Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Doctor Fate #1-4 (July-October, 1987)

Doctor Fate is sort of like if you combined Merlin with Lancelot for the super-hero set, as the wizard/knight battles the forces of capitol-c Chaos from the Golden Age to the present. However, the toll has prematurely aged the human host of the Lord of Order, Nabu. Kent Nelson is dying, his wife Inza is already dead, and the other Lords of Order have decided to write-off the current existence to speed up the cycle of waxing darkness eventually turning back to light. Nabu refuses to comply, and has already picked his next host. As with Kent Nelson, Nabu has prepped a preternaturally mature and mystically adept 10-year-old boy for the role. Things debatably go awry for Eric Strauss, who is insta-grown into an adult, but captured and institutionalized by bad guy Typhon and his own human host, Doctor Benjamin Stoner. It does serve his stepmother Linda well though, as she'd felt "demented" over her romantic feelings toward the boy-turned-man, and that had led her to team-up with Kent Nelson to rescue the now strapping young lad. The experience also made Eric finally ready to embrace his new role (though not yet his-- er-- mama? In the '70s jive sense?)

The connection to Justice League International is modest, and takes place in the third issue. The Helm of Fate was compromised, and donned by Stoner as he created barely elaborated upon global havoc in service to Chaos. The Phantom Stranger aims to address the matter of this "Anti-Fate," using JLI members Batman, Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Mister Miracle, and Martian Manhunter as pawns against the new, evil Dr. Fate. The front half of that line-up appeared to die violently in the attempt, but Martian telepathy knew otherwise, and urged Mr. Miracle to relent in further pursuing the matter. Before being teleported away, the Sleuth from Outer Space assured, "We haven't failed. We're doing what we're supposed to do." Spoken like a career jobber. The Phantom Stranger served similarly, seeming to perish while biding time for Eric, Linda, Kent, and especially Nabu to get their acts together. Eventually, a gestalt entity of the Strausses is required to form a new Doctor Fate, who reclaims their mantle, and exorcises Typhon from Stoner. Kent Nelson moves on to the afterlife, but Nabu retains use of the body, to mentor the Strausses.

Without doing any research, my guess is that Doctor Fate was given a mini-series mostly as a "bold new direction" spin-off from Legends, with a side benefit of supporting and expounding upon the Justice League relaunch (arriving between #'s 3-4.) My first significant exposure to both Fate and Keith Giffen was in a back-up from The Flash #308, the only issue of that volume that I bought new, owing heavily to the novel parallel narrative of the lead feature (with wildly enhancing inks of the little-remembered Dennis Jensen over the usually repellent Carmine Infantino.) My uncle was a big Doctor Strange fan who'd left me dozens of his non-Brunner/BWS issues, so it was kind of neat seeing that type of metaphysical action rendered in a style owing more to Kirby than Ditko. Not enough to get me back for more, but I did buy the Super Powers Collection action figure with its own mini-comic. Doctor Fate is one of those characters that DC sees no inherent appeal in, despite the original version having a lot going for it, so they've spent most of my life selling me lesser variations on the basic premise. I certainly count this incarnation under that heading, despite a very different incarnation of Giffen's involvement-- more or less my favorite version of Keith. David Hunt's inks are fine for the most part, but leave something to be desired at times. J.M. DeMatteis would continue solo into an ongoing series, ditching the more ominous quality here to be a quirky companion title to JLI. I'm glad to have finally knocked this one out after all these years of putting it off, and it was quite easy compared to The Weird, but neither are staying in my collection now. I did like Giffen's visual take on the Alien Atlas, though.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

The Weird #4 (July, 1988)

The Weird was aroused by Batman, who was looking for a way to stop Superman; who was laughing off being double-teamed by Martian Manhunter and Doctor Fate; and Nuklon; who was taking on everyone else (including Guy Gardner, whose head will apparently be wrapped in gauze for 75% of this mini-series.) As one would expect in a Starlin book, The Weird recaps the prior issues of the mini-series, which offers the Dark Knight no clues as to how to defeat the Macrolatts that have possessed his super friend, and also Nuklon. So that's 7 pages of 38 down. The duo of possessed metahumans defeated the rest of the present heroes and lay waste to just enough of Metropolis to look like something out of Akira, but somehow not enough to rate any future mention or leave any trace that won't be cleaned up by the next Superman comic. Also, The Weird had a big speech about how the only way to save this reality was to prevent the Macrolatts from ever reaching it, so The Weird won't waste the remainder of his existence (measurable in hours) on a futile gesture. The Caped Crusader chided, "You may look like a man, Weird. But you've got a lot to learn about actually being one."

Page 16. The Weird kneels before the Macrolatts, speaking to the error of his ways and promising to tell his masters of potential threats to them in this realm. If there were any actual threats, they weren't shared with Batman, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he played indignant before being slapped down by the Weird to help sell the lie. The Macrolatts are so arrogant as to be offended by the idea that anything could threaten them, and smack the Weird around before he fully surrenders, ostensibly to allow them to drain him of all his knowledge and power, ending on a twelve panel page of the possessed heroes slowly reaching toward Weird. Pages 22-24: The Weird reaches into Superman and Nuklon's chests with his variable density powers, pulls out a Macrolatt in each hand, and destroys them both. Well... that was a swift and convenient reversal of the story as told.

Oh, there's still 16 pages to fill? Super studies show that nothing can be done to save The Weird. He spends three pages building a small island as a monument to himself. Superman flies Billy Langley to the island across one page, and it's revealed in the opposing splash. Kind of looks like a sailing ship. Walter Langley's son is somehow meant to make it to this small personal island to play on a mostly barren rock whenever he feels lonely. The proposed logistics of that are the weirdest thing in The Weird. They hug, and then Martian Manhunter is stuck with the thankless task of flying this sobbing child back home to the mother that refused to visit, but was totally cool with allowing her son to fly off with Superman to parts unknown. I do wonder if there was some symbolism in the roles, but most probably J'Onn just got the **** detail, so Superman and Guy Gardner could fly off to unpopulated space to watch The Weird explode. I'd like to say Guy was the only Green Lantern dumb enough to risk it, but they're all so "confident" in their power rings, aren't they? The Weird does blow up a significant distance away, so I guess that explains why an energy bubble wouldn't have contained it. Superman, the Kevin Smith of super-heroes, sheds a tear at his passing. Even Guy looks a bit choked up, or maybe it's like how someone puking makes you want to puke, and Guy is just worried for his tear ducts. The final page is a somber distance shot of the island at sunset.

