Friday, January 1, 2010

Martian Manhunter Fotolog's Top Ten Villain Countdown

The month of January here at the Idol-Head will spotlight the Vile Menagerie, a term I concocted over a decade back to avoid the tired phrase "Rogues Gallery." Since it took me so long to knock out a new banner for the event (and hopefully to serve as a permanent directory button,) I'm too tired to elaborate on the reprobates tonight. Back in April of 2008, the Spanish Martian Manhunter Fotolog ran a countdown of its favorite Manhunter from Mars foes. Let's have a look...

Reaction: My love for Professor Hugo is no secret, so I'm disappointed that he ranked on the low end. I long ago came to agree with Silver Age aficionado Commander Adam Benson that the Diabolu Idol-Head was a device, not a bad guy, and so I personally disqualify it from competition. I felt Cabal was ultimately a collection of Jemm villains, and similarly set them aside. The Vulture mob was a decent threat, but on his own, Mr. V made Blofeld look like Jaws. The Marshal really should have made additional appearances. Commander Blanx, in just two appearances, remains one of the most effective foes in the Menagerie. I have issues with a DC Universe villain like Darkseid being treated as a specific hero's foe, especially as he would overwhelm J'Onn in any reasonable circumstance. Kanto is more agreeable. Obviously I think Despero is great, and the general Malefic blackout here indicates I can't stand him...


mathematicscore said...

I agree with you on the silver age ones pretty much to the letter and haven't read the bronze age stuff yet, so I have no opinion about them. Cabal is low on the list of Ostrander villains (I'm partial to Antares myself) but I like Malefic fine. Characterizations in the Ostrander series were sometimes off in my opinion, but Malefic has an interesting story and pretty cool look. Intertwining him with Apokalips, adding the scientist angle and the "effed from birth" aspects all make him rather interesting to me.
Speaking of Darkseid, while I understand what you're saying, I think the work Ostrander did on the subject, similar to Priest's work with Vandal Savage in JLTF, earns him a spot on any list, though perhaps not that high. Thanks to Ostrander, Darkseid was largely responsible for the downfall of the Martian race, the death of J'onn's father, and in the future outlined in MM 1,000,000 J'onn is the instrument of Darkseid's final fall. Plus Darkseid's attempt at overthrowing reality in Final Crisis directly led to J'onn's current state of death (well, undeath). Oh, and if Superman can take Darkseid, J'onn can.

Whew, I really got going there!

Anywho, I rather like Kanto as well. I think a series showing the DC earth's historical alien contact (Martian's in Egypt, New Gods all over the place, Daxamites in South America) would be damn interesting.
Your own work on the subject will always make me think that Mongul is high on J'onn's enemies list, even though there's really only one issue of precrisis continuity that even implies it.
Anywho, here's to a great decade for the Manhunter from Mars!

P.S. that header is badass.

Diabolu Frank said...

Pressed for time, but right quick:

I love long comment posts.

I'll get into Malefic, but everything you said makes sense.

I hate how intertwined a 70s Jack Kirby creation is to a 50s Samachson/Certa/Miller hero who'd already covered that ground with his own villain in 60s O'Neill/Dillin stories. Plus, DeMatteis dispelled all that in the 80s, so it was a retread over a retcon. Boo Darkseid.

Glad you dig the banner. It was a beast!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

LissBirds said...

Ooooooh *rubs hands together with evil glee* I love the banner. And the color scheme. It's fabulous! I'm psyched for this month now. Can't wait to see what you come up with, Frank!

I don't know if I want to go on forever about Darkseid/Malefic and the Ostrander series.

But before I launch into a long comment, let me first say:

Two words: Human. Squirrel. He holds a special place in my heart only for the sake of pure campiness.

Okay, now that that's out of my system...

Hugo should definitely get a spot on the list. Unfortunately I haven't read Blanx's appearances, but he sounds promising. I guess you could put the White Martians from 90's on the list, but the similarities to the Dominion from Deep Space 9 are just too strong for me to feel original for me. Also, they were more JLA villains than just J'onn's villains.

Despero I'd put on the list as well, even though again he's a JLA villain, with the whole killing-Gypsy's-parents-getting-in-Despero's-mind episode it gives him a more personal connection to J'onn. Besdies the Silver Age, are there any non-JLA villains who only J'onn has fought?

Not to go all philosophical, but some fans see a hero as defined by their villains. (Perhaps the reason for Batman's popularity?) I'm hard-pressed to find any great Martian Manhunter villains that were not JLA villains. And screenwriting guru John Truby defines an opponent as a character who attacks the hero's greatest (psychological) weakness. There's a big hole there--what character has attacked J'onn personally and is the perfect foil for his character? I don't know. I guess that leaves Malefic. Sort of.

I think if J'onn had his own Lex Luthor, he'd be a more popular character, and not only that, he'd be a more well-defined character as well and more accessible to the average comic reader. If the conflict was between humanity and alienness, the character of J'onn J'onnz would become a lot more archetypal. He needs someone to attack him at the core--someone to attack him because he's a Martian, someone to represent humanity's fears of the alien unknown, which I think is his greatest weakness. For this reason, I don't think Malefic can fit the bill. Malefic is just J'onn's Bizarro.

