Friday, August 31, 2012

SurVILEvor Island: Fernus

Despite arguing against his validity based on an absence of printed follow-up battles over the past three decades, I'm a big fan of the premise of Mongul as a Martian Manhunter foe. In a close contest with solid voter turn-out, Mongul pulled off 62% favorability out of 26 votes (anagrammatical!) to remain in the rogues gallery of the Sleuth from Outer Space. Mister V has clashed with the Martian Manhunter in more solo stories than any other villain, but has never appeared on a comic book cover (not even his Justice League of America guest shot.) Commander Blanx appeared on one, and Professor Arnold Hugo two. Meanwhile the Trial by Fire trade paperback got a brand new Fernus cover, and despite appearing in only one story, The Burning's been on more frontpieces than those other guys combined.

"Trial by Fire" ran in six bi-weekly issues of JLA in 2003 that served to close out the Joe Kelly/Doug Mahnke run that was bad enough to convince the book's editor not to even try to hire a new creative team afterward. I'd be afraid to risk another "The Obsidian Age" myself. Anyway, Fernus was some recessive gene in the Martian body from prehistoric times that when triggered turned them into Dark Phoenix. Or something. Martian cavemen were on fire constantly and attended a never-ending planet wide Gathering of the Juggalos until the Guardians of the Universe suppressed their Shaggy 2 DopeNA to turn them all into Enya fans like J'Onn J'Onzz. Wishing to rid himself of a career long debilitating weakness against Faygo, the Martian Manhunter shacked up with Scorch White Trash, an inadvertent practitioner of juggalettery who caused the manifestation of Violent J'J'. This was an evil entity contained within J'Onzz who killed a bunch of Vandal Savage's henchmen with a hatchet and beat up the JLA until being stopped by (friggin') Plastic Man and J'Onzz's own disgust with the cancerous portion of his being that craved horrorcore (which he appropriately killed with fire.)

Fernus was an empty vessel that impressed a bunch of people who never read a Martian Manhunter solo story in their life and/or had a (ahem) burning desire to see the Alien Atlas matched up with someone KEWL, despite the story making less sense than the plot of The Dark Knight Rises. No one knows for sure what causes Bloodwynd, but it's a minor condition treatable with topical creams or suppositories. Fernus is more equivalent to continuity prolapse, something gnarly to look at on the internet, but a terror to experience for oneself. The best you can do is push its bowels back up in their hole and hope to God it never manifests again.

Despite Fernus being a short term, ill-advised heel turn of no great consequence, he did fight the League inside a uterus on that one cover, so he's got that going for him. The Burning also battled kinda-sorta Martian Manhunter foe Vandal Savage, and has ties to a version of Martian pre-history best left forgotten. He thrashed the JLA until the Alien Atlas turned up at the last minute for a deus ex machina finale. I'm not certain that he qualifies for the Menagerie, but he's certainly vile...

*Fifth anniversary celebration starts Saturday, but the poll results appear to still be fluid through Friday, so we'll see...


mathematicscore said...

I don't know that Kelly deserves this level of scorn; Trial By Fire may have broke it's own ground, largely ignoring established continuity, but I thought it did so in an interesting way.
Also, without doing any research at all, wouldn't the lack of a regular creative team be attributable to the general shift towards trade-friendly big name story arcs, and away from cohesive continuing story? Of the top of my head we have Byrne/Claremont, Ron Garney and Geoff Johns filling out the rest of the run.
Still, the Juggalo references were pretty funny... :)

will_in_chicago said...

I voted no on Fernus, as this story had a lot of holes in it. First, I have to confess that I am not an expert on the Green Lantern Corps, but the Guardians of the Universe seemed to start on their now current portrayal as tremendous jerks who are now fascists who deserve a visit from the Jim Corrigan version of the Spectre. (Now that the Guardians wish to eliminate free will, I suggest that the Spectre do to them what he did to a Mafia figure in a comic I read as a kid. Lights go out, we hear a scream and all we see are the skeletons of the self-proclaimed Guardians of the Universe. They Guardians may now be the greatest villains of the new DCnU -- not that it makes Hal Jordan all that more interesting or likeable as a character.)

