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.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Action Comics 2023 Annual #1 (February, 2024)

Thy foes sought slaves, to scrape and kneel.
Not fighting men of hell and steel.
I swear, you bring The Demon Etrigan into a story arc to spout a couple lines of doggerel and then get taken out by a super-kid with a sword? What are you even doing? And I have to cop to not knowing, because I only grazed the first three chapters of this serial to make sure that I wasn't missing any other Bloodwynd content. Like for instance, I though Blue Earth were just domestic super powered xenophobes, but are they from an actual Earth-Blue in the multiverse? I mean, this book starts on "Earth Al Ghul," a quasi-medievel fantasy setting and the base from which the "Empire of Shadows" conquered countless worlds in the "Dark Multiverse." I put quotations not because these aren't real things in the current DC continuity, but to speak of them mockingly from a place of ignorance, as elders do. All you nerds to brayed about how you weren't confused by multiple Earths before the Crisis? I hope you're lapping at this like a pig in slop. Then as now, you can have at it. I have always, will always, side with the Anti-Monitor on this anti-matter. That's a pun, son. Y'see, stories should matter, but when there's infinite variations on the same old crud, it's the opposite of mattering. Get it? You're a lost cause, boy.

Superman, Bloodwynd, and Etrigan saved a family from execution for defying the bad guys, hence the pull quote. Then Bloodwynd and Superman ran interference against the evil forces while The Demon advanced to the castle to save The Man of Steel's adopted daughter from being corrupted/possessed by the alternate universe granddaughter of Ra's al Ghul. *sharp inhale* But see, Etrigan stabbed in the back with Cloud Strife's ridiculously outsized sword (that's a Final Fantasy VII reference, dear child. This dumb visual had a clear cultural origin point.) by *checks Wiki* Otho-Ra. It's a lousy name, but don't worry, they recite the same Kryptonian fable twice here after having done it last issue and I saw at least once before with full visuals in a prior issue to let us all know her handle will be Starchild and her twin brother's Red Son by the time this is all over with. Nothing like completely exhausting a trademark. Just ask Strange Visitor.

There's a bit in here where Otho-Ra's arms are wrapped in chains that are said to be formed of links derived from each fallen foe, which I guess is where the new Bloodwynd also gets it from, since he's vaguely tied to Janan al Ghul's access of Earth-Zero via Hell. I didn't realize Earth-Zero was the new Earth-One, or Earth-Prime? I can't even keep track of something as basic as which Earth the name brand heroes are supposed to be on anymore. Thanks DC. It's like how I don't know if Blue Earth is an actual Earth, because those guys were also in the first three issues of the new Power Girl series starring a Gen-Z author-insert with no personality traits in common with the character I used to know, and I'm not checking for Bloodwynd there. What I do know, is that the chains hurt the minimalist Space Ghost indebted design that is arguably the best thing about the Bloodwynd concept. Kind of like how being a brash feminist with over the shoulder boulder holders was Power Girl's trademark, rather than crippling insecurity. These clouds aren't going to shout for themselves.

Giant energy portal in the sky unleashed massive space vessel flanked by faceless invaders and Man-Bats, in case things weren't already Marvel Phase Four enough around here. Blue Earth saw their two-faced leader Laura Ingraham "Norah Stone" was really Sister Shadow, and rather than doubling down by buying merch under the new branding, were convinced to repel the actual invaders alongside the Superman Family. Least realistic story element, based on our current political hellscape? After contributing little more than poor rhymes, Etrigan and Bloodwynd-- like-- gestured at the portal and made everything incoming on our side of it burst into flames? Maybe lead with that, guys. Also, The Demon claimed Janan al Ghul's soul for Hell, because something something her portal had left her indebted something infernal. Also, Bloodwynd and Etrigan stopped appearing at this point. I don't know what their deal was in this story, overall and specifically at this point.

Again, I skimmed most of the story line, so I don't know if I'm supposed to know who the construction worker who used to be a super-villain and his son are supposed to be, except the guys who tell us how awesome the Superman Family is as a capstone to the lauded recent run of the title. Which based on what I just read, was either well past the point of ending on a high note, or the kind of people willing to pay $4.99 for a monthly comic are so beaten down that this junk rates. You guys, am I just too old for corporate super-hero comics? Am I the one who needs to leave?

"New Worlds: Part Five: The Conclusion" was written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson with art by Max Raynor. It's funny how for decades artists lusted after paper quality that would allow for true blacks, and today they happily turn them back into limp grays with lame digital effects meant to make up for their inability to properly ink their own work. The visuals are otherwise fine, though necessarily a comedown from a relatively name talent like Eddy Barrows, big enough to rate actual embellishment by other hands. One thing I do find deeply annoying about both creators' work though is a tendency toward double page spreads... of narrative. Double splash pin-ups were a nuisance in the '90s, but this is horizontal multi-panel narratives throughout the books. Since it bridges writers and artists, I have to assume this comes down to editorial, or maybe a trend in the mainstream comics I don't read anymore. There's a lot of this in Rogue Sun, an Image title I was following, so maybe the latter. I hate it, because it leaves everything on a flat, narrow plane like a newspaper Sunday strip. I think they're shooting for Hitch-style "widescreen," but it has the exact opposite effect. Nothing pops, there's no surprises, plus I have to read into the staples. It's anti-comics, seemingly made for a sideways slung tablet, and even then that shrinks the image. I want nothing to do with any of this. Too much exposition and running snark this time, so no room to discuss Bloodwynd II's vague red energy zapping abilities and general pointlessness. Next week, then...

