Thursday, August 25, 2011

Redefining the Vile Menagerie

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I've spoken a number of times about my late '90s Web-TV based fan site Martian Manhunter: The Rock of the JLA, but one aspect I don't think I've ever brought up is how it was partially inspired by message boards. See, while I initially wanted to create the site because of the complete absence of fan pages at that time (especially compared to my other favorite, Wonder Woman,) some actually sprang up in the time between my introduction to the internet through friends and gaining my own access. The idea went on the back burner, since there was already one particularly good fan site I visited. Instead, I indulged in a lot of message board threads, most often at the official DC site, and I spent entirely too much time on "versus threads." For those who don't know, versus threads are when fans post their thoughts on battles between characters x and y, and the heated debates usually descended into nasty "flame wars." To validate an opinion, posters were constantly tasked with reciting all manner of "scripture" related to a character, including powers, famous fights, regular enemies, resources and so forth. I got sick of retyping the same basics over and over again, so I wanted a repository where I could write it as well as possible once and just copy and paste. My fan site, originally dubbed Z'Onn Z'Orr: The Home of the Martian Manhunter, was then defined by pages devoted to those topics.

Donn Piatt wrote “A man's greatness can be measured by his enemies.” When it comes to super-heroes, that's a given. However, as a fan who knew the Martian Manhunter almost solely from modern age Justice League of America stories, I didn't really know what enemies he had of his own. Commander Adam Benson, a regular DC board poster, schooled me on the Silver Age Rogue's Gallery, which mostly consisted of Professor Arnold Hugo, Mister V, and to a lesser extent, the Diabolu Idol-Head. As he noted then, most everyone else was a common thug or one time menace of no lasting consequence. Once J'onn J'onzz lost his solo feature, the Bronze Age was an even thinner source for bad guys. If I'm trying to show message board trolls how great the Manhunter from Mars is, and he doesn't have any enemies of his own, is he really all that special?

Hence, the Vile Menagerie was born. Basically, anyone of the slightest note who had fought the Alien Atlas even one time and made any sort of impression was eligible. Mongul? Fought J'onn in an unrevealed tale alluded to in the one story where they did actually tangle during a team-up with Superman. In. Asmodel? Fought J'Onzz with the JLA in a two-part story, then killed J'Onn with a sucker punch during the spin-off mini-series Paradise Lost. In. Professor Ivo? Repeatedly fought line-ups of the Justice League that included the Martian Manhunter, who also happened to be the last member standing when Ivo brought an end to the first volume of Justice League of America. In.

There was also a glaring lack of villains who actually appeared in solo Martian Manhunter stories. This was partially due to a lack of access, since my Silver Age collecting of the character barely extended past his run in House of Mystery. My interest also skewed heavily toward the modern age, so I simply preferred discussing contemporary foes. Finally, huge swaths of villains from those Silver Age stories are unimpressive, especially the for the purposes of a "versus thread," so I blew them off.

Despite my intention to recycle all the material from the old site when I started this daily blog, very little has actually come into use. I'm older now, certainly far better versed in the character, so my interests are more in the vein of history and in-depth character analysis. Less "who could the Martian Manhunter beat in a fight" and more "who is he at his core and what is his purpose for existing?" By extension, the Vile Menagerie now focused almost solely on villains that the Martian Manhunter fully "owned," regardless of how minor or silly. In retrospect, I found a lot of the original VM entries inappropriate, and created a subsection here called the Vile Corpus to discuss their exclusion from the Menagerie Version 2.0. I'm also pleased to note that in the past decade since coining the term, I've actually seen the "Vile Menagerie" used outside of my own domain, which pleases me. After all, the whole purpose of giving the villains a collective name beyond the generic "rogues gallery" was to spotlight the fact that the Martian Manhunter does have his own worthwhile villains, so that writers could pull back on consistently employing brand new or borrowed ones instead.