J'Onn wanting to overcome a weakness, a rather puzzling one, is understandable. However, I think he could do better than Scorch as someone to help him. He has a powerful figure that he can go to called H'ronmeer aka Death of the Endless. Hmm, so where would a character of J'Onn's intelligence turn to for help -- a slumming demon or someone his people worshiped as a god and predated the self proclaimed Guardians of the Universe. (I think that in current continuity, the Guardians are proving all J'Onn's doubts of them to be on target.)

As for Plastic Man stopping J'Onn, give me a break. Plastic Man should have been a pile of melted and burnt flesh. Since when has Plastic Man been able to stand up to a Superman, a Captain Marvel, a Captain Atom or the Manhunter from Mars?

So, this was an example of bad story telling all around and one of the reasons not to mourn the previous continuity. So, I think that Fernus may look cool visually, which may explain his prominence, but the story telling is more of a wreck than a 16 car pile up on the Dan Ryan expressway at rush hour.

Diabolu Frank said...

M.C., yeah, no. According to the assistant editor, "Trial by Fire" happened because Martian Manhunter was boring and needed the pizzazz of a girlfriend. It was Scorch because she was Joe Kelly's pet character from Action Comics. Kelly was also hot to make Plastic Man work as a serious character, so he got to be the main hero. Then there was the essence of Martians as we know them becoming dependent on Green Lantern lore. It was a cluster of agendas thrown together for a final wanky story arc before the flailing creative team was booted (with the Elite mini-series their severance package.)

JLA happened because of Morrison and Porter. Waid and Hitch were the best shot at sustaining momentum, but both were lost to infighting and other publishers. Kelly/Mahnke failed in a pretty big way (shedding 13,000 readers in two years, a fifth of the former readership.) I don't think anyone with the profile to restore the book wanted it, and I don't think Mike Carlin was the kind of editor to take a real chance, so we ended up with two concurrent anthologies.

Diabolu Frank said...

Will, the Guardians were always bossy secretive jerks, but they were still benevolent. Like most characters these days, they've lost the script and gone bleak.

I'm not sure H'ronmeer is one of the Endless. Just because Morpheus appeared as Lord L'Zoril once doesn't mean that he was in fact that deity. If true though, H'ronmeer wouldn't necessarily be Death, as Destruction was also an artist.

I like and respect Plastic Man, but he needed a straight solo title to level jump like that. He spent too many years as the JLA's obnoxious goof to sell a face turn to readers, despite the explanation offered in "Obsidian Age."

will_in_chicago said...

Frank, I know the Guardians could bossy secretive jerks but they have gone so far off their earlier benevolent role that they now have the same agenda as Darkseid: eliminate free will. Mind you, they justify it to themselves, but so does Darkseid. Darkseid may well see his role as imposing order on chaos, all for the greater glory of himself. Of course, considering that he was in current continuity beat up by the Justice League with a sword and a trident should mean that his neighbors finally realize he was bluffing about his immense power all these years and take him out -- and not for a hamburger either.

I have associated H'ronmeer and Lord L'Zoril with the deities of Mars as there may be a connection. I confess to liking that connection,

The Plastic Man thing is confusing. His taking on a version of J'Onn is kind of like Damian Wayne fighting Superman without Kryptonite, magic, red solar radiation or whatever else messes Kal-El up this week.

Let's say that while I am not completely happy with the New 52, the previous continuity had its own set of problems.

Diabolu Frank said...

Will, I was agreeing with you on the Guardians. They were always busybodies, but nowadays they're as bad as anything they fight. I used to be a minor Green Lantern fan, but I avoid those books entirely today.

As for the New 52, I'll take the jumble of possibilities we used to have ("Trial by Fire" included) over a streamlined void of editorial dictate. Although Anj sent me the neatest pages from the new Superman annual the other day...