Monday, February 12, 2024

Action Comics #1060 (February, 2024)

A drunken, belching John Constantine was hanging out at a bar during a punk show when Superman walked in to plead for him to help find his daughter.

Wait. Stop. What? If this was a '90s comedy, there'd be a record scratch and voice over explainer, now a meme.

I gave up on DC in the first year of the New 52, although my connection had been on life support for years to that point. I never finished reading the 2015 "DCYou" Martian Manhunter series drawn by the swell Eddy Barrows, and barely bought any of the following volume in 2019. I was so divorced post-Rebirth that I don't even know if that maxi-series was part of a greater publishing initiative. G5? But one of the few DC things that I have bought in recent years was the Warworld mega-arc that ran for over a year and across some spin-offs. I have it in trade paperback. I haven't actually read them, but I've heard good things. While Kal-El was off in space, his rapid-aged late teens son Jon took over as the Superman of Earth. At the time, it felt like DC had finally given up on the original Man of Steel, and were transitioning to a younger model whose bisexuality made him hipper and less Übermensch-y. Except, again, everyone seemed to be loving the Warworld stuff, and Jon occasionally kissing another boy was somehow the less sexy product of the two for readers. So now the Man of Tomorrow is still your grandpa's, but he's the lead in a Superman Family title. The Kryptonian Supergirl, the Son of Superman, the Superboy from the '90s/Young Justice, the Chinese New Superman, and the armor-clad Steel with surname "Irons" offered with or without y-chromosome, as you choose. They even have matching uniforms liked an X-team. No need for a trial run, because I hate it on premise. Isn't the biggest complaint about Superman that he's overpowered, and now there's nine of them working together out of one Metropolis?

On right, the math. Yeah, there's two more. Otho-Ra and Osul-Ra are fraternal twins with powers comparable to Superman's, whom he saved from Warwold and has now adopted. If you're saying to yourself "didn't they do that with the new Flamebird and Nightwing during the 'New Krypton' period," I'll note that ended fifteen years ago. Like Chris Reeve, that thought makes me feel like catching a bullet in my teeth. I did reference the Superman Family title from the '70s, and closer to my peak fandom, the "Team Superman" that included versions of many of these properties in the '90s. Nothing ever ends or is ever truly new in mainstream comics, so instead of starting a pressure campaign against "thet queer Super@#$" like a Comicsgater, I just read more satisfying comic books elsewhere now. It's less work and stress, but you can't pretend your homophobia, racism, and misogyny are about "reverence for continuity," so it's a trade-off. And psst-- don't tell EVS, but I quietly like some of those indie comics with the non-white, non-binary, non-male characters, because they're just stories about people. Nobody's broken down my door to peg me yet. Having signaled my virtue, I can now comfortably restate that I hate most of these Super-people and they can all die painfully. But hey, I did pre-order Steelworks. I'm not a complete CIS-het monster!

Now that we're mostly caught up, I can move along to other things I hate. Like a mainstream DCU Constantine that is written as a cartoonish chav. That an adult-oriented character from a Vertigo title is in a Superman book. That of all the world class mages Superman knows, he goes to lower-tier dirty dealing gutter trash like John Constantine. That Superman spends most of the issue so distraught over a daughter that I just learned he had that he sounds like the woman screaming "my baby" at a fire and it turns out to be her cat. That the antagonists of the arc are a bunch of super-xenophobes given temporary powers, like the Everyman Program in 52 or the White Triangle Daxamites from Archie Legion, and are able to swiftly turn the populace against well-established heroes, as did the Hyperclan and G. Gordon Godfrey (but with metahuman powers of provocation.) That the big bad leading them is the parallel universe daughter of Batman and Talia al Ghul seeking revenge for a plot that was foiled in an earlier spin-off special involving a version of The Authority that is no one's favorite. Hystericalman with super-speed and hearing fails to heed a warning from Constantine, accidentally smashes the McGuffin that allowed the bad guys to travel to Earth via Hell, and releases the new team of Bloodynd and The Demon Etrigan back to our world... only to continue in a wrap-up annual. All that, just to explain how Bloodwynd's wynding arc leads to this nonsense.

"New Worlds, Part Four" was written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson. I was today years old when I realized that he and Daniel Warren Johnson are not the same guy, plus he's the new hotness giving me "next Tom King" vibes. Not a compliment, if there was any doubt. It was drawn by Eddy Barrows, who was once to Ivan Reis as Bryan Hitch was to Alan Davis, but also like Hitch, is adopting a more "realistic" looser illustrative style that I'm not as into. I thought he was just doing this for one horror story, but I guess it's for keeps. There's a bunch of other artists listed that may be drawing other pages, or just a squad of inkers, but I don't care enough to write or parse it out. I still have to read a whole ass annual of this tripe.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Action Comics Presents: Doomsday Special #1 (October, 2023)

There's a bunch of equivocating mumbo-jumbo about how in the multiverse, the collective subconscious, through the power of belief, can create a metaphysical simulacrum of yadda-yadda... but the simple truth is that the Biblical Hell exists in DC Comics, and thanks to the breakdown of the Vertigo partition, The First of Fallen from mature readers Hellblazer comics still runs it.

