Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Brightest Day's Done

One Year Later... and we find ourselves on the eve of the conclusion of one of the best selling and most important series of the decade... BRIGHTEST DAY! Twelve characters resurrected at the end of Blackest Night, including our own Martian Manhunter, sent on missions by a benevolent force that would evoke shock waves throughout the DC Universe! Professor Zoom, Jade, Osiris, Maxwell Lord, Captain Boomerang, Hawk and Deadman each used to launch new series, relaunch old ones, or elevated to a level of prominence never before seen in their history! Four more heroes were broken down and remade into elementals by the White Lantern to combat the greatest evil of all time, and their individual fan blogs have chosen today to celebrate!

The Aquaman Shrine has been there every other week, chronicling the glorious resurgence of the Sea King! After literally decades of abuse and neglect, Aquaman and Mera are the power couple of the DCU, with an upcoming spin-off series by the white hot creative team of Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis! There's also a new Aqualad who expands the racial diversity of comics and co-stars in the Young Justice cartoon series!

Being Carter Hall has also regularly championed the Winged Wonders' adventures in the title! The version of Hawkgirl made popular in the Justice League Unlimited animated series is finally back, and married to the classic interpretation of Hawkman! The curse that has haunted the characters since their first appearance in 1940 has finally been lifted, their oldest foe served his ultimate defeat, and revelations about Hawkgirl's mother will surely echo for years to come!

Firestorm Fan may well have the most to be excited about of us all! The Nuclear Man of both the '80s Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians and the '00s Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoons have combined to form the perfect matrix! Ronnie Raymond has moved beyond being an alcoholic hero, and out of the shadow of his partnership with Martin Stein! Jason Rusch, who has already proven himself as a solo act, is now the brains behind Ronnie's experienced brawn, and the pair have made Firestorm strong enough to face the Black Lanterns and the Anti-Monitor!

Finally, there's the Manhunter from Mars, who now has pants! That's right, we all know who wears the pants now, and it's J'Onn J'Onzz! Pants... and a cabochon! This is the most radical reworking of the character since 2006! Not as radical, but the most since!

Back in November, Newsarama ran a poll asking BRIGHTEST DAY Halfway Point - What's the Best Story? The top spot went to "Aquaman, Mera, Aqualad, and friends" with 1,789 votes taking 44.94%. They were followed by Deadman, Firestorm, then Martian Manhunter with less than 8% and 314 votes. I guess we're lucky they didn't run Hawk & Dove as an option to pull a Ralph Nader on the Alien Atlas. I can't really argue with the results, because I pretty much agree that the Manhunter story was the single most pointless of the lot.

What really came out of J'Onn J'Onzz's appearances in this book? A new villain, once hyped as his greatest ever? Aren't they all? At least once a decade another "unique" survivor of Mars shows up to try their hand as an arch-nemesis. Commander Blanx in the '60s, Re's Eda in the '70s, the Marshal in the '80s, the Master Gardener and Malefic in the '90s, Cay'an in the '00s and now D'Kay D'Razz? Hell, even of that dubious lot, D'Kay is the least. Malefic and Blanx took on the JLA. The Master Gardener defeated the Justice Society and briefly conquered the world. Even Cay'an managed to ace some White Martians. What did D'Kay D'Razz do? Kill a bunch of random humans who existed solely to be killed? Beat up Miss Martian?

Actually, how sad is it that the first meaningful interaction between M'gann M'orzz and J'Onn J'Onzz in the five years since her creation was the result of D'Kay banging the woman's head into the refrigerator a few times? That was good for a handful of dialogue balloons and a splash page between a couple of issues. How about the way D'Kay cast an illusion over J'Onn's mind for an issue or two? When you work it out by page count, how much longer did D'Kay have a grip as compared to, say, Bette Noir? Plus, she was pretty unambiguously and unnecessarily graphically endeadened, so the time wasted in her build-up to nothing would only be topped by the grating stupidity of explaining a return appearance. Why bother, when General B'add A'zz is coming in 2021?