"...Armageddon" was by Jim Starlin, Berni Wrightson, & Dan Green. Well... that sucked. I liked Batman: The Cult when I got it a few years later, and almost ordered the new edition that's coming out, but I didn't like the production work on display. I mention that because I'm a lifelong Starlin fan, and I'm glad that he produced a script worthy of collaborating with Wrightson at some point, but this wasn't it. All the stuff with the father and son was unearned, because instead of developing that relationship to have any independent weight, they Zarolatted and punch-faced us. I can't remember if they bothered to name the wife/mother, but obviously the story didn't care any more about her than we did once it was done. This feels more like an outline than a complete narrative, and at least twice as many pages of art were produced than were needed to tell this basic of a story. Frankly, it was too obvious and unadorned to even earn its given name. The Lame would have been more honest. At least I got to see Wrightson draw the Alien Atlas, I guess?

Monday, June 24, 2024

The Weird #2-3 (May-June, 1988)

Smarmy TV news reporter undermines heroes and wonders aloud about The Weird. The remains of Walter Langley show off "his" powers for "his" son, then explains the basic cosmology of the story. Macrolatts are oppressive energy vampires who seek to expand their empire to our reality. Zarolatts are passive beings who are fed upon unto nonexistence by Macrolatts. Going straight from one reality to another means destruction, so the Macrolatts seduced homicidal narcissist loser Jason Morgan into transforming into a being capable of creating a bridge that would allow them safe passage. The Weird's proximity to these events while being fed upon gave it access to these events and a means of escape through the initial bridge, and its growing power is in service to its conviction toward the newly learned concept of freedom. Returned home, Billy Langley keeps all this from his mother.

"The Jason" found his failed businessman father's body hanging when he was four. His mother turned to the bottle and maybe prostitution before Jason found her body in bed after one of her gentleman callers took a razor to her. Despite being an impoverished orphan who was academically lax and had no prospects, Jason's belief that he was better than everyone else held fast despite his poor social skills, being an incel, living on the streets, doing a stint in prison for the violent assault of a woman, and eventually ending up a garbageman. He was primed to turn on humanity, ready to believe anything the Macrolatts told him if it meant power, and using it to take murderous advantage of at least one woman victim. Although held captive for a time, The Weird eventually freed himself, and at great personal distress, determined that the only way to stop The Jason was to snap his neck.

The Weird played hide & seek with Superman for fourteen continuous pages in one issue. The Justice League looked on throughout a couple of issues as The Weird had entanglements with other, more powerful beings. "Unbelievable! Not even J'Onn J'Onzz's incredible strength seems able to put a dent in that barrier." Nor Captain Atom's quantum energies, not Green Lantern Guy Gardner's power ring, nor Doctor Fate's mysticism, et cetera. Even after witnessing The Jason's execution, they mostly offer disapproving glares. Well-- that and an order from the Dark Knight to the green one. "It was just as you predicted, Batman. My powers of invisibility caught him completely by surprise." Unable to adapt in time, The Weird took two blows and a hard tumble. Unfortunately, two Macrolatts had escaped to possess Superman and... Nuklon? I guess for his variable density abilities, but yeah, not the guy you'd expect when you have all these powerhouses in Metropolis and Infinity Incorporated is all the way on the West Coast. Also, there was a whole bit about how The Weird had taken over a corpse rather than displace the life energy of a host, so by the rules laid out in the story, both these guys should have died.

"Questions" & "Confrontation" were by Jim Starlin, Berni Wrightson, & Dan Green. These single word narrative direction story titles speak to the reductive nature of the mini-series. Each issue has a few points to check off on a predictable agenda, and the rest is just vamping to fill out space. The art has its moments, but I think everyone involved would have benefited from the space being cut in half. It reminds me of when George Pérez quit Infinity Gauntlet midway through because he was sick of drawing fight scenes where a bunch of people gang up on Thanos and lose. So much of this series involves powerhouse DC heroes floating impotently outside energy fields or getting slapped around by what ultimately prove to be nothing characters, for clout more than narrative necessity. It's all so cheap, pointless, and passionless-- a purely commercial venture that nonetheless can't conceal its distaste toward its own existence. Anyway, I got through the second issue after coming home from HeroesCon, realized the Alien Atlas wasn't in that one, and decided we'd just double up on issues for the following week. This would keep, especially since I have to do my own scans on this thing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The Weird #1 (April, 1988)

A fit blond white man with roughly half his physical form replaced by a jagged green crystalline substance sat cross-legged on the bathroom floor in his apartment and conjured an atomic energy form. This was an intended "bridge" for his "friends." A red gem of similar coarseness to his own body began to form in midair, but then an energy escaped it, leaving the gem to crumble away. The man, Jason Morgan, was shocked and dismayed.

The small energy ribbon hovered in the sky above Metropolis, and Superman investigated. The energy had no atomic structure-- no mass-- but when the Man of Steel passed his hand through it, he was knocked back three miles. By the time he flew back, J'Onn J'Onzz and Captain Atom had arrived to observe the energy. An hour later, there was a military cordon and a No Fly Zone, then the new Justice League were on the scene. Examinations through varied disciplines were attempted, including a science team on The Bug aircraft consisting of Blue Beetle, Batman, Black Canary, and more. When Doctor Fate's mystics were stymied, Green Lantern Guy Gardner attempted to probe deeper with his Oan Power Ring. An energy surged knocked out Gardner and blacked out the Bug and city as a whole.