At the end of Dark Crisis, Doomsday was physically destroyed. In Lazarus Planet: We Once Were Gods (March, 2023), it was able to manifest from the collective memory of the city of Metropolis mumbo-jumbo yadda-yadda. Martian Manhunter confronted Doomsday, but it ultimately took the mortal sacrifice of a young man named Raphael Arce to stop the revival. However, Doomsday continued to exist in Hell, where it was building back the power necessary to break down a door to return to physical reality. This power was partly derived from the belief of the denizens of Hell that Doomsday was capable of the feat, and this faith challenged the reign of The First. So, a vision of Doomsday in Hell was sent to Martian Manhunter based on their recent interaction, J'Onn sent the vision to Supergirl so that she could interpret Kryptonian elements, and they were both suck(er)ed into Hell to serve The Fallen. With reservations, Supergirl ultimately suited up in a special armor that recalled her old foe Satan Girl, while the Sleuth from Outer Space (sorta) rallied the denizens of Hell to strengthen the barrier from Hell with their own distorted and traumatized bodies. This was all done to spare their mutual loved one Superman from having to deal with Doomsday yet again, but back in Hell, it just kept pounding away at that barrier.

"Doomsday in Hell" was by Dan Watters, Eddy Barrows, & Eber Ferreira. While Barrows had worked on the 2015 volume of the Alien Atlas' solo (maxi?) series, this version was much gawkier and vulnerable looking, suiting the Gene Colan/Tom Mandrake-inspired sketchy linework of this Halloween tale. It was nice to see J'Onn connected to Kara Zor-El again, as I tend to like their pairing more than either's with Superman (especially now that it means Supergirl has to wear a lame "team book" uniform with pants.) It still bothers me to mingle DC and Vertigo material though, especially on a darned Super-book. Feels too much like spiking the Kool-Aid at a children's birthday party. But hey, these weren't the only characters with a tale spinning out of that Lazarus Planet one-shot...

The spirit of Raphael Arce wandered the Fifth Circle of Hell, wrath, when he was discovered by a demon and attacked. Punishment was sought for the one who had brought Doomsday to Hell, and made it even worse than before. However, the demon didn't know that Arce had brought pieces of other beings to Hell with him, namely the Martian Manhunter and... Bloodwynd! Arce knew that he didn't belong in Hell, but also he felt that no one else did, either. So he had been moving from one circle of Hell to another and liberating the lost souls there with his new Bloodwynd powers. Even with them, he still needed to trick a demon in each circle to allow him passage to the next, as he Bloodwynd couldn't make the trip unescorted. See, besides the freedom trail, Bloodwynd also sought to have a word with the devil himself...

"Bloodwynd: A Superman for Hell" was by Dan Watters & Max Raynor. While implied in the first story, it's even more clear here that we now have a second confirmed member of a Bloodwynd legacy. Actually, that was even hinted at in the '90s origin story, and given that the premise is barely over thirty years old, I do find it a bit odd that a relatively new and underdeveloped property had to be put out to pasture for a new model who still bears the misfortune of being called "Bloodwynd." Heck, it would have been worth it if it meant that he would be called "Blood Gem" instead. Anyway, along with the strength and flight of O.G. Bloodwynd, the new model has chains wrapped around his wrists that he can animate Spawn-style, and he manages to take control of some Doomsday-infused giant hellhound besides. Also, all his teeth are canines? I'm not sure any of this adds to the design, and if there was one thing Bloodwynd had in his favor, it was that Space Ghost fashion.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Brightest Day #24 (Late June, 2011)

The ultimate purpose of the events involving our heroes post-resurrection is revealed to be making a new Swamp Thing out of the reanimated corpse of Alec Holland. The elementals are absorbed into the new giant Swamp Thing so that they could… make it breathe fire once and then swiftly kill the new giant Black Lantern Swamp Thing? Which was made out of… whichever version of Swamp Thing had been in continuity since 1972? There were obscure continuity barriers between the stories published by mainstream DC and the mature readers Vertigo imprint, but seemingly whichever Swamp Thing fans had supported across hundreds of solo comic issues and forty-odd years was hand-waved away in a handful of underwhelming panels? Plus, the multiple-artist approach that worked for an anthology series buckles when forced to illustrate one continuous narrative and they can't even keep the Swamp Things straight. Immediately after reintroducing the 80s/90s comic model Swamp Things, they revert to the '70s/first movie design. It could have been interesting (and meta) to have the two versions fight, but this is simply editorial incompetence and cognitive dissonance. And if you don't agree-- didn't we just have a mega event by much of this same production team that introduced and established Black Lanterns as unkillable outside of exposure to energies from the emotional spectrum? And Black Lantern Swamp Thing had a climactic… stabbing with a sharp stick? Yeah, yeah, preceded by fire and White Lantern energy, but the splash page finale is all about being stabbity.

