Sunday, April 4, 2010

I Want To Burn Apex City To The Ground

Perhaps I should explain that title.

Scipio was the former co-owner of Big Monkey Comics in Washington D.C. and an outstanding blogger at  The Absorbascon. He was clearly well educated, and gave delightfully thorough if sometimes plainly askew "literary analysis" of comic books, particularly those featuring the Martian Manhunter. He also, sadly, often drove me up a wall.

The story of Apex City is probably the best example. Scipio was a fan of HeroClix, and after reading Showcase Presents Martian Manhunter Volume One, wondered aloud as to where the hero's base of operations was. For years, J'onn J'onzz had patrolled an unnamed city, before transferring to a secret mountain headquarters. Scipio put together the frequent appearance of the word "Apex" in DBAs within the city, along with various incidents that would indicate specific regions where they could take place within the United States, and came up with Apex City, Florida.

Now, Scipio had asked me about any possible alternate names to have seen print before announcing his creation of Apex City, but my Silver Age reading to that point was focused on Manhunter's (cheap to acquire) House of Mystery appearances, by which point he had given up the John Jones identity and gone mobile (eventually on an international scale.) However, I added the caveat "Where's my old Silver Age MM guru, "Commander Steel" these days? He was my touchstone when it came to this sort of thing in my DC Message Board days..."

I checked on the notes I'd kept from the late '90s drafted by U.S. Navy Commander Adam "Steel" Benson, and sure enough, he consistently referred to Jones' beat as "Middletown." He elaborated, "You see, the reason I know it was Middletown is because I recall a DC letter column from the late '60's in which a reader asked what city had been the Manhunter's home base. I don't even remember which title carried that particular letter col, but I distinctly remember the editor's answer: Middletown. (That editor's response also placed Middletown in one of the mid-Atlantic states.)" However, neither one of us have ever been able to verify this.

Now, Scipio debuted his Apex City on Friday, March 28, 2008, and I made mention of my discoveries no later than Wednesday, April 2, 2008, when I posted a link to the Apex City HeroClix Map, but Scipio continued to dismiss it as confusion related to the Post-1988 home of John Jones, Middleton, CO. Shortly thereafter, I finally bought Detective Comics#322, which featured the name of town prominently and repeatedly. I informed Scipio of my finding, apologetically, via his blog's comments section. I figured Middletown could just be nicknamed "the Apex City," like my own Houston is known as "the Bayou City," or "H-Town" in rap circles. I also got into a side discussion on the same thread, until I noticed my posts being deleted without comment by Scipio. Whenever I brought up the subject, Scipio refused to discuss it.

It wasn't until Scipio bought Showcase Presents Martian Manhunter Volume Two himself that he addressed the issue...

Well. I guess we'll see. One thing, I'll say; you do NOT go to "Middleton".

I reject the false doctrine of the Middletonites, and I hew to the Apex Creed:

I believe in one city, Apex City, home of the Martian Manhunter, and at all times, whether he's visible or invisible.

And in one J'onn J'onnz, the only-remaining son Mars, created in the Silver Age before all heroes; J'onn of J'onnz, lighted by firelight, very Silver of the Silver Age; written, not edited, being of one substance with the Schwartz, by whom all comics were made.

I've read both Volumes of Martian Manhunter Showcases, and there is only ONE mentioned of the putative "Middleton" as the home of the Martian Manhunter.
...Anyway, it's Arnold Hugo who identifies MM's town as "Middleton", and it's never mentioned again. A hapax legomenon uttered by a notorious lunatic, liar, and loser is nothing to base continuity on! I think Arnold's just raving. Or perhaps Middleton is a suburb or or neighborhood within Apex City.

Regardless... it's still clear we're in Apex City

Once again, I tried to address the matter in tongue-in-cheek fashion, pointing out that the name "Middletown" (not the Post-Crisis "Middleton") had actually been referenced four times in the story, including by the omniscient narrator. I also noted that July 1977's Justice League of America #144 not only referenced Middletown by name, but tied it directly into February 1959's Detective Comics #264, firmly establishing the city's name. Further, the modern era assignment of Middleton, CO was obviously chosen to reflect these Silver and Bronze Age stories. Once again, Scipio ignored me, but at least my post stayed up.