Oh wait, how about that daring new wrinkle in the origin of the Alien Atlas? Like how we found out that J'Onn was actually an exiled political leader during a civil war? Or that Professor Erdel didn't have a heart attack from shock, but was actually murdered by the robot brain? Or how Erdel was actually alive, and that every solo Manhunter story before 1985 was a false mental implant? Or that Erdel really was dead, but he was killed by an explosion after using Martian technology he'd excavated rather than invented to teleport J'Onzz? So now Erdel accidentally brought a different Martian to Earth first, then intentionally brought J'Onzz to stop the first one, and Erdel did die, but he secretly had a daughter who didn't, but she had a brain injury keep her under wraps all these years until she could serve as an expository device? That's the ticket! That's gold, Jerry! Gold! True daring would be to leave the damned origin alone instead of complicating and contradicting it at every turn. True daring would be to tell an actual new story, unburdened by baggage!

Remember the episode of That 70s Show when Donna gave Eric a huge ring as a present, and then there was the dream sequence where the gang appeared as quasi-Super Friends? From a monitor screen, Batman learns Lex Luthor is deploying an army of cyborg were-zombies on Washington D.C., and the Justice League has gathered to stop them, but first he has to talk to the Martian Manhunter about that enormous cabochon! "If it gets knocked off your chest in battle, the weight could throw the Earth off its axis!" Then Superman grabs J'Onn by the collar and demands "Bloodwynd, give up this game!" Then the lawyers for the owners of Speed Racer serve a cease and desist notice on the unauthorized use of the Mach 5's stylized "M" in the latest attempt to come up with a marketable Martian icon. I guess after co-starring in House of Mystery with Robby Reed, somebody subconsciously drew a parallel between the H-Dial and the Mach Five's steering wheel hub. It's like playing "Six Degrees of Derivation."

I guess three out of four major features coming out of Brightest Day improved is a pretty good ratio, and I'm happy for my fellow bloggers. Geoff Johns became a fan darling by looking at the whole of iconic characters and their history, taking a holistic approach to each property. He balanced the science fiction of Katar Hol and the immortal warrior of Carter Hall. His Aquaman favors the Silver and Bronze ages, but the modern is clearly acknowledged. He's the guy who got all the Firestorms and Flashes and Green Lanterns to work together. It just bums be out that his Martian Manhunter might as well have been created in 1996 by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter, and forget all the rest of it...


mathematicscore said...

You know, I enjoyed the MM portions, but I think you've nailed it in that this was THE definitive take on the character. It's just something else we'll have to deal with when we finally get "All-Star Martian Manhunter" or whatever it will be called.

*Le sigh*

Also; "General B'add A'zz"

Diabolu Frank said...

Gimme. I can do that.

Luke said...

I thought that your post sounded too enthusiastic when I first started reading it, heh.

Frank, I understand your complaints about the lack of cohesion in the Manhunter's story compared to the other three "major" arcs of the series. It started out on a very thought provoking track, with the resurrection of Mars, and ultimately veered away from that to have another romp with another evil Green Martian. This is ground which has been covered before, of course. And D'Kay, while somewhat different from her compatriots, really she was just another evil Green Martian when you get right down to it. And barring some unforseen ability to plant a seed of her mind into another organism or something, she's all well and dead, as you say.

I would say that the Manhunter's story was less about introducing some new element to his character (like the idea of Mera's original mission to Earth, Chay-era's evil mother, or the new dynamic of the Firestorm matrix), but rather in reseting his baseline as a springboard. The ultimate purpose was to have J'Onn choose, right? Earth or Mars, once and for all? Much like a lot of folks seem to think that Superman must be boring because he is so powerful, when you have a character named "Martian Manhunter" the first inclination for some people is to think that he is a guy who defends Mars. Doesn't make any sense to me either but there you go.

