Tuesday, August 31, 2010

1991 Impel DC Comics Cosmic Cards "1992 Series" #130

Ah, the first ever DC Universe spanning trading card set, meant to ape the far more popular Marvel Comics set, right down to the hideously drab gray borders. I believe they were originally going to be metallic ink, but somebody went cheap, to the horror of all. The art of these was hit or miss, since the fan favorites who weren't at Marvel were already plotting the Image exodus. This number was done by Trevor Von Eeden, whose more angular/impressionistic work I remain a big fan of, and this more commercial style suited well enough. I want to say these were meant for release in the winter of 1991, but were delayed. Regardless, there's a '91 copyright, so to heck with the proclaimed "1992 Series."

Since it's been a while, you might also like to look at Martian Manhunter's
1991 Impel DC Comics Cosmic Cards #121

Monday, August 30, 2010

Despero: The Fifth Most Important Martian Manhunter Adversary

Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone's Scale of Evil Rank
16) Psychopaths committing multiple vicious acts, which may also include murder.

Why Despero has been selected for 5th Place:
  • Despero and the Martian Manhunter are complementary opposites.
J’Onn J’Onzz was a science leader on his world, struggling for resources against an aggressively fascistic regime of another race. Despero was a mutant tyrant who oppressed the political dissent of another race on his dimensional world. J’Onzz was unintentionally teleported to Earth during political exile on Mars. Despero intentionally travelled across dimensions to reach Earth and capture escaping political enemies. J’Onzz chose to assimilate and covertly act as a benevolent agent on a world not his own. Despero’s first order of business was to mentally dominate Earth’s protectors in pursuit of his enemies, then make sport of his intention to wipe out those defenders and immediately return home. Once the presence of a Martian Manhunter on Earth was revealed, J’Onzz operated publicly as part of a heroic team while continuing to privately pursue altruistic ends in human guise. Once Despero was dethroned, he was forced into rehabilitative service under his foes, and secretly plotted against them while pretending to go along with his new role. Both John Jones and Despero faked their own demise to escape their responsibilities and pursue different goals.

Even after the Manhunter was allowed to return home to Mars, he consistently chose to remain on his adoptive Earth, acting in its defense against his own people. While a wanted fugitive, Despero was always plotting his return to Kalanor, only venturing to Earth when attempting to destroy its hated Justice League. Both characters become leaders on their respective worlds whenever they’re actually present. Both character's peoples were made refugees by catastrophe on their planets. Neither character set foot on their home planets throughout the Bronze Age, nor did they have much to do with the planet Earth. Each instead took over new worlds which were never mentioned after the Bronze Age ended. Both attacked Leaguers in the ‘70s due to the manipulation of others, for less than clear reasons.Both got into fights with Supergirl while not in full command of their facilities during a publishing dry spell.

Both Despero and Martian Manhunter have taken on others' identities. The Alien Atlas has lived as John Jones, Marco Xavier and more, while temporarily assuming far too many other forms to list here. The despot has pretended to be Superman and Lex Luthor, plus his spirit once possessed J’Onn J’Onzz. Both characters underwent massive physical, mental and spiritually altering changes in the 1980s. Both were possessed by the minds of other characters for over a year in the 1990s while continuing to make monthly appearances. Both have complex relationships with Gypsy, and served with her on the Justice League Task Force. They remain telepathic, telekinetic, super-strong and nigh-invulnerable aliens with energy projecting vision powers and close ties to the Justice League who occasionally get into brawls with Superman.
  • Despero and the Martian Manhunter have complementary publishing histories.
J’Onn J’Onzz and Despero are both Silver Age characters introduced to most readers through their appearances in early issues of Justice League of America. Both characters were being phased out of the book in the mid-30s. Neither character had very many appearances during the Bronze Age, and most of those were in JLofA issues written by Gerry Conway (both in a two-parter from 1980.) Conway reintroduced each character within two years of one other in the same series, although neither would see real mainstream acceptance until they were reworked by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis in Justice League International. Despero figured into that creative team’s final story arc, and then both characters exited the book. The characters co-starred in Justice League Task Force for two years, and have together figured into appearances in Young Justice, Superman/Batman, JLA and more. Neither character has had more appearances with persons of an opposing alignment.

  • Despero was the Justice League’s first humanoid extra-terrestrial foe.
The Justice League of America was founded by two super-humans, two normal humans with extraordinary devices, a supernaturally enhanced Amazon, and two aliens. Starro was the first alien being to be confronted by the team, but the group is almost always proactive against the presence of that inhuman creature. Despero is a sentient humanoid who attacked the team for strategic and then personal reasons. Although he tends to target the entire team, he is usually associated with the other aliens present, Superman and especially the Martian Manhunter. It’s alien-on-alien violence. Also, Martian Manhunter from the late ‘80s until the mid ‘00s was considered by many the heart and soul of the Justice League, so when Despero attacked the team, he almost invariably attacked the Martian Manhunter, even when J’onzz wasn’t actually a member of the team.
  • Martian Manhunter is the first Justice League member Despero usually targets.
The pecking order of whom Despero ambushed in his first appearance has never been revealed, while his second story started with infecting Snapper Carr, ridiculous architect of his initial defeat. A two-parter in the ‘70s saw aliens enlist Superman’s aid against Despero, which later brought the entire Justice League to bear.

In a story from 1980, Despero kidnapped Martian Manhunter and forced him to act against the Justice League. In 1986, Despero was reborn, and focused his wrath on League founders Batman and Martian Manhunter. In 1990, Despero was reborn again, and worked his way through retired Detroit Leaguers before reaching Martian Manhunter, his primary opponent. When Despero was exercised from his own body, he chose to possess J’Onn J’Onzz. After restoring the memories of the Secret Society of Super-villains, he set that team against the JLA, but saved Martian Manhunter for himself. Despero hates the Justice League, but Martian Manhunter foremost amongst them.
  • Despero is among the very few villains to threaten Martian life.
For a character called the Martian Manhunter, J’Onn J’Onzz never spent much time dealing with threats to Mars. Earth has always been the Alien Atlas’ priority, often in opposition to his own people. However, when Mars was rendered uninhabitable, Martian Manhunter resumed his role as a science leader amongst the displaced survivors. In all of those years, only one villain has ever been recorded to have threatened the lives of the entire Martian people under J’Onn J’Onzz’s care. Despero targeted the people of New Mars with a death ray to extort the participation of the Martian Manhunter in a deadly chess game against his former teammates in the Justice League. In fact, the Martian Manhunter threatened to kill Despero for his transgression, a decidedly uncharacteristic show of murderous fury on the hero’s part.

  • Despero is Martian Manhunter’s longest lasting rogue.
Longevity is not a hallmark of the Vile Menagerie. The Martian Manhunter had no repeat villains in the ‘50s, and only a handful that showed up more than twice within the 1960s. By his thirtieth anniversary, only one such villain remained: Despero. Fortieth? Despero. Fiftieth? Despero. Everyone else has died or drifted out of J’Onzz’s realm. The Human Flame was recently revived after sitting in limbo since 1959, but his appearances have largely been separate from Martian Manhunter's. Malefic remains dead. None of the other Ostrander/Mandrake foes have reappeared since their series’ demise. Vandal Savage hasn’t directly addressed Martian Manhunter in years. Despero has rumbled with Martian Manhunter every few years since 1980. There’s no competition.
  • Martian Manhunter is Despero’s longest lasting adversary.
Jasonar and Saranna were established as such thorns in Despero’s side, he followed them across dimensions to Earth and battled the JLofA to get to them. However, neither has been mentioned since Despero’s second appearance, and then only in flashback. The Flash was the first hero to engage in one of Despero’s deadly games, but Barry Allen has failed to follow up on any solo claim to the despot for fifty years. Supergirl and Superman have had a few scuffles with Despero, but nothing particularly substantial. Batman, Elongated Man, Gypsy and other former Detroit era Leaguers have had their run-ins, but neither their careers nor their personal animosity against Despero have been sustained. Ditto Glenn Gammeron, Guy Gardner, and other ‘80s/’90s aggressors.
Martian Manhunter fought Despero in his every ’60 & ‘80s appearance, and half of the ‘70s. They were constant foes or teammates throughout the ‘90s, and they’ve had regular encounters since. There is absolutely no other hero that can make a remotely similar assertion.