Two probes were fired off by the energy ribbon in opposite directions. One was pursued by Superman, as it passed immaterially through a genetics lab's fluid beakers and into its complex computers. The other was followed by Manhunter to a funeral parlor, where the Martian met repeated resistance in contrast to the immediate aid and trust conferred upon the Kryptonian. The energy went into a service in progress, and caused the body of Walter Langley to vanish as mourners looked on in shock and horror. The probes reunited with the core energy, and the gathered heroes watched as the borrowed elements slowly coalesced into a new physical body of a lanky adult male in a queer red and black garb. Super senses detected that this being was not quite right, a sort of cosmic Frankenstein made up of misfit parts that were not quite human. The being collapsed into unconsciousness from the effort, and was taken to S.T.A.R. Labs for testing. Super senses determined that the Weird being, as dubbed by Blue Beetle, was molecularly unstable to a degree that its energies threatened a detonation that could destroy the Earth.

The Weird awakened and assisted upon attending to tasks that "he" refused to take the time to explain to the super-heroes, who attempted by failed to detain him/it by force. The Weird had its vibratory patterns thrown off by the proximity of the super-beings during its maturation period, which had altered the form in unexpected ways. This allowed The Weird to unintentionally push the Alien Atlas across a room, although the Manhunter fared better in a follow-up physical altercation than most of the rest of the League with their varied abilities. Regardless, the Weird at least briefly laid low everyone but Batman, while Superman had left prior to the fight to correct a compromised passenger jet's flight elsewhere.

The Weird sought out "The Jason," the half-crystal man that had been conjuring earlier, but found only his empty apartment. It/he declared the Jason to have a "dark and twisted nature" that would see him pursue world domination. However, a misalignment of the harmonic vibrations in the apartment would prevent Jason Morgan from attempting another inter-dimensional bridge for 18 hours, so the former Walt Langley had some time to kill, The Weird retained some of Langley's memories and motivations, causing him to visit Walt's former home. His widow, Eva, bemoaned his fatal mugging and the scene at the funeral parlor. "I don't care what the police say, I'm sure it's all the doing of that terrible green man." Meanwhile, in the back yard, young Billy Langley recognized his visiting father, even in this altered form...

"Conception" was by Jim Starlin, Berni Wrightson, & Dan Green. Following by introduction to Justice League International with their eighth issue, my reintroduction to the Man of Tomorrow via John Byrne, and a broader exploration of the Post-Crisis landscape moving out from the Millennium event series, I was a target audience member for The Weird house ads. However, I don't know when I had access to individual issues, and do know that I only read the first issue at some point after the final one. Neither experience was satisfying, and I won't know if I ever bothered with the meat of that story sandwich until I move on to covering the second installment. One quarter of "The Studio" and the crown prince of cosmic comics were long time friends who would prove a formidable pairing... on Batman: The Cult. This excessively long warm-up session noodles for 38 pages of heroes impotently watching stuff, then getting trashed by the second in a series of very powerful but rather boring sci-fi/magical Mister Spocks based on the visual template of Syzygy Darklock. I do like though that both Starlin and Wrightson are clearly a more comfortable fit on the Sleuth from Outer Space over Superman. Wrightson seems to relish his dark, exaggerated features over an off-model Man of Steel, with a broad flat nose and thick lips suggesting a less Caucasoid interpretation of the Manhunter, with the strongly implied prejudice that goes with it. I do wonder if Grant Morrison was influenced in his views of J'Onn J'Onzz here (and I think that's the only name he's been referred to in the issue.) Also, Wrightson's horror background gives the takedown of the heroes a more ominous quality than the story would seem to dictate, a sort of accidental element of interest in what otherwise feels more akin to a Radio Shack rudimentary science edutainment giveaway. The issue is way too long to accomplish so little, and I do wonder if this was initiated as a prestige squarebound mini-series for more niche audiences that was either determined not to rate the expensive ask, or was diverted to take advantage of the JLI's building heat on the newsstand.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Lovens Vogtere Nr. 4 / Med Super-Klubben Nr. 32 (1988)

"But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It's the little differences. I mean, they got the same stuff over there they got here, but, it's just, just, there it's a little different. You know what they call a Justice League in Copenhagen? Lovens Vogtere." I may be paraphrasing. Run through Google Translate, that yields "Guardians of the Law," which I guess is in the ballpark? Based on my experience while visiting comic shops, the League didn't quite catch on in Denmark like it did here. As best as I can tell from internet searches and observed back issues, the League only ever received a couple of very brief runs under the publisher Interpresse: five issues in 1968 (sharing space with Supergirl & Grønne Lygte Hal Jordan,) and four issues in 1988 that collected more or less the contents of Justice League: A New Beginning (JL International #1-8.)

Faraos Cigarer was easily the friendliest, most elaborate and well stocked comic shop that I visited in Copenhagen, and they had much of the first run. Had I known that there were only five total, I may have considered springing 1500DKK ($224.27) for Nr. 1 when I saw it locked in a glass case behind the front door. I did get the Ill Mac the Kr. 60.00 Super-Helte Alliancen Klassiker Nr. 4 / Med Marvel-Klubben Nr. 51 (1984) with the black & white reprint of Avengers #100 and Thanos' debut in Iron Man #55 (don't tell Mr. Fixit!) If you can believe it, Avengers comics were even less in demand than Justice League ones, and I only found two total, one existing only because it reprinted a two-part Spider-Man guest appearance.

Both the DC and Marvel comics were published by Interpresse, at least until about 1990. That's where the Super-Klubben / Marvel-Klubben comes in, because most any DC reprint had a Superman shield on it, and the Marvel ones had a Spider-Man web. While the indicia indicates Lovens Vogtere as the title, a second title/number on the cover seems to indicate that a lot of these series were like Dell Four-Color, essentially a revolving reprint anthology with its own overarching numbering system. The four "Lovens Vogtere" issues weren't even consecutive, cover-noted as Med Super-Klubben Nr. 20, 24, 28, & 32. I'm guessing it was a weekly release that made the Lovens Vogtere installments a de facto monthly. Based on my research, these four issues (or 7 U.S. comics) may be the only Danish-language versions of this series.