Since you mentioned Grant Morrison let me add a play on something he said once. When the JLA title was launched, Morrison said something along the lines of Aquaman not being the hero of the seas, but the hero from the seas. I'd like to think that Martian Manhunter could be the hero from space, especially since Superman doesn't want that title. The Hero From Space who has chosen Earth as his New Home to defend. Now, you could spin this off however you want; I have a pet story idea involving VULTURE and the Idol-Head being updated for modern times but that's just one direction. Unfortunately we have to wait and see how things will develop.

I will say this. I have not read nearly as many Manhunter stories as you. Not even a fraction of them. And I enjoyed the Manhunter's story quite a bit. I imagine that my experience is similar for a lot of readers. Even if it was not as exciting as the Aquaman story, I looked forward to seeing the Manhunter in the title and hope to see more of him in the future. I want to see the Manhunter become truly one of the Earth's greatest heroes and not just the token Justice League guy. I think you want that too, yes?

One little thing. I really dig the idea of the chunk of Martian rock on his costume. That speaks to me.

(PS: I am reading the novelization of the awesome sci-fi noir film Dark City. The character of Detective Bumstead reminds me greatly of J'Onn. Neat, analytical, intelligent, brave, and not afraid to mix it up. That's how I would concoct a Martian Manhunter story -- lantern jawed detective who finds the bizarre and insane hidden beneath the mundane seediness of The City.)

Diabolu Frank said...

"The ultimate purpose was to have J'Onn choose, right? Earth or Mars, once and for all?"

Luke, I believe that was indeed the purpose, which means the whole endeavor started out on a false premise.

Until 1968, John Jones clearly chose Earth. Every time he had the chance to return to Mars, he chose to remain here. It was dressed up in irony sometimes, but there were too many opportunities not taken to believe otherwise. Heck, Bob Haney wrote a story where J'onn could return to Mars at will in the '60s that was never refuted. It wasn't until Mars' destruction, and the duty of shepherding the survivors to a new home was thrust upon him, that J'onn reluctantly left Earth. Then, when those survivors were tricked into invading Earth, J'onn chose Earth over Mars permanently.

Cut to the post-Crisis, and there are slim-to-no other Martian survivors except J'Onn. Yes, J'Onzz spends a lot of time remembering Mars and wanting to quit the super-hero biz to just "be" Martian, but we all know that's just a wistful notion. Mars is dead. Martians are dead. There is no choice but Earth, and J'Onn made it 56 years ago. Not only is it a moot point, but after a couple of years of New Krypton, it's one already belabored by Geoff Johns & company with Superman. Do not want.

Your ideas about a revised Vulture or Idol-Head are automatically better than Brightest Day, because like every elemental but J'Onn, they would have legitimized his Silver Age history while building on its foundation. J'Onn isn't the hero from space. He's the off-brand Superman with no cannon, no consistent villains or supporting cast, and the same recycled plot since 1988. He's a big green cipher. There's nothing beyond the brow and a few additional powers.

I'm glad you enjoyed the story, and you're not alone. The extremely similar 1998 series has a lot of fans, and I was making the same complaint after that launched. Call it a Cassandra complex, but I get so tired of hearing about the love people have for J'Onn's consistently, crushingly unrealized potential.

LissBirds said...

I was going to say that J'onn already chose Earth over Mars in the Silver Age, but Frank beat me to it.

I love how much mileage you're getting out of the word "cabochon," might I add...and I was wondering why you were so darn cheery in the beginning of your post...

What bugged me the most about Brightest Day was that, like Frank said, Geoff Johns was able to take several characters back to their initial identity, or something close enough in spirit to resemble that, and J'onn wasn't brought back anywhere near his roots. He just went through the motions in a rehashed version of the miniseries with Cay'an. (Or Ca'yan...however it's spelled. It's not worth looking up.)

The day somebody at DC figures out that J'onn J'onzz was conceived to be a DETECTIVE is the day we start moving in the right direction. It's the only thing setting him apart from Superman.

The Irredeemable Shag said...

Frank - Great coverage, including the comments! As usual, your post completely cracked me up! Your character-by-character analysis finishing with the SHOCKING Martian Manhunter changes had me in stitches!