The reason why I bring all this up is that I've long been considering the possibility of a Vile Menagerie version 3.0, or at least a 2.something. The first version was slipshod, ignoring essential inclusions and throwing in characters that really lacked the credentials. The second version I feel may have been inclusive to a fault, or as I call it, the Wiley Dalbert clause. You see, Dalbert appeared in a two-part Detective Comics story in the '90s, pursued by an undercover John Jones, the G.C.P.D., and Batman. He was rather silly looking, and his primary ability was intellect enough to work complex devices that allowed him to elude capture forever. In this respect, he was very much like the droves of Silver Age MM evil scientists that I've yet to bother drafting individual entries for. On the other hand, he was an effective villain who afforded Jones his first meeting with Batman in over thirty years within the book they both had debuted in. Applying the Dalbert Clause makes the Vile Menagerie very inclusive, to the point where literally hundreds of characters would qualify.

However, comments made on this blog, both by myself and others, have called into question various characters' right to inclusion. Does so & so really rate? This indicates the Vile Menagerie is more of an exclusive circle, the upper echelon. Wouldn't that mean there's a broad umbrella of villains under the "Manhunter rogues" heading, with only the creme de la creme serving as the "Vile Menagerie." Unlike most rogues galleries, Manhunter villains almost never work in concert with one another, so it wouldn't be as clearly defined as a Sinister Six or Revenge Squad. Further, the greatest foes rarely are included in such collectives, the way Rā's al Ghūl stands apart from the Arkham inmates, or Professor Zoom wasn't a true member of the Rogues. Does that mean there's a need for subdivision within the Vile Menagerie? Playing off the circus theme, should there be various defined rings within the grand collective?

I put the question to you readers, via a poll and your welcomed follow-up comments...

    What is the Vile Menagerie?
  1. Everybody the Martian Manhunter has ever fought, even as part of a team. (All in.)
    The maximum inclusive option. Anyone who ever spit in J'Onn's general direction.
  2. Everybody the Martian Manhunter has ever fought as a featured combatant. (Asmodel)
    Not ever guy that J'Onn fought on a team, but the ones he specifically tangled with. Asmodel is the example because of the "Stand down, soldier" moment from JLA #7, followed by their continued butting of heads in a spin-off mini-series. Someone like Amos Fortune would be another example, since it was J'onn J'onzz specifically who foiled him in his first appearance.
  3. Only the villains J'onn J'onzz physically fights in his solo stories, like B'rett.
    This option basically excludes all the villains who do not present a direct challenge to the Alien Atlas in combat, as well as anyone he hasn't fought in a book with his name in the title. Versus Thread matches, basically. Very exclusive.
  4. Only the adversaries J'onn J'onzz must face in his solo stories, like Mister V.
    This basically states that all the mad scientists and Vulture agents that the Manhunter can toss around like rag dolls are still eligible by virtue of being Manhunter-specific bad guys.
  5. Only villains that are most closely associated with J'onn J'onzz, like Professor Hugo.
    This option leaves the door open for "borrowed" villains like Hugo who may have been created to battle Batman, but are best known as Martian Manhunter foils. It also excludes someone like Mongul, who may have been created for a team-up story, but went on to becoming a Superman-specific threat.
  6. Only his most dangerous solo foes, like Malefic.
    The least inclusive option. This pretty much comes down to a dozen or so Miller or Ostrander villains.
  7. Only his most dangerous common foes, like Despero.
    Slightly more inclusive, but still limited to guys like Malefic, the Marshal, and so forth.


mathematicscore said...

I think option number two is best. After all, I'm not terribly interested in say, Parallax or Superboy Prime, both of whom knocked J'onn out of play in a panel or two and (in GL rebirth and Infinite Crisis respectively) but otherwise have had littler interaction with him (I guess he did get a moment with superboy to be badass, but pretty much everybody was at that point.) However, guys like Despero, who he's never fought in a solo title too my knowledge, deserve consideration.

Diabolu Frank said...

Despero was the featured villain in the second story arc of the Martian Manhunter ongoing series that plays only inside my head, but has never taken part in a solo Manhunter story in our shared reality. Instead, he was in Supergirl, which was one of my growing list of grudges against John Ostrander at the time of the actual ongoing series' publication.

I need to do more Manhunter from Mars fake series entries. I want to "read" that story again.

will_in_chicago said...

I went with Option 2 as well. It stands to reason that J'Onn was involved in many events, but there may not be a need to state that J'Onn fought Parallax and Superboy for one panel along with everyone more prominent than Ambush Bug.

Perhaps such characters can go under a general events category.