Clearly, the final cover of the single issue I found was derived from the comedy classic "Moving Day," though the colors are much less vibrant and more peachy. Justice League International #7 was an extra-length 38 page story, involving an 8-page coda to the Gray Man story arc. That part is not included here, picking up with page 9 and titling the rest "Forberedelser" with new Lappan-esque lettering credited to John Lysmand.

There are no ads anywhere inside the comic, but at the center-spread the story pauses briefly for a Captain Atom Who's Who entry, and then a blurry, slightly-overblown reprint of the U.S. cover to that issue. After the final five pages of the first tale, "Flyttedag" begins at the turn of the page. Both of the inside covers offer black & white letters columns punctuated by S-Shields and a tiny Byrne Superman. The only advertisement is on the back cover, a monochromatic orange Modesty Blaise ad with red lettering on the logo.

I've still got about a foot tall stack of these comics, many bought as gifts that I haven't had the chance to give yet, and a few as "investments" that I couldn't resist (more because it would bug me to leave them behind and less any actual intent to sell.) There will be a few more Martian Manhunter specific ones when we get to the 60th anniversary, but I've been so lousy about posting lately, I wanted to give ya'll something a little special this time. While not the biggest Alien Atlas adventures, this edition does contain "Moving Day," probably the first comic story I read where J'Onn J'Onzz stood out as a character to watch (and laugh with.) An early favorite!

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Martian Manhunter Annual #2 (October, 1999)

"In the early years of my residence on Earth, I traveled to Africa, took the form of a gorilla and lived as one of them among a tribe in the wild." Though he was treated as one of the lowest status, J'Onn J'Onzz was at least tolerated, and even embraced as a friend by some. When human researchers came to study the apes, the G'Orilla studied them back. Then the poachers came while the Martian was elsewhere, slaughtering scientist and gorilla alike in pursuit of valuable... novelties. Severed heads. Ashtrays fashioned out of paws. The Sleuth from Outer Space tracked the poachers, and used his telepathy to force them to turn themselves in to authorities. He mused that the savage beast assumptions regarding gorillas was more a projection of human's own aggression and avarice than what he had seen amongst the tribe.

Even the various assaults and forced conversions during JLApe: Gorilla Warfare could all be understood as repercussions of the assassination of King Solovar-- but by whom? Who stood to gain? After purging his recent gorilla hybrid-form from his "shape-memory matrix" and restoring his super-hero default, J'Onn J'Onzz traveled to the JLA Watchtower to collaborate with The Batman on this impenetrable mystery. Following Green Lantern Annual #8, "The Morphic Resonance Array was destroyed, but not before a significant portion of the world's population had been transformed into gorillas. Chaos currently reigns. In response to your earlier comments, I'd like to point out that Green Lantern's condition was the reason for my hasty departure from the U.N." [JLA Annual #3 (September, 1999)]

Despite The Dark Knight Detective's constant condescension and dimminishment of his abilities, The Sleuth from Outer Space had also deduced the identity of the mastermind behind this incident, but felt the need to build a case in order to understand where to locate and how to defeat the culprit. To this end, private investigator John Jones, and other alien alter egos, interviewed known associates like Bobo T. Chimpanzee, Monsieur Mallah, Sam Simeon, and William "Congo Bill" Glenmorgan for insights. Sam fanboyed over the Manhunter from Mars, asking him to pose for a sketch.

While John Jones was playing Simian Team-Up, the JLA were doing real stuff, like averting nuclear catastrophe and joining Grogamesh in evacuating Gorilla City as a precaution. It was here that the Sleuth solved Cluedo, explaining that it was Gorilla Grodd in the coup with the assassination. Envy was the motive, and thanks to having absorbed all the mental energy of the gathered gorillas and neo-simians globally, Grodd had the power of a god to blast Martian Manhunter, who reverted to his natural form. However, fully ascending to a deity seemingly meant Grodd being stripped of his identity, and when the Martian pointed this out while "worshiping" the Super-Gorilla for his sacrifice, Grodd recoiled and collapsed. This was done in a sequence of three double-page spreads, joining the many Image-style visuals for big annual storytelling that did thankfully help the pacing on these thickish books. A babbling, vegetative Grodd was locked away in an asylum, and Ulgo sought to normalize relations between Gorilla City and the human world.

"Fear and Loathing on the Planet of the Apes" was by Len Kaminski, Gus Vasquez, & Mark Propst. As I was suffering discontent about a year into the run of the 1998 ongoing series, I especially enjoyed this, the final ever Martian Manhunter/Magnificent 7 JLA solo annual. Which I largely lay at the feet of Ostrander/Mandrake, but that's an admittedly minority opinion. Kaminski was a writer that I always tended to enjoy, who should have had a better career, and who I thought had a really good handle on the Alien Atlas. He and fill-in writer John Arcudi were the guys I kept hoping would take over the series when Ostrander was done with it, only for the title itself to give out after three years. But it was so good, the DC Message Board lectured me. Here, I loved stuff like J'Onn inserting himself into non-human Earth populations, and I really appreciated the trend of pitting J'Onn against Grodd. He's best known as a Flash villain, but the mental powers and outsider perspective made their pairings natural. Obviously it would have been even better if these Silver Age revivalists had, y'know, revived actual Silver Age Martian Manhunter villains, but that's asking too much. Grodd's one of my favorite DC villains, going all the way back to Challenge of the Super Friends, so bring him on.