With the primary threat resolved in something like 15 story pages, with about 5 devoted to the actual fight (depending on how you count splashes,) this extra-sized conclusion has Lord of the Rings-level coda action. The re-deadened Deadman's undying romance with Dove. Hawk's being the sole failure among all the resurrected with vague unresolved consequences. A missing Hawkwoman with a raging, inconsolable Hawkman. Nods to all the lame, tenuous tie-in comics. The weak Aquaman thread that the same creative team won't bother with during his relaunch. Swamp Thing executing the board of an oil company. The longest surviving Vertigo mature readers series put down so a neutered John Constantine can team-up with Batman and join a freakin' Justice League. A ticking time clock toward the Firestorm Matrix detonating to destroy the entire universe.

One of the defining aspects of this era of DC Comics was reverting the status quo of its heroes to a modernized version of the Silver Age. Swamp Thing didn't exist until the Bronze Age, but this appears to be the same approach. Telling though that Geoff Johns, whose major successes at DC were often dependent on expanding upon concepts originated by Alan Moore, was not involved in a relaunch of Swamp Thing that would seem to reset the character to a point before Moore's influence. There's also the whole "mass murderer of corporate polluters" angle, which had been done at times in Swamp Thing comics, but never took as a sustainable method. The Eco-Punisher take didn't survive the follow-up mini-series, what with the immediate reboot for the New 52 ongoing series. Actually, that may be one of Johns' greatest legacies in comics-- year+ long maxi-series spanning a dozen or more issues involving top shelf talent intended to guide the future of the DC Universe that are immediately cut off at the knees in some form of line-wide reboot that negates the intended effects.

This isn't a problem for J'Onn J'Onzz. The entire purpose of his arc was to permanently sever the connection of the Manhunter from Mars from… um… Mars. His whole thing in comics. So the Alien Earthen Atlas (everyone's elemental powers of five minutes went away) has fully committed to his adopted world, and uses his intangibility to remove the inoperable splinter from Melissa Erdel's brain. Sure she's lost nearly sixty years of her life and is still a badly scarred elderly woman with mental issues near the end of her life who was left in that state until now by an incurious Sleuth from Outer Space Colorado's negligence, but I guess it's never too late to make amends? Like how Melissa apologized for kidnapping J'Onn, and he just smiled and said, "You didn't steal my life. You and your father gave me one." Sure. Melissa was part of this one story that was mostly about creating and building up a new villainess that doesn't survive the story, and The Denver Manhunter is the one lead who has no set-up for a follow-up, essentially acknowledging that it had the least creative and audience support. But now J'Onn can hang out at Mount Hope Senior Home with an old lady mentally stunted in at most her twenties with a decades old frame of reference going into her twilight. What a life.

This untitled thing was by writers Peter J. Tomasi & Geoff Johns, with art by Patrick Gleason and Ivan Reis on the Mile High Marvel, and a bunch of other dudes on the rest.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Brightest Day #23 (Early June, 2011)

Having accepted a new role as Earth's elemental heroes in service to the Life Entity, Martian Manhunter bonds with... er... earth, Firestorm fire (doesn't have fire powers, but see also J'Onn J'Onzz), Aquaman water, and the Hawks wind. They are meant to combat the corrupted Avatar of the Green, Swamp Thing, who has been possessed by the Black Lantern power battery, or something. No way are you convincing me that this story was planned out from the beginning. The final stand will take place around the Star City forest, and also the reanimated corpse of Alec Holland will be on hand to negate one of the best loved Alan Moore stories of all time. Hell of a way to say thanks for providing the foundation for most of your career, Johns.

"Rise and Fall" was by writers Peter J. Tomasi & Geoff Johns, with art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, & company. I tried to get back to this over the holidays, but every time I went to log into the blog or read the last chapters, I heard a cracking sound in my soul. Sorry folks, but I'm feeling better now (despite actually being sick in bed for much of this weekend.)

Monday, November 20, 2023

Brightest Day #21 (Early May, 2011)

On Mars, the cover(s)-featured star engaged in final, fatal battle with D'kay D'razz (solo on one, with D'kay on the variant.) J'Onn J'Onzz fought off mental manipulation, with tears of rage over the molestation of his family memories. D'kay insisted that J'Onn was invested in the fantasy as she was-- that it could still be a reality-- and that it was the future their child deserved. Although their bodies had melded often in recent weeks, the Sleuth from Outer Space probed his mistress' psyche and form, determining that she was barren and deluded. In denial, D'kay picked up bones from the Martian skeletons that she had exhumed and began stabbing the Manhunter with them. In retaliation, the Martian Marvel flooded D'kay's mind with the thoughts of the living multitudes on Earth, exceedingly painful for one as sensitive as she.

Snaking her body around J'Onn's and taking advantage of the fear and dread being experienced by those Earthlings in the midst of unknown calamity, D'kay swore that she would never stop coming for J'Onzz... that she would use and destroy each and every life on his adopted world in her pursuit of his eventual companionship on their red planet. The Alien Atlas believed her... that she was an existential threat to multitudes on Earth, and that her menace would only end with her demise. The Manhunter from Mars flew himself and D'kay D'razz into the sun, where their flesh cooked off their bones, and those bones exploded into dust.