  • Despero savors the Martian Manhunter.
Despero enjoys toying with his foes. A chess match with the Flash, taunting a bound Batman-- but none does he appreciate tormenting as much as J'Onn J'Onzz. Whether through games of chance with his friends and fellow Martians at risk, or through psychic invasions that force him to relive the plague of Mars, J'Onzz always experiences emotional trauma for Despero's pleasure.
  • Despero thrives on fire, the Martian Manhunter’s weakness.
The Flame of Py'tar saw Despero reborn in his current form, and an inferno of destruction always follows in his wake. Given his druthers, Earth would end in fire, and the Martian Manhunter would be the green marshmallow roasting on the tip of his clawed finger.
  • Despite his victories in single combat, Despero still feels humiliated by the Martian Manhunter, who often sees to his incarceration.
Since his rebirth, Despero has been an overwhelming force of destruction. That power level keeps his abilities above those of the Martian Manhunter and most other solo heroes, so that he remains a force to be reckoned with twenty years after earning the respect of mainstream audiences. However, Despero continues to be defeated, and as the hero most consistently present during Despero's failures, Martian Manhunter remains squarely on Despero's radar. Both character's esteem is fed by their mutual conflict, with each scoring enough points against one another to keep things interesting. Manhunter fans want him to score a decisive victory someday, but at the same time, they are entertained by the menace Despero continues to exude because of his impressive track record. So long as that tension can be sustained, people will keep reading.
  • Both Martian Manhunter and Despero have surprising religious ties.
In his first appearance, Despero said of his abilities "my mystic mental powers overwhelmed all..,” and of his hypocritical pseudo-sanctity of life, “Though my Kalanor nature will not permit me to slay you…” A quarter century into his career, Despero became involved with a mystic order that helped him enter and survive the transformative Flame of Py’tar, from which he gained a new physical appearance and enhanced powers.

Meanwhile, J’onn J’onzz was devoted to science/deductive reason in his first few decades, until the fall of Mars caused him to question his lack of faith. Thirty-three years into his career, J'Onn became aware that amnesia and false memories had caused him to lapse in his devotional faith to H’ronmeer. This revelation led to J’Onzz taking on a new “Natural Martian” form, embracing his religious identity, and dismissing his old vulnerability to fire as purely psychosomatic.

  • Both characters suffer unjust persecution.

J'onn J'onzz suffered through a kangaroo court that sentenced him to thirteen years of political exile, only to be transported to the United States during one of its many xenophobic frenzies. Most Martian Manhunter solo stories revolve around discrimination of minorities and fear of "the other," including the genocidal racial strife between the Pale/White and Green Martians. Even his fellow members of the Justice League have turned on the Manhunter from Mars at times.

Despero was born a mutant, feared and hated by all on his birth world of Kalanor. It has been hinted that this early prejudice shaped Despero into the sociopath he would become. When captured by his more humanoid enemy Jasonar, Despero's psychic third eye was surgically removed, a rather barbaric means of suppressing his powers. L-Ron also suffered prosecution for Despero's crimes while trapped in his body.

  • Despero is the most popular Martian Manhunter adversary.

Darkseid may be better regarded, but no one asks where the Martian Manhunter is whenever the Lord of Apokolips appears. Despero routinely ranks on "top comic book villains" lists, and makes regular appearances across the DC Universe. With such high visibility, it only helps that Despero is closely associated with the Martian Manhunter. Fans of one character always clamor for a rematch with the other, so that each actively buoys the career of the other. In this sense, Despero's hatred is a virtue with regard to the maintenance of J'Onn J'Onzz in comics.

The Counter Argument:
  • Despero is a Justice League/DC Universe villain.
  • Despero wasn't created to fight Martian Manhunter, so he shouldn't outrank original villains.
  • Since the Martian Manhunter can't really beat Despero on his own, the association only hurts the Alien Atlas.
  • What's up with that stupid fin?

What Despero Represents:
Despero is simply the evil version of Martian Manhunter. The characters are vastly similar in origins, powers, associates and circumstances, but polar opposites in personality and motivation. Despero is also the embodiment of Martian Manhunter's weaknesses. Basically, J'Onn J'Onzz cannot defeat Despero without help, either literal aides or through a deus ex machina. However, having defeated Despero, Martian Manhunter can't bring himself to execute the fiend, so that the guilt of Despero's inevitable return and the horrors he visits are laid at J'Onzz's feet. Not only does this expose the limitations of  the Martian Manhunter's many powers, but also the liability of J'Onzz's morality-- his unwillingness to compromise his principles for the greater good. Worse than J'Onzz's inflexibility is his unwillingness to take responsibility for Despero, as he routinely pawns the rogue off on whomever is convenient for imprisonment. Despero, by virtue of his continued existence, calls into question the very heroism of the Manhunter from Mars, deconstructing him to the core.

  • Despero is to the Martian Manhunter as Sabretooth is to Wolverine
    as the Kingpin is to Daredevil
    as Yellow Claw is to Nick Fury
    as Venom is to Spider-Man
    as Dormammu is to Dr. Strange
    as the Hulk is to the Thing
    as Lady Shiva is to Black Canary
Take a respectable B/C-list villain who puts up a fight against A/B-list heroes. Turn said villain into the rival of a similar hero at the same or a lower order than the villain. The adjustment in weight class makes all the difference. The villain's stature rises to such a degree that they can actually be superior to the hero, a prized role in the annals of evil. So long as the hero isn't in the alpha male wish fulfillment category, the hero actually benefits from their vulnerability and need to strategize against the overwhelming threat.

Who isn't ranked because of Despero:
  • Doomsday: Always going to be a Superman villain, and he lacks that personal touch.
  • Mongul: The Merciless Mongul was to Superman as Despero is to Manhunter, until they ruined him Post-Crisis. Today, he's more likely to fight the Green Lantern Corps, but without a Yellow Power Ring, he's now beneath the Alien Atlas.
  • Asmodel: Two battles within a short span of time do not an archfiend make, but he did kill the Martian Manhunter once, so that's something.
  • Brimstone: Owned Manhunter in Legends, but got owned during Underworld Unleashed.
  • Cabal: Sure they gave J'Onn a hard time in one story, but at the end of the day, it's just a bunch of Jemm villains.
  • Korge: Although he was a Mars II problem, it was a Justice League solution, with Martian Manhunter the errand boy calling them in.
  • Rott: A Martian Manhunter problem, but a Bloodwynd solution. I feel dirty just typing that.

In Closing:
Despero is a well liked and regarded super-villain with a strong presence in the DC Universe. Although sometimes the butt of jokes because of his ever shifting and often unflattering appearances and dress, Despero perhaps falls a bit shy of the upper echelons, but never so low as to mute his fan base. Despero serves as an intimidating and intriguing foil for the Martian Manhunter, which leads to a mutually beneficial relationship. If only Despero had more impact on J'Onn J'Onzz's continuity, he could be a contender for the top spot.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fifty Years of Despero

On August 25, 1960, the first issue of Justice League of America shipped, introducing the world to the three eyed despot of an other-dimensional world, Despero! The villain only appeared once more in the 1960s, and twice again in the 1970s, always locked in combat with the League.

Despero started the '80s by kidnapping Martian Manhunter and running another losing gambit against his least favorite super-team. Blinded by hate and frustration, Despero turned both murderous and borderline suicidal, entering the Flame of Py'tar to be reborn. With massively enhanced powers and radically altered appearance, Despero took on the weakest and least respected incarnation of the League, and still managed to lose.

By 1990, Despero was a rampaging beast whose only reason for living was to kill super-heroes, and the fans liked it. In fact, DC briefly managed to turn Despero into an anti-hero under the control of artificial intelligence, but by the end of the decade, he was merely a disembodied spirit. That didn't stop Despero from being a pain in the neck for huge swaths of the DC Universe though, and most recently, the villain has been seen ruling his home planet of Kalanor and working with outer space agents to maintain the peace.

From object of ridicule to one of the best known DC villains, featured on cartoons and in toy lines, Despero has come a long way in half a century. While I plan to make this year's "December of Despero" the best yet, I felt the Idol-Head needed to belatedly observe the birthday of one of the greatest Martian Manhunter foes of all time this weekend. Presented here are two means of celebration:

When I created Martian Manhunter: The Rock of the JLA through my WebTV account, I had very limited resources. There was only a few megabits of storage space available, I didn't have an actual computer to produce scans, and I could only post a few pages to any given site address before I couldn't load the page myself. To deal with this, I built multiple connected sites, which existed at a variety of home pages. Despero's page had an off white background with a bunch of computer rendered floating eyeballs, a background shared by the original Vile Menagerie.

I was still figuring out what I was doing while I was drafting my initial posts on this blog, and at first I tried to organize my posts as I had done my WebTV material. Justice League Detroit was created as a storehouse for Martian Manhunter posts from the mid-80s, and only became a blog of its own as an afterthought. I did the same thing with another "secret" blog that's been around almost as long, The Flame of Py'tar: A Blog for Despero the Destroyer! The blog was intentionally garish and amateurish, intended to mirror the original look of The Idol-Head. To show how dated it is, there is a banner at the bottom of the page promoting Michael Netzer's crusade to save Martian Manhunter from death in Final Crisis, and a parody version advocating his murder that I'm not sure was ever used here. Anyway, that blog never quite came together, but I never had the heart to delete it either. I just updated it with every relevant Despero article from this blog, so if you'd like to easily page through everything we've done so far, check it out.

Alternately, here's a selection of what I feel are the best posts we've done about Despero in the last three years (almost to the day, actually,) and I'll try to add a few more in the next few days...

