Friday, August 15, 2008

Manhunter from Mars #350 (September, 1993)

Pity Dan Vado. The Slave Labor Graphics publisher must have been terribly excited when, based on the strength of his work on "The Griffin," he was invited to take over the writing of a mid-line DC title. Further, it would be picking up from events spinning out of the "Breakdowns" crossover in the Justice League titles. A shame that part of the package was the need for a"big idea" that would boost sales.

The decision had already been made that at the end of "Breakdowns," the Manhunter from Mars would leave the Justice League for the "first time," at least according to Post-Crisis DC continuity. The next question was, of course, now what? The first thought was to revisit the 70's by sending J'Onzz into space, but science fiction was dead by 1993. Besides Mongul, who'd been reclaimed by the Superman group, most of J'Onzz's alien foes were lost to reboots. Doctor Light, Mr. Moth and The Falcon were laughable. The Conjurer, Professor Proxon and Malador were played out. The General, Monty Moran, Professor Hugo and his "sons" had long since been killed off, while VULTURE had been destroyed. It was much too soon to bring back Professor Ivo, Despero or Vandal Savage.

The difficulty wasn't just with the villains, but Manhunter himself. So much time had been spent turning him into an increasingly passive, introspective character, he was plainly out of step with the grim and gritty 90's. Without any remaining supporting cast members outside fellow Justice Leaguers to mangle, how could Manhunter be motivated to become a cynical, take-no-prisoners tough guy after all those namby-pamby years? Vince Giarrano had the idea for a new costume that more closely resembled Simonson's Paul Kirk redesign. Steven Grant chimed in with a new secret identity. Now that the Mark Shaw series had been cancelled, maybe the book and character should just be called "Manhunter?" A new arch nemesis? Comics by committee.

It was finally decided the Martian Manhunter as we knew him should "disappear" for a while, and just as mysteriously return a changed being. Dan Jurgens had the idea to introduce a new character into his more action-oriented take on the Justice League along the lines of where Manhunter was intended to end up. This "Bloodwynd" would then be revealed to be Manhunter, and he had an epic story in mind about how this came to be, with a wicked new foe in tow. Now, the trick was in keeping the secret until the big reveal (a problem he had on his earlier "Armageddon 2001" project.) Obviously, Bloodwynd couldn't appear in "Manhunter from Mars," but hey, that was Vado's problem.

The obvious solution was to tell stories set in J'Onn J'Onzz's now wide open past-- so obvious, Gerard Jones and Ed Barreto already had a mini-series along those lines ready for publication. A new Martian in the role would have been another way to go, but editorial was adamant about J'Onzz remaining the last living one of those. Someone suggested giving the book over to the adventures of L-Ron/Despero or Gypsy for a time, which may have contributed to their use a bit later on, but not just yet. Someone else suggested reviving Zook, and was laughed out of the room. Finally, Jurgens came up with the notion of Manhunter existing in a hellish dimension within what he coined the "Blood Gem," while Bloodwynd would be a separate intellect making use of Manhunter's abandoned body and powers. Trapped in such a place at reduced power, it only makes sense he'd end up more than a bit irritable. None of this was Vado's idea, but that was the book he'd be writing.

As an added bonus, "Manhunter from Mars" couldn't seem to hold an artist for more than a couple issues at a time, with the fierce competition for talent in the boom years. Nick Napolitano, Audwynn Jermaine Newman, Steve Carr and Ken Hooper combined produced only seven issues worth of pencils. Vado soldiered on, and was even given writing chores on "Justice League America" upon Jurgens' departure, but only after the Bloodwynd debacle had been resolved. Luke Ross here and, later, a young Mike Oeming, managed to finish out Vado's run (without too much help) before moving on to other projects.

The response to Bloodwynd and several costume changes was not the best, but traditionalists were happy to see the Alien Atlas punching people again. A familiar Martian Manhunter would headline the launch of "Justice League Task Force," another new Augustyn edited series. Augustyn had also hoped to retain the services of Rags Morales from the recently cancelled "Black Condor" series to stabilize the art on "Manhunter from Mars," but found he'd already committed to Valiant's "Turok: Dinosaur Hunter." Just another pinch hitter and missed opportunity. It wasn't until after "Zero Hour," and in the face of a rapidly shrinking industry, that any artist would deign to remain for an extended run.

Speaking of "Zero Hour," Steven Grant and Vince Giarrano did end up launching a new book called "Manhunter" with Armageddon 2001's Archie Goodwin, but it was completely unrelated, and only ran about a year. Go figure.


Luke said...

The "trapped in the Hell dimension" angle actually made some waves in Wizard at the time, although it wasn't exactly the most ringing of endorsements; I want to say it was something along the lines of "DC overhauls a founding Justice Leaguer, but it's Martian Manhunter so no one will notice." That having been said I picked up a few issues in this run as part of my general "try everything" phase from this period, but ultimately it never stuck (not unlike Hawkman v.3)...

Seriously, your idea about Manhunter being trapped in the Blood Gem while ... Bloodwynd (oy) got to run around with the Justice League is better than what we actually got by a good measure. Plus, cmon: Bloodwynd? Is that the best name a team of professional writers could come up with?

Diabolu Frank said...

Wizard's anti-DC bias strikes again!

Truth is, I used the "behind the scenes" angle to comment on both the craptacular Bloodwynd and all the angles I myself considered to get around him this "anniversary." The Blood Gem dimension was pretty much a Hail Mary pass at a plausible narrative...