Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Shakiest Shapeshifter In The West

So yesterday, I posted the outline for a really old bit of fan fiction that rattled around in my head for too many years. I inflicted this upon people as evidence of a series of posts I did last week at ...nurgh... about how not to write iconic characters. Since the germ of an idea infected my brain, I developed my own personal philosophy on how to correctly evolve a character beyond their initial conception, why it's important to keep like characters distinct, the fundamental need of adherence to an origin, and finally how all of them culminate in the essence of a character. Based on my own rules, the fanfic was a repeat violator, in addition to other shortcomings.

  1. From the beginning, the human guise of John Jones is assumed to protect the visiting Martian from the fear and hatred his alien form would inspire. This unreasoning, instinctual xenophobia is played against the Manhunter from Mars' inherent humanity to wonderful effect in most of his best stories. This metaphor is ruined if you can excuse any meritless suspicion directed at J'Onzz with "but weren't you implicated in the murder of Wonder Woman?" Also, the character has been consistently motivated by social altruism instilled in him by his native world. Turning him toward a drive for redemption alters the foundation of the character.
  2. Who's story is this, anyway? Superman's? Wonder Woman's? The Justice League's? Piggybacking has very much been necessary to the Martian Manhunter's continued existence since the 70's, but should that really be encouraged?
  3. Killing off the Martian Manhunter? Where's the shock value? Who would care?
  4. I like Wonder Woman and I like Martian Manhunter. That's all fine and dandy, but does that make it right for me to inextricably bind two largely unrelated characters? To this day, only the Wally West Flash has less of a canonical connection to the Manhunter character than Princess Diana.
  5. You cannot remove the fire weakness. Writers need to stop trying. Martians have been afraid of fire for over half a century, with the Martian Manhunter being the primary illustrator of its effects. It can be diminished, but never eradicated.
  6. The Martian Manhunter fails as a holy man. People buy super-hero comic books to see people hitting other people, unless "Superman Returns" is their favorite super-hero movie, which still makes them a minority audience. You can have a story in which the grizzled old gunfighter hangs up his shooting irons and turns to God, but that story always ends with either his backsliding or fading to black. Between his established history and the DeMatteis revamp, it seems like J'Onzz must be a being conflicted by his higher ideals and inability to live by them. That duality has not been played with very often, which is a mistake in my view.
  7. I hate the John Ostrander solo series, but other people loved it, and the fact remains it was produced for three years to great effort and expense. That must always be respected.
  8. The truism of Martian Manhunter as a "Superman level" hero has been given lip service for ages, but it just is not true. Look at the comics. It is part of the character's lot in life to bravely fail in the face of adversity more often than not, rather than to triumph against all odds. Beating the entire JLA would just tick off fans of those characters, making the "traitor" notion or any such villainous heel turn all the more appealing to fandom at large.
  9. There was a time I fretted about the Martian Manhunter's shapeshifting abilities. Shouldn't there be a "tell," like his hair being like a doll's or an unnatural sheen to his skin? With as many powers as he has, J'Onn J'Onzz shouldn't have the best example of any one of them, right? This doesn't bother me anymore, because I finally realized that regardless of how well the shapeshifting manifests physically, J'Onn J'Onzz is his own tell. No matter how he looks, he is always John Jones, and a detective would pick up on that immediately.

There was plenty more wrong with the story, but hopefully between this examination and the links it contained, I've made my point. If not, rest assured, the Martian dissection will continue in time...


Anonymous said...

When I read the title of this post, I thought you were going to comment on the Martian Marshall, a character Chris King turned into in Hawk & Dove Annual #1, who basically looked like J'Onn J'Onzz after visiting Clint Eastwood's garage sale.

Diabolu Frank said...

Huh. I think I've read 2-3 comics from that series in my life (Kesel incarnation,) but that wasn't one of them.

Anonymous said...

You never read Hawk & Dove Annual #1? Well, going just by the cover, it would appear to be a pointless costume battle, a bunch of throwaway heroes vs. a bunch of even more throwaway villains, with no real point to the battle other than to sell comics to the ZAP! BAM! POW-EE! crowd. But if you took the time to read the issue, get past the images and look for the real'd be wasting your time, because it's exactly what it looks like.

Diabolu Frank said...

Hah! H&D FTL!