Friday, June 10, 2011

Post-Pointal Declaration: From the Watchtower to Stormwatch

The story so far: Despite some protestations otherwise, the DC Universe has suffered its first true line wide simultaneous installation of a new operating system. Crisis on Infinite Earths was essentially reinstalling the same OS with a series of staggered updates of varying degrees of quality. Both Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis were comparatively minor OS upgrades, simply making the accumulated updates standard and rejiggering the interface to present the illusion of change. Flashpoint is a massive, all-encompassing revision, that for the most part appears to be instilling fear and revulsion in the base.

The Martian Manhunter was left off the new JLA “Magnificent Seven” team. Whether this removes him from founder status is unknown, but that was tried with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman without it ever really taking. The Martian Manhunter remains in those first several years worth of JLofA stories, not to mention likely serving in more issues over more years than virtually any other character. There was also that tale from 1977 that revealed he was indirectly responsible for the formation of the team in the first place. His legacy is secure, and it’s kind of fitting that he should be a stealth, “secret history” figure. Besides, while I’ve had no problem with Geoff Johns’ handling of J’Onn in the past, if he really wanted the character in the JLA, he could easily have been included. I do have a problem with Jim Lee’s prunefaced take on J’Onzz, not to mention his horrible design aesthetic, so I won’t shed any tears over not being subjected to it.

J’Onn J’Onzz was also left off the new Justice League International. While it would have been nice to read a series that reunited him with Detroit-era partner Vixen (they were the last two members standing before JLI launched,) I don’t actually like the characters most associated with that team (Booster, Beetle, Fire & Ice.) I don't appreciate how Dan Jurgens has written those characters in the past either, including the Martian Manhunter, so I’d just assume not get involved with that book.

There has yet to be a Martian Manhunter solo series announced, and all indications are that there will not be. By my count, we're at 52 #1s for September, so looks like all of the non-Superman books are now on the board. I was afraid the Alien Atlas might end up on an Outsiders team (as he flirted with a few years ago,) and some suggested Batman Incorporated, which I feel would have subjected him to the status of a Dark Knight extended family subordinate. Worse, I might have had to read a series with Geo-Force in it. There needs to be an addition to the Geneva Convention to cover that form of cruel and unusual storytelling.

Finally, it has been revealed that the Alien Atlas will be featured prominently in Stormwatch by Paul Cornell and Miguel Angel Sepulveda. The good news is that I don’t hate either of these guys. My only direct experience with Cornell was Knight & Squire #1, but his reputation is that despite being British, he doesn’t write straight super-heroes contemptuously. I understand he’s also a devout Christian, so hopefully he will retain the Martian Manhunter’s ethical core and contrast it against the more morally ambiguous Wildstorm characters. Meanwhile, Miguel Sepulveda hasn’t worked much, but his mood and style seem light years distant from Jim Lee. The little art I have seen looks like Mike McKone by way of Jae Lee, a very palatable combination.

I actually have a long history with Wildstorm. I bought all of the early Image books, thinking that they were going to be the start of an exciting new super-hero universe, rather than derivative mercenary crap. I returned to Wildstorm when Alan Moore started writing WildC.A.T.s, and enjoyed it so much I went after the back issues I’d missed (including a very good truncated James Robinson run,) and stuck with the universe for the next several years. I actually cheered their acquisition by DC at first, until the combination of the rampant cynicism of Warren Ellis/Garth Ennis/Mark Millar contaminated the line, and DC ran off all the talent through pillaging and micromanagement. In retrospect, Wildstorm was already an edgy, contemporary take on the DCU, so being integrated into DC was kind of redundant.