The White Lantern J'Onn J'Onzz emerged from the inferno, once again restored by the Life Entity. Asked to choose his home, the Martian Manhunter returned to Earth. Star City was aflame, and the forest imperiled. The Martian Marvel rescued innocents for a moment, but was swiftly drawn by the White Power Ring of Deadman. Recently, the Hawks and Aquaman had been disintegrated by its power, and now it seemingly threatened J'Onzz's newborn reincarnation. "Your heart is no longer divided, J'Onn J'Onzz... Your sense of devotion and duty is now pure and singular in purpose." Deadman protested that the recent "killings" of Manhunter's fellows was the Lantern's doing, and that he couldn't stop it from using him as a vessel for its wishes. Manhunter had read Deadman's thoughts, not only absolving him of guilt, but also the White Lantern itself. In the belief that it was necessary to surrender himself to halt the new menace to the Star City Forest and beyond, J'Onzz allowed himself to be swallowed into the earth

"Mars Attacks" was by writers Peter J. Tomasi & Geoff Johns, with art by Patrick Gleason & company. Beyond the stupid title, the belabored conflict, the average art, the impossible astronomy, and maybe the ultimate instance of Martian Manhunter jobbing himself-- dying twice in one comic to addresses menaces he should have been able to beat with regular old powers and a little brain work-- this one was alright. And yes, the rare Green Martian survivor living secretly in isolation until reemerging well into the Manhunter's career before J'Onn kills them and nearly himself by diving into Earth's sun was already done to Ma'alefa'ak in the Pete Tomasi-edited Martian Manhunter #9. If you're going to be a second-rate Johns, might as well plagiarize from his second-favorite source, John Ostrander.

Monday, November 13, 2023

WEBTOON Red Hood: Outlaws (2022-2023)

The Outlaws try to go legit -- and fail spectacularly. The Justice League has issued a challenge to DC’s Dark Trinity, forcing Red Hood, Artemis of Bana-Mighdall, and Bizarro to try and replace their goody-two-shoe counterparts as the heroes the world neither deserves nor needs. In this original series, the Outlaws will battle some of DC’s biggest Super-Villains and Super Heroes -- but their biggest battles are among themselves. Can this team last? And can they find their own identities separate from Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman?
Per Wikipedia, WEBTOON is "a South Korean webtoon platform launched in 2004 by Naver Corporation, providing hosting for webtoons and compact digital comics. The platform is free, and is found both on the web at Webtoons.com and on mobile devices available for both iOS and Android." DC Comics has apparently farmed out some of their IP to the company, including the New 52's Red Hood & the Outlaws, under the recenty "Dark Trinity" model of wannabe bottom shelf Bat-Supes-WW. While doing research, I stumbled upon the project, and then suffered through it. I readily admit myt biases: I am an old. I like "Modern Age" North American comics, except most generations of readers are maybe fifteen years long and "modern" starts more or less in 1986, so it's an unweildy conceit. To be more precise, I like a combination of late Bronze Age world building/aesthetics but with "Dark/Chromium Age" mature and subversive elements. It would be especially ignorant and prejudiced to say that I don't like "manga," but I can say that I'm not big on stereotypical Asian storytelling tropes like massively decompressed storytelling and cutesy banter/romcom elements. I especially don't like when American super-heroes are forced into this model without regard for continuity. As an added bonus, the episodes are infinite scrolls optimized to be read on a phone, but I read on a desktop. This is not my jam.

The story is that the Outlaws are mercenaries hired by the presumed deceased mobster Franco Bertinelli to recover a stolen family heirloom on Dinosaur Island. Yes, that's the name of Huntress' father, and he looks the part, but this is just the sort of superficial nod to continuity that only serves to confuse and frustrate the kind of people that will catch the reference. Besides facing dinosaurs, the Outlaws also run a Raiders of the Lost Ark gauntlet of boobytraps to capture the "heirloom." Did I also mention that I hate overt references to obvious pop culture sources?

The first twist is that the "heirloom" is an artifact kept safe in this cave for "thousands of years" by Artemis' reckoning, so the premise of the entire mission is a lie. The second is that there is seemingly an African-American police officer on a date with a girl named Caitlin who resembles Babs Gordon and works nights, but isn't Batgirl. They're at the Mimic Coffee Bar, he orders a plate of Chocos sandwich cookies for their dinner, and the girl is actually into it. The cop has to exit the date, because his warning device that intruders have broken into his secret Dinosaur Island hiding place for a Martian artifact has gone off. This story is by a first time writer who is heavily invested in this work, so it gives me no pleasure to attack his work. However, "likes Chocos and gets ornery when you touch his Martian stuff" is the most basic, pathetic characterization for J'Onn J'Onzz, and that's about the level of every character in this strip. Also, Martian Manhunter hasn't been on Earth for thousands of years to mind the artifact, and I'm pretty sure his high tech detection and force field detention system are unrelated to the Ray Harryhausen reanimated skeletons also defending the object. There could be a story in that, but it's not told here. It's merely another plot contrivance, which starts with "why didn't you have the containment force fields set up for before someone stole the artifact?"

