Saturday, December 22, 2012

SurVILEvor Island: The Hyperclan

Rott was responsible for Bloodwynd appearing in all those "Death of Superman" tie-ins instead of the Martian Manhunter, but then again, J.M. DeMatteis was just trying to put him up on a shelf (or off into solo land without success) anyway. Rott (and perhaps Dreamslayer) constitutes what passes for the Bloodwynd rogues gallery, and I share misgivings about his joining J'Onn J'Onzz's, so the poll results seem to have reflected a general ambivalence with a 100% split of ten votes.

Gathered together in this time of peace and good will is a family of survivors, bonded together by the purpose of enslaving, vivisecting or outright exterminating mankind to take our planet for their own. After the 1988 Martian Manhunter mini-series essentially wiped out all Silver and Bronze Age history of the red planet, the vision of Martians remained as peaceful green tribesmen for the next decade. The racial strife that was so central to the Alien Atlas' 1970s stories and the creation of Jemm, Son of Saturn was cast aside, but no one told Grant Morrison, who built the opening arc of his Magnificent Seven JLA relaunch around it. No one had attempted to put all of DC's most powerful and successful heroes on one team since the early '80s, and simultaneously repairing their old villains while selling the public on a long abandoned approach must have seemed daunting. Instead, Morrison and artist Howard Porter introduced a new team of seeming heroes with extraterrestrial origins and powers comparable to the Justice League's.

Possibly taking a cue from the failed farmed out '90s Clive Barker superhero concept Hyperkind and the contemptible antiheroes of the Alex Ross/Mark Waid parable Kingdom Come, this "Hyperclan" embodied the visual aesthetic and vicious streak of the Chromium Age of Comics. Protex was a golden god Superman analogue along the lines of Rob Liefeld's Supreme, Jim Lee's Mister Majestic, Comics' Greatest World's Titan, and so on. The leader of the team was coupled with a female partner in Primaid, the semi-submissive Lois Lane/Wonder Woman stand-in not dissimilar from another in-house analogue, the Earth-3 Superwoman. Picking up on tropes both generic to super-hero comics and still largely paralleling the JLA, there was Züm the manic speedster, Armek the robotic hulk, A-Mortal the vengeful specter, Fluxus the elemental (rocky) guy, Zenturion the shield slinging centurion, and Tronix the sadistic alterna-chick (a more recent cliche, with origins dating back to Golden Age femme fatales but crystallized during the "bad girl" fad.) In a bit of metacommentary, the flashy cretins displaced the classic heroes in the public's hearts by dispatching criminals in brutal fashion while smirking endlessly.

The twist was that all of the Hyperclan's good deeds were faked, that they used technology to twist the minds of the general public, and that rather than being from a host of worlds, the team was composed entirely of White Martians isolating powers established as belonging to the Martian Manhunter, but rarely displayed in full spectrum. You would expect the Alien Atlas to play a major role in the arc, and you would be mistaken. J'Onn J'Onzz was shown having a secret meeting with Protex on one page, and he helped the Flash and Green Lantern beat Züm, Armek, and Zenturion off-panel as part of a gambit to enter the Hyperclan's secret base, Z'Onn Z'Orr. Admittedly, this was in part to keep the secret of the Hyperclan long enough for Batman to make the big, fan pleasing reveal, but it also sidelined the Martian Marvel for most of the tale. While the JLA were shown as hurting by the midpoint of the arc, they were never truly down, so J'Onn was at best part of a rally spearheaded by the Dark Knight.

J'Onzz's only on-panel fight was against Primaid, "the girl" of the team, who kicked his ass and was later hogtied by Wonder Woman. By comparison, Batman took down four members of the Hyperclan by himself. Sure, it was the Alien Atlas who borrowed a trick from Reed Richards by telepathically mindscrewing the White Martians into believing they were humans in professions that would inhibit their powers through fire, but only after the JLA had apprehended them. I guess J'Onzz repossessed Z'Onn Z'Orr as his own temporary base in the first year of a solo series before tossing it into the sun during Malefic's arc. Also, he got ambushed by the White Martians in a story arc four years later, but again, he never delivered the knockout punch to anyone important.

