big push to the D.E.O. back in the late '90s, and I vastly preferred them to the seemingly redundant D.M.A., if only for having better alphabet soup letters for my spoon. Anyway, who cares, Bendis probably bloweded them both up in his Leviathan story.

I think most people in the U.S. would be going "U!S!A!" over that, and the rest of the world would sigh and figure "that tracks," but instead its treated as a new "nuclear winter" type existential threat that casts a pall over all of increasingly panicky human life. Seeking metahuman research, LexCorp buys out Kord Industries (Blue Beetle,) Genetech (Mike Baron Flash comics) and the Sunderland Corporation (Swamp Thing,) while Wayne Enterprises muddles through ill-considered acquisitions of Dayton Labs (Mento) and Stagg Industries (Metamorpho.) Aside from filling out back matter to mirror that of Watchmen, these details don't amount to much. I guess it sets up that Lex Luthor has been tracking temporal anomalies for years, including a vast collection of duplicates of that picture of Jon Osterman and Janey Slater that Doctor Manhattan drops everywhere across space and time because he doesn't wear pants. He blue himself before becoming an always-nude.

Because layers, there's a side story where Johnny Thunder sneaks out of a retirement home, finds Alan Scott's original Green Lantern battery, and meets up with Rorschach and Saturn Girl. I'm going to assume at least a bachelors degree in DCology among my readership, because I'm not going to grind everything to a halt to explain what a Legionnaire is. They usually come in threes, though-- minimum. Dr. Manhattan brings The Comedian back from the dead for reasons, which include trying to kill anyone on DC Earth from Watchmen Earth that he can find. Batman and the Joker do stuff, while Lex Luthor stokes anti-metahuman fear, as he is wont to do. As part of a slavish devotion to the structure of Watchmen, the comic-within-a-comic Tales of the Black Freighter is now the mystery of the murder of golden age of Hollywood actor Carver Colman, who played Nathaniel Dusk. Spoiler, his success hinged on a friendship with Dr. Manhattan, and he was killed by his own estranged mother in the '50s after pushing back against her blackmail scheme regarding his sexual preferences. Which would be multiple-choice answer "D." No wonder he's so fond of Dr. Manhattan. His name starts with a capitol "D."

So the new Rorschach is the son of the chubby African-American psychiatrist that treated the original Rorschach in Watchmen. The kid either was manipulated into believing his dad and Rorschach were friends, and also he's a lifelong cray-cray who manages to develop the same vocal mannerisms as Walter Kovacs. With his parents dead, he's institutionalized, gets befriended inside by Mothman, and outside following Mothman's death by Ozymandias.

Issue #5 is where the DC stuff really starts to take over the narrative. Hawk & Dove get busted in Saint Petersburg after a hostage situation goes south. Russia closes its borders and forms a new version of the People's Heroes, led by their most powerful metahuman, Pozhar. The Russians also ally with Markovia. Firestorm denies rumors that he was created by the same secret program Lady Clayface and Killer Frost claim to be products of. King Kobra was making big moves in the Middle East. Black Adam pushes back against his terrorism, and declares Kahndaq a safe haven for all metahumans. The Creeper is an early recruit, maybe, since he's also a double agent created by the project. There's a multi-page mock Newsweek magazine article where the writer groups together various international teams from his own DK DC Comics Encyclopedia for his homebrew Mayfair RPG campaign or whatever. I resemble this remark. I have already pasted these pages into a single .jpg for ease of reference for my own fanboy crap.

There's a meeting of villainous entries from Who's Who in a Gotham City subway that serves as the backdrop for the Marionette & Mime origin story (don't care.) The Comedian shoots Typhoon in the face, and backmatter reveals that he and Moonbow were both undercover agents for the Department of Metahuman Affairs. You can really see the influence Steve Dillon had on Gary Frank's art here, both from the exploding face and that face's having resembled The Saint of Killers. Ozymandias cloned a new fantasy cat that was part Doctor Manhattan so that they could find Dr. Manhattan so that he could do a half-issue long exposition dump so that Geoff Johns could sub-divide the team and foreshadow a bleak conclusion. *Deep sucking recovery breath* Firestorm gets into a fight with the People's Heroes and supposedly accidentally turns a crowd of people into glass statues. Lois Lane gets a thumbnail drive featuring newsreel footage of the Justice Society of America, which you may have forgotten don't exist on Earth... 0? Prime? K.I.S.S., in the New 52/Rebirth continuity. In a secret location, with all his might, Firestorm manages to revert one boy to normal. Superman backs him up on a return to Russia to save the rest, but Vladimir Putin gets heavy-handed (redundant?) and the glass people all get shattered in the ensuing skirmish.

Martian Manhunter finally joins the narrative in issue #9, but there's time-jumping and tension-building that I'm just going to cut through. Plus, it's dumb, and we don't feed dumb. That's Facebook's job. Somehow, Ozymandias got his cloned Bubastis-Manhattan pet (lost me at "trained cat") to turn all those Russian people to glass and to blow them up and to leave an energy signature to implicate Dr. Manhattan (it's a double-frame-job with Firepatsy) . So all of the Silver Age DC heroes (Rebirth editions) take spaceships to Mars to confront Manhattan. 100% attendance. Even the Charlton Action Heroes, in pretty much their original costumes. Not contrived at all. At. All.