From its very beginning, Wildstorm tended toward governmental conspiracies and militarism, but following the success of The Authority the entire line shifted toward polarized politics and fascism from both ends of the spectrum. My distaste for that material came from its lack of perspective and variety. All of the “good guys” had the same superior, sarcastic, liberal by way of the boot heel attitude. I suppose that was a popular stance in the post-Thatcher U.K., but from this side of the pond, they sounded entirely too much like our intolerant extreme right wing. A jerk is a jerk, no matter what their agenda. That why there’s a line in the solicitation text I found disturbing…
“Stormwatch is a dangerous super human strike force whose existence is kept secret from the world. Jack Hawksmoor and the rest of the crew look to recruit two of the deadliest super humans on the planet: Midnighter and Apollo. And if they say no? Perhaps the Martian Manhunter can change their minds.”

There’s an obvious insinuation that J’Onn J’Onzz is going to literally, telepathically, change their minds. My hope is that it is so obvious, that it’s misdirection. If it isn’t, everybody looks bad, because if Midnighter and Apollo get psychically duped, they’re weak and the Manhunter is a creep. Better to threaten with the possibility without seeing it through, so that everyone remains sturdy going into the series. Most importantly to me, that means Midnighter and Apollo can appease their fans by being the badasses they’ve been established as, while the Martian Manhunter can remain recognizable and offer the counterbalance much needed and missed in the pure Wildstorm days.

Personally, I find this direction very intriguing. Moving DC characters around to different teams (Harley Quinn on the Suicide Squad,) or merely variations of the same team (Vixen goes from the JLA to JLI) just is not that big of a deal. Even Cyborg on the JLA has been predicted since he was on the Galactic Guardians cartoon a quarter century ago, and every founding Teen Titan has already served at some point. The Martian Manhunter is the first DC character to serve on a Wildstorm team, and in some ways it's a more perfect fit for him than any other group yet. J'Onn J'Onzz was an alien being trapped on our world decades back who decided to aid his adopted world in secret, just like a good many Kherubim. The Manhunter served on an international super-team sanctioned by the United Nations who operated out of a satellite, just like the original version of Stormwatch. Unlike the JLI, Stormwatch is a competent group of clandestine operatives that well compliment J'Onn J'Onzz. If handled appropriately, the Manhunter from Mars brings heart and soul to a cold and calculating lot, each side playing off the other. The premise is ripe with opportunity. Most every other option for the Alien Atlas ending up on a team was either regressive or diminishing, but Stormwatch allows him trailblazing forward motion. I approve, and will remain optimistic until somebody screws up or my hopes prove founded. Even the redesigns (by Cully Hamner, from what I understand) are rare in that they seem to improve on previous models (Apollo always had a bland suit, and I can handle trading a folded collar for the pie symbol.) As opposed to most of the wretched dreck seen so far, I'll be happy to give this book a try.


LissBirds said...

Hmm. At first I was a little bummed, because I have no idea who these Wildstorm characters are. But you bring up several good points that this could be a good thing. At first I was thinking this would be like The Outsiders, but I was off the mark in thinking that. I am actually intrigued, I don't know who the writer and artist are, but I'll take your word for it, so all in all, I'm cautiously optimistic. Maybe being written by lesser-knowns and placed in a fringe mileu is what will work for J'onn. (Hey, it worked in Madame Xanadu.)

Then again, I read into the "Perhaps the Martian Manhunter can change their minds" the same way you did. Let's hope it doesn't mean what we think it means.

*fingers crossed*

mathematicscore said...

The OS metaphor is dead on; bravo, Frank.

From VULTURE to the Outsiders and a few path-crossings with Checkmate, I've always liked J'onn messing around in secret agency type stuff. And Cornell's recent run on Action Comics leads me to believe he is a proponent of actually heroic heroes. We shall see if that carries over to MM here. Gosh I hope so.

Diabolu Frank said...

I'd like to know more about the team composition. It would be cool to see a more thorough mix of DC (Sarge Steel, Sasha Bordeaux) and WS (Battalion, Jenny Sparks) I was hoping for some King Faraday, but between Winter and Jackson King, it would just cause confusion.

Count Drunkula said...