Now, my point here isn't to kick a blogger while he's out of the game. It just drives me nuts that Scipio decided he could overrule multiple canonical sources and, with no authority of his own, knowingly disseminate false information. I've seen the term "Apex City" pop up a number of times on the internet because of this, and I now associate the term with willful ignorance or the deliberate pursuit of a personal agenda without regard for facts. Coupled with his routine spotlighting of only the most embarrassing Martian Manhunter moments, his reveling in the most ridiculous gallery rogues, and recommending an almost entirely new and previously unrelated supporting cast, I have to wonder if Scipio was more interested in J'onn J'onzz as a device rather than a character. Yeah, I now that makes me seem pretty humorless, but did I mention those deleted posts? Who does that over a Fictionopolis?

So, to me, Apex City is sort of like the evil parallel universe version of Middletown. It's the place where every writer to handle the Martian Manhunter ignores everything the writer before them set up. It's the place where Martian Manhunter gets an ongoing series for three years, and never fights a single villain that wasn't either newly created for the series or borrowed from books never previously associated with J'Onn J'Onzz. Apex City is the place where writers just make up powers to fit a situation, or have J'Onn use his powers in an abhorrent fashion with repercussion. Apex City is the place where creators figure they can do any arbitrary thing they want to with the Manhunter from Mars, because fifty years of stories by hundreds of creators aren't worth bothering to consider. Essentially, with my story synopsizes and Vile Menagerie and other attempts to educate the public about where J'Onn J'Onzz has been and what toys lie untouched by successive creators, Apex City is the antithesis of the Idol-Head of Diabolu blog, and that's why I expect I'll always have a knee jerk reaction to it.


Sphinx Magoo said...

Bravo, my friend!

Maybe Apex City is the home of that MM doppelgänger from the Squadron Supreme or the MM of Earth-3.

I remember reading the reference to Middletown because there's a Middletown here in Connecticut, another in New Jersey and another in New York. Any of these cities in the tri-state area could have been the home of the Martian Manhunter, which gave me extra reason to remember it.

It reminds me of my own theories regarding the home cities of both of the Flashes. Jay Garrick came from Keystone City; since Pennsylvania is known as the Keystone State, I always thought Keystone City was a code name for one of the big cities in Pennsylvania. Barry Allen was in Central City and (I believe but am not 100% sure) that a section of Philadelphia was known as Central City. So when the post-Crisis retcons placed Keystone City and Central City as next door to each other, I had in my mind that they were residing in the same area as our Philadelphia. Geoff Johns then placed both cities somewhere farther out west, so that totally invalidated my theories...

Tom said...

So another name for Apex City would be Ostranderburg?

Count Drunkula said...

I think Middleton, the "Apex City", works sounds pretty cool.

On the other hand, there's a lot to be said for willful ignorance. That's how I've managed to convince myself that Arthur Curry only re-named himself "Orin" as part of an identity-breakdown caused by the death of his son and collapse of his marriage.

Also that Wonder Woman was always a founding member of the JLA, post-CoIE continuity, be damned! Willful ignorance has its place.

Diabolu Frank said...

Sphinx, I figured linking to this was too far off topic, but in Do You Know The Way To Middletown?, I came to the conclusion Middletown was in New England, or at least on the Northeastern Seaboard. Prof. Arnold Hugo looks to have done time in Jersey, and towns referred to in the Manhunter strip consistently parallel those of the same or similar names in the region.

The way Scott Kolins drew Keystone, I can see Philly in there.

Tom, that's actually a pretty boss name. "Ostranderburg." I could see that being used as a tribute in a book he wrote well.

Diabolu Frank said...

Ryan, I disagree, but probably not the way you think.

Just as "Apex City" can be allowed its continued existence as a nickname for Middletown, shouldn't a concerted effort be made to incorporate as much of every character's history as possible? It isn't willful ignorance to attempt to reconcile discrepancies in some fashion, it's pragmatism.

For instance, I don't like the "king of Atlantis" angle Aquaman was saddled with in the '60s. My "subjective resolution" is that this "Orin" business is all part of an elaborate plot perpetrated against Aquaman, when in fact he's still the son of a lighthouse keeper and a mer-- screw it-- and the daughter of the Golden Age Aquaman. If I'm going to go there, I might as well go all the way, and remove as much second hand Sub-Mariner history as possible.

I think Wonder Woman is a founder again, Post-Infinite Crisis. In my mind though, Black Canary was still part of a B-team of newbies, while WW joined Batman and Superman on the "big missions." Being the youngest, Dinah wasn't promoted to full membership until after Diana left.

Tom said...

You're right, Ostranderburg is too good for "Apex City". How about Otisburg?

