Thursday, April 22, 2010

Which Martian Manhunter Villains do One-Quarter of all "Idol-Heads" want to read about here?

Returning yet again to our analysis of the January I-HoD villains poll, the end of this long road of examining prospects and initiates into the The Vile Menagerie is finally coming into view. At eight votes each, these characters were recommended by 25% of all respondents, and as a group represent a "sixth place" showing amongst Martian Manhunter's adversaries. They're also amongst the top 25 foes of the Alien Atlas, based on your level of interest, signifying a real narrowing of the field.

A reoccurring Apokolipsian construct, Brimstone is visually strong, but the Evangelizing Godzilla shtick is only slightly easier to work into a Modern Age comic than Titano, the King Kong with kryptonite vision. Also, somehow, at least one Brimstone would seem to have sold its mechanical "soul" to the devil Neron. Being a child of the '80s, this isn't the first time I've seen an attention (and otherwise) whoring Bible thumper led into sin, but this specific example is kind of insane. Worst of all, it occurred at the height of Martian Manhunter's "fire weakness only psychosomatic" period. Brimstone's powers are more heat than flame based, so J'Onn straight up ripped Brimstone's heart right out of its belly in a matter of panels. I think that happened with the Jimmys after they lost their tithed luxury cars.

Director Bones
The former Mr. Bones was annoying in the '80s, when he was an Infinity Inc. anti-hero who spoke in rhyme and dressed as the Black Terror. At that point, Bones' sole relevance was as a prototype for Todd McFarlane's Spawn. In the late '90s, D. Curtis Johnson revitalized Bones as a seemingly sinister but ultimately altruistic regional director of the Department of Extranormal Operations, who spoke in verse so subtle you could miss it. The 1998 series certainly did, forsaking a nuanced portrayal in favor of making Bones another liberal conspirist evil government dirtbag who tried to extort information out of Martian Manhunter, and failing that, released most of his secret identities around the world to the public. Bones continues to be a presence in the DCU, including in that other Manhunter series, and filled a sort of reverse Mr.V role for a time.

The Headmaster

The 1998 series tried to hit the ground running with regards to building a rogues gallery in the Martian Manhunter ongoing series. Like Miller & Certa before them, they instead offered a string of one issue wonders with potential they never bothered to explore through return appearances. The Headmaster/Headman could have been a contender, but all the love went to the deeply flawed Malefic instead.

Master Gardener
American Secrets is a book I had to digest, because it's too good and complex to be appreciated immediately upon completion. Not only is it probably the finest Martian Manhunter story ever told, but also an unappreciated masterwork lost on the Vertigo groupies and poly-bagging speculators of the period. All that having been said, I don't really see the point of ever going back to the Master Gardener of Mars or his Lizard-Men. The latter is another of the countless variations on shapeshifting alien invaders in comics, and the former another misguided Martian survivor doing more harm than good. Dipping into that well would be like following Chinatown with The Two Jakes.


I experienced burnout after last year's The March of Mongul, but having rested up, I'm back to thinking fondly of the cad. He may be another variation of Jim Starlin's Fourth World fixation, but who better to fight a poor man's Darkseid than our own off-brand Superman? Everything the '98 series did with Darkseid that got under my skin would have been forgiven and even appreciated had Mongul been substituted. Superman has a notably poor rogues gallery though, and prior to his actually fighting Darkseid on a regular basis, Mongul served as one of his house villains for DC Comics Presents. So Superman got "For the Man Who Has Everything," which in this context takes on a whole other meaning, like "...and the Manhunter gets Nothing but Coal and Switches."

Professor Arnold Hugo

My adoration for Hugo is no secret hereabouts, so I'm not sure what I can add beyond a link and a prayer we'll see more of him someday. The prayer includes a requirement that Prof. Hugo retain his essence as mean-spirited but mostly harmless foil, because if you're just going to get nasty with him, what's the point? Dr. Trap has already filled the role of Hugo for the violence obsessed modern reader, and without ruining the inherent delightful silliness of having a gadgeted-up Peter Pumpkinhead as a primary opponent.


Count Drunkula said...

Didn't Mr. Bones die in FINAL CRISIS? In issue 4, the double page spread on pages 6-7 shows a suited skeleton lying amongst the ruins as Justifiers walk on. I suppose it could be any corpse, but it looks more like Bones. On the other hand, a lot of elements of Final Crisis have been ignored or undone since then.

I think Headman/Headmaster has really great untapped potential for sci-fi horror stories in the style of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "The Terminator".

Diabolu Frank said...

That was indeed Director Bones, but since his skin is invisible, a suited skeleton does not equal dead (so long as the head is still connected.) Plus, he appeared in an issue of the JSA relaunch, so he's a confirmed survivor.

Headmaster's look does nothing for me, but he's got a pretty cool m.o.

