Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mike Netzer: "Take Me... But Don't Kill J'Onn"

Last night, after finishing up my long delayed spotlight on the "Martian Manhunter Fotolog," I checked my email. As promised earlier in the week, there was a message from comic book artist/proposed messiah Michael Netzer, titled, "The Movement to Save the Manhunter from Mars." Within, Netzer gave a brief overview of his multifaceted approach to potentially redeeming J'Onzz J'Onzz from editorially-decreed damnation, as reported by noted muckraker/raconteur Rich Johnston in his latest "Lying In The Gutters" column at Comic Book Resources... Those interested in the fine details and motivations should click here, if only to see the image below in a larger format...

Now then, Mr. Netzer included the request in his email, "Any thoughts you have for spreading it around the blogosphere, run with them." Now see, maybe back when I had the old site and a somewhat memorable presence on the DC Comics Message Boards, my words might have had some slight sway with anybody. Today, I run a Manhunter blog that gets double-digit hits per day. Nobody, thy name is "Frank Lee Delano," or at least an assumed alias. Further, like Valerie D'Orazio of Occasional Superheroine, I've also come to view DC Comics in general with a combination of disdain and disinterest. Specifically D'Orazio, criticized the killing of the multi-racial and sexually ambiguous Connor Hawke as a sales ploy to inspire continued interest in his all-honkey, heterosexually-assured father, the Ollie Queen Green Arrow. The future of comics is clearly multi-media, so it seems a pretty chowderhead play to wack a character with crossover potential in favor of an outdated hippie with deeply unfortunate facial hair.

The problem is that DC under Dan Didio keeps trying to set the Wayback Machine to 1991. This is despite the over reach of "Infinite Crisis" and "Countdown," coupled with the soulless bloodlust in the wake of "Identity Crisis," leading to a readily apparent backlash that has seen DC's line sales tank. Of course this DC would try to kill off a "major character" like J'Onn J'Onzz, but just as obviously, the move will end up an utter failure. You see, just enough people like the Martian Manhunter to be annoyed by his disposal, but not so many as to even garner a "Ted Kord" level of teeth gnashing. Its simply too easy to write the death of such a character off as a hoax, and impossible to replace him with anyone that will hold an audiences interest without the kind of superstar team you'd do just well with in employing in service to the original incarnation. Also, Martian Manhunter is now, thanks to "Justice League" and "Smallville," a recognized brand within the merchandising machine. Whatever circumstances might befall the character in the short term on the comics page, J'Onn J'Onzz is "safe" in the long haul, so why should I get upset about this development? Better the Manhunter from Mars lay low for a few years than parade around looking like a constipated Skrull with a vinyl fetish. I refuse to feed any sort of "hype" related to the matter.

However, I will gladly feed into Michael Netzer's hyping of the matter. You see that banner at the top of the page. I'm certainly biased, but it is my opinion that is one of the finest banner images on the internet. I regularly visit websites that receive hundreds... thousands... even million of hits per day that don't look as attractive as my silly little fan blog. That's because Michael Netzer set aside a couple hours to knock out that piece-- rendering, coloring, and lettering inclusive. Only a complete moron of an editor would not want to take advantage of that kind of ability. So much emphasis has been placed on how poorly written "Countdown" has been, not nearly enough notice has been made about how bland the art happens to be. If you've got an artist as distinctive, versatile, and dynamic as Mike Netzer sitting on the sidelines when someone with his speed and talent could be contributing to a weekly comic, you're failing yourself and your book with your lack of vision. In an industry that hypes thirtysomethings with years in the field as "Young Guns," there should be no stigma to bringing in an illustrator with three decades experience who just hasn't scored the right project to become a big draw.

In recent months, Michael Netzer has made a new name for himself. First, there was the Messiah business, which raised his profile considerably. Next, there were some notable cries of ageism, but publishers have no use for a Norma Ray type, so that track was wisely abandoned. Finally, and most slyly, there has been the cultivation of a relationship with the internet comic community. How canny is it to rate repeated mentions in one of the most read columns in comics, "Lying in the Gutters," without even having any major projects in the pipeline? Netzer first rates an appearance as part of a gag strip Johnston circulated, then entangles himself in a rumor Johnston reported in the same week as the strip's public appearance, only to assure a follow-up mention in the next week's column. If there were a betting pool, that would be easy money, and that's brilliant marketing of the sort Mark Millar utilized to become one of the hottest writers in comics after years in obscurity. We all know talent isn't nearly so important in this industry as connections, visibility, and marketability. Netzer is clearly aware of these factors, and is in the process of manipulating them masterfully. DC Comics don't just need Michael Netzer as an artist, but as a guide toward much needed positive spin. He's certainly shown more of a gift for the skill than DC marketing over the past couple years.

Now look here: even with absolutely nameless talent and the company of seriously under-performing "Brave New World" spin-offs, the last "Martian Mannhunter" series sold in the 40K range for most of its run. Before the writing torpedoed the title, the last Manhunter ongoing series debuted to exceptional numbers as a JLA spin-off. The character has some inherent value these days, but it has yet to be fully exploited. It seems to me pairing a veteran as pleasing to the eye as Netzer with a hot writer that has an affinity for the character on short term duty (Morrison, Waid, Giffen) followed by a veteran or upstart with cache (Matt Fraction, Phil Hester, Peter Milligan, Joe Casey, J. M. DeMatteis, Peter Tomasi, Tony Bedard) could pan out far better than the slash-and-burn technique of a character death. Wouldn't it be poetic to marry a character and creator that are both historically undervalued and dismissed into a team that caught fire (pun intended?) More importantly, when your greatest success stories of the past year have been reconstitutions of classics (Green Lantern, JLA, JSA, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman) rather than deconstructions (Wildstorm, Teen Titans, Birds of Prey, Brave New World titles,) what kind of bloody fool must you be to continue a Scorched Earth policy?

1 comment:

Michael Netzer said...

You're simply steps ahead of me. I intended to give you a heads up on the banners and petition in this comment, only to find the banner already here.

I'm off to the other sites and forums now. Thank You!