I collected Stormwatch after I lost interest in all of the other Wildstorm and Image books in the '90s; the concept and execution of these characters always appealed to me, even though I've never read a book with Apollo or Midnighter. I was intrigued in the best way when I saw this news yesterday. J'onn in a clandestine satellite-based team just seems to work for me, although I suppose it means we won't see his detective side for a while.

SallyP said...

I have never read Stormwatch, but at least J'onn is going to end up SOMEwhere! I was getting just a tad worried.

Luke said...

Never read Stormwatch in any incarnation; never read The Authority in any incarnation; the only Wildstorm title I have ever read was Wetworks. I toyed with reading the original WildCATs but ultimately passed, a decision I do not regret. As such the idea of the Martian Manhunter being foisted off onto a Wildstorm book which is destined to fail doesn't exactly fill me with enthusiasm.

Frank, you make a lot of good points about the fit between the Manhunter and these characters (who obviously you are substantially more familiar with than I), but I retain my cynical suspicion that OFM will be used as a "straight man" to make these two supah-awesome bad dudes look that much more supah-awesome. I hate it when Marvel uses Iron Man as a jobber to put others over and I hate it when DC does it to the Manhunter.

I would have much rather seen the Manhunter on a new incarnation of the Outsiders, perhaps even leading such a team. His planned role in Bedard's Outsiders crew sounded very appealing, and he could have made a good fit there. Of course I'm an Outsiders fan so I am, as I like to say, just more prone. I am not sure why you and Liss seem so anti-Outsiders but considering my lack of connection with what is "in" in any genre that's not surprising.

Never mind that the Outsiders has been replaced with one of absolutely inane books I could ever see DC publishing in Red Hood and the Outlaws. Nice try, DC: don't tell me that this is not the replacement for the Outsiders when you make a book about anti-heroes, two of whom are Bat-family and one of whom is a former Outsider, and then title it "BLANK and the Out-BLANKs." Give me a break.

LissBirds said...

King we're talkin'.....

Or maybe Cameron Chase?

Diabolu Frank said...

Good golly Luke, I don't think I've ever seen you so fired up on a subject!

I've read a little tiny bit of Stormwatch, and wasn't impressed with anything before Warren Ellis began the transition to The Authority. I will say Stormwatch made Wildcats/Aliens one of the most hard core intercompany crossovers of all time by getting themselves killed in continuity. I really don't have a lot of attachment to the base team, and I'm pretty sure you'd hate the lefty politics, but I think you might like some of the numerous spin-offs (Team Achilles, Stormwatch Post Human Division.) The premise is sound though. Where DC had trouble scraping up solid covert ops types for Checkmate, the entire WS Universe was about espionage, and Stormwatch was at the forefront. The book also had a five year core run plus numerous spin-offs, a better track record than J'Onn J'Onzz has got.

My hope is that J'Onn will be the straight man of the group, and he can even be a bit of a jobber. Apollo and Midnighter are basically an ultra-violent Superman and Batman as a couple, so they're nothing to sneeze at. I only care that the characterization is correct, and so far, I have no reason to doubt Paul Cornell. I'm guardedly hopeful, for once.

Honestly, my disdain for the Outsiders comes from years of trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, despite historically bad writing. Mike W. Barr's stuff was horrible across three volumes, then Judd Winick was terrible for a fourth. Chuck Dixon wrote the only palatable version I've ever read, and they fired him after a half dozen issues. It would be one thing if they could ever get out of Batman's shadow, as they almost managed under Nightwing, but they backslid right back again. I also can't get into most of the main returning cast (Geo-Force, Halo, Katanna, Looker.) I figure if I ever read the Bob Haney stuff that I'd probably dig Metamorpho, but I haven't and don't. I don't think the Martian Manhunter has the pull to overcome the team's undistinguished history, and I don't want him diminished by association. They're like the Champions at DC, the slapped together bunch of leftovers after you used up everybody else between two Avengers branches, the Defenders, and the X-Men. This is speaking as a dude who collected Dragon's Claws and defends Giffen's Suicide Squad, BTW.

