Friday, October 14, 2011

What is The Vile Menagerie?

Click To Enlarge

You know those big binders of photos police stations keep to help identify criminals and suspects? They're called a "rogues gallery." I'm not sure who popularized the term in comic books, but I'm sure its usage goes back to the days of Dick Tracy, at least. However, in comics, a rogues gallery typically refers to a collection of foes who regularly face down a specific super-hero. They usually do so individually at first, then start forming teams after failing so often to defeat a hero that they no longer pose a compelling enough threat to hold a reader's attention.

The term is most often used to represent foes of the Flash, specifically the Barry Allen version's, but you'll often hear tell of Batman's rogues gallery and so on. Some of these collectives even manage to become proper teams, like the Frightful Four, Masters of Evil, or the Sinister Six. Others just get tagged with a variation on the term "rogues gallery," like the "Deadly Foes of Spider-Man."

Now, the fact is that very few fans know or acknowledge that, while they rarely act in concert, Martian Manhunter has accumulated his own impressive rogues gallery. This is partly due to that same majority of fans not caring much about J'Onn or his history to begin with, but then that's the reason this blog exists.

To that end, back on the old "Rock" site, I decided I would not only spotlight the Martian Manhunter's "rogues," but even give them a collective name. Obviously, "rogues gallery" was my starting point, but I wanted something that implied a greater sense of scale and menace, preferably earning points on my vocabulary by coming up with an uncommon term. For whatever reason, I was drawn to the sophistication and mystique that went with the title of the Tennessee Williams play "The Glass Menagerie." Probably like Williams, I also figured "menagerie" was enough of a mouthful not to overburden it with a similarly challenging descriptive. One syllable. Four letters. Tight.

"The Vile Menagerie."


Rafa Rivas said...

I like this post. I've tried to pull the same with the Elongated Man since I began the blog, but his foes are rarely noteworthy, so it's just a draft with 6 guys and I've already decided to throw his borrowed rogues and his very limited supporting cast there. The most notorious are the Phantom General and Edgar Moriarty, but he shares them with Batman. I think that's part of the problem with him and, to a lesser degree, even guys like the Martian, Atom or Blue Beetle, their mythos is very limited.
I think that was part of the winning formula of Spider-man, they started filling his mythos with foes and friends from day one. Conway repeated that exact formula with Firestorm. I like the way the Freakazoid cartoon had that planned even before they started with the scripts. They even forgot about a lot of those characters, but they contributed to the feeling that it was a really big world to explore.

Diabolu Frank said...

I have never heard of either Elongated Man rogue you mentioned. I seem to recall some squid guy from the Jones/Parobeck mini-series, but that taps out my knowledge of Ralph-exclusive villains. I've had similar problems with the Atom. The guy's got about three super-villains and two supporting cast members within his entire three year Silver Age series run, and they're not even decent ones. That's why he fell into the trap of fighting the same guy more often than not, and Chronos doesn't impress anyone.

One of the points of the Vile Menagerie is to illustrate that the Martian Manhunter actually has a sprawling mythos, if anyone would bother to connect the dots. He has tons of quality villains that appeared in one story and vanished, three planets worth of indigenous history, scores of potential supporting players, decades of heroic activity within continuity (hopefully,) and countless connections through his shared universe. My head explodes at the possibilities of a story that put B'rett, Bel Juz, Commander Blanx, Malefic, the Marshal, and the Master Gardener together on one planet at the same time.

(An aside: My main fears with regard to Malefic, which is being manifest in animation, is that he will end up the guy that lazy writers throw at J'Onn every single outing. That mindset kills characters.)

Anyway, my point is to not stop digging for Elongated Man friends and foes, because I never would have thought I could have found so much raw material as to constitute a Martian Manhunter lore. As of now, my chief concern is that I've spent so much time on villains, and still haven't covered a fraction of what's available, that I've neglected the supporting cast. That was a failed goal for 2011, and is a target for 2012.

Rafa Rivas said...

Well, I'd have never imagined so, but the Martian seems to have a stronger rogues gallery than Ralph and Atom together. Diabolu, Mr. V, Professor Hugo and Blanx seem to be recurring villains, EM didn't have one. I think they were following the Sherlock Holmes or Nick Charles trend with him. However, a Moriarty or an Irene would be nice (I'm aware that they only appeared twice).

Diabolu Frank said...

Yeah, the Idol-Head turned up for around a dozen stories, Mr.V for about another, Hugo for four (five if you count his Batman fighting debut,) and a couple for Blanx. Also worth noting are four Bel Juz comics, three for the Marshal, five for Bette Noir, and Malefic's been in about a dozen. The Human Flame is probably the king of the Vile Menagerie though, since he had his own six issue mini-series, plus a bunch of Final Crisis appearances/cameos and his Silver Age debut. Not bad for a flash in the pan (ba-dum-bump-pish!)

Elongated Man could have stood to borrow gallery building from Plastic Man. I don't think Plas had any major recurring villains, but he churned out fantastic foes on a near monthly basis. Ralph with a dry, overly serious Moriarty would have been cool. Better than a buddy's ex-wife and a revolver, surely.

Rafa Rivas said...