"Is there a plan, J'Onn?" "We make initial contact, Ralph. We see what he wants. Hello. My name is J'Onn J'Onzz. Who are you? Where do you come from? What are you doing on Mars?" Guy Gardner goes full Guy Gardner on the naked blue guy, aided by the Mature Readers advisory that allows him to use for-real foul language, and J'Onn also reverts to the JLI days by barking, "Guy, that's enough. From your mind, I can see that you're confused." Yeah, the cat-astrophe in Russia sent all these tachyons from Earth to Mars, screwing with weather patterns and Manhattan's Memento-vision and stuff. Then Johns folds Secret Wars II into a single issue with the heroes seemingly eradicating Manhattan but he brushes them off and does a Japanese freeze-time porno with them for reasons. Oh, and in the absence of Silk Spectre, rapes Ronnie Raymond's childhood by revealing Dr. Martin Stein had founded the Department of Metahuman Affairs and in the absence of his own metagene, intentionally triggered his surrogate son's in the nuclear incident that created Firestorm. Plus an off-screen but unmistakably petty President Trump throws Superman to the wolves/Russians/outraged public. That will age painfully.

The big reveal is that Doctor Manhattan stumbled upon the DC Universe, became intrigued by its intrinsic optimism, and recognized that the central figure in the entire continuum is Superman. Besides the DC Multiverse, there's also "The Metaverse," which is basically the core continuity of the comics line that influences all of the offshoots. When people like the Anti-Monitor and Extant/Parallax muck with the space-time continuum, it moves up Superman's debut from 1938 to 1950-something to 1986 and so on. Superman's perpetual displacement in time has a butterfly effect that ripples throughout the multiverse so that all realities reflect the changing circumstances of the Superman in the current continuity on the Earth. So Doctor Manhattan tests this cascade effect by screwing with the circumstances surrounding Superman in each era, for instance moving Alan Scott's power battery out of reach so that he dies in the train wreck that was his origin story (literally, not figuratively.) Dominoes fall and typically the universe gets darker, until Superman resurfaces and pushes things back to the good. Even as this story's Saturn Girl and Johnny Thunder dry up and blow away, representing the collapse of Superman's past and future, they shall return in new incarnations once Superman is restored later in the timeline.

Last two issues folks-- almost done. Because of the tachyon smog caused by the Russian explosion, Doctor Manhattan has a final lingering vision of meeting and getting punched out by Superman. This event supposedly either kills Manhattan or the universe itself. Ozymandias' master b-plan is that Superman won't kill Manhattan, but instead inspire him to also be a "Man of Action" who will go back and save the Watchmen-Earth instead of just letting his wiener float in the breeze of human nuclear extinction. Johns doesn't know what to do with Wonder Woman, so she's mostly M.I.A. before being kidnapped by Themyscira so that she doesn't get killed by Black Adam and the metahuman army of Kahndaq once they march against the U.N. Assembly and White House. Batman is running around trying to stop the DC U.S. from launching nukes. All of the other major DC heroes are still on Mars or wiped from continuity. Superman stands alone against the greater world's metahumans looking to arrest him for the Russia debacle. Manhattan shows up. Superman winds up the punch...

...and hits Pozhar, who was coming up from Manhattan's exposed rear. No single image better exemplifies the cognitive dissonance/wrongheadedness of this entire event than Superman brushing past Doctor Dingaling to pop a minor Cold War-era alternate Firestorm. Johns is so on-the-nose as to have a Black Rorschach in the midst of an existential crisis over the collapse of his paranoid far-right fantasies against the backdrop of riots threatening a new Civil War getting battered by a red-capped MAGA cracker. It's entirely possible that this was a one image refutation of everything Watchmen represented, or a summation of Johns' cluelessness that he built his entire DC career on the Alan Moore deconstructionist aesthetic. Choose Your Own Adventure.

The insufferably smug Ozymandias gets his wish, Doctor Manhattan declares his fandom, and restores the Pre-Flashpoint paradigm. The Post-Crisis Justice Society of America returns, while the rebooted Bendis/Sook Legion of Super-Heroes also show up, both backing Superman against... international heroes? Yay xenophobia? Also, the Multiverse realigns again to better match the Pre-Crisis conception, so I guess the Earth-One JSA is back to being the Earth-Two one, and the New 52 Earth-2 one never was? Gen-X gets an Earth-1985, and there's even an Earth-52, so the Earth-2 JSA and priest collar battlesuit Superman are saved! Johns does that thing where he turns the closing pages of a book into a teaser trailer for future storylines, except DC just had another major round of layoffs and 5G isn't happening and Johns & Frank have bolted for a creator-owned project at Image and there's a really good chance AT&T is planning to shutter the comics line entirely.

In the more gooder post-Rebirth revised continuity, Nathaniel Dusk actor Carver Colman was not murdered, and instead became a trailblazing "out" gay performer and LGBTQ+ activist. It's all very Ryan Murphy. Lex Luthor "kills" The Comedian by restoring him to the point in time he was snatched from-- mid-fall in Watchmen #1. I think Mime & Marionette stay on DC Earth to raise their newborn daughter. Doctor Manhattan "dies" to restore Watchmen-Earth, but he invests his remaining essence into Mime & Marionette's son and sets him up to be adopted by Night Owl and Silk Spectre. Both Ozymandias and Martin Stein go to prison on their respective Earths. A new Global Guardians line-up is teased.

I thought this would be shorter. You?