Tom said...

I also liked Headmaster. Ostrander had too many ideas and too little time to explore them sufficiently. He needed at least another three years.

mathematicscore said...

This is a solid group. Still, while Headmaster certainly rates a return, I feel Malefic is a stronger entry especially cosidered in a Mindless Ones (the blog) heroic hype style light. I liked their idea that not all Martians have all of MM's powers. After all, not every human is as strong as or as smart as the next. It all depends on what skills we've chosen to develop. I can see a whole litany of unique Martian villians, of which Malefic is a prototype.

Diabolu Frank said...

Tom... I believe that just the thought of Ostrander's run being doubled has given me kidney stones. To me, it's like saying Mussolini just needed a few more years to set Italy right.

M.C., I hate to admit I never quite finished that blog article. I've always believed that, as no two humans are exactly equal in all ways, Martian should vary widely in their aptitude with and number of "super-powers." That used to come up all the time on the '90s DC Comics Message Board.

Tom said...

I finally began reading the Ostrander series a couple of weeks ago and finished it today. It's not perfect, but it has it's moments. I can't find it in my heart to hate it. In fact, I like it. So there!

Matthew McKinnon-Gray said...

Out of all of J'onn's Martian foes the Master Gardener is probably my favorite. Although I agree that he should never come back. If Warners ever makes a Martian Manhunter DTV, "American Secrets" would be my fist choice for source material.

I always thought Headmaster and Locus should team up. They're both about helping humanity survive a coming disaster. Maybe they could get together and cause one.

LissBirds said...

While I haven't read of any of Brimstone's appearances, I find him really hard to take seriously becuase of the leotard. J'onn ripped his heart out? That's a little cold for him.

Director I remember him. I didn't know he was still around.

I'm surprised the Master Gardener didn't rank higher.

"To me, it's like saying Mussolini just needed a few more years to set Italy right." Bwaha.

Diabolu Frank said...

Tom, you're not alone. Some people drink Pepsi.Some people drink Coke.

Matthew, I was just thinking about Locus the other day, but more in relation to Vandal Savage (and when exactly I should start covering JLA: Year One.) I'm not at all confident American Secrets could be translated faithfully to DTV (maybe legit anime,) but it's a nice vision to fill my head with.

Liss, the leotard is funny as hell. The absurdity of preserving the modesty of molten lava held together by SCIENCE! in anthropomorphic form is almost as delightful as considering the alternative, Rorschach genital blots! Since its "heart" looked like a hotwired Mother Box, I wouldn't sweat it. Now, when J'Onn absorbed and threatened to sever Sledge's arm in the same issue-- that was pretty hard core.

Considering the Master Gardener only ever appeared in the final issue of an obscure high end mini-series, never to be referenced again, I'd say he did mighty well in the voting. Also, between the series synopsis and his Vile Menagerie entry, what else is there to say?

LissBirds said...

American Secrets Direct-to-Video? I hadn't even thought of that. I can't dream that big. If that did happen, and it was pulled off well, I think my head would explode.

I wouldn't mind seeing the Master Gardener coming back. I like seeing villains who are similar to their heroes, except for a difference in philosophy. Since he's dead, though, let's see a new villain present a similar challenge to J'onn. Since Martians are so insanely powerful, I'd rather see a battle of competing philosophies than hitting each other.

Threatening to cut off an arm? J'onn must've been really ticked. Just like the Martian Pincushion of Earth 2.

Frank, you know I think there can never be enough said about American Secrets. It needs its visibility raised out of obscurity. Too bad it was never collected as a trade.

Diabolu Frank said...

I agree that J'Onn needs a philosophical counterpoint like the Master Gardener. There are enough violent Martian sadists running around.

The Martian Manhunter was single handedly taking on a host of Neron enabled villains while his team (the JLTF) tended to their subplots. He spent most of those two years in a bad mood (see also: Triumph.)

Liss, exploding heads would be the first thing excised from a DTV American Secrets. This would be followed by all references to pornography, the abuses heaped on Patty Marie, "negroes," autopsies performed with buck knives, Sinatra, Castro, Che, Hoover, a positive view of communism and underage sex/smoking/death. All that would be left is... a really killer paranoid thriller that takes a jaundiced view of '50s America? Sign me up! Just don't be surprised when Diane Meade shows up to see that Patty Marie get a nice new home in the suburbs...

LissBirds said...

Funny, if I had read that list beforehand I probably wouldn't have read American Secrets. But much of that (except for the exploding heads) was subtext, and none of it was gratuitous or heavy-handed. There's some lessons in subtlety that can be learned from that kind of execution.

When I become Supreme Ruler of the World and/or a billionaire, I'll hire the same guys who made L.A. Confidential to make a live action American Secrets. I never quite realized how similar they are to each other before.