The part that surprises me, is that they din't use Hugo, the Idol-Head, Mr. V or Blanx after the Crisis (I think). They bothered to come up with Malefic or Trap instead. It think they should have been created besides, not instead the originals, which are prett decent concepts.

I've noticed that you don't talk much about the Human Flame.

It's a fanboyish thing, but I've always thought that Batman's Egghead (less egg puns, more over the top plans) could be a fantastic Moriarty to Ralph. When possible, the E-Man tends to avoid vicious criminals (like Light or Faust), and prefers thugs and goofballs (Riddler, the Flash's gallery). An "evil genius" (think Hackman's Luthor, Despicable Me, Megamind or Sideshow Bob), pulling Pinky-and-the-Brain plots to get land or political power would fit perfectly the lighthearted world of the Dibnys. I think it would be very entertaining to see Ralph tracking him.

A lot of B-list Batman villains like Riddler, Bookworm, Cluemaster, King Tut, the Tweedles or Captain Stingaree would make ideal EM villains.

Diabolu Frank said...

Despite many frivolous entries for lame ass characters who only ever appeared once or twice, no official DC reference has ever spotlighted anyone from J'onn J'onzz's cast. Prof. Hugo, the Idol-Head, and Mr. V were never mentioned Post-Crisis. Commander Blanx was only ever referenced in Martian Manhunter's Who's Who entry.

In Dr. Trap's defense, he was created to be the nemesis of DEO Agent Cameron Chase in her solo series. It was only later that he was appropriated for the Martian Manhunter series. John Ostrander borrowed from any series he could besides J'onn J'onzz's old stories.

I'm not a fan of the Human Flame, and he's made a lot of appearances. I try to read every one before writing a profile, which is time consuming. That's why guys like him and Malefic stay on the backburner so long. It's even more true of supporting characters like Zook and Captain Harding, who've made dozens of appearances. Someday, but not today, or tomorrow, or 2011.

I agree with Elongated Man taking on goofier cast-offs from other heroes' rogues galleries. The Atom could use some loaners, himself. Then again, both heroes appear set aside for the foreseeable future...

Rafa Rivas said...

Since Chronos and Floronic Man are popular without the Atom, for a long time I assumed that Ray had a decent gallery, it surprised me to learn otherwise.

Another type of villain that Ralph needs is a master thief, like the Phantom, from the Pink Panther movies.

Rafa Rivas said...

btw, Ty Templeton just posted at the Image Gallery page of my blog!!
How cool is that?!

Diabolu Frank said...

Creator comments are fun. I haven't gotten one in a while, probably because I'm such a meanie.

Diabolu Frank said...

"Popular" is a strong word. Floronic Man got some play because of Swamp Thing, and Chronos comes up in time travel stories, but I don't think anybody goes out of their way to use them (especially these days.)

Rafa Rivas said...

They are recurring crowd villains. Both belong to the Secret Society. Besides his ST role, Floronic is also famous because of Poison Ivy, which is how he got a movie cameo. Chronos has a bit of Injustice Gang fame and got a pretty decent role in JLU. I think he might be te most popular time-traveling villain. Both seem to be out of shape.

Diabolu Frank said...

Rafa, your take on "popular" is a lot kinder than mine, but I'll concede on that matter. Chronos might, maybe, might be the most popular time-traveling DC villain, but it's a shallow pool. Marvel is bigger into that sort of thing, and guys like Kang and Dr. Doom surely eclipse Chronos.

Rafa Rivas said...

Well, my real concept of popular villains starts with Joker, Luthor, Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler, Magneto, Dr. Doom and it gets arguable after that. I wouldn't compare Chronos with Despero, Loki or Kang, but he certainly can beat Time Commander, Master Weaponer, Brainstorm. Compared with other galleries, I'm sure he can take or match Heat Wave, Pied Piper, Weather Wizard, Sonar, Evil Star or any of the Hawkman or Firestorm rogues in terms of popularity.

Diabolu Frank said...

I'm not sure I agree, Rafa. Growing up, I always thought of the Atom as one of the big Leaguers, solidly B-list in his day. Since I've been running his blog, I've come to realize that even in his heyday, he was perilously close to the c-list, and today that's where he's firmly entrenched.

By virtue of being known Flash and Green Lantern villains, guys like Weather Wizard, Sonar, and Evil Star automatically get a nod before Chronos. Heat Wave just co-starred in a mini-series, and Pied Piper was a primary character in an lengthy event mini-series, so they certainly rank higher.

Hawkman has a pretty weak rogues gallery, so I'd tend to agree that Chronos probably makes more waves than Byth, Lionmane, or the Gentleman Ghost. Hawkman is a much more popular character than the Atom these days, but his strength is despite his rogues, not because of them.

Firestorm on the other hand is reliant on his villains, and their goony '80s retro-charm have helped power the Nuclear Man through two ongoing series and prominence in a bestselling anthology mini-series. Somewhere amongst the Firestorm and Hawkman rogues is Chronos' comfort zone, which is a pretty sorry state for an arch-nemesis.

Rafa Rivas said...

Counting only their merits as the part of the Atom's small rogues gallery, Chronos and Floronic Man would starve, no disagreement there. However, what made me feel that gave them an edge even over some of the lesser rogues of Flash and Green Lantern, is that they tend to go outside their nemesis world. Chronos has even gone solo against the Batman and Superman team-up.