Monday, November 28, 2011

The Greenwashing of M'gann M'orzz

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Let's begin by stating that Miss Martian started off life as a gimmick. As revealed by Ben Morse in The Secret Origin of Miss Martian, Geoff Johns "was trying to come up with new characters for both the One Year Later roster and for what eventually became Titans West, and that he wanted to do more legacy characters for heroes and villains who didn't actually have any yet." A great many of these characters ended up as cannon fodder for 52 and Teen Titans. Given that they were adolescent "legacy" cyphers of established lesser DC IPs, the killings didn't stop there, either. Johns likely was specifically looking for a sidekick to the Martian Manhunter as a story point, although he hadn't tipped that hand yet. Inspired at a dinner party by the classic comic book alliterative naming possibilities of Ben marrying his then-girlfriend (which he actually did do a few years later,) "Megan Morse" was born.

Following Johns' Infinite Crisis, the DC Universe jumped forward a year in continuity. One of the few books to really dive into the possibilities of that lost year was Johns' Teen Titans, where Miss Martian was introduced in passing during the story arc "The New Teen Titans." She was one of the dozens of characters briefly associated with the team during an extended rudderless period following the (temporary) death of Supergirl, a lengthy hiatus for Robin, the premature aging of Kid Flash, and so forth. Miss Martian wasn't really relevant until Johns' next and penultimate arc on the book, "Titans Around the World." The returned Robin was trying to put the band back together, which involved a global search for a traitor that had sabotaged the team during his absence. The original July 2006 solicitation art for Teen Titans #40 depicted a coy M'gann with her arms behind her back against a suspiciously plain background. One of the rumor columns got its hands on the cover as eventually published, showcasing Miss Martian in the center of a collage of infamous Titans traitors. Treachery is something of a Titans tradition. To gild the lily, they even added the word balloon "I'm Miss Martian. Of course you can trust me!"

As an added punch, readers learned that M'gann M'orzz was not related to the Martian Manhunter, nor was she even the same race, but was instead a White Martian of the sort that tried to conquer Earth in the first JLA arc. However, the creators doth tease too much, as despite the secrecy behind Miss Martian's origin, she was truly an innocent heroine who helped uncover the true traitor in the group. The character became part of a fresh line-up formed for Johns' final story arc, and then she was the next creative team's problem. The book meandered for three guest issues tying into two inter-company crossovers before Miss Martian was confirmed as part of a revised line-up under the incoming creative team.

It seems Miss Martian's remaining under new writer Sean McKeever likely hinged on her opening gimmick. Revisiting an earlier story foretelling a dark future for the Teen Titans, an adult Miss Martian was revealed as having embraced the murderous inclinations of the White Martians (though retaining a largely human physical appearance) and become a femme fatale. Miss Martian inadvertently killed her evil future self, setting up an ongoing subplot where she was haunted by a psychic remainder that gave her something of a multiple personalty disorder. Mileage could be found in her still being a potential traitor, plus she took on a very Martian Manhunter style covert identity in a plot involving the Terror Titans.

Sean McKeever left the book after a couple of years, and once she was used as a mourner to help sell the tragedy of the death of teammate Kid Devil (they were close, and nobody else cared much,) Miss Martian was benched on the injured list by replacement writer Felicia D. Henderson. It's worth noting that on the way out, she was mind-controlled into killing another person. A pattern emerges of M'gann M'orzz being a sweet-natured naive heroine often embroiled in deadly, treacherous situations with quite a few issues with mental stability and blood on her hands.

In a surprising move, Miss Martian was included in the line-up of the Cartoon Network animated series Young Justice, beating out the more popular and better known Wonder Girl. The show's web site states "M'Gann M'Orzz has a sweet, bubbly personality, but is hiding a secret past." I haven't been following the Young Justice cartoon or comics directly, relying more on fandom osmosis to maintain my awareness. However, back in early October, The Aquaman Shrine offered thirteen pages of scans from the comic Young Justice #6 that piqued my interest in a big way. They purportedly depict M'gann's origin story and an interpretation of Mars not seen in comics since 1984.

As told, Mars is dominated by a green-skinned race whose men seem identical to J'Onn J'Onzz and whose women all resemble M'gann M'orzz. Miss Martian comes from an enormous family of double-digit siblings and triple-digit extension. Despite this (including living parents,) her closest relative is her Uncle J'Onn, which absent an explanatory context is rather disquieting. All these Green Martians live in underground, upside-down cities of vaguely Arabic design, but are otherwise domesticated in a fairly Atom Age Americana fashion (including a panel paying homage to Norman Rockwell.) There is also a minority of Red Martians that seem acceptable to Greens, and a class of White Martians who face incredible prejudice. M'gann claims that her own family is progressive, but with some pregnant pauses.