Friday, August 27, 2010

2010 "Heroes In Need" Martian Manhunter by Daniel Irizarri

Click To Enlarge

Earlier this week, when I published the post on Miss Martian art by Jemma Salume, I kept waiting for someone to follow the Project: Rooftop link and point out that there was a two week old Manhunter redesign on their front page. Since no one did, and school has got me ever eying the low hanging fruit, here's that inevitable post.

In mid-July a call rang out from P:R contributors to address “Heroes In Need”, characters that desperately needed the intervention of the fashion police. Jon Morris nominated the Martian Manhunter...

The giant green monster look works for the Hulk because they’ve kept it simple. With the Manhunter, he’s got one of everything from a flared collar to a bandolier to patriot boots, and none of it looks alien except in the sense that his culture may not have a concept of godawful eyesores. I know we’ve got one of these in the pike for the JLA Redesign, but I’d love to see MM taken on en masse.

Artist Daniel Irizarri responded with this, and given my comments on J'Onn J'Onzz's failings yesterday, the timing was spot-on. I don't especially like the look, but it definitely says "alien super-being." The barest nose, wide eyes and biological armor on the arms looks like a cross between Whitley Strieber gray alien and Gill-man. I'm already on record as being unnerved by J'Onn J'Onzz in gloves, but in this gear, an anal probe is assured. The thigh high boots really sell the fetish, and the shredded cape adds that Fosse flare (not to mention evoking the Black Lantern "hand" drape.)

On the other hand, the suit reminds me a lot of the underrated José Ladrönn One Year Later, while reincorporating much loved classic elements like the high folded collar, "pie" symbol, and the necessary exposure of Martian flesh. The red cross straps are in there too, but that's one seminal design element DC could do with less of. All in all, it isn't perfect, but it's not too bad, either. In truth, I prefer at as a piece of design art that uses isolation to convey who the character is at heart. This would be great for an Elseworlds, too.

For more, give Daniel Irizarri's DeviantArt gallery a gander.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


When Worlds Collide is a general "thinkin' about comics" column at Comic Book Resources written by Timothy Callahan. In his December 7th, 2009 column, Callahan discussed his theory of "recoil," or WHEN CHARACTERS DON'T STICK. The basic premise was that comic book universes, whether big guys like DC & Marvel, or smaller spheres like the Kirkmanverse, inevitably form their own pantheons of archetypal characters. Once solidified, new characters must offer something entirely new or previously lacking in the universe in order to join the pantheon of successful, sustainable, respected heroes. Since between the Golden and Silver Ages, virtually every super-character type was attempted, it's nearly impossible for someone to break into the big leagues. For instance, there have long been driven vigilantes in comics, but the Punisher was such a simple, iconic presentation of the type, he ascended to archetypal status. The Hulk was already the rampaging berserker in the Marvel Universe, but he was defined by his strength and his childlike misunderstanding of the threat he posed. Wolverine usurped the Hulk in some respects by being a very guilty, knowledgeable personification of a sort of justifiable sociopathy popular with the disenfranchised. Meanwhile, Invincible is basically a Superman/Spider-Man mash-up that works far better divorced from the universes of either of his progenitors than he ever could within.

A follow-up column debuted on January 11th, 2010, in which Callahan was joined by "poet, comics writer, and author of six books for visual artists, Mr. Steven Withrow." The pair discussed "The Superhero Pantheon," taking the view that sociological and theological inclinations throughout history define the forms of "gods" we embrace, which trickles down into our comic book icons. Withrow elaborated in the second part of the series on the primary attributes the archetypes share:

The iconic-dramatic spectrum is my own variation on a set of concepts that are widely discussed in literary criticism. Alexander Danner and I explore these concepts in our book "Character Design for Graphic Novels."

I often divide the archetype into two essential parts: (1) the character as icon and (2) the character as actor. To enter the pantheon, a character must succeed in both aspects at once.

An "iconic" character is instantly identifiable and aesthetically powerful. The character's visual surface or the name alone elicits a strong response. To one person at one moment, that response might be informational: "That guy with the cape is Superman, and he can fly." Or the response might be more emotional: A flash of childhood memory or a burst of excitement.

To be iconic, or used as a corporate brand, the image must remain (relatively) static for the sake of both instant recognition and positive association. To apply this to the superhero pantheon, two characters shouldn't, as a rule of thumb, have too similar a name, costume, or abilities, for if we can't even identify them, how can we possibly identify with them?

Moreover, a character's consistent visual representation should be functional and not just decorative, immediately communicating something significant about purpose, powers, and personality.

Applying these principles to the Martian Manhunter, it's clear that the name is evocative. You know he's a not-too-distant alien being, and you know he's some sort of policeman, bounty hunter, or perhaps an assassin. Nothing wrong there, aside perhaps for the length. Unfortunately, "Martian Manhunter" indicates a real bad ass type, where J'Onn J'Onzz is introspective and of moderate temperament. What the name sells is not the actual product. Further, DC consistently dilutes the brand by constantly foisting other "Manhunters" on a disinterested public. If you're not pulling people in with the somewhat famous Manhunter from Mars, what makes you think the succession of also-ran terrestrial and robotic Manhunters will break through?

The image is the failing point. J'Onn J'Onzz looks like a well built human with a large brow and green skin. Speaking from experience, he can easily be confused with characters like the Hulk and Dragonball's Piccolo. However, even though Piccolo started out as a demon, he was retconned into being an alien because his antennae and pointy ears made him look extraterrestrial in a way Martian Manhunter does not. Further, there's nothing particularly distinctive about the Alien Atlas' costume. Worn sans body paint, a cosplayer would likely be confused for a luchador or generic super-hero. Finally, there is no real indication from the visuals of the Manhunter from Mars what he can do. The bald head and brow could indicate mental abilities, but that's negated by his brawn and near nudity. Muscles mean strong, cape means flight. Where do shape-shifting, intangibility, and J'Onn's other distinctive powers come into his design?

Combining the two, we've got a character whose visuals are too vague and recalls only the most common powers, while constantly wrestling with other unrelated "Manhunters" within his own company who actually better personify the name. That amounts to terrible marketing on DC's part.

Timothy Callahan wondered, "Do some characters lack the iconic "gene," and have no chance at iconic status? Like, for example, Red Tornado or Martian Manhunter? Or Nova? None of those characters seem to have hit the culture at large, even if they have stuck around in comics for a long time. So is this notion of the iconic-dramatic spectrum relevant to characters who last in the comic book world, or is it mostly relevant for characters who break through into the world at large?" Steven Withrow replied:

Let me take a step back and say that, in trying to connect this spectrum with archetypes and the pantheon, I've been conflating (and possibly confusing) two common meanings of the word "icon": (1) a sign or representation that stands for its object by virtue of a resemblance or analogy to it; and (2) one who is the object of great attention and devotion; an idol... Red Tornado (android elemental hero), Martian Manhunter (alien hero), and Nova (cosmic hero) meet the first definition of "icon" pretty well, but they fall short of the second definition, perhaps because their objective or symbolic intent is unclear to the mass of people who are not intimately familiar with science fiction and superhero fantasy conventions, in the sense both of genre norms and of geeky get-togethers. Or maybe these guys are just too silly-looking to inspire hero worship (though I could see the Richard Rider version of Nova making a good pitch for this under the right dramatic conditions).

What is the Martian Manhunter's point? In the '50s he was stranded on Earth, so he decided to clean up the place while he was stuck here. That's a good starting place, but he had no clear motivation for becoming a police detective outside of it being a hobby/pastime. Even taking retcons into account, becoming a cop for social acceptance is somewhat pathetic. In the '60s, he chased the Diabolu Idol-Head, but that was more a scavenger than manhunt. J'Onzz also pursued Mr. V and the criminals of Vulture, but through plodding and duplicitous means that don't register as a "manhunt." Plus, what does either have to do with his being a Martian?

In the '70s, the Martian Manhunter did next to nothing outside bringing in fellow heroes to solve the problems of himself and his people. In the '80s and '90s, he was a hybrid stand-in for Superman and Batman amongst lesser lights, often acting as their father figure. Since when do the masses want to read about super-space-daddy, lacking the Man of Steel's omnipotence as well as the Dark Knight's drive and intellectual heft? For most of his fans, he's an interesting character for whom they have affection, but who actually idolizes the Martian Manhunter? Who would model themselves after and be inspired by him?

Even if we were to colonize Mars in this century, I have a hard time believing that Martian Manhunter would suddenly become an American idol; his origin and purpose are just too fuzzy at present. He's got the "icon gene"; its just not adequately expressed to help him survive or thrive in a hostile environment. Will he adapt, disappear, or stay just as he is?

Whichever way, we'll always need secondary characters to give someone for the Big Guns to buddy with and fight against.

