Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Darkseid: The Tenth Most Important Martian Manhunter Adversary

Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone's Scale of Evil Rank
14) Ruthlessly self-centered psychopathic schemer.

Why Darkseid has been selected for 10th Place:
The Martian Manhunter’s rogues gallery is obscure and unenviable. A hero who already struggles for respect and visibility could benefit greatly from an adversary with arguably more marquee value than he himself enjoys. Darkseid is the single best known and most formidable foe the Manhunter from Mars has ever been associated with. Facing off against a villain of Darkseid’s caliber shows that the Alien Atlas rates as an A-lister in power, if not in sales. Also, the characters have enjoyed career parallels, as each had been marginalized from a mainstream that never quite embraced them until the mid-80s. Each received their first widespread exposure to the public via the Super Powers Collection toy line, quickly followed by increased prominence in comics via the Legends crossover and consistent appearances in other best-selling books, including the Cosmic Odyssey mini-series. Each has remained a staple of the DC Universe even since, although neither has had much success in series that relied heavily on their presence. Both characters appeared to die in the Final Crisis mini-series, but according to the prior DC One Million event, the Martian Manhunter is fated to deliver unto Darkseid his final defeat in a far distant future.

The Counter Argument:
The Manhunter from Mars helped usher in the Silver Age as a stand-alone strip, and aside from appearances in the Justice League books, he was pretty much divorced from a shared universe until the 1970s. Jack Kirby created Darkseid specifically as an overarching villain for his Fourth World Saga, considered by many the start of the Bronze Age.  Kirby always intended ties to the DC Universe to be tenuous, despite their being introduced through a Superman Family title. Linking these properties, from their origins to their final fates, effectively spits on their creators’ intentions and undercuts their efforts to build independent properties. What purpose does Orion serve if we know his father will survive him by millennia to face off against, of all people, J’Onn J’Onzz? If Darkseid so thoroughly shaped the Martian Manhunter’s life, and is responsible for so many of his personal tragedies, why hadn’t their animosity come up in previous decades of co-appearances? Further, there’s just too much of a disparity in power levels, as Martian Manhunter was once murdered by a group of villains so far down the pecking order, only one was even aware he was working toward Darkseid’s interests in the matter. Setting up an ongoing feud is a Quixotic crusade for the Manhunter and a minor annoyance to the Lord of Apokolips, at least until a point in a future so distant everyone will have already had their turn at beating Darkseid, and so unlikely it’s probably already been thrown out of continuity. It’s farcical, really.

What Darkseid Represents:
J’Onn J’Onzz is something of an idealized socialist, expecting his fellow heroes to give all they can without regard to reward or recognition, taking back only what is necessary to carry on. Darkseid is a tyrannical fascist, expecting complete subservience to his will. Pitting the pair against one another is a bit like the Communists battling the Nazis in World War II. If more people were aware of the Martian Manhunter’s beliefs and inclinations, not to mention his decades of covert meddling within the U.S., he might very well be considered a threat to national security. Compared to Darkseid though, he’s firmly on the side of the Allies. Also, life on Mars in the Modern Age represents a look back at a simpler, almost tribal existence of mud huts and community, each member doing their part. Apokolips is the ultimate post-Industrial Age nightmare, a world more mechanical than organic, choking under pollution and the iron rule of a largely unseen but literal God working through unholy agents.

  • Darkseid is to the Martian Manhunter as Red Skull is to Spider-Man
  • Darkseid is to the Martian Manhunter as Korvac is to Captain America
Spider-Man is the ultimate nebbish super-hero—the nerdy kid with the elderly aunt just scrapping by before receiving incredible power through a fluke of science. Martian Manhunter was a scientist carried off from his native world by a teleportation device, then stranded on an Earth where he was comparatively omnipotent. Both chose to use their powers responsibly for the greater good, usually against super powered thugs and crime bosses. Pitting either against a master manipulator managing countless schemes run simultaneously involving armies of agents across a universal stage is a bit out of either’s wheelhouse. Still, everyone wants to see a popular hero battle an overwhelming evil, and it’s nice to try a new match-up every now and again. Sure, these villains have their dedicated foes to return to, and a defeat by a hero typically beneath them is a bit of a black eye, but nothing a later battle against an entire super-team wouldn’t clear up. That is, until someone decides the nebbish’s parents were actually secret agents killed by the Nazi fiend, or that the Alien Atlas spent decades battling the overlord, setting off the chain of events that would ultimate destroy all life on his planet. From there, any time the match-up is recalled, it brings with it the stink of retroactive continuity and the undermining of integrity of the individual properties.

Who isn't ranked because of Darkseid:
  • Libra: While he may have been the murderer who plunged a fatal spear into Manhunter’s chest, it was nothing personal—just a show of strength at Darkseid’s behest.
  • Kanto: I don’t really mind the Master Assassin of Darkseid’s involvement in J’Onn J’Onzz’s life, but his name isn’t a draw, he hasn’t appeared all that often, and he was only following orders.

In Closing:
This is roughly a top 8 list rounded up to 10, but despite my objections, Darkseid is a well-regarded villain whose impact on the Martian Manhunter’s series has been embraced by a majority segment of the Alien Atlas’ fans.


LissBirds said...

There's a Scale of Evil? Wow. I've got to go see how I rank on that...

I'm not big on seeing villains that involve a group effort to defeat be considered an adversary of an individual. Darkseid, to me, is just a JLA villain. (I'm ignoring the whole retconned history between the two out of convenience, and because I don't remember the details.) I don't really see Darkseid as having a personal vendetta against J'onn and what he stands for...he was just a convenient, powerful foe that Ostrander could use to destroy Mars. Like you pointed out, that undercuts Kirby's original intentions, and that's the kind of retconning that really bugs me the most.