Readers of this blog are likely aware that most DC Martians were wiped out after 1988, in comics by a plague, and in animation by genocidal alien invaders. Silver Age Martians of either gender came with or without hair of various colors. Modern Martians have been a tribal people living in huts and pyramids above ground, and descended from saurian origins that precluded mammalian characteristics like hair. Rather than an oppressed minority, White Martians were a warrior race bent on conquest against their own species and others. They created a clone slave race, which prompted Greens to develop red-skinned clones to prevent being overrun by sheer numbers. These "red Martians" lived around two planets back, and developed into Saturnians once the White Martians were exiled to the Still Zone and Green Martians receded from galactic prominence to occupy Mars alone.

In the recent YJ comic story, M'gann M'orzz tells her teammates that the Martian Manhunter became the most famous member of his species through his televised exploits with the Justice League (shades of Roh Kar.) It seems like J'Onzz has always worn the José Ladrönn designed costume from the 2006 mini-series, and the basics of it appear to be standard Martian active wear. One day, J'Onzz decided he needed a kid sidekick, and held a competition amongst the entire youth population of Mars for the chance. M'gann M'orzz was so hungry to visit Earth and become a hero, she beat everybody else on Mars in the contest, even though her elder seemed to be rooting against her. In other words, she told everyone Wonder Woman's origin, on a show where she replaced Wonder Girl.

We return now to that "secret past." There were murmurs when M'gann was introduced as J'Onn's niece, these being characters who haven't shared many panels in the comic books. With the DCnÜ reboot, it would be easy to erase M'gann's White Martian past entirely, and given that there are more eyes on any given episode of Young Justice than most anything DC publishes in a month combined, it would make sense to mainstream the character in the model of the cartoon. However, the cartoon has made some allusions to white being a skin color M'gann has issues with, and her supposed origin story is so blatantly derivative as to be downright incriminating. On the other hand, J'Onn J'Onzz did bring the character into Young Justice, establishing a far stronger bond than was ever present in the comics. One also wonders if M'gann would chance a lie as big as a populated Mars. Perhaps M'gann is still a White Martian, but it seems likely that the more sordid elements of her comics backstory will be discarded. More importantly, this Miss Martian may come from a very different Mars than we've seen in decades, and I'd be very interested to see if her cartoon continuity has an impact on the books great enough to massively rewrite the story of J'Onn J'Onzz. In "going green," the gimmicky tale of Miss Martian may end up wagging the dog that has been much of the Martian Manhunter's half century career...


Rafa Rivas said...

I've been watching the entire series. It's pretty good and the design and animation is awesome. So I really hope they use a version of Megan that resembles that in the DCnU. Furthermore, they should have used guy who did all the character designs rom that series (I don't remember his name) to do most of the DCnU characters. (I think the rubber armors really sucks). They should leave the other half to Bruce Timm.

Anyway, in Young Justice Megan is a very enjoyable character. She's my favorite female, she only ruins it for me whe she say "Hello, Megan". I hope that catchphrase goes away.

Anj said...

I also have been watching YJ since its inception. It is a very good comic and is now stretching into the deeper DCU with more mainstream supervillains, a bigger JLA presence, and even odder corners of the DCU like The Forever People.

In a recent episode, when remembering a traumatic event, M'Gann reverts to her 'secret identity' a caucasian girl named Megan. When Black Canary says she 'turned white', M'Gann panics. I am sure on the show she will be shown to be a White Martian.

It is definitely a good show and worth seeing at some point.

Martin Gray said...

I don't find it creepy that Megan got on best with her Uncle J'onn. With dozens of siblings, it's unlikely her parents could give everyone equal attention, and Megan being such a competent type, she was likely perceived to need less close nurturing. So she gravitates to her big hero uncle.

The origin is indeed suspicious, though - I wonder if she's a White Martian who somehow displaced the real Megan. But then, would her telepathic powers be strong enough to fool the Martian Manhunter?

The Irredeemable Shag said...

I haven't been watchimg Young Justice, but I absolutely loved Johns' One Year Later Teen Titans, as well as McKeever's. Miss Martian, along with Kid Devil and Ravager, were the highlights of those runs. Cool, super-cute character.

The Irredeemable Shag

The Irredeemable Shag said...

By the way, GREAT write-up!


LissBirds said...

So Mars is alive in YJ continuity?

I haven't had a chance to watch YJ this season so I can't comment too thoroughly, but I've liked her overall, with a few reservations. I do have a hunch they'll reveal her as a White Martain.

Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

thanks for the Martian run down Frank you know how much i love Young Justice.