I know Ostrander was going for a whole brothers divided/good vs. evil thing, but it never sat well with me. It was a little too heavy-handed and Malefic's motivation for being evil always seemed to arbitrary to me. Plus, naming one son "Light" and the other "Dark?" Eh. Darkseid is a great villain, but it's too jarring to see him on Mars for me. I'd almost rather it have been humans who destroyed Mars--seeing how it was a human who accidentally brought J'onn to Earth, I would've liked to see that man vs. Martian theme carried through all the way.

Just my two cents. :)

Diabolu Frank said...


I almost went back to "Blackest Night Black," but couldn't stand it, and dread its return in March to wrap up that series. The gray is growing on me, and is a grim throwback to the basic Idol-Head layout (without being an eyesore.)

It's true that the White Martians seem to hate on everyone from the JLA to Son of Vulcan more than J'Onn, which is why they're still playing in the margins around here.

If a Silver Age villain didn't appear in a Showcase volume, Martian Manhunter at best had them on loan as foes from other sources. All the Bronze Age bad guys J'Onn can truly call his own are already in the Menagerie (Korge being a general JLofA baddie.)

Now that I've reread the question, sure, there's still plenty of Modern Age Manhunter foes to cover, as evidenced by this month's survey. Ostrander/Mandrake almost totally avoided old foes to create their own, for instance. Shame they weren't better at it. Outside of those mentioned over the last couple days, no other great bads a'comin'.

All your thoughts on a proper nemesis are valid and have crossed my mind. When I'm king of the world, this will be corrected. I absolutely concur regarding Malefic, but he strikes enough of a cord with some to at least rate as a "Bizarro," even if I feel that's too much credit.

Human Squirrel? I'll try. Not very hard, but eventually. His/her/its day will come...

LissBirds said...

"Human Squirrel? I'll try. Not very hard, but eventually. His/her/its day will come..."

He actually got two votes and I didn't cheat and vote twice, though I was tempted. (I only like him so much because my best friend and myself have had an inside joke going about squirrels for the past ten years.)

Oh, darn, this is awkward...I've already set aside the role of Supreme Dictator of the World for myself. We'll have to figure this out sooner rather than later to avoid any awkwardness when we both make a grab for power in the future. I call dibs on the East Coast and the Mediterranean.

"Ostrander/Mandrake almost totally avoided old foes to create their own."

Was there a legal reason or just a creative reason for that? It struck me as odd that they only used original characters. They were probably going for uniqueness and creating a setting dedicated just to J'onn but I think it backfired; I think it only fractured the MM series further away from the DC Universe.

Diabolu Frank said...

I love squirrels. That's why I can't bear to slander them by association.

I just want Canada, but only after we really get this global warming thing rolling.

Professor Arnold Hugo doesn't have an obvious analog from Shakespeare for Ostrander to "riff" on, so Johnny O couldn't hang. But seriously, I think it was a cross between editors not letting him have their established villains (especially from JLA) and there not being cheap reprints/rabid continuity geeks to mess with. The door to Darkseid was opened by Morrison, and being the only accessible name, Ostrander beat that horse to dog foot. Ultimately, I just don't think he cared all that much. It seemed like a paycheck gig that allowed him to keep hanging with Mandrake after The Spectre ended. Firestorm fans know how that goes.

LissBirds said...

Ha! Canada's all yours, my friend.

Give me time and I'll find a Shakespearian analogue for Professor Hugo.

mathematicscore said...

@LissBirds-I think Malefic is less Bizarro and more Brainiac, and alien force (like our Hero) who has none of the heroes compassion to go with his powers and abilities. (Also, like Brainiac, while he can throw some punches, his threats are more conspiratorial, more insidious). I think Malefic is a good villain in that he highlights J'onn's philanthropy and self-esteem in light of Malefic's clear misanthropy and low self-esteem, which is kind of a brother thing too.

I've come to think of J'onn as a great point of view character. Superman is inspiring, Batman is badass, but J'onn, by virtue of his lower popularity (and really, his original conception), is allowed to be vulnerable and fallible without going against his very essence.

Take your average comic reader. They are something of an outcast, perhaps a bit of a cipher. They can be very capable, and I would say have a bit deeper philosophical bent than, say, a Fast and Furious audience. Like most of humanity, they are often on the butt end of the Joke of life (I for one feel like I've been sidelined in many a major crossover in my life.), but have their triumphs as well. Okay, maybe I'm reaching a bit on some of that, but I think that's a good argument for MM being more relatable than more mainstream heroes. He is attainably inspiring.

Back to the Villain thing, I think the Human Flame fits your (LissBirds) bill of a human reactionary to J'onn's alien nature. Superman gets a higher minded brand of bigotry (Luthor, Sam Lane) because he looks just like us and is not overtly threatening to the common man. Martian Manhunter attracts The Human Flame, the most blue collar, schmuk-tastic loser on the block, for much the same reason there isn't much overlap in the Mensa and KKK memberships. I think there's a pretty epic struggle of the bigoted majority against the high minded "intelligentsia" to be told between the two.