I will agree that Red Hood & the Outlaws looks dreadful (and curiously recalls the completely forgotten The Outlaws mini-series from the early '90s.) The problem is that I too see the obvious parallel to The Outsiders, but not so much the disparity. Just add Owl Man and Faust-- you've got a legit Outsiders crew.

Luke said...

See, there is where our paths diverge: Mike W. Barr (that magnificent bastard) made the Outsiders shine, and made them a team which I not only wanted to read about but genuinely cared about and gave a crap about -- because it is evident that he gave a crap about them. The 80s stuff is head and shoulders above the contemporary team books at DC (case in point: the weakest issue in Showcase Presents: Batman And The Outsiders is the one issue of Teen Titans which is included) and still holds up as straight superhero stuff to this day. The fact that Jim Aparo and Alan Davis rendered their adventures helps too.

(Winnick is Winnick; his team was it's own animal and separate.)

But this is not an Outsiders blog. So let me attempt to get back on topic.

The main sticking point for me about this announcement is that of all the major Brightest Day heroes (so not including folks like Professor Zoom, Boomer, or Max Lord), all of them got solo gigs... except the Manhunter. Deadman gets to star in a solo story but not the Manhunter? Hawk & Dove get a new book but not the Manhunter? It's like after Tomasi finished his story and set him up to be the Hero From Space (as we have talked about before in this space), Johns didn't know what to do with it and just shrugged. From the back of the room, Jim Lee looks up and suggests "I guess we could put him in a Wildstorm book..." and the rest is future history.

This reminds me so much of Infinite Crisis, when Johns had no idea what to do with the Manhunter so he left him tied up off panel for the entire story.

What the hell is so wrong with the Manhunter that he has to play second banana to a pair of fetishized walking satires who have little place in a mainstream superhero universe like the DCU?

You say you don't want the Manhunter diminished by association with the Outsiders, but it's alright for him to play patsy to these two? Sorry, but I would have much rather seen him fighting the Masters of Disaster and the Force of July.

But that's just me. I could be wrong.

mathematicscore said...

Good points by all, but I would comment on the last comment about him playing patsy to Apollo and Midnighter; The Authority were a big deal in their day and had two really solid runs before editorial weakness clipped their wings. They've fallen pretty far, but they've also flown a bit higher than MM, at least on their own.

Diabolu Frank said...

Luke, you've got to channel some of the Outsiders love into posts somewhere. I actually get angry reading Outsiders issues with art by Aparo, Davis or Chuck Patton. The characters designs are hideous, and the stories so ridiculous, I want to scream "Stop talking! You're pretty like a woman, but your mouth keeps ruining everything!" Pitting the Martian Manhunter against the Masters of Disaster or the Force of July is like suggesting Robert Downey Jr. should sleep with Courtney Love or Roseanne Barr. I like RDJ. Why would I subject him to that?

You make an excellent point about Geoff Johns screwing J'Onn in Infinite Crisis. I was so happy to see the return of Despero and a team-up with Aquaman in "Crisis of Conscience," I forgot that J'Onzz got jobbed twice in just the lead-up. It kind of makes my point for me, as well. There is nobody at DC right now besides maybe Grant Morrison that I have any confidence in being able to sell a Martian Manhunter series, especially one I would like to read.

The Brightest Day spin-offs, with few exceptions, are not steak. They are salads drenched in sorry dressing with croutons of cancellation to come. Hawk and Dove? Should be fowl, sounds like foul. Firestorm? They look like Teletubbies, or a synchronized mime duet on the preschool circuit. Deadman. Dead, man. An ongoing Martian Manhunter solo series right now would not be a second chance, but a second strike. Mark my words, 75% of these books will be renumbered or 86'd by 2013. People are going to lose their jobs over this, and I don't just mean creators.