Vasquez has a rubbery quality that suits J'Onn in a way it wouldn't any other JLAer, and I felt it was more of a piece with the popular style of Howard Porter on JLA broadly and Don Hillsman III very specifically on the Martian Marvel in this time period. I especially liked his Natural Form Martian, which I digitally "cut out" in one of my first forays into Microsoft Paint, to post on my late '90s Web-TV site, so we go way back. For the artist, it was mostly just back-ups and one-offs going forward, though he was still kicking around as late at the 2010s. Kaminski did some more JLA work here and there, but was mostly out of comics after the turn of the century, and I understand is currently committed to a wheelchair in a nursing home against his will. That certainly puts things in perspective. But hey, sorry for the delay in wrapping up this coverage. It's been a lot of apes for a long time. Despite generally liking this storyline, I had misgivings about taking it on in the blogging medium, especially once I felt compelled to look at each book for my different venues. Well founded misgivings, hence the delay.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Green Lantern Annual #8 (October, 1999)

Like most of his fellow JLAers, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner briefly regressed to being controlled by Gorilla City while in his ape form, but took the problem further than most. Where the other heroes managed to shake both the influence and the form in relatively short order, the neophyte mostly gave in, becoming a proper gorilla soldier against mankind. As noted by the Sleuth from Outer Space in his own forthcoming, conclusive annual, "However, by this time, the orbital morphic resonator array is operational, defended by a force of space marines led by General Zolog-- aided by Green Lantern, who had been subverted to the gorilla cause." Building a close camaraderie with several of his fellow gorilla grunts, the Green Lantern would play an important role in General Zolog's bid to succeed as his contemporaries repeatedly failed. Essentially, as the last ape standing, all the future glory or blame fell on Zolog's fuzzy shoulders.

In a show of (increasingly limited) power, Zolog ordered the ape-ification of Honolulu, but had to deactivate cloaking to do so, allowing their detection by the Sleuth from Outer Space at the JLA Watchtower. I'm not sure who put it together, but the Alien Atlas has an unconventional team ready to go, made up of Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott, Warrior, and the Metal Men. J'Onn once worked with Scott in the 1970s, and of course had associated with him via the JLA/JSA crossovers. Guy Gardner of Justice League International was well familiar, and I was well pleased that he was played as his usual crass self, rather than the Beau Smith glow-up. The Metal Men was the curve ball, though they did go back to JLA: Year One.

Just as Gorilla Lantern engaged this force, he was teleported to the Watchtower, where he was greeted by a gorilla claiming to be part of a force that now occupied the facility. However, this ape slipped up in calling the Lantern "Kyle," rather than his ape name, and his power ring set tentacles upon the disguised Martian. However, J'Onn continued using Kyle's name, and helping him to remember who he truly was. The ring did the rest. "Thanks to my rather duplicitous efforts, Green Lantern was restored to normal, as have been the rest of the JLA." Kyle had initially been concerned for his ape comrades, and now for all of his friends, and rushed back into combat. Unfortunately, General Zolog was something of a simian Kissinger, willing and able to sacrifice many of his own men in a last bid for overall victory. Green Lantern helped mitigate the fallout, but still lost some of his former men, wounding hearts on both sides of this gorilla warfare.

"Grunts" was by Keith Giffen, Octavio J. Cariello, Jr., John Nadeau, Marcelo Campos, & Jordi Ensign. J'Onn's synopsis was written by Len Kaminski. Obviously, my coverage of "JLApril" is late and entirely prompted by the podcasting event that I linked to last week, but I wish I'd run even later, so that I could take advantage of the sharp digital scans in the newly released collection of these comics. The 1999 version were printed on lousy paper that gave everything a gray tinge and made the colors a drab mess. I don't always love the glossy sheen of modern printing, but trust that it's an improvement. Anyway, this was a nice read, my favorite of the satellite solo annuals (obviously not counting the bookends with our favorite Martian.) Giffen on his own doesn't sing like he did with his better collaborators, but his weary, cranky voice suits this material. Unfortunately, there's several instances of the editor blowing it, allowing dialogue balloons intended for one character to come out of the "mouth" of another. Thankfully, the dialogue is distinct enough for the reader to tell where the fault lies. Despite often being thought of as a funny guy, Giffen plays this one fairly straight, lending an unexpected poignancy. But also, he brings in JLI favorite Guy, who naturally plays well with our boy. Star Wars artist Nadeau leans into the grit, so that it's jarring when the style switches to more clean cut super-heroics mid-sequence. Further, Cariello demonstrated his own moody chops on Deathstroke, so maybe there was a heavy-handed inker? It all looks good, just different. Oddly enough, both pencillers moved out of comics and into painting after this. Man, it was so nice to see J'Onn working with people with whom he had a history, instead of whichever team-up tickled Ostrander's fancy on a given month.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Podcast: Dial F for Flanger episode 26

DIAL F FOR FLANGER is a comic chat show.

Flanger is joined by Martian Manhunter super-fan Diabolu Frank to conclude #JLApril2024

The boys are looking at Martian Manhunter Annual 2 from 1999 which is part 8. the final chapter of JLAPE GORILLA WARFARE. The issue is by Len Kaminski, Gus Vasquez, Claude St Aubin, Mark Probst, Carla Feeny, Kurt Hathaway, edited by Dan Raspler and an epic cover by Arthur Adams.

Follow along with all the podcasts participating in the JLApril crossover by searching #JLApril2024 on social media
JLApril Podcasts

Monday, April 22, 2024

JLA Annual #3 (September, 1999)

After finally opening diplomatic relations with the U.N, and revealing the existence of Gorilla City to the world, King Solovar was assassinated. His nephew and successor, Prince Regent Ulgo, then blamed humanity and launched a counter-offensive. But also, Ulgo was secretly a member of the Inner Circle of the Simian Scarlet Cultural Purity Movement, an extremist faction of super intelligent gorillas. Other members included the mobster Grimm, General Zolog, Admiral Trafalgo, and the sorceress Abu-Gita, but they were all dancing on the strings of Gorilla Grodd.