Hugo I would say fits in as sort of a fellow intelligent loser, but with a bigger ego and without the philanthropic drive. Probably the closest he had to a Joker, in the original sense of someone who can give the hero a run for his money despite seeming disadvantages.

Despero I would almost align with the Bizarro archetype. But then again, that doesn't quite feel right.

Well that's enough on this one.

Diabolu Frank said...


Good point about Malefic. I still hate, as he's too on-the-nose-unintentional-parody, but a good call's just that.

Further, you're absolutely right about J'Onn's vulnerability/geekiness. It took me years to realize I was on the wrong side of that issue, and that fallibility is intrinsic to the character.

I disagree about the Human Flame, though. Scipio did an incredible job of implying subtext to his origin story where there was clearly none, but that interpretation's validity will remain dubious until it actually turns up in a story. Further, that's so Luthor's shtick, and Manhunter is already so burdened with derivative elements, I have serious reservations about pursuing that angle. Besides, so often, J'Onzz is as much plagued by a persecution complex as actual persecution, a psychological weakness brought about by his expectation of rejection that leads him down self-defeating avenues of subterfuge. Again, not unlike your average paranoiac introvert nerd.

Then again, I recognize I'm stuck with this idiot Human Flame forever, and it would be nice if he served a higher purpose than diminishing J'Onn by association. I guess I'm conflicted.

The argument could be made that Malefic was the Joker-- a grinning maniacal chaos agent without regard for any values beyond his nihilistic agenda. In fact, yeah, I'll make it. It might help explain my intense dislike, as I've grown to loathe the Joker archetype. I'd assign Hugo more of a Riddler role-- a capable individual vexed by the constant presence of superiors, searching for recognition and reward through his one area of expertise.

Despero and Blanx are both evil opposites, though that's less Bizarro than Sinestro/Black Adam/Professor Zoom. There's a tragic twist to Bizarro that sets him apart from that school, I feel.

mathematicscore said...

Agreed, Bizarro is unique among the "mirror image" characters. Arguably, most villians are some kind of mirror image, if you look hard enough.

See, I think the Human Flame, while on the surface similiar to Luthor, is a vastly different character in that he's so unexceptional. I mean, he has the ability to build those flame suits, but other than that he's pretty stupid. Really, I think Morrison's choice was inspired. Of all the supervillians, he is the most achingly average. Sure, Superman has ruined Luthor's day as often as not, but he has a billion dollar corporation, or the presidency, or a really cool battle suit to fall back on. He at least has some successes. Human Flame, at his very core, is a huge loser. And this is not just a Silver age MM villian thing. As I recall Human Squirrel and Mr. Moth were both pretty much insane. Human Flame isn't insane, he's just a malcontent.

Diabolu Frank said...

M.C., you're starting to win me over. I think it was you who recommended "Run," which I've got on order, and will really be the deciding factor for me. Maybe I've approached H.F. wrong. Maybe he's the poor slob in a noir who gets conned into something nefarious and way out of his league, with the full intention of his taking the fall while others profit. That would give him a definite "in" as a parallel to detective John Jones, rather than just a random jerk plucked from obscurity to serve as a plot device.

mathematicscore said...

You know, I hadn't really though of it in Noir terms, but totally. "Run" fleshes out his loser cred, right down to deadbeat dadding and scummy friend betraying. As memory serves he even gets into a firefight on a playground. I'm woefully behind on my Bogart movies, but I think ol' HF has many a counterpart in those old crime movies.

LissBirds said...

Hm. Now I have to buy "Run." I remember it being reviewed on ComicVine, but seeing anything related to Final Crisis made me balk at the time, but now I'm slowly coming around.

I'm wondering why J'onn has average schmos as his villains and not criminal superminds like Luthor? If we're assuming he's a Superman clone, why'd he get stuck with the Working Man's rogues gallery? There's a point I want to make but it's not quite coming to mind, unfortunately.

"I think ol' HF has many a counterpart in those old crime movies."

The one character that instantly springs to my mind is the slightly-brained damaged WWII vet from "The Blue Dahlia" who is accidentally implicated in a murder which he may or may not have committed. Or maybe John Garfield's character in "The Postman Always Rings Twice" who bites off more than he can chew.

mathematicscore said...

I think J'onn's silverage foes weren't as sophisticated because he started as an extranormal detective fighting normal detective foes, and didn't have as organic a graduation to "super foes" as Superman did. He really isn't a Superman clone, so much as a alternate take on the basic idea. He has later filled in for him in a lot of situations, usually in the Justice League, but I think more than any other in the Superman analogue family (Capt's Marvel and Atom, Supreme, Sentry, etc) he's a unique character.

LissBirds said...

"I think J'onn's silverage foes weren't as sophisticated because he started as an extranormal detective fighting normal detective foes."

That's a great point!

Which only makes me yearn more for a writer to bring him back to his roots of being a detective.