Despite his potential, without some radical rethinking, Withrow makes clear Martian Manhunter will always be the bridesmaid, never the bride. He's the minority partner of the hero cop whose ill-fortune inspires violent retribution. Martian Manhunter isn't in the Superhero Pantheon, but instead on the periphery of the Superfriend Zone.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

2010 "Girls are from Mars" Miss Martian art by Jemma Salume

Every now and again, I bring up Project Rooftop, an art blog focused on redesigning super-heroes through hipster doofus aesthetic and/or the liberal application of piping and/or complete disregard for the character underneath their premise-betraying reconceptualizations. For instance, if you give the DeviantArt Gallery of Jemma Salume a spin, you'll see a P:R regular put athletic/boutique store shoes on a lot of people who can fly or cast magic spells. However, I rather enjoyed her angelic, grade-school-Christmas-program take on Miss Martian when I first saw it months back.

Like Martian Manhunter, naysayers can draw unfavorably comparisons between M'gann M'orzz and a certain member of the Superman Family. However, the Earth Angel angle introduced by Peter David in the mid-90s was abandoned by Supergirl even before the Linda Danvers/Matrix incarnation was cast into the abyss to reintroduce Kara Zor-El. Playing up Miss Martian as a person of otherworldly faith, or just making her a more modest (parochial?) figure against the belly-baring Maid of Might, adds welcome flavor and variety.

As I said, I saw this months ago, and stashed it for potential use in the since aborted "Miss Martian Monday" series of posts. What inspired me to dig it out today is the news from producers on the upcoming Young Justice cartoon has the intention to play Miss Martian as the Martian Manhunter’s daughter. Obviously, that's a huge break from comics continuity as we know it, and a surprisingly mature relationship assignment! Miss Martian will operate under the leadership of the new Aqualad, Jackson Hyde, alongside Conner "Superboy" Kent, Dick "Robin" Grayson, Wally "Kid Flash" West, and an entirely new non-Amazon take on Artemis in Mission: Impossible style groupings put together by Batman. Intriguing, no?

Update: Weisman has since corrected this, saying that Miss Martian is Martian Manhunter’s niece.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

2010 Martian Manhunter Brightest Day Variant Cover by Ryan Sook & Co.

Back in June, I got all excited about what I thought was the first Martian Manhunter solo variant cover ever. In my rush of enthusiasm, I forgot to apply critical judgment, and realize artist Dave Finch was only doing the standard covers for Brightest Day. Now, DC has begun releasing variant covers featuring each of the resurrected Twelve tasked with performing labors by the White Power Entity (which never stops being hilariously wrong-headed.) Before truly being alive again, J'Onn J'Onzz must burn the Star City forest, which the Entity itself created. It's not a very exciting task, but is way better than having your second life revolve around the throwing and catching of a boomerang (which takes two undead people to accomplish!)

Anyhow, all of these White Lantern Corps covers connect to form a single cryptic image. That means web sites and message boards are buzzing to Deconstruct the Massive Biblically-Inspired White Lantern Cover Art. You know, the same way they did the two Ethan Van Sciver Countdown teasers, as well as Tony Daniels' Battle for the Cowl. Memories must be short, because not only did those mini-series suck, but the "clues" were only vaguely relevant to anything that happened in them... or worse, indicated even lousier spin-offs (see: Martian Manhunter stealth promoting the terrible Salvation Run.)

In this instance, the figures are drawn by Ryan Sook, and everyone but the Hawks are freestanding, so the placement in the collective image could be completely arbitrary. Maybe Jade is turning evil, or maybe Hawk got plugged into the wrong slot in a production department rush. Maybe Captain Boomerang being parallel to Martian Manhunter means both parties will end up in Star City, and Digger sure would make a good Green Arrow villain. However, both also line up with the Indigo Tribe compassion entity Proselyte, which is the best possible match for J'Onn, but anathema for ol' Boomerbutt (unless that's the point?) However, the entities/background was drawn by Fernando Pasarin and Joel Gomez with help from Jim Lee, so there's no guarantee the image was ever intended to interact with the foreground.

Look, it's a nice image, and when the book this cover appears on is announced, I'll note that here. I think DC should have trickled all of these out individually, or at least wait to get down to the real losers before unveiling the compete picture. That would have made more of a game of it, and given me the chance to offer more detailed information. What I will say though is that you're getting gamed if you put too much thought into what is probably another case of sizzle over steak. However, if J'Onn finds himself hooked up with Hawkgirl, that'll be a humdinger!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Justice League of America #203: "Deleted Scene"

It's always fun to use context clues to unravel inexplicit details of relationships between characters. For instance, Martian Manhunter appears to be one of the few super-heroes Green Arrow truly admires, but Ollie's kneejerk opining and swagger seems to have kept their relationship tepid. Black Canary is a sweetheart, but runs in separate circles. Manhunter's relations with Green Lantern Corpsmen have always been strained, but there is mutual respect with all the Flashes. I don't believe Hawkman ever forgave the Alien Atlas for sucker punching him back in the '70s, and although they rely on one another outside of teams, Katar is unceasingly antagonistic. The Atom, Zatanna and Elongated Man are all agreeable.

J'Onn is clearly coziest with the DC Trinity, but also has a complex connection with Aquaman. Mutual tragedy and alienation seem to draw J'Onn and Arthur to one another, but Aquaman can be very abusive and fearful of intimacy, about which J'Onn is unusually tolerant. Conversely, Martian Manhunter and Firestorm have always been mildly antagonistic and distrustful of one another, with J'Onzz handing down lectures, and Ronnie getting fresh.

Recently, The Irredeemable Shag's Firestorm Fan and Rob Kelly's The Aquaman Shrine connected their respective dots, based on conversations that took place in Justice League of America #193 & 203. Shag has a gift for drawing exclusive archival material out of creators, and netted excerpts from an original Gerry Conway script that, as he put it, "ended up on Editor Len Wein’s cutting room floor." The following is taken from Shag's excerpt of an early draft for June 1982's Justice League of America #203. The scene involves the Sea King taking the Nuclear out into open waters as part of a training exercise...

Page 2, Panel 1
Firestorm thought balloon: I wouldn’t even be here if Martian Manhunter hadn’t made me promise to be nice to Aquaman.* Apparently, Martian Green-Genes has a soft spot for the Sea King.

* NOTE: Martian Manhunter and Firestorm met recently in JLA #200 – Editor Len

That's the sum total of Martian Manhunter's involvement, which bolsters my theory about his friendship with Aquaman, but might leave you hungry for more details. Visit Firestorm Fan for the full skinny on the excised portion, of which the above was only a snippet, and visit The Aquaman Shrine for his side of the story.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

DC75: J'Onn... My family... My Family--! (Justice League America #39, 1990)

Since the 1950s, the Manhunter from Mars had lived amongst humanity, but somewhat apart from it as well. J'onn J'onzz had family on Mars in the Silver Age, but he seemed to keep them somewhat at arm's length. His closest companion for years was his pet, Zook.

In 1988, readers and J'Onn himself learned that he had been a father and husband, and thus was born the personal tragedy that has endeared the character to modern age readers. However, so few people read J'Onn's initial revelatory solo mini-series, that broader audiences only discovered his life on Mars through trickles of information in the Justice League books. Probably the most thorough look to that date came when J'Onn's memories were used against him in Justice League America #39, viciously reopening wounds J'Onzz was still struggling to process. Meanwhile, his former teammate Gypsy had just seen her own family murdered by Despero. On a hill overlooking the crime scene, as a losing battle for the League raged on further in the distance, the Martian Manhunter held the injured teenager in his arms...

"I wish I could offer you words of solace, child-- but for a tragedy of this magnitude... there are none. What I can offer is my friendship... and all the love in my heart. I won't desert you child: that I swear."

J'Onn J'Onzz had served many roles over his career. The romantic idea of a surrogate father protector, not just to Gypsy, but the League itself, was a new one. Only a few months earlier, Martian Manhunter was arguing with Batman over his desire to abandon the team to indulge in self-discovery, but his journey to "the rock of the JLA" he is often perceived as truly began here.

Check out more highlights from the past 75 years of DC Comics at The Truly Most Memorable Moments of the DC Dodranscentennial

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Batman: The Brave And The Bold #18 (August, 2010)

Reprinting the eight page lead/prelude story originally published a month earlier in DC Comics Mega Sampler 2010, "All In The Mind" picked up a few weeks later. Batman was explaining to Doctor Fate his recent feelings of feverish restlessness, disorientation, and a strange sense of compulsion. The Caped Crusader had weathered this unease for too long before seeking help, as he had been tied up with a case. "The Penny Plunderer had broken out of prison. Who know what evil he... well... probably something to do with pennies, I guess."

Dr. Fate cast a spell to see what ailed Batman, and was confronted with the pockmarked face of Ma'alefa'ak. "Fool! You force me to reveal myself? So be it." Ma'alefa'ak launched a psychic assault against the "foolish sorcerer," chiding "Your powers are weak... your gods a product of fiction and insanity." Ma'alefa'ak had taken control of Batman's mind, declaring himself "last of the true Martians," as well as his intent to continue his mission through this "shell." The Dark Knight Detective's mind fought, but was dying from the infection of the Martian's consciousness. "Once again I will command! I will conquer Earth! I will resurrect my people! I will build an empire!"