Martian Manhunter received a request at the Watchtower from Gorilla City to send a diplomatic envoy of JLA members to help mitigate the damage. Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Dark Flash were openly deployed, while an invisible Alien Atlas followed along in secret. Before reaching Gorilla City, the party was ambushed, and exposed to a gas that turned the lot into gorillas. Worse, some form of mind control was exerted over them, causing them to turn on the "hu-mans." However, the Martian Manhunter retained his wits, if not his form, and used his telepathy to mostly restore the JLA's more human instincts. Back at the Watchtower, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner thought that he was being hazed by the more veteran members of "JLApe." Batman and the Martian Hu-Manhunter worked together on a cure for the "Gorillabomb," but the Simian Sleuth from Outer Space had to pursue help from Animal Man, who was disoriented by troubling memories of a "Coyote Messiah" and the like. Recognizing "I'm important to the plot," Buddy Baker helps J'Onn J'Onzz understand how to use the morphogenetic field to restore the team.

In his absence, the male JLApes began posturing for dominance to court Wonder Woman as a mate, and the Manhunter had to reassert their identity matrices telepathically. Unfortunately, Ulgo then deployed gorillabombs at the United Nations, transforming the entire body while adding Green Lantern to the apes. The intended cure was used to restore the U.N., but the JLA were still trapped in gorilla form. The JLA divided their forces to address various fields in play in the conflict with Gorilla City, while Batman couldn't shake the nagging suspicion that J'Onn was hiding something.

"Gorilla Warfare" was by Len Kaminski, Jason Orfalas, and Jordi Ensign. Aside from poor work-life-podcasting balance this month, my ambivalence toward covering this event (and its scale/page count) contributed to my low productivity this month. I needn't have hesitated, because this was a fun and relatively brisk read with a bunch of puns and two-page spreads (one of which was interrupted by a fold-out ad for a video game about monkeys and bananas, appropriately enough. I'm not wild for the artist's Semeiks-influenced humans, but his apes strongly reflect the Arthur Adams covers, which is surely a welcome sight. If you're interested, the recent podcast Dial F for Flanger - Episode 24 covers the issue in greater detail.

Monday, April 8, 2024

2024 New 52-ish Martian Manhuter art by Dee Kilroy

I have a project in mind for this month that I'm ambivalent towards, and coupled with recent overall delays and a painfully unweildy podcast edit to tame about six hours of recordings into two, at best that's deferred by another week. At least April has three more Mondays, and my lapse gives me another chance to feature a cool Dee Kilroy piece. I couldn't find the exact reference, but the artist had expressed an interest in seeing what the New 52 Martian Manhunter design would look like with the Bronze/Chromium Age high folded collar. This version is really high-- almost the "vampire" collar of Howard Porter JLA. I have a longing for the "detective" collar that is surely at least partially fueled by my introduction to the character in the Super Powers Collection from 1985 (remind me to fix those pics sometime), but I'm not sure if it mixes with the Jim Lee aesthetic. Still, fun to see it manifested, and I dig the extra alienness in the piece.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Nubia: Coronation Special #1 (July, 2022)

Years ago, in Denver, CO, the Amazon Nu'Bia was arrested by local authorities. Nu'Bia was the guard over Doom's Doorway, under the island paradise of Themyscira, through which Tartarus can be reached. I suppose she vacationed on occasion, while fully armored, and might have cause to break the arm of an attempted rapist* if one crossed her path. The cops were, well, cops, so they cuffed her instead of the creep and talked about putting her in her place (for women? Blacks? Resistors? Check all that apply.) It didn't help that the actual perpetrator was the deputy mayor's son.

Nu'Bia was taken to an interrogation room, where she was more cordially greeted by a plainclothes African-American detective. He explained that this was a he said /she said situation, presumably because the woman with her child who the assailed man had attempted to "take" had left the scene before police arrived, so the deputy mayor's son now claimed he'd turned down the woman's solicitation, and was beaten and robbed for his virtue. Nu'Bia was increasingly incensed-- by the assault, the disrespect, the lies. The detective repeatedly told her to calm down, eventually explaining "I know your sister, Diana. We work together sometimes." J'Onn let a bit of his green skin show, but it was the black skin he was otherwise wearing that he referenced when he continued, "... you and I have more in common here in man's world than the two of you. The color of our skin-- yours, my chosen form, and even the woman who was the real victim here? It has us viewed as not just less than others, but actively seen as dangerous. It makes us targets and scapegoats." Despite his own expressed contempt for the badged bigots that had brought Nu'Bia in, J'Onn acknowledged that even outranking them, he was still at least partially beholden to the white supremacist structures they upheld. The Martian observed that while African-Americans are no longer technically property, "they are still seen as objects. And if we are not acting as grateful mules, we are a liability to their way of life.

Nu'Bia rejected any accommodations for white frailty, and wondered if the people in this place were worth saving. J'Onn explained that he believed in being subtle in his aid to the oppressed of this land, but the Amazon questioned if that was just complacency. Essentially, his experiences with the race war on Mars meant that he was unwilling to use his powers to create an autocracy, so gently, quietly nudging humanity toward justice was the best option as he saw it. For instance, using his powers to essentially erase Nu'Bia's involvement in the assault, from both the physical and mental record, then removing the handcuffs she herself didn't break loose out of respect. J'Onn gave Nu'Bia a card that would provide her with help if it was needed again. "Just because they aren't ready yet, it doesn't mean you're not needed. You just need to be more careful, for your own sake.

This story segment was written by Stephanie Williams & Vita Ayala, with art by Darryl Banks. I was reading the event Trial of the Amazons for a podcast, not enjoying it, and this was part of a two book coda. I was kind of checked out, so I thought it was cute that the artist was using David Harewood as reference for this cop, and missed the "Denver" part entirely. D'oh! We're probably past the point of needing coded Blackness from a Martian, but as a fan, I do appreciate noted police officer John Jones expressing views that better align with my own than, say, David Clarke. Sorry for the lapse in posts, but I had a medical thing, then a crush of podcasting and life stuff.