I think it's potentially quite wonderful that Apollo and Midnighter are in the DCU. These are characters every bit as tough as the heroes they mimic, with a vastly different worldview, and a fanbase that will howl if they're treated as less than their best. This isn't Mr. Majestik again. Both Ellis and Millar built their careers off these guys' backs, and modern creators have a much easier time writing them correctly for contemporary audiences than a Captain Marvel. Don't you appreciate the irony of Martian Manhunter jobbing for the JLA all these years, then joining up with their hipper rivals? Plus, in my experience, the British like J'Onn J'Onzz, and if anything would be more inclined to play him as a true equal. WS never had many psychics or intangibles of note, and their shapeshifters are mostly just Daemonites. Far and away, the Alien Atlas has a greater variety of powers without overlap, so he could actually be played to full effect for once. Finally, there was a WS audience, and a DC audience, and this is the rare occurrence of a mash-up with the potential to draw from both factions. Midnighter and Apollo are probably the most popular WS characters, and J'Onn is standing with them in a trinity uniting two universes. That's a damned sight more impressive than being #7 in the JLA, especially when the solicitation reads as his being #1 in Stormwatch.

Most importantly, no Duke of Oil or the Nuclear Family. Shudder.

Count Drunkula said...

Newsarama has an interview with Paul Cornell where he alleviates a few concerns. First and foremost he directly states that "changing their minds" in the solicitation does not mean mentally control anyone. He also says that J'onn J'onzz IS a heroic character, which contrasts with Stormwatch. This could make for some very interesting interplay and character development.

I wasn't crazy about DC integrating the Wildstorm universe into its already crowded pantheon of characters, but Stormwatch is just sooo much cooler and more credible than Checkmate, in my opinion. I'm really looking forward to this book, and not just for the Martian Manhunter.

Diabolu Frank said...

Wow, Ryan, that's awesome! I stopped reading Newsarama, so I'd have totally missed that without the heads-up. Thanks!

Count Drunkula said...

Newsarama is pretty atrocious now and--depending on your pop-up filter--damn near impossible to navigate, but I've been checking all the major sites' coverage of the DCnU's developments this week.

Diabolu Frank said...

I used to hit Newsarama, CBR, IGN, Comics Alliance and Bleeding Cool regularly. IGN will occasionally crash my computer, and isn't very informative. I hate the layout at Newsarama, and they're trying too hard to cover all pop media without doing any of it particularly well. CBR fell off just because I don't have time to sift through their abundance of columns and press releases. I get around to Comics Alliance a few times a week, but they're really fluffy, and are the softest of all the "news" sites. Bleeding Cool is my only essential, since they're the only actual journalists (yellow or otherwise) in the industry that break stories, and they aren't weighed down with a lot of nonsense. I just wish their first page held more stories, and that they had more avenues of navigation.

Luke said...

As I said, I have never read Stormwatch or The Authority or such. So I really am not familiar with them other than what I read in Wizard and online. And the over the top bullpoop, coupled with the obvious snarky Millar and Ellis bullpoop with the homosexual analogues for Superman and Batman, coupled with the ridiculous people-throwing-jumbo-jets stuff just turned me off.

I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised by this series, and that it will turn into a sleeper hit. I doubt it will happen, but I am willing to take the words of people who's opinion I value on such matters.

Diabolu Frank said...

Luke, The Authority was good until it wasn't. It was around before Warren Ellis was a total broken record and Mark Millar's audacity was still fresh. I don't think it was any more of a sustainable model than Morrison JLA, especially after the madmen left the titles in the hands of the milquetoast. I don't think you'd like the books, because they're not amiably junky/trashy, and they have no heart. The pretension hurts the fun, and the politics are way not yours.

I never felt the characters were especially strong, since they're all variations on the standard Ellis model, so I'm hoping they're either developed or the team includes more DC guys. I do like the Engineer, and I adore rubbing DC's nose in Midnighter and Apollo. Swift and the Doctors leave me cold, and you only need either Jenny Sparks or Jack Hawksmoor at any given time. I'm also hoping Cornell either creates new characters to diversify or brings in old Stormwatch/WS characters Ellis and his followers never handled much. Someone like Savant would make sense, especially as another counterbalance to the authoritarians.