Batman's struggle and suggestion to use Fate's helm gave the Doctor the chance to recite the necessary incantation and land the helmet upon the Caped Crusader's head. Both Batman and Ma'alefa'ak entered a mental plane within the Helm of Fate to battle for the Bat-Brain. "Clever, human. But to no avail... I am Martian. My will is dominant... My psychic power is unmatched! Feel the rage of Mars, Batman! Feel the power of my mind as I crush your persona into nothingness!!" However, Fate's power had continued to work against Ma'alefa'ak, rendering his mental control moot, and allowing Batman to directly assault the Martian's psychic self. The more thuggish B:TBTB Batman relished inflicting "sympathy" pain for a page (recalling a bit from Marshall Law, although Pat Mills probably stole it from someplace himself.)

Later, Batman's liberated mind felt almost empty after weeks of Ma'alefa'ak crowding it. Dr. Fate explained that the feeling would pass, and showed the Caped Crusader the Orb of Fate within which Ma'alefa'ak's mental essence now resided. Ma'alefa'ak had been given a representation of Mars, barren save for himself, until such time as he let go of his psychopathic rage. "If he does not, he will remain alone. A ghost tormented by the memories of his dead world. I fear he may remain imprisoned for a very long time..."

I suspect writer Landry Q. Walker believed readers of the Sampler would skip the reprint portion, so he offered a lengthy text flashback to a tale that had ended only two pages prior in this edition. While not as meaty as General Ma'alefa'ak's introduction in "Life On Mars," it was good to see more of the character. His Ma'alefa'ak remains unique by virtue of combining attributes of several other Vile Menagerie members. Ma'alefa'ak's specific fixation on a resurrected Mars shows a twisted idealistic type as yet unseen in mainstream continuity, although it echos the Master Gardener and the Hyperclan's efforts. However, his pompous speechifying and dictatorial desires are also an awful lot like another familiar general, one Dru-Zod.

Another curiosity is that Ma'alefa'ak's costume is inconsistent, not only when compared to his debut, but even from panel to panel. Red straps turn blue then back again, and the same hold true for trunks of sometimes brown, sometimes blue. I could live with brown or blue boots, but then he'll turn up barefooted and totally throw me off. Worst of all, in the first tale, Ma'alefa'ak has human legs down until the cloven hooves, while in the second, his legs are like a kangaroo in need of a pedicure. Both stories were drawn by Eric Jones with colors by Heroic Age, so the blame is spread broadly amongst parties who should know better. Aside from the nitpicking though, the book looks very nice, and I remain enamored with the character design work.

Friday, August 20, 2010

CSBG's Top 75 Most Memorable Moments in DC Comics History

A few weeks ago, I urged this blogs' readers to vote for the debut of the Manhunter from Mars as one of the 100 candidates for Comics Should Be Good's Top 75 Most Memorable Moments in DC Comics History. 45,000 respondents could vote for as many choices as they liked to determine inclusion and ranking on the list. An overwhelming minority of readers bothered with the Martian Manhunter, who did not rate a single appearance on the list. Not his arrival on Earth, and not the power walk from DC: The New Frontier. Well, I never liked Brian Cronin's candidate list to begin with, but he seems to know his readers, who gave tongue baths to Superman, Batman, the Flash and Green Lantern, as could easily be predicted. Lissbirds at Comics Make Me Happy and myself have been working on an alternate list of The Truly Most Memorable Moments of the DC Dodranscentennial if you're interested, and that will continue to address the inequities of this list. However, I'd also like to get belligerent about the poll results at length right here and now.

Bottom Tier
75. Is Batman a man or a fiend from hell? (Batman #244 by Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano)
74. The Doom Patrol is defiant until the end! (Doom Patrol #121 by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani)
73. Heads roll as Superboy Prime gets mad (Infinite Crisis #4 by Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning)
72. Swamp Thing and Abby get better acquainted (Swamp Thing #34 by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben)
71. Lucifer locks up hell and gives Morpheus the key (Sandman #23 by Neil Gaiman, Kelley Jones and Malcolm Jones III)
70 Lex Luthor refuses to believe Superman is Clark Kent (Superman #2 by John Byrne and Terry Austin with Keith Williams)
69 John Stewart dooms an entire planet (Cosmic Odyssey #2 by Jim Starlin, Mike Mignola and Carlos Garzon)
68 Mogo is revealed (Green Lantern Vol. 2 #188 by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons)
67 Batman...lives! (Batman: The Dark Knight #4 by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson)
66 Animal Man can see you! (Animal Man #19 by Grant Morrison, Chas Truog and Doug Hazlewood)

There is some legitimately memorable stuff here. The sacrifice of the Doom Patrol was a big deal, especially considering the entire team perished, and that they managed to stay that way for about a decade and a half. The Swamp Thing sex scene was quite subversive in its day, and we all remember that Mogo doesn't socialize. In fact, I only disagree with four of these: Lucifer locking Hell was the plot motivation for Season of Mists, not so much a treasured moment. Nobody but myself and five other guys cared about Pantha while she was alive, and the circumstances of her death were more of a running gag that's already lost steam than a landmark. Batman has punched Ra's al Ghul many dozens of times, so I don't see what real difference his being shirtless and drawn by Neal Adams (redundant point?) makes. Finally, I feel the sticking point of Cosmic Odyssey was the moments after the detonation, not the bomb reveal.

Next to Least Tier
65. Batman strikes a pose (Batman #251 by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams)
64. Joker's first victim appears (Batman #1 by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson)
63. Batman discovers the Hyperclan's secret (JLA #3 by Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell)
62. Krypto dies (Action Comics #583 by Alan Moore, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger and an uncredited Murphy Anderson)
61. Batman accepts a new Robin (Batman #442 by Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo)
60. Batman summons the bats (Batman #406 by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli)
59. John Constantine outsmarts a trio of demons (Hellblazer #45 by Garth Ennis, Will Simpson and Tom Sutton)
58. The very first "Bwah Ha Ha" (Justice League International #8 by Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire and Al Gordon)
57. Captain Marvel saves the day...kinda (Kingdom Come #4 by Mark Waid and Alex Ross)
56. Morpheus and a demon have a contest (Sandman #4 by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg)

Here's where my complaints begin. At #65 is a Batman pin-up. Not a moment-- an oft-reprinted pin-up. Only two entries into a run, and the Neal Adams fixation already borders on the fetishistic. The White Martian reveal was at least Manhunter-related, but as with Cosmic Odyssey, it's entirely about another hero to the exclusion of J'Onn. Does anyone really remember A Lonely Place of Dying. Had this been the moment Tim Drake had revealed that he had managed to deduce and positively confirm Batman and Nightwing's identity, I wouldn't bleat. This though? Whatevs. I'm all for Captain Marvel highlights, but once again, wasn't Superman's anguished scream amidst the fallout the money shot of that Kingdom Come sequence? Finally, of all his Sandman work, Neil Gaiman is most dismissive of Preludes & Nocturnes. I tend to agree, at least until the seemingly endless as the time Kindly Ones, but I digress. I never cared for the demon battle, I doubt all that many people remember it over better moments, and I think it just drew the catch-all Sandman vote.

Minor Tier
55. The opening page of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow (Superman #423 by Alan Moore, Curt Swan and George Perez)
54. Sue Dibny is raped (Identity Crisis #2 by Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales and Michael Bair)
53. Superman flies into the sun to save it (All Star Superman #12 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely)
52. The first woman in a refrigerator (Green Lantern v3 #54 by Ron Marz, Darryl Banks and Romeo Tanghal)
51. Swamp Thing makes a discovery (Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben)
50. Animal Man meets his maker (Animal Man #25 by Grant Morrison, Chas Truog and Mark Farmer)
49. Dick Grayson loses one relationship, gain a new, unhealthy one (Detective Comics #38 by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson)
48. It ends with a wink (Action Comics #583 by Alan Moore, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger and an uncredited Murphy Anderson)
47. Wonder Woman wins the contest to go to Man's World! (All-Star Comics #8 by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter)
46. Darkseid revealed as the "big bad" of the Great Darkness Saga (Legion of Super-Heroes #293 by Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt)

Ten moments: three Alan Moore, two Grant Morrison, two violent acts against women, and the only one of them all related to the Golden Age Wonder Woman. I'm reasonably comfortable with the lot, though.