Count Drunkula said...

I understand your argument, and if a creator can find a way to incorporate all of that history and make it work, awesome! But I've seen as many instances where "reconciling discrepancies" feel shoehorned in. In that case, I'd rather see elements of history just ignored if they're contradictory. That seems equally pragmatic.

But that's me. I believe in "selective continuity".

LissBirds said...

This is an interesting post, Frank. While I'm a big fan of Scipio's antics, it's enlightening to hear about your comments being deleted. I never could figure out if he really was a Martian Manhunter fan or not...but judging by the whole "Ivory Soap" thing (, I had a feeling he would take an opposing viewpoint to get people to defend a character. Maybe. Or maybe he just liked to poke fun at his favorites.

The thing that bugged me about Middletown being located in CO is that they mention a beach a few times in Showcase, and there's that whole store about the shark. (In my own mind I figured it was on the West Coast because "movie sets" gets mentioned an awful lot.)

"That editor's response also placed Middletown in one of the mid-Atlantic states." Yes! This makes me very happy because it all make sense now!

"However, neither one of us have ever been able to verify this." Three guesses as to what my research project of the week is going to be.

mathematicscore said...

@Tom; HAH! Ned Beatty is a god among men.

Frank, this; "...shouldn't a concerted effort be made to incorporate as much of every character's history as possible? It isn't willful ignorance to attempt to reconcile discrepancies in some fashion, it's pragmatism." is right on the money. One of my favorite things about Morrison and Johns is their use of stuff like Batman of Planet X and Nekron and Yellow rings. New characters are great, and vital, but all of the greatest crossovers use established characters in interesting ways. Similarly, the best revamps/relaunches embrace the past and make connections to enrich this fictional world i.e. R.E.B.E.L.S and Secret Six, in my humble opinion two of the better new series out there.

In this ever aging comic book fandom, continuity sells. But more than that, continuity is rewarding in the "smaller" (and faster) world of the internet and ADD, consistency allows for more comfort and less drag....I'm not sure I made my point, but that's about all I got.

Luke said...

Perhaps Apex City is the unfortunate location where a cabal of White Martians have taken up hiding, and ends up burned to the ground (oh the irony!) during a cataclysmic battle with the Manhunter?

I never cared for Apex City either; Florida is too close to New Venice, for one thing, and a weird series like Manhunter from Mars should be set somewhere in either New England or the Mid-Atlantic.

Scipio said...

I deleted your posts, Frank, because they were overly serious, angry diatribes over something that was supposed to be fun.

I usually deleted that sort of thing because I didn't tolerate flame wars on my blog...which are particularly inappropriate over the Martian Manhunter.

As for "canon"-- well, if it's one thing I've learned from knowing lots of comic readers, it's that one fan's canon is another fan's fodder.

P.S. FINALLY having Heroclix customs made of the Human Flame and the Human Squirrel; so much fun!

Diabolu Frank said...

Scipio, not only do I disagree with your characterization of my comments, but I find it convenient you can make such assertions without the posts to back up your claims.

I recall having a fairly tepid debate with another commentator, which in no way raised my ire. Alternately, your unnecessary and heavy handed involvement bugged me enough that it still colors my perception of you today. For my opinion to be so devalued as to be expunged entirely without a word is among the most bothersome acts of personal offense I've reckoned with on the internet. I felt less than enthused about ever offering a word in your presence again, and I never felt comfortable hanging out at "your place" again.

Regardless, I found your blog posts insightful and amusing, which is why I still offer links and responses to a defunct forum. I would like a look at that Human Squirrel should the Absorbascon ever reopen its doors. We may have different sensibilities, but I recognize quality writing when I see it.

Anonymous said...

In the middle of Cleveland there is an area known as "Ohio City", which was once a separate city, but to this day retains its own distinctive character. I would imagine most major cities have something comparable. It would be hypothetically possible to reconcile any Middleton / Apex City discrepancies along those lines.

I have no dog in this fight, neither Jupiter nor Zook.

Diabolu Frank said...

King, I'm cool with that, and from the beginning suggested that compromise. What's ticked me off in the past is Scipio's insistence on completely ignoring the canonical Middletown while promoting a name of his own creation. I think "Apex City" is as fine a nickname as "The Big Apple" and it could even be the "heart" of town the way Manhattan is for Manhattan. Borough, suburb, uptown, annexed city... whatever. Add, adjust, redefine, but don't disregard.