Wednesday, January 2, 2008

JLA: Incarnations #5 (Second Story, Nov. 2001)

I covered the first story from this issue here.

To save all of creation, the Silver Age Flash had to run faster than he ever had, and ever would again, in the midst of Crisis. Barry Allen’s speed broke down all barriers of time, until he could literally look back on all his past experiences. Eventually, he even managed to affect the past and future, initiating the events that gave Allen and others of his kind their powers. While his efforts ended his life, he assured that it had impact that would be felt forevermore.

At two points in the story “Changes;” written by John Ostrander, with the typically fine art of Norm Breyfogle especially focused by inker extraordinaire Joe Rubenstein; Allen reflected on his friends in the Justice League of America. “In every battle we fought, we always thought we could win. In every battle we fought, we knew there was a chance we would die. We accepted death as a possibility. Now is different. Now is certain. No one else near. Maybe never know. No matter. Fight for justice. For life.” Allen saw his protegee Kid Flash mourn his passing, along with their mutual heroic friends, and silently assured, “You will be greater than I. Later... You gather to mourn me. We were the original League. Together. Never be together again.” The Flash considered each of his fellow founders, at least according to the Past-Crisis assemblage of only five members that included Black Canary and excluded Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The Manhunter from Mars benefitted from this vacuum. “J’Onn. You are unchanged. You are unchanging. You give life where there is death, ever true to yourself. Goodbye, my friend.”

I enjoyed this tribute, both to the Barry Allen Flash and from him to his loved ones. I think his words revealed an understanding of the essential character of J’Onn J’Onzz that their author, John Ostrander, was unable to convey in his work on the Martian Manhunter series that he’d wrapped the very month of this publication. I’ve heard fans grouse about how J’Onn J’Onzz should more fully take advantage of his many powers to become a more imposing force to reckon with. Ostrander himself played up a grim characterization that saw J’Onn J’Onzz contemplating the murder of children and exploring extreme applications of his abilities. This path has continued into the present, with Manhunter’s new appearance, increasing inhumanity, and even the hint of villainy to come.

The pursuit of coolness cache fails to consider that part of the character’s enduring charm is his lack of coolness. There is a comforting predictability in the Martian Manhunter’s personality, motivations, abilities, and weaknesses, even when consistant in their inconsitancy. J’Onn J’Onzz, to my mind, took on the role of grandfathered Silver Age hero after the Crisis. No second generation to take on his name, explosive emotional entanglements, costume changes, and the like to alter the status quo in pursuit of sales. This is a world where, once every few years, even Superman briefly goes “bad” for shock value, or the misguided assumption of mining story value out of the cliche heel turn. It’s nice when you’ve got this slightly silly but still respectable green man in wrestling togs that, worst case scenario, requires you to flick your Bic in his general direction to ward off. Sure, he’s gone “rogue” himself a time or two, but it seems like a pointless direction when you could just as easily dig up evil White Martians with the same set of powers to do dirty deeds. J’Onn J’Onzz is a friendly alien who never quite integrates into our society, but is still plainly, inherenently good. He stays on Earth because he genuinely likes humanity and wants to help us help ourselves. He can assume any form, and has a wealth of powers we do not. However, he chooses to hue toward a few basic forms that have become familiar and accepted, while using his powers to gently protect his charges from wrongs comitted against themselves or by alien forces. J’Onn J’Onzz is basically inoffensive, mild mannered, and guided by the best and most considerate of intentuions. It really is a shame when his writers and editors are guided by dissimilar concerns while portaying him before the public.


Anonymous said...

hmmm...I'll agree that the Ostrander series could be a bit dark, but I don't remember ever thinking that the Martian Manhunter character was grim in it. I don't know...I'll have to reread that series some day, but what I liked about it at the time was that J'onn was a character who, despite having lost everything, was sort of a linchpin of humanity in the DC Universe. Nobody lost so much, and yet nobody fought harder for a better world. Maybe my faulty memory is reading too much into something that wasn't there, but I thought Ostrander wrote him with a lot of heart.

Diabolu Frank said...

Honestly, I was reading the Ostrander series back in my message board trolling days. I was one of a handful of reader/posters who routinely picked at every sore spot in a given script upon release, often in Ostrander's virtual presence. I'm sure my recollections are clouded by the piss and vinegar of that period.

That said, I was a devout Ostrander follower, specifically from his Grimjack days, prior to his work on Martian Manhunter. I'd previously enjoyed both his "Firestorm" and "Hawkworld" work as well, but wasnever exceptionally fond of either of the lead characters there. Once the worm began to turn on "Martian Manhunter" though, I found a kinship with fans of those franchises who'd been turned off by his revisionist interpretations. While J'Onn J'Onzz remained recognizable in a way Katar Hol and Ron Raymond had not, there were still subtle and overt liberties I still take great umbrage with.

That will all come with time, though, and it will be good to look on those stories again myself nearly a decade after the fact. I'm sure my reaction will be more reasonable, as I recognize the truth in what you're saying, Justin. The humanity in J'Onn J'Onzz remained under Ostrander, but I feel it was corrupted in ways you may have forgiven or forgotten. We'll see when I get there, sooner than later, hopefully.

Luke said...

Honestly, I wish someone would decide what they want to do with J'Onn and editorial will let them go with it. "The Others Among Us" painted the Angry Young Martian picture, but by the time he popped up again in Five of a Kind and Outsiders, he seemed pretty much like the J'Onn of old, only with a new costume. But that was not to be thanks to Bedard being replaced. And then we have the cameo of sorts in JLoA #12 along with "Aquaman," but nothing has come of that yet.

If you want him to be angry for a while, fine. If you want him to be behind the scenes, fine. But decide what the heck he is doing and do it already!

Diabolu Frank said...

I figure we'll have something definitive coming soon, and I pray its out of "Final Crisis" rather than "Countdown to Ruination." I have faith in Morrison, but if the Manhunter comes into play earlier on, things could get very ugly.