Middling Tier
45 Hal Jordan becomes Parallax (Green Lantern Vol. 3 #50 by Ron Marz, Darryl Banks and Romeo Tanghal)
44 Green Lantern learns a difficult lesson (Green Lantern Vol. 2 #76 by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams)
43 Darkseid and Batman trade blows (Final Crisis #6 by Grant Morrison and JG Jones)
42 Aquaman's son is murdered by Black Manta (Adventure Comics #452 by David Michelinie and Jim Aparo)
41 Superman expresses his frustrations at Mongul (Superman Annual #11 by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons)
40 Superman meets the cousin he didn't know he had - Supergirl! (Action Comics #252 by Otto Binder and Al Plastino)
39 Dick Grayson becomes Nightwing (Tales of the Teen Titans #44 by Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Dick Giordano and Mike DeCarlo)
38 Gordon and Batman's alliance begins (Batman #407 by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli)
37 The Justice Society of America has their first meeting (All-Star Comics #3 by Gardner Fox and Everett Hibbard)
36 Coast City is destroyed (Superman Vol. 2 #80 by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding)

This is the first portion to actually make me angry. For starters, I always thought Hal Jordon's Emerald Twilight rampage, especially the killing of Kilowog and snapping of Sinestro's neck, were far more memorable than his friggin' costume change into Parallax. Next, all the jerks on Batman's jock must really love the ridiculousness of Batman killing Darkseid, the ultimate "F-U" moment to logic in favor of fan service. Final Crisis sucked, it didn't matter, and this specific moment was the high point of low mentality. Batman shot a god with a gun. It was way better when Reed Richards only threatened to do that to Galactus forty years ago. Oh, and that totally was more memorable than the creation of Robin, you jackasses. Finally, there's the destruction of Coast City. I can accept it, but I don't care. Coast City didn't matter to anyone outside of Green Lantern fans before 1993, it was a well played tragedy for a number of years, and then it was essentially undone..

Accomplished Tier
35 Superman holds "Batman's" corpse (Final Crisis #6 by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke and, I believe, Christian Alamy, but it might also have been self-inked)
34 Sue Dibny is killed (Identity Crisis #1 by Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales and Michael Bair)
33 Rorschach enjoys prison life (Watchmen #6 by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons)
32 Terra reveals herself (Tales of the Teen Titans #34 by Marv Wolfman, George Perez and Romeo Tanghal)
31 Batman duels Ra's Al Ghul in the desert...bare-chested (Batman #244 by Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano)
30 Our introduction to Watchmen (Watchmen #1 by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons)
29 Hot shot District Attorney Harvey Kent gets a face full of acid (Detective Comics #66 by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos)
28 Superman reveals his secret identity to Lois Lane (Action Comics #662 by Roger Stern and Bob McLeod)
27 The Justice League and the Justice Society meet for the first time! (Justice League of America Volume 1 #21 by Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs)
26 Frank Miller adds a little extra to Batman's origin (Batman: The Dark Knight #1 by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson)

Yes, Batman was obviously really dead there. Screw me gently with a chainsaw, that is a travesty. The murder of Martian Manhunter seemed real, much more likely permanent, and had lots of people up in arms. The "death" of Batman was a blatant last minute stunt to compete with the more impactful but barely longer term death of Captain America at Marvel. Also, another pause to masturbate over topless Batman fighting papa bear Ra's al Ghul in the desert with big phallic instruments. Superman revealing his identity to Lois Lane for the first time that "counted" always felt like too little too late, which is why the next step to grab sales was to kill off Superman. Finally, while there's plenty of great moments in The Dark Knight Returns, adding a pearl necklace to the deaths of the Waynes isn't remotely one of them. This blog is my operating table, and people who voted for Final Crisis will be my patients.

Major Tier
25 Superman races the Flash (Superman #199 by Jim Shooter, Curt Swan and George Klein)
24 Joker gets in one last joke (Batman: The Dark Knight #3 by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson)
23 Wonder Woman does not see eye-to-eye on things with Maxwell Lord (Wonder Woman Vol. 2 #219 by Greg Rucka, Rags Morales and so many inkers I honestly do not know who inked these pages)
22 The Red Hood takes off the hood (Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland)
21 Dr. Manhattan silences Rorschach (Watchmen #12 by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons)
20 Hal first recites his oath (Showcase #22 by John Broome, Gil Kane and Joe Giella)
19 Superman returns (Kingdom Come #1 by Mark Waid and Alex Ross)
18 Barry Allen has a little accident (Showcase #4 by Robert Kanigher, Julie Schwartz, Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert)
17 Earth-2 is discovered! (Flash #123 by Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella)
16 Blue Beetle is defiant in the face of death (Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1 by Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Judd Winick, Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning)

I'm not a big Kingdom Come fan, so I pose a question to those who are: Superman returns? Really? That did it for you? It was so inevitable and the build-up so modest, I got nothing out of that. I also find it kind of sickening that their are two neck-snapping scenes in a row. This is Wonder Woman's finest hour: uncharacteristically killing a guy she barely knew who has since been resurrected, and when there were tons of alternatives available to her?

Penultimate Tier
15 Batman and Joker share a laugh (Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland)
14 Batman takes down Superman (Batman: The Dark Knight #4 by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson)
13 Abin Sur finds a replacement (Showcase #22 by John Broome, Gil Kane and Joe Giella)
12 Bruce Wayne loses a window, gains an identity (Detective Comics #33 by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Sheldon Moldoff)
11 The Waynes take a night stroll (Detective Comics #33 by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Sheldon Moldoff)
10 Bane breaks Batman's back (Batman #497 by Doug Moench and Jim Aparo)
9 "One Punch!" (Justice League #5 by Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire and Al Gordon)
8 Jason Todd is beaten nearly to death by the Joker (Batman #427 by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo)
7 Green Arrow's ward is a junkie?!!? (Green Lantern #85 by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams)
6 Ozymandias' plan goes into effect (Watchmen #11 by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons)

Of course Batman's fabled and constantly misinterpreted "take down" of Superman would rank high amongst the fanboys. For the record, a reticent Superman was handling his best friend Batman with kid gloves. Meanwhile the Dark Knight was in a super-suit and joined by Green Arrow in throwing everything they had at the Man of Steel. They managed to do real damage in a short, overwhelming offensive, but Batman knew he couldn't seal the deal, which was why he'd already planned his own death. Aside from that and Bane's breaking of Batman ranking much too high, this one is alright. Batman fans have long ruled the roost at CBR, so this makes sense.

Final Tier
5. Death of Supergirl (Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 by Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Dick Giordano and Jerry Ordway)
4. Baby Superman speeds away from his dying home planet in a rocket ship (Action Comics #1 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster)
3. Barry Allen makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the Multiverse (Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 by Marv Wolfman, George Perez and Jerry Ordway)
2. Superman dies (Superman Vol. 2 #75 by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding)
1. Joker shoots Barbara Gordon (Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland)

Death, death, murder, kill... ooh, a baby! What a bloodthirsty lot. I'm just morbid enough to find humor in the sexualized paralyzing of Barbara Gordon as the great moment in 75 years of DC history. This explains a lot.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

DC Comics Mega Sampler 2010 (July)

I never cared much for "the comic shop experience" as a fan, and after eight years of making that happen professionally, it should come as no surprise I now get most of my books via mail order. This was the first year I realized I could buy those Free Comic Book Day giveaways online, which explains the stack of books costing less than four bits each I spent months working my way through. Somehow, I missed the DC Kids offering, which didn't weigh heavily on my mind, until commentators and email writers kept pointing out that it happened to feature the debut of the Batman: The Brave and The Bold Martian Manhunter. It even got to the point where the story's writer, Landry Q. Walker, dropped me a line. "I know you didn't care for the cover in the upcoming regular issue, and as we also play very fast and loose with the mythos of the character... I suspect you may not like the story at all. But I figured I should let you know regardless."

Walker refers to my criticism of the solicitation copy for B:TB&TB #18, but I was really just grouchy we hadn't confirmed Manhunter's resurrection by that point. No, my gripe now is that I prepaid for my copy of that issue only to see the advertised story given away in advance of its intended publication date, printed on glossier paper stock. I got some new Martian content in the pay issue though, which allows me two posts off the one book, so  I'll shut up.  I picked up the FCBD book a week late, amongst a stack of leftovers that were exclusively kid friendly (mostly Archie,) which doesn't bode well for the industry's future. I guess there's always Halloween to try again...

Batman offered captions detailing the most current canonical origin of Martian Manhunter as the two heroes made their way into a warehouse. The Caped Crusader's method was to kick down a gate, while J'Onn went immaterial, the start of a divergence from the mainstream norm.  "A White Martian-- General Ma'alefa'ak-- recently crashed his spaceship on Earth. He was captured by the military, imprisoned and interrogated. And now he's free. Which means the entire world in in danger."

Martian Manhunter could sense Ma'elefa'ak's presence, but it was masked somehow. Batman cut off his thought, having found clay that led the pair to S + C (Samachson & Certa Research.) Inside were mindwiped scientists lying about, amongst which Batman found a small but strangely heavy device. "H'ronmeer's Ghost! It's a telepathic booster! I... I know what Ma'elefa'ak is planning. I... can sense it... We must go... now!"

Batman knew all Martians were dead save two-- shapeshifters, psychics, invulnerable and intangible. "The normal rules of life and death don't necessarily apply to them. Typical. I spend my life learning how to incapacitate a criminal with a single punch... and nine times out of ten, my enemies are immune to physical harm."

At the sophisticated base store-housing Ma'elefa'ak's crashed ship, Martian Manhunter explained its technology could increase the general's telepathy a thousandfold. Both heroes were shocked when the telepathic booster they'd found transformed into Ma'elefa'ak himself. "I can influence minds, J'Onn. Even yours. Why else would you have come to a place you knew I could not reach. You carried me past the security points and the laser fences. All the way to my goal. To my salvation."