Interesting analogy of J'onn as a socialist and Darkseid as a fascist. I had always thought of Martian culture as more of a pure the ancient Greeks at their prime before everything went downhill. I see J'onn's relationship with fellow Leaguers as more familial and intimate than socialistic--or, during the JLI days, as a teacher/sensei leading his "students," and giving back to them more than they've put into the system. Actually, I can't come up with a political system that would make a good analogy for my interpretation of J'onn's relationship with the League.

mathematicscore said...

My position is well known, so forgive me for adding more fuel to this fire...

While I'm not for a Marvel Earth X style explanation and interconnection of everything and the kitchen sink, I like a more comprehensive view in a shared universe like the DCU. One of the key points of the Fourth world is the recurring interest by Apokalips in Earth, so a it doesn't strike me as a stretch the the races would be aware of each other and would come into conflict. Adding a bit of my own fanfic into the mix (with some support from your favorite writers, Ostrander and Kelly) I seem the Martians as king expletive in the Solar system, which would explain the long absence of major alien contact in the decidedly space happy DCU, as well as the Guardians lack of an earth GL for so long. Plus, a race of beings with more powers than you can shake a stick at, I think a major extinction event having Darkseid's hand behind is practically required. I think it adds nicely to Darkseids prestige that he's got his hand in so many pots. Intergang was a nice front for him in minor earth happenings, but now I'm retreading, and so shall leave it at this: Thanks for acquiesing and making ol' D-bag one of the top ten!

Tom said...

Darkseid's role in MM's origin is one of the things about the Ostrander series that didn't work for me. While DeMatteis' post-Crisis origin story needed some tweaking to make MM workable as a continuing character (more about that in Wade Greenberg's intro to MM Archives Vol. 7), it didn't need Darkseid. Apokalipse and DeMatteis' Mars are two worlds that should never have collided, two great tastes that don't taste great together. A mash-up of two works as disparate in style and intent as DeMatteis & Badger's 1988 Martian Manhunter mini-series and Kirby's Fourth World Saga is like a cross-over between Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars and William Burroughs' Naked Lunch.

Diabolu Frank said...

Tom, what you said. Peanut Butter & Salmon.

M.C., don't sweat the self-medicating fanfic. I've got my own for the same purpose, newly augmented by all that Blackest Night Skittles business helping explain the wealth and unreliability of all those inherent Martian abilities. Mine involves something closer to our solar system being under quarantine, though, instead of Martian/Guardian turf war (though that also comes into play.)

Liss, sadly, on my worst day I could squeak out a piddly 3-Rank. For Darkseid, I prefer the times when it took a JLA-JSA-New Genesian team-up to put a dent in Apokolips. What part of New Gods do people keep misinterpreting? As for Pappy J'Onn, while paternalism is in his character, he can get pretty severe with characters he's ideologically conflicted with. I don't think he ever forgave Beetle & Booster for embezzling from Max, so the fatal Countdown to Infinite Crisis slight didn't feel all that wrong to me. Then factor in his firing Guy Gardner, furiously beating Triumph, the tension with Captain Atom...

mathematicscore said...

I've been thinking a lot about martian abilities, and I think it comes back to their shape changing abilities. Sure, some of it is natural (telepathy, strength) but I think much of it (Supersenses, "Martian Vision," flight) is taken from other life forms, using their shapechanging DNA. This even ties in nicely to the silver age, when he would take on the properties of the beasts he changed into.

LissBirds said...

Part of the problem, too, is that Darkseid feels overused. I'd like to see a new ultra-powered villain fight the JLA/JSA just to shake things up a bit.

"while paternalism is in his character, he can get pretty severe with characters he's ideologically conflicted with" Which works for my family analogy. Grudges, in-fighting and conflict are the cornerstone of my family...Bwahaha. But I understand where you're coming from now with the socialist analogy. I do like to see J'onn as ever-forgiving, always-understanding, considering the telepathy, but I guess enough is enough sometimes and even his patience isn't infinite.

Meh. I do still think the shrugging off of Blue Beetle durign Countdown was still out of character, only because to it felt like a cheap writer's trick to garner sympathy, and I don't like those kinds of storytelling devices. But I should re-read it to make sure I'm remembering it correctly. I think if Beetle asked J'onn to take a look at something he should've at least listened to what it was before sending him away...ignoring a teammate completely just isn't feasible in the JLA for a variety of reasons. But I can see where you're coming from.

LissBirds said...

"While DeMatteis' post-Crisis origin story needed some tweaking to make MM workable as a continuing character (more about that in Wade Greenberg's intro to MM Archives Vol. 7),"

I can't wait for this, Tom. I'm psyched!

mathematicscore said...

While it was during "Infinite Crisis" and all kinds of feces was hitting the fan, I feel J'onn not considering the larger picture is pretty out of character. Thing JLA circa Rock of Ages...He was multi tasking and delegating all over the place.

Luke said...

Darkseid is a tyrannical fascist...

Are you calling him a dinosaur?

Seriously, I personally don't care for this match-up. Darkseid should be a threat for the entire JLA, not one member of it. Even on Superman: The Animated Series, Big Blue was outclassed by him pretty much the entire time -- even when he "beat" him he didn't beat him, if you follow me. Darkseid works best as a universal threat, at least from what I have read of him, which is mostly Kirby and Morrison.

This is why Despero works so much better as an arch-foe for the Manhunter. Despero can challenge the entire JLA, yes, but it's not really a stretch to see him and the Manhunter tangle and mix it up either. (I put that into the same boat as Iron Man and the Mandarin.)