Personally I think it was a toss up between Martian Manhunter and Hawkman/Hawkgirl for the weakest storyline. The Hawks story really picked up at the end, but early on it was dragging. Like you and Luke I think the MM Brightest Day storyline was ultimately about making MM choose Earth or Mars. As you mentioned, he made that choice years ago, but for new readers this was their first time seeing that struggle. If DC perceives the definitive Martian Manhunter as him choosing Earth or Mars, then I guess for DC he's pretty much a blank canvas that can be fleshed out further in the future. While I appreciate all of Martian Manhunter's development over the years, the definitive MM for me is the JLD and JLI versions. Those were my formative DC years, that is my Martian Manhunter.

By the way, General B'add A'zz is THE character find of 2021! I'm already placing my order for the DC Direct figure!

The Irredeemable Shag

Diabolu Frank said...

Liss, you and Luke bring up a great point. Where's the dang Detective Marciano? Where's the secret identity? It isn't exactly a murder mystery when the killer walks up and says hello.

Shag, you reminded me of another parallel to the 1998 series. J'Onn was forced to absorb soil from the Earth to rebuild himself after nearly being killed by Malefic. It mucked up his powers for a few issues, until he returned to Mars to absorb his native soil. Here, he gets killed (again) after returning from Mars, and is resurrected with altered powers based around Earth soil. I feel lessened for knowing that and relating it to others, like a communicable infection.

Anyway, I don't want to turn back time to slappy happy J'onn J'onzz in his mountain hideout with his pet Zook, and I really want the John Jones identity to stay dead. I don't care for perpetually pissed '70s Manhunter, either. I just want some form of that past to exist, and I want creators to make use of those raw materials to craft new stories (without going so far as Ostrander with his zo'ok or the 2006 series' R'oh K'ar. Name dropping and winks with no real relationship to the source are wanking.) I love the droll, tragic, questing DeMatteis J'Onn J'Onzz, but I want to progress beyond the single story model he laid out over twenty years ago. Plus, if you rolled with the JLD, isn't it about time for a rematch with the Marshal?

mathematicscore said...

First off, I meant to say "...you've nailed it in that this wasn't THE definitive take on the character"

Regarding the choice of Earth over Mars, I think this is similar to Batman re-solving his parents' murder; Johns felt the need to bring that aspect back in Infinite Crisis. While it does have some psychological weight with the character, it also seems like such a minute thing, having the entire focus of a story be something like that just seems to be faaarrr up it's own ass.

The art was good (if rushed at times) the characterizations were pretty on point for the most part(excepting sappy elder-league)and there was a fair amount of great moments. Sadly, this is a bigger winner for MM than he's had in quite a while.

Diabolu Frank said...

M.C., you mentioned Infinite Crisis, which reminded me of Coneheadhunter. Did they actually spend all that time just overturning a forgettable eight issue mini-series? It hadn't even occurred to me someone might have paid it enough mind to be troubled.

mathematicscore said...

Sorry, I was referring to Batman's changes during Infinite Crisis. That was a reset of post crisis 85 Batman back to his pre crisis knowledge of Joe Chill.

Similarly, MM now is reset to his precrisis preference for earth, where post Crisis 85 had left that in some doubt, making most Martians dead and Mars a wasteland, taking much of the choice out of it.

Geoff Johns wants the silver age back in every way. He is clearly racist.

Diabolu Frank said...

True story: In the early days of JSA, I made a stink on the DC Message Board about how racially pure the team was, and how they'd thrown the worthless Mr. Terrific monicker at a token black, who was thus doomed never to amount to anything.

I stand corrected.

I was however with you on the Joe Chill thing, including the retcon of Year Two specifically because it screwed with their solidified continuity, even though the story was published well after Crisis. You just sent my mind on a tangent.

mathematicscore said...

Brave New Conehead-hunter does present an interesting conundrum; it's after the most recent reboot (Final Crisis was less reboot and more just insane) but is ignored (although I don't know that it is contradicted) but the current MM storyline. Thematically it is sort of the paranoia before the storm of emotional stability that we see here.

I'm with Grant Morrison on this; everything happened.