Mojojo Manhunter pleaded with Ma'elefa'ak to live in peace with humanity, but the general was set on reviving Mars through a reversal that would kill every human. "Imagine it, J'Onn: our people will awaken. We will rebuild the Citadel of H'ronmeer! With Earth and all its resources at our disposal, we will conquer the galaxy. We will spread across the cosmos like a plague, enslaving all who stand in our way!"

Ma'elefa'ak had swatted Batman aside to focus on Martian Mojo, unleashing a crippling psychic wave of imagery. It was brief though, as the Caped Crusader removed a piece of equipment from Ma'elefa'ak's ship that neutralized its psychic relays. Although J'O J'O J'Onzz begged his brother to stop, Ma'elefa'ak refused to surrender "until... this world... dies," causing himself to combust.

Batman knew J'Onn was saddened by his inability to rehabilitate and save Ma'elefa'ak, but Martian Manhunter explained the matter. "Ma'elefa'ak and I are the last of the Martians. We survived while the rest of our people shifted to dust. We have not seen the last of him." Batman tried to argue that Ma'elefa'ak had been disintegrated to atoms, but Martian Manhunter repeated, "We have not seen the last of him" while fading to invisibility.

A Bat-Signal lit up the sky. "Here's hoping it's something simple. Straightforward. Something I can punch."

Landry Q. Walker's script leaves out some important connections, but I assume the "dead" Martians had literally turned to immobile dust, and needed something like Earth's oceans to revive them. It's an interesting angle, and like a lot of writers, Walker prefers to play with the cannon rather than recite it. Unlike most though, he seems like a genuine fan with a working knowledge of Martian Manhunter as a soloist. For instance, General Ma'alefa'ak isn't just a kid safe tweak of Malefic, but a seemingly deliberate mingling of Commander Blanx, the Marshal, Protex and maybe even the Master Gardener. Even though Martian Manhunter has little to do here, either Walker is a diehard fan, or has intuited a wavelength of the character favored around here.

As I said before, the eight page "Life On Mars" debuted the latest animation-style Martian Manhunter, and despite my previous mocking, it's my favorite cartoon translation of the character to date. I never fully warmed to the doughy Timmverse design aesthetic, plus I hated the stupid upturned Vision collar on Justice League. The chin on Matsuda's The Batman was completely out of control, while Justice League: The New Frontier gave the Alien Atlas those freaky Cooke eyebrows. Here, artist Eric Jones hewed faithfully to the DC style guide Martian Manhunter beloved from the Super Powers Collection through One Year Later. I really like the well defined, slightly angular anatomy of B:TB&TB, especially Manhunter's sick tight thighs/knees. Looked at straight on, Manhunter still resembles Mojo Jojo, but in profile J'onzz's head is much more rectangular. His brow alone isn't as pronounced as one might expect, but the disproportionate head gets the alienness across. The Martian Marvel is also given a flat, hooked nose and a kooky chin that sets him apart. Still, Mojo J'onn J'onzz sounds cool to me.

If you're interested in reading about the rest of the issue, I discussed it in my foul-mouth review column at ...nurgh...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

DC75: Daddy Is Dead, Child (Justice League America #38, 1990)

While everyone else was busy scowling and dredging up traumatic childhood memories, the Justice League International franchise was laughing all the way to the bank. Denied proven commercial heroes due to iconic revamps and the distaste of overly series fellow creators, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis instead sold the idea of heroes paling around like real people to a buying public starved for something different. Utilizing the gift for facial expression of artist Kevin Maguire, Giffen & DeMatteis cast lesser-knowns in the first successful comic book super-hero situational comedy. The formula hit a speed bump two years in with the departure of Maguire, but a reasonable enough facsimile was found a few months later in the young Adam Hughes.

While the JLI often touched on darker themes, the nature of the characters and the book itself never allowed the proceedings to become especially grim. While this kept the tone light, it also meant attempts at deeper character work were brushed off as set-ups for a gag, limiting the book's story potential. Perhaps sensing a leash forming, Giffen and DeMatteis began stealthily asserting their right to go dark.

In an issue which had begun with five page Spy magazine parody, a savage beast was introduced. This was the hulking Despero with a fin-mohawk, revitalized in the waning days of the previous Justice League of America as a force to be reckoned with, but little exposed to date. Readers presumably took one look at a nude pink alien roaming around, and waited for the jokes to start.

It would be a long wait. Despero found one member of the old League in a vegetative state, and ended his sad existence. Bodies were strewn about, one victim had a slightly goofy look of surprise, but there was nothing funny about this. Despero located the home of another former Leaguer, murdered her family, then arranged the bodies in natural looking positions. The retired heroine Gypsy came home with schoolbooks in hand, distracted by her daily business, until being greeted by the dawning realization that her entire family was dead.

Adam Hughes had a gift for mood Kevin Maguire had lacked, which was exploited to the fullest extent by this script-flipping move by Giffen & DeMatteis. Suddenly, after three years of readers taking for granted that everything in a JLI adventure would turn out alright, they were confronted with real stakes and deadly consequences. The actual body count turned out to be fairly low, with no other recognized characters perishing, but the threat left an impression on readers from then on. The story elevated the book from good fun to monumental, established Despero as one of the premier DC villains, and elevated the Martian Manhunter's viability as a commercial character. As an unfortunate side effect, Giffen & DeMatteis then struggled to restore the humor of the series, going too broad, and soon hobbled when no suitable replace could be found once Hughes moved on. A creative high point for the team also proved something of a terminal prognosis, leading to the end of their era.

Check out more highlights from the past 75 years of DC Comics at The Truly Most Memorable Moments of the DC Dodranscentennial

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Brave and the Bold Annual #1 (2001)

Marvel Comics loved them some reprint books. Where DC would stick their yellowed catalog stories behind original material, Marvel was just as likely to run a reprint under a new cover in place of solicited material past its deadline (or else moldy inventory stories from the files.) With the invention of an integrated universe and serialized stories, readers actually appreciated paying good money to finally see tales they'd heard referenced in editor's notes, but were unable to find themselves in the days before comic shops. Marvel managed to sell a number of long-lived series devoted solely to their old crap. DC tried this a few times, but in an age where their first run material wasn't especially competitive, what chance did dated sci-fi yarns and unfamiliar legacy progenitors in man-girdles have? Among DC's few successes in all reprint books that come to mind were "best of" digests and, back in the '60s, their annuals.

With the increased availability of back issues in the '80s, Marvel had to think of new ways to slake their thirst for double-dipping revenue streams. They came up with "Masterpiece Editions," recolored Silver Age material printed on glossy archival paper that was then hardbound. The high quality presentation afforded Marvel the opportunity to charge entirely unreasonable amounts of money for the things, because most of the "sophisticated" Bronze/Modern fan was too busy ridiculing Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko's seminal work to literally pay the desired tribute. DC wanted a piece of that action, and the "Archive Edition" was born. Still, DC was bummed about not getting to exploit their library as fully as Marvel had, so somebody had the idea of reverse engineering the work done for the archives back into '60s style fake "annuals," except in the squarebound "prestige" format on cheaper paper. Of course, DC had undercut interest in such reprints by negating their canonical relevance in the wake of their late '80s revamps, and the initiative withered away after a relatively short stay.

For the most part, annuals were monopolized by Superman and Batman until the Bronze Age, so The Brave and the Bold never got one during its run, but this retroactive replica was put together as a gag "1969" edition.

Comic books haven't always been 32-page magazines. During the Golden Age of comics, most issues were 64 pages in length before shrinking to 52, then 48, and, finally, to the current standard of 32 pages. Beginning in the 1960s into the early '70s, DC Comics regularly published the fondly remembered 80-Page Giants. These mammoth compilations were everything their name implied, filled with classic reprints that spanned the company's rich and varied publishing history.

What if there HAD existed one more 80-Page Giant featuring DC's important super-hero team-up book of the '60s, The Brave and the Bold; a "lost" issue that had never seen print...?

Under a new but retro cover by Dick Giordano was a Batman/Flash team-up from issue sixty-seven by Bob Haney and Carmine Infantino, the latter an artist well-associated with both heroes. Then came a Golden Age Boy Commandos strip from Detective Comics #76 by Kirby and Joe Simon. At the rear was an especially amusing conceit, the crime-fighting duo of Captain Atom and Nightshade battling Punch & Jewelee. Captain Atom #85 was published by Charlton Comics over fifteen years before DC Comics would acquire the rights to the old Action Heroes line.

Most importantly for our purposes, the lead feature and primary focus of cover space was "Wanted--The Capsule Master!", the first TB&TB team-up, starring the Green Arrow and the Manhunter from Mars. Pre-dating The Brave and the Bold Team-Up Archives Volume One by four years, this was the first reprint of the story since 1974's The Brave and The Bold #114, and the only time it had been presented unaltered in its entirety since 1963. As DVD had done for movies, readers who once only had access to the 1974 "cut" of the story were treated to a "deleted scene..."