* Apparently, just using this word will put the post in some sort of Google jail. I'm not changing $#!+. Euphemisms protect the guilty, not the innocent. Say it plain to speak the truth.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Green Lantern Corps #4-5 (February-March, 2012)

The planet Xabas. A team of Green Lanterns with depleted power rings led by John Stewart were surrounded by robot ninja dudes possessed of emerald energy weapons of their own. Said weapons were demonstrated as useless against the ninja dudes, thanks to DNA signatures. The head ninja dude saw the fire in Stewart's eyes, even in surrender. "We spit on all treaties, and surrender's abhorrent to you as it is to us... That's why I feel you still need... the proper motivation." Head ninja dude stabbed a bald Caucasian Green Lantern in the head, spilling conveniently purple blood.

On Oa, Guy Gardner was torturing a captured ninja dude for information. Without the standard issue black armor, he looked like Chemo on Slimfast with a skeleton floating inside. Six pages in, I learned the ninja dudes are called Keepers, but I still don't know the name of the executed GL. Gardner tried to play good cop/bad cop with Salaak, but the old alien was too much of a fuddy-duddy to go full Patriot Act on the Keeper. The Keepers were slaughtering whole planets full of people, but to Green Lanterns, that sounds like Tuesday.

Elsewhere, some big rocky Lantern named Kannu was beating up actual rocks and himself over leaving a fellow corpsman behind. Elsewhere elsewhere, the reptilian Isamot Kol was trying to work a power ring with his tongue in a training session, since his arms and legs were still regrowing. Sheriff Mardin recommended he switch to his tail, since the ring apparently tasted terrible. I think these guys had all escaped Xabas, unlike poor Unnamed Cannon Fodder, who shall long be mourned. After all, John Stewart needed something else to feel guilty about.

The GL POWs were teleported to a barren world pocked by power battery impressions. "Be prepared to lose your will and maybe your lives... as you cross the Emerald Plains."

Guy Gardner continued his brutal interrogation, but not drugs nor violence nor threats could break the Keeper. From out of nowhere came the Martian Manhunter, with whom the Green Lantern apparently has no prior history in the New 52. J'Onn J'Onzz informed Gardner of his identity and position with Stormwatch, fully intending to wipe the Lantern's memory after extracting all relevant information from the Keeper's mind. As it turned out, what they kept were GL power batteries, on the plain where Lanterns could send their power sources to keep them from being left otherwise unattended. That situation turned sour, and now the Keepers were headed for Oa to claim the Central Power Battery...

"Prisoners of War" & "Mean Machine" was by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna. Remember that old Stan Lee saying about how every comic is somebody's first? Tomasi doesn't. See, this was my first issue of GLC since the Mongul arc from volume one. I don't think many of the corpsmen here who were in that story. I don't know these guys, and I don't feel like I got much of an introduction. Guy Gardner playing Jack Bauer was in character, but Martian Manhunter came right out of Tomasi's poop chute to get all mindrapey. You know what kind of comics I don't need to read? Vague ones with nothing new or interesting to say except to tell me that all my funny JLI issues don't count anymore. I've got a few longboxes of that good stuff, and they're the only reason I bought this book... once.

Here's a fun fact-- if the previous text came off as coarse or flippant, there's a reason for that. It was written in the time period of the comic. The draft was last updated in late January of 2012, over a dozen years ago, art and all. I never got around to buying the second part of the story, and this was also in a period where I was overburdening myself trying to do New 52 posts across all my DC blogs at the same time. No wonder I burnt out. I do not missing scanning comics, either. So yes, I was in a much different head space in the moment, rather than looking back on the ambiguities of a then-new continuity that has become increasingly irrelevant. I mean, this was so early on that they were still coloring the New 52 costume dark blue, and honestly, I miss that. Also, I used Pasarin's art for my April Fool's 2012 New 52 Wave 3 Martian Manhunter #1!, which got a lot of views at the time, so maybe I didn't want to step on that action. Man, I really liked his art, and still wonder why he didn't have a better career. Where's his Ghost Machine title? As much as I enjoy Eddy Barrows, I wish they'd gone with "my" book instead of the Rob Williams' series that I didn't finish reading.

Anyway, I never bothered completing my coverage before because J'Onn is barely in the next issue, and absent entirely from the finale. After giving Guy the information outright torture wasn't yielding, the Manhunter also inspired Gardner to pull together a group of rebel Lanterns to help save their comrades. Also, John Stewart snapped the neck of one of his own men to prevent his weakness from giving Oa over to the bad guys, because Tomasi can too grimdark as hard as Geoff. Oh, and the Alien Atlas did all this because it was out of Stormwatch's scope, and he apparently mindwiped all the Lanterns so they wouldn't remember his involvement. No wonder I was such a pill back then.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Legion Lost #6 (April, 2012)

This is, like, a dozen years late, so I'll keep it short. Timber Wolf and Chameleon Girl had been captured and held at "The Clinic," a secret government stronghold to study alien life forms and technology for defensive applications. Martian Manhunter had been tasked by Stormwatch with following unique energy signatures detected when the time-tossed Legionnaires arrived in the 21st Century. J'Onn J'Onzz was shocked to find that Brin Londo could "see" through his invisibility and altering the perceptions of the Clinic's staff. The Sleuth from Outer Space struggled to read the evolved 30th Century minds, and also was surprised that Timber Wolf knew who he was (the New 52 still hadn't firmly decided if he was a publicly known hero, but he's a legend in the future.) The other Legionnaires worked to release their comrades, which led to a confrontation between Manhunter and Wildfire. The cooler head of Tyroc prevailed, as he negotiated with and fully opened his mind to the Manhunter from Mars. The Alien Atlas then helped Chameleon Girl regain her natural form and eventually consciousness by helping her to absorb needed biomass from a Durlan corpse held in the facility. Having gotten his answers, he then left the Legion to their own devices. After all, "Time-travel is a strictly one way trip. You cannot return home. You're all going to die here."