So Martian Manhunter captured and replaced Artemis, hanging out with Red Hood and Bizarro for hours, until Jason Todd deduced that "she" was not actually his teammate. They fought, and Bizarro beat Martian Manhunter, so J'Onn called the Watchtower for back-up. THe Outlaws got through the force field and back to whatever Western country "Franco Bertinelli" was in. The Outlaws take their wages, but then fight "Franco" to force him to explain what the real deal was with "his" scheme. It turned out that Franco was actually D'Kay D'Razz in disguise. Despite the story repeatedly referring to it as an "idol," and it vaguely resembling the New 52 Pandora's Box, "The Heart of H'ronmeer is the most powerful remnant of life on Mars. It hold the ability to replicate a fascimile of Martian life. A mirror. A bastardization." What this meant was that D'Kay turned a bunch of humans in the building into clones of herself. Why the Outlaws were exempt, I know, because plot contrivance. A trio of mercenaries held their own against a small army of Martian serial killer clones who keep homaging that Ivan Reis D'Kay D'Razz variant cover merged with Junji Ito in AI, and then the Justice League showed up. Despite this, the D'Kays escaped to Mars, and the condition will be permanent if The Heart of H'ronmeer touches down on the red planet. So now would be a good time for a Batman-Red Hood heart-to-heart where Bruce Wayne unmasks?

The story just stops when Red Hood insisted that the Outlaws were more effective than the Justice League, so Batman makes his former protegee agree to a deal herein the Outlaws will replace the League for a month using approved, non-lethal tactics. So the League stands down for a month, giving the mercenaries free reign of thew Watchtower. The Martian stuff gets dropped without resolution. I think the League went to Mars to stop D'Kay, the crux of the initial argument? And did I mention that the Outlaws were just hired by a presumed mobster to steal stuff with no qwuestions asked? Make any of this make sense.

Nearly twenty episodes and four months later, it made sense. The D'Kay D'Razz situation was resolved in a few panels with minimal complications, but did involve her literally backbiting Martian Manhunter off-panel. The Outlaws' adventures were all virtual reality simulations echoing the circumstances the Justice League were dealing with, and Manhunter was left on the Watchtower to guard them in their suspended animation. J'Onn J'Onzz used his telepthy to speak clearly with Bizarro and help him deal with an especially cruel false family scenario. By this point there were a team of additional artists, and you can tell. There was also a team of bounty hunters, mercenraies, and assassins after the Outlaws, now that Wayne was no longer protecting them, and he was a real pal to leave J'Onn J'Onzz to get caught up in all that. He claimed to be proficient in 1,827 languages while playing punch face with KGBeast and looking too much like Piccolo. Artemis took out Merlyn, Codename: Assassin, and Lady Shiva, who surrendered. At chapter 33, J'Onn had fought Lobo, then they both teamed up with Bizarro to save the Watchtower from falling out of orbit, and Artemis had taken out some Medusa chick who turned out to be the main baddie? I'll be honest, by this point I was free-spinning the scroll like a The Price is Right money wheel. I justy stopped when I saw green, as you do, and there were blessedly fewer Robin appearances to interfere with that process. Things got very talky and metaphysical, the chapters seemed to short, and I'd say the art improved (collectively?) I think Batman and/or Red Hood learned the error of their ways, even though they're supposed to be the heroes rather than the recidivists?

Episode 53 had another green blip. Artemis was being imprisoned and tortured. Red Hood got help from Martian Manhunter to get into the place where she was being held, under stipulation that J'Onn would have no further involvement without proof of criminal involvement, and that Bruce wouldn't get word of it. There was a sequence where you had to turn your phone sideways for an Oldboy hallway fight. Artemis got a Green Lantern power ring. There's a fakeout where Jason and Artemis appeared to get married, but it was actually Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon. So the writer got a treat for spending three years of his life on a story that can never be collected in print and is certainly out of continuity. Oh hey, Caitlin from the date catches the bouquet, so finally a callback to all that.

In my frustration, my critique will be a reductive "this sucks." Not only do I hate all the scrolling, but it is actively detrimental to the storytelling. Every episode has sequences where you're just rolling past scenery of negative space. I think it might be a bid to control narrative time and mood, but it mostly feels like thumb isometrics. You can tell the artists are used to doing digital pin-ups, as they struggle with basic visual storytelling, and everyone is posed like Colorforms on vague backgrounds that they don't seem to inhabit. Without a break point like the turn of a page, unheralded flashbacks and dream sequences are jarring and utterly disorienting to the point where I thought I might have clicked on the wrong chapter, except "oh, right" I was still in the same chapter when things went pear-shaped. Money may have technically changed hands, but this is still fanfic in terms of craft on display. The story ended on 8/27/23, and is primarily credited to Patrick R. Young and Nico Bascuñan. You can read it for yourself here

Monday, October 16, 2023

Brightest Day #19 (Early April, 2011)

The White Lantern had Deadman "kill" Hawkman and Hawkperson (Girl? Woman? I'm not checking her then-current status.) When questioned, the Life Entity explained, "It is part of the plan... The plan to stop Earth from turning against humanity... The world has slowly been poisoned for centuries by mankind, but Nekron's attack heightened the contamination of Earth's life-web-- it's very soul. Soon this corruption will rise in the form of a dark avatar and it will seek out the forest I created... It holds the key to Earth's salvation. The twelve I gave life to each plays a role in saving the soul of your homeworld. Some have already prevented further destruction to it and given us more time... while others are ultimately more significant to my purpose. Arthur Curry, Ronald Raymond, J'Onn J'Onzz, and Carter and Shiera Hall are unique. I put them on a journey to overcome what held them back in life... And that in turn purified their life force... Their life force must be purified-- because their essence is essential in saving Earth's Soul. If the forest falls to the dark avatar, the new champion of this world will never rise-- and Earth will die. This world is too valuable to the future to allow that to happen."