Where Manhunter had previously returned to his secret mountain headquarters to check his computer records for exposition, the original version was an entirely different trip. "The Robot Brain, with which the late Professor Erdel accidentally brought me to Earth... I must use it once more to return to Mars!" Although J'onn J'onzz had been stranded on Earth for seven years due to complications related to the Robot Brain, Dr. Alvin Reeves had finally managed to repair it in Detective Comics #301. "Complex circuits hum, teleporting the Alien Sleuth across the void of space, on an incredible journey to his home planet..."

Manhunter was told by the All-Martian Council that Vulkor was an "arch-criminal recently escaped from long imprisonment!" Further, "Our scientists developed a super-weapon to defend our planet... Vulkor stole the only working model, which was destroyed when he was captured in a furious fight! We have never been able to duplicate the weapon-- it is gone forever! Without it, Vulkor is no real threat to us!" The Sleuth from Outer Space countered that the abilities the Martian criminals had acquired on Earth, as well as Vulkor's atom-powered capsule, made them a menace anew. "Since we have no official relations with Earth, we cannot send our space police to help you!" The Alien Atlas knew it was up to himself to "bring Vulkor to Justice, with the help of my Earth ally-- Green Arrow!"

Back in Star City, the archers were on patrol in their Arrow-Car. Green Arrow fumed "No sign of Vulkor and his bunch anywhere!" Speedy moaned, "All the same, I wish the Manhunter were back! Our new arrows look great-- but how will they work against that alien menace?"

With the roar of the boxy Arrow-Car speeding on, the scene dissolves back into the version from TB&TB #114...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Martian Sightings for November, 2010

1:10 Variant covers by IVAN REIS
Don’t miss the hottest event in comics as BRIGHTEST DAY continues with the search for a new White Lantern. And Martian Manhunter returns to Mars as we discover the origin of the creature mysteriously stalking him. Plus, the evil within Firestorm now haunts Professor Stein! And Hawkman: betrayed!
Retailers please note: These issues ship with two covers each. Please see the Previews Order Form for more information.
Issue #13 on sale NOVEMBER 3
Issue #14 on sale NOVEMBER 17
32 pg, FC, $2.99 US
With Pat Gleason taking over art on Batman and Robin, will he continue on the Martian Manhunter segment? Did the schedule give him enough lead time to finish? Notice how this is a rare instance where the solicits reference J'Onn's story, and I still don't care?

Spotlighting Martian Manhunter and Firestorm – two heroes who returned after BLACKEST NIGHT as the BRIGHTEST DAY dawned in the DC Universe! First, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold guest-star in a story from MARTIAN MANHUNTER #24, while three travelers seek answers on Mars in the distant future in a tale from issue #11. Then, in an epic from FIRESTORM #11-13, Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond clash for the first time as they battle some of their greatest foes.
On sale 10 • 96 pg, FC, $7.99 US
The Firestorm issues make sense, and I guess that was a popular if totally unrelated Manhunter story. Way to not pay for a cover, DC!

Written by MATT WAGNER
Eisner Award-nominated artist Amy Reeder returns for the amazing series finale! Set in the New York City of 1966, Madame Xanadu and her new protégé, Charlotte Blackwood, ponder what the future may hold. According to The Phantom Stranger, they stand on the edge of a new age – and the coming of a familiar team of heroes…
I smell a cameo!

They’re back for a reason.
Comics’ biggest event continues as BRIGHTEST DAY burns away the BLACKEST NIGHT! In this best-selling follow-up, the white light has resurrected twelve heroes and villains. Though the exact reasons for their rebirths remain a mystery, each is destined to play an intricate role in the future of the DC Universe.
Written by award-winning writers Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi, BRIGHTEST DAY sets the stage for the next exciting era of the DC Universe.

Martian Manhunter: 6.75” h
Hawkman: 6.75” h
Firestorm: 6.75” h
Mera: 6.5” h
All four figures feature multiple points of articulation and include a display base.
Character-appropriate accessories are also included.
4-color clamshell blister card packaging.
On sale April 6, 2011 * Action Figures * PI

Jemm, Son of Saturn
The super citizens of New Krypton face an attack from a newly freed Brainiac, and it’ll take all their might – along with Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes — to survive the onslaught! This hardcover collects SUPERMAN: THE LAST STAND OF NEW KRYPTON #3, ADVENTURE COMICS #10-11, SUPERGIRL #52 and SUPERMAN #699!
On sale JANUARY 12 • 128 pg, FC, $19.99 US
J'emm's still out of character, but his appearance is pretty good and very relevant to far future events.

Miss Martian
Art and cover by ART BALTAZAR
Aw yeah! The first rule of Pet Club is…we don’t talk about Pet Club! That’s right! Josie and the Pussycats get an invitation to join the Pets! Will Archie’s favorite band survive the experience? Find out what happens when the Dance Party at the Tiny Titans Tree House turns into a costume party! It’s Batusi time!
On sale 10 • 2 of 3 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US
Offered without comment.

Art and cover by ART BALTAZAR
The Look-A-Like Issue! Did you ever wonder why Superboy and Zatara look the same? Well, the Tiny Titans do! What would happen if they switched costumes? Would anyone notice? Would Superboy become a magician? Would Zatara be able to fly without a cape? The answers lie within this issue!
On sale 17 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

The Vile Menagerie\
Written by TONY BEDARD
In this new R.E.B.E.L.S. collection featuring issues #10-14, the resurrected villains of the Black Lantern Corps battle The Sinestro Corps — with the R.E.B.E.L.S. caught in the middle! Meanwhile, Vril Dox and his team of renegades plot to stop Starro the Conqueror once and for all…
On sale DECEMBER 15 • 144 pg, FC, $17.99 US
The trade in which Vril Dox regrows Despero's penis. Didn't you know that's why he hated the Justice League so much? Did you see genitals during his naked JLI rampages? Vril Dox: Intergalactic Piece through inflated pieces.

Doctor Trap
Art and cover by J.H. WILLIAMS III and MICK GRAY
Cameron Chase, agent of the Department of Extranormal Affairs, is introduced in the debut issue of her cult-favorite DCU series! Plus, family secrets are revealed in a tale from issue #6 – and the Dark Knight guest stars in the two-part story “Shadowing the Bat,” from issues #7-8. Featuring the spectacular art of J.H. Williams III!
On sale 3 • 96 pg, FC, $7.99 US
Martian Manhunter has important cameos, his ongoing series supporting player Agent Chase stars, and mutual enemy Dr. Trap makes his debut. Chase deserves a comprehensive trade, but this works as a perfect sampler. Recommended.

Doomsday & Mongul
Written by JOE KELLY
Art and cover by ED BENES
It’s open season on the World’s Finest as it looks like all their worst enemies have joined forces to take down both Batman and Superman. Who could possibly be behind this carefully coordinated attack?
On sale 17 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

They're not real. So you know.

Doomsday & Bloodwynd (For Reals)
Written by LEN WEIN
1:25 Variant cover by BRIAN BOLLAND
The unthinkable happens at the heart of the DC Universe when the world’s most beloved hero – Superman – dies defending us all from Doomsday! Meanwhile, Brian Bolland takes us into the Time Pool with The Atom, leaving him face-to-face with the Demon in Camelot!
Retailers please note: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the Previews Order Form for more information.
On sale 17 • 7 of 10 • 40 pg, FC $3.99 US

Consider: Bane vs. Doomsday? That whole "Batman could take Superman" thing sounds pretty stupid when couched in those terms, eh? Also, Bloodwynd lives on in reruns thanks to Superman's enormously hyped TKO nap.

R.E.B.E.L.S #22
Written by TONY BEDARD
“To Be a R.E.B.E.L.,” part 2! As the R.E.B.E.L.S. openly challenge the Green Lantern Corps for the hearts and minds of the galaxy, Starfire learns the horrifying truth about the Psions – the alien race that destroyed her people.
On sale 10 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US
He's in there-- just past the enormous breasts...

Vandal Savage
Co-feature written by NICK SPENCER
Co-feature art by RB SILVA & DENIS FRIETAS
Lex Luthor has had an incredibly difficult time of it lately, what with fighting master assassin Deathstroke, avoiding being eaten by Gorilla Grodd, and even meeting Death herself! Now he’s finally back at his office in Metropolis, so he can relax a little bit – oh shoot, Lex, watch out for Vandal Savage and that axe!
In the Jimmy Olsen co-feature, Superman’s pal has to convince a bunch of bloodthirsty aliens that Earth is too boring and staid to host the universe’s biggest (and most destructive) party. But how exactly is he going to do that? (Everyone, put on a bow tie!)
On sale 24 • 40 pg, FC $3.99 US

Damn it! I just did a slew of top cover countdowns, and DC is doing their best to make them immediately outdated! Last month Dave Finch painted a boss Lobo cover, this month sees one of the best Lady Shiva covers ever, and now here's Vandal Savage taking an ax to Lex Luthor! Yes, I'm as surprised as you are I just applauded two Dave Finch covers.