"Inevitable" was by Fabian Nicieza & Tom DeFalco and Pete Woods & Matt Camp. Although I don't know if we needed such a sinister Manhunter, those edges got knocked off as the New 52 progressed. I enjoyed the visuals for the Martian Marvel in this issue, giving him giant cartoon hands to carry Yera Allon or shapeshift into a dragon like in the opening credits of the Justice League cartoon. There's a reason why Jim Lee's redesign has survived to the present, when so little else from nü-DC's terrible teens can still be seen.

Monday, March 4, 2024

2023 Natural Martian art by Dee Kilroy

I've been wording a lot lately, and am taking advantage of the opportunity to week off on a picturing. Hopefully not divulging too much via the following quote from the artist...
Stumbled across the Rolled Spine 'casts last year, seeing as nobody else out there has much, if any, active interest in niche nonsense like Continuity Comics, or long-forgotten Image books. It's been a wild ride, catching up. Been a boon, too. I've been recovering from a skull fracture and having my drawing hand stitched back together, so every moment of laughter helps.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

DC Power 2024 (March, 2024)

If you haven't been following the story so far, Raphael Arce gained empathic powers during the Lazarus Planet event, which led him to a confrontation between Martian Manhunter and the psychic ghost of Doomsday that caused his corpse to be pressurized into a blood gem of sorts. Later, around the same time Supergirl and the Alien Atlas were dragged to the metaphysical Hell to again deal with Doomsday, we learned the infernal realm also hosted the lost soul of Raphael Arce. However, in the afterlife Arce had taken on the identity of Bloodwynd, with a new array of abilities. He was at this point in the Fifth Circle of Hell, and had to use a demon in each circle as a "passport" into the next. He was apparently working his way through the circles in pursuit of The Devil himself, and had randomly been assigned the role of "A Superman for Hell," whatever that means. Bloodwynd was sidetracked by an adventure outside Hell alongside the actual Superman and Etrigan the Demon. He then returned to Hell, where we rejoin him in the Eighth Circle: Fraud.

Raphael was meant to be tormented by "his" personal Hell, invoking the Arce surname and images from the career of the original Bloodwynd. But also, Raphael learned the history of the actual Blood Gem, crafted by antebellum slaves to slay their cruel master and gain infernal power from the act. The Blood Gem had been handed down through the ages, and passed through the hands of Raphael's mother. Returning to Bloodwynd, even Raphael was surprised to learn that he was a distinct entity from J'Onn J'Onzz, rather than an assumed identity of the Martian. Felix Faust eventually consigned Bloodwynd to the pit, which I wasn't aware of, and may be an invention of this story.

The demon assigned to torture Bloodwynd confirmed that he was a blood relative of Raphael, and that any who die while wearing the family's Blood Gem are immediately damned to Hell. Raphael claimed Bloodwynd was a hero who saved lives and served with the Justice League, and so fought the demon to liberate his soul. Bloodwynd finally declared himself Quintus Arce, the brother of Raphael's mother, who together faked his death so that her son might be spared the curse of the Blood Gem. Instead, they were both temporarily incarnations of Bloodwynd, until Raphael drained all vestiges of the mantle to allow Quintus access to Paradise. Quintus made Raphael promise to be a better Bloodwynd than he had managed, and to tell his sister that he loved her before vanishing. Finally, the new, sole Bloodwynd grabbed his uncle's demonic tormentor to grant him access to the Ninth Circle, to confront The Devil...

"Pit Stop" was by Lamar Giles, Sean Damien Hill, & Anthony Fowler Jr. I think the 8-pager is the best of the new Bloodwynd stories, which admittedly isn't saying much, but it did make sense, engaged me, and sorted out necessary details. It doesn't make it any less misguided, though. In the early days of the internet, Bloodwynd got picked up by African-American comics catalogers and touted as a high level powerhouse deserving of more exposure. However, in all my years of following the character as peripheral to Martian Manhunter and as a Black super-hero, I never heard of anybody who had a legitimate affection for him. It was all utility-- the abilities, the visibility, not being a "street-level" stereotype. But fans? Not really.

The main reason Bloodwynd is still a recognized quantity is that he was high profile during the Death of Superman, and strong enough to be one of the only Leaguers still standing after trading blows with Doomsday. Bloodwynd was created by Dan Jurgens, for his League book that was a key tie-in to the Doomsday arc, who got a splash page with Ice in Superman #75. It was by design, but Jurgens never actually put the character over, and abandoned him in the rushed wrap-up of said Justice League America run. Sure, he's on the big funeral for Superman poster, with the foul play red herring of J'Onn J'Onzz also appearing separately, but he's sort of like Dan Ackroyd at the "We Are The World" recording session. Bloodwynd is a Where's Waldo-- a "who is that and what was he doing there" geek drink night trivial pursuit answer. No matter what else you try to do with him, the very name of Bloodwynd in disqualifying. Bloodwynd isn't an heroic identity, but a gastrointestinal disorder. What do you call two Bloodwynds? A pair of Arces. A Bloodynd is when you fart so hard that you explosively rupture a hemorrhoid. A Bloodwynd is like racing stripes in your underwear, but it gets up the crack and looks like spray paint splatter from being kissed directly by the pucker. Bloodwynd is when you queef while on the rag. No good comes from a Bloodwynd.

And despite all this lip service, if DC cared so much, why have they passed Raphael Arce around from book to book and across multiple creative teams? Why saddle him with such a lame sub-New Bloods/gene bomb/"so you just got powers from an event book" origin story? Now that DC barely publishes anything not directly related to their Trinity, do they really have room to explore a multi-hero Bloodwynd dynasty, especially when the mysterious and slightly sinister old Bloodwynd has given way to a plain Jane goody-two-shoes model? There are ten stories in this book, most spotlighting a single hero or villain of African descent. There are three different variant covers spotlighting different groupings of these characters. The main cover offers eight characters, a variant has seven, and then there's a Far Sector one with about a dozen. Bloodwynd made none of these covers. He's not one of the five who got a Who's Who bio page, either. Nobody actual cares. This is trademark management personified, that will get killed off in a different crossover event down the line, until we get a third case of Bloodwynd... like Montezuma's Revenge.