"Aquawar Part One" was by writers Peter J. Tomasi & Geoff Johns, with art by Ivan Reis & company. A White Power Battery obsessed with "purity" against the darkies? Are our heroes headed to the GOP primaries? Also, by the end of this two part micro-series, Aquaman will be "dead" too. Not looking good for Martian survival...

Monday, October 9, 2023

Brightest Day #15 (Early February, 2011)

On Mars, twenty-five years later. There's a big ceremony celebrating what is essentially the resurrecting Messiah of Mars (as in he resurrected Mars rather than himself. In your face, Jesus of Nazareth.) The other, older members of the "Magnificent Seven" had been snuck on-world to join in the global celebration of the wonder that is Green Lantern J'Onn J'Onzz. As in the Green Lantern Corps, with whom Martians were positioned as having an adversarial relationship in a book edited by Pete Tomasi, and whose masters, the Guardians of the Universe, had altered the DNA of prehistoric Martians to be vulnerable to fire after they had been deemed too great a threat to other lifeforms? Yeah, so Green Lantern Corpsman J'Onzz had brought a lasting peace to Earth and Mars, to the gushing adulation of an entirely uncritical and deferential Batman.

Of course it's an imaginary story. Doi. I'm certain the writers did not expect the readership to be utterly clueless to this fact by the third page, and yet the story keeps on belaboring asserted facts that any experienced comics reader would dismiss on sight. It's hard not to get antsy reading pages of nonsense filler while waiting for the matter to resolve. So yeah, giant statue in Martian Manhunter's honor. J'Onn's family alive and expanded, with daughter K'hym herself now a Manhunter. Keeping the homicide witness family dog from earlier in the series as a pet, despite feeding it a steady diet of sandwich cookies, likely to cause daily severe stomach upset, pancreatitis, and chocolate poisoning. Batman feeling the need to list the ways in which every Leaguer but him is not entirely human, but failing to explain in the same panel why his head is in 3⁄4 but his mouth is a front view. I didn't know you could get punched that hard.

Getting shot with "pearl bullets" is actually what did Batman in, because a pearl necklace wasn't suggestive enough. Wonder Woman was hung from her lasso by a finger of the Manhunter statue. Aquaman drowned on Martian sands. They ran out of ironic deaths for Green Lantern and the Flash, so they just get dismembered, though Flash continued running like a chicken with its head cut off. Hardy-har. After invading the minds of all Martians simultaneously in search of clues, the yet surviving Superman was found in "the underground security bunker where our most powerful enemies are kept captive." A brief history of Martian imprisonment: In the Silver Age, they'd strap this flying belt thing on crooks and leave them floating at a stationary point in the atmosphere. Morrison stuck the White Martians in the Still Zone, a formless white void outside space/time. Malefic was held a gem-type thing. Here we have... Sciencells, but red. I guess it's a good thing that this is a Green Lantern story, then. Oh, and so many great Easter Eggs in the cells, with classic Martian Manhunter villains like Despero and... Starro... Johnny Quick? Various unidentifiable squiggles, though one is a girl, so, like, Bette Noir?

Superman was wearing a Kryptonite mask, and K'hym wanted to mentally probe his unconscious form for answers, as he was among the few beings capable of killing the League. J'Onn refused her, prompting a tirade about how he was okay with probing every Martian but not a single outsider, and how his loyalties are ever with Earth over Mars. A justifiable concern, but also D'Kay D'Razz's hand being tipped. More so when they line up all the corpses in a morgue, and all the cross slashes supposedly spell out the Martian words for "love" and "hate." Also, despite saving Superman's life, Manhunter randomly stabbed him to death with an undetected Kryptonite spike or especially powerful ring construct? Also, K'hym was inexplicably absent. And despite using heavy shadows as a handicap throughout the issue/run, the artist channels Ed McGuinness cartoon hyper-muscularity to depict Superman getting shived under lighting so bright that the only shadows cast on the entire pages were to highlight said inflated muscles. Being a sloppy second rate Doug Mahnke had gotten him this far, so is it too much to ask that we keep the artist we're deriving from consistent from panel to panel?

So, yeah, all of Mars burned again and M'yri'ah was unmasked (de-gloved?) as D'Kay, ending on the distasteful note of her on her knees being choked by our standing "hero" while the bones of Martian children were ghoulishly arranged in the background. D'Kay accused J'Onn of giving up on Mars. "I do not fight for lies of the mind, D'kay... and I never will!" How relatable. So inspiring. Smash cut to two pages of Scott Clark teasing the ongoing Firestorm story (which, remember, will ultimately be abandoned for the New 52.)