Comics have a long history of beating a dead horse. Characters are created to serve a specific function in a certain story, then should go away, but instead get brought back again and again (often without any actual demand.) Does the world really need more Squadron Supreme comics set in the core Marvel continuity involving an ersatz JLA frozen in their 1970s interpretation? Yet, while clearly designed to tap into then-popular tropes, the Hyperclan were not analogues of particular characters, simply types. Their designs were fun, and still look pretty nifty fifteen years later. Nobody cares that much about individual Skrulls, only name players like the Super-Skrull and Paibok who stand apart from the crowd. It might have been a stretch to make story sense of the White Martians retaining their humanoid Hyperclan identities, but surely some compromise could be found better than letting them all recede into the homogenic throng of their army.

Purely White Martian versions of Protex and Primaid were name-checked in "Terror Incognita," but visually they were indistinguishable aside from (human) sexual characteristics in their matching tan one-pieces. The JLA does not have the strongest collection of foes, and it seems a waste to relegate the Hyperclan to the scrap heap in favor of a few appearances from generic White Martians before the lot appeared to be exterminated by Fernus the Burning. More than being thrown under the bus, they were tied to the train tracks and obliterated as an afterthought.

That said, the Hyperclan have never functioned as Martian Manhunter foes, only JLA ones. The war between the White and Green Martians took place uncounted generations before the time of J'Onn J'Onzz, and he was raised with them as practically mythological entities. The Hyperclan planned to trick J'Onzz into working with them against the League, only to murder him after, but they were just being ruthlessly practical. There's no legitimate personal animosity between the Manhunter and any individual members of the team, nor have we seen any serious one-on-one combat. The Hyperclan as a unit seem to be too much heat to bring down on the Manhunter alone, especially since he's yet to prove his effectiveness against any one of them. Barring a New 52 revision, the ease of ultimate takedown of the Hyperclan at the end of "New World Order" neutered them before the League, or any other team with members capable of flicking a Bic. There's no glory in beating the Hyperclan, yet J'Onn J'Onzz can't believably do it, and would only be motivated by ancient obligations to try. There are ways of working around this, but as we know the Hyperclan that exists in print, they don't truly belong amidst the Vile Menagerie.


will_in_chicago said...

Well, I seem to be in the minority in the polls. The Hyperclan makes good villains for a team, but did not interact with J'Onn as much as I would have hoped.

The HyperClan is too much for J'Onn in his pre-New 52 incarnation. Now, with his weakness to fire either absent, greatly reduced or altered (I suspect that it may now require a psychic component), the current Martian Manhunter would go through the old version fairly easily, with even less difficulty than Gotham City's Dark Knight. So, I would say these villains are more League foes. Maybe they will have a new incarnation in the DC Universe, but there is not the same sort of personal animosity between J'Onn and the Hyperclan as there is between him and Despero.

Diabolu Frank said...

I think/hope that J'Onn will be vulnerable to a specific type of blue flame wielded by Helspont. It would tie into the Blue Flame of Mars from the Bronze Age and do away with easy regular fire-based wins to toughen the Manhunter up for the expanded DC Universe. That would presumably extend to a New 52 Hyperclan, resetting them as a formidable team.

will_in_chicago said...

Frank, I think that the Blue Flame may well have a "psychic" component -- particularly if it is partially composed of the life force or souls of dead Martians or other sentient beings. I think that having a foe who can be taken out with a box of matches is too easy.

So, maybe the Hyperclan will appear but if each is roughly equal to J'Onn J'Onnzz in power, J'Onn will need help. (Perhaps that is the threat for which the Justice League was not ready for some issues back. Also, I would have thought that people working together for five years would have bonded into a functional team and have some friendships.) However, as the Hyperclan now stands, J'Onn was almost an afterthought to them in their agenda.