"Whatever Happened to the Manhunter from Mars?" was by writers Peter J. Tomasi & Geoff Johns, with art by Patrick Gleason & company. It is perhaps the worst Martian Manhunter story. You might dismiss that as hyperbole, and it's certainly not true at the level of raw craft, but bear with me. "For the Man Who has Everything..." and "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" are considered to be two of the greatest comic stories ever told, a pair of Alan Moore's most well regarded tales, and typically at minimum top 10 Superman yarns (though both lose impact the further perception moves past the Silver Age model, into the ongoing Byrne Man of Steel period.) Martian Manhunter is widely considered to be mint-flavored Superman. Blatantly cribbing from major Superman stories, much diminished in length and talent, on a highly visible maxi-series that eclipses any audience the Sleuth from Outer Space ever commands on his own, conforms the bias held by many that the Alien Atlas has nothing more to offer than being a stand-in or jobber for the Man of Steel. Plus cynical ultra-violence, which is itself reheated '80s Moore. Plus the story just stinks, and the artist can't maintain quality or character from panel to panel. Plus, all those wardrobe changes, and they're all Green Lantern costumes. There may be objectively worse stories, but few more harmful to the Martian Marvel.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Brightest Day #22 (Late May, 2011)

One last flash-forward as we enter spooky season. Deathstorm had stolen the White Lantern Battery and brought it to his master, the Anti-Monitor. It made a little sense in context, but over a quarter-century after Crisis on Infinite Eartths? Such a dumb name. Anti-Monitor is Galactus but universes, so he planned to use the Life Entity to cook up meals that would make him infinitely powerful. Despite having a whole-assed Black Lantern team, Deathstorm was still jerking around with Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch, ultimately killing Raymond's partner in the original Firestorm matrix. After Professor Martin Stein was turned to salt, Ronnie overcame his insecurities to reform The Nuclear Man, and... the White Lantern destroyed all the Black Lanterns in a single blast? Even though Ronnie was always a headstrong idiot who rushed into danger, so this was par for the course? Make it make sense. Oh, and for added anti-climax, the Lantern transported Firestorm back from the Antimatter Universe, so that the Anti-Monitor could sit on a shelf until another big event instead of being addressed in this one.

"The End and the Beginning" was by writers Peter J. Tomasi & Geoff Johns, with art by Scott Clark & company. A White Power Battery obsessed with "purity" against the darkies? Are our heroes headed to the GOP primaries? Also, by the end of this two part micro-series, Aquaman will be "dead" too. Not looking good for Martian survival...

Saturday, September 30, 2023

DC Universe Online Legends #10-26 (Late August, 2011 - Late May 2012)

The Daily Planet employees started demonstrating sometimes lethal super powers. The Justice League, especially Batman questioned Superman's judgment. The Man of Steel blamed himself for Martian Manhunter's loss of powers, though J'Onn believed that with the team being targeted, "I think the results would have been the same" with or without him. Lex Luthor framed Superman for a pair of super-villain deaths. Porter's art got all blobby under the deadline crunch. "Facts" was by Marv Wolfman, Howard Porter & John Livesay.

The Atom determined that Superman had been bitten, and that it was possible his powers were being remote-controlled. Superman feared his mind might be next, and isolated himself. Martian Manhunter continued to stand atound in the background. "Lost" was by Marv Wolfman & Mike S. Miller.

Then Superman accidentally killed Lois Lane and exiled himself into space. A green Tom Taylor came in for a couple fill-in issues involving space battles with Sinestro that were so jarring I thought I was looking at the wrong book. Tony Bedard leaves and Wolfman drags things out on his own, seemingly losing the plot but figuring out more opportunities to work in the conceit of player-generated original characters. Eventually, the past and future cyborg Lex Luthors teamed up and reset the entire timeline so that nothing in the series happened. There are a few issues with extra nice art, but otherwise this was a waste of everyone's time. Sorry I bothered to cover this at all.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Blackest Night: Batman #1 (October, 2009)

Here's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by Black Lantern Martian Manhunter, during the reanimation of Boston Brand's bones. From Peter J. Tomasi and the antisemite Kubert Bros-clone Ardian Syaf, before he immolated his career with his own hatred.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

DC Universe Online Legends #9 (Early August, 2011)

Over time, Superman had become disheveled and aggreessive as his concern for Lois Lane and his captive friends grew. Then he and the Justice League were sent to battler nanite enhanced Arkham inmate. Superman was lured away by Lex Luthor, who promised that he'd broken away from Brainiac and made off with the bottled Daily Planet. Luthor needed help fending off Brainiac's enforcers, which is where Superman came in, and the Planet was restored. However, the Man of Steel was unknowingtly bitten by a nannite in the process. Back in Gotham, Martian Manhunter finally succumbed, left without powers and cradled by Wonder Woman in his natural form. Batman demanded that Superman adjust his priorities to protect the Earth instead of the Planet.

"Anarchy at Arkham" was by Marv Wolfman, Mike S. Miller, and Sergio Sandoval.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Red Robin #19 (March, 2011)

The Ünternet is some kind of VR world having to do with The Calculater and a dark web where super-villains can communicate with one another. Also Darkseid and Final Crisis? Whatever. The crook who took it over, Viktor Mikalek, "killed" virtual reality avatars of the Justice League, including Martian Manhunter. A VR version of Miss Martian (in an alternate costume) and other Teen Titans show up later. By Fabian Nicieza, Marcus To, & Ray McCarthy.