Saturday, December 1, 2012

SurVILEvor Island: Mister Bones

Folks seemed to agree with my point about Weapons Master being a JLA/Bloodwynd villain more than a Martian Manhunter one, though by a narrow margin, 58% of 12 votes.

Coming up with one decent character at a time is difficult enough for comic book creators. One of the banes of writing a team book is the prospect of conceiving a whole group of adversaries at once knowing full well their appearances will be sporadic and that they're made to fall before your heroes. DC sped this problem to its nth degree by "luring away" disgruntled Marvel writers with the promise that they could edit their own work as they doggedly rode the coattails of the X-Men by throwing together deeply awful configurations of super-teams. The perplexing excesses of Mike W. Barr, Gerry Conway and Marv Wolfman have been well documented in the blogosphere, but the literary crimes of Roy Thomas haven't been illuminated near enough to my mind.

Roy Thomas was the heir apparent to Stan Lee in the '60s, and a central chemist behind the super-team formula that defines the genre to this day. Yet by the late '70s Thomas seemed most committed to churning out World War II fanfic involving Thor and Frankenstein teaming up with Hitler. Once Marvel turned inhospitable to that indulgence under Jim Shooter, Thomas packed up his kit bag and applied the same schtick at DC. Never better than mediocre, All-Star Squadron at least served the historic legacy of the Justice Society and DC's lesser/later acquired Golden Age lights. On the other hand, the spin-off Infinity Incorporated could only have lasted as long as it did thanks to the booming direct market's insatiable lust for obligatory collecting material. Readers had to replace the JSA title lost to the late '70s DC Implosion, and they were compelled to support the book about their descendants operating a paid super-service in 1980s Los Angeles (or else communism would win, I guess.) Never mind that these kids were so generic and inoffensive, it would seem inappropriate to single any one of them out for criticism, like complaining about individual grains of overcooked, tasteless rice. Things only got worse as Thomas' raison d'être, being the Earth-2 guru, came undone during the Crisis. Infinity Inc. seemed to operate on dream logic as it borrowed plot points from Chris Claremont without any established foundation for the developments. The book ended with a killing spree against Infinitors that would have been explained away as the deaths of magical clones, had DC not canned the damned thing before the deaths could be reversed. That's how, for instance the daughter of Earth-2 Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor the second generation Fury and a Silver Streak knock-off the undead son of the Hawks (who had somehow become Kirby's Sandman) conceived Morpheus' replacement Daniel in the Dreaming. Jeebus, I could do multiple essays taking apart that last sentence alone.

This brings us to Helix. Deep breath. Okay, Dr. Amos Love ran around injecting pregnant women with a mutagenic drug that warped their offspring, whom he would then kidnap and home school. Isolated and educated solely by the media, these kids formed a super-team after Doctor Love died. Despite patterning themselves after the JSA, Helix's first solution to their lack of sustaining funds was to kidnap an Infinitor for ransom. When that approach failed, Helix loitered in the background before turning on one another. Mr. Bones was the leader of this group, so the rudderlessness comes down to him.

Mister Bones was born with transparent skin and developed a lethal cyanide touch. Not especially useful abilities for a hero, but that didn't stop him from cosplaying as the Black Terror and being enlisted as a member of Infinity Inc. based on his looking cool, a sorely needed trait for that crew. One of Bones' legs was bitten off by a land-shark brethren, and was replaced with a cybernetic one. Then he accidentally killed the Star-Spangled Kid (redubbed Skyman) with a touch. Did I mention that Bones was secretly black and spoke only in a rhyming doggerel crap rap? That happened.

Infinity Inc. survived for as long as it did thanks to nepotism and art from the likes of Jerry Ordway, Michael Bair and Todd McFarlane. When it was put down in 1988, Mister Bones went away with it for a decade. He resurfaced as part of the ensemble cast of D.C. Johnson & J.H. Williams III's short-lived Chase series. We've recently seen an acclaimed late middle-aged clean cut Caucasian war hero lose his job as boss of the C.I.A. because his penis allegedly found sanctuary in a vagina that was not his wife's, so it was something of a stretch that a felonious screwball twentysomething African-American with a "speech impediment" and no formal education should be appointed as regional director in the highly sensitive Department of Extranormal Operations. However, he looked good in a suit, and artists will always prefer to draw a cigar smoking skull over a nondescript bureaucrat. Johnson even managed to subtly work in the rhyming as Bones gave marching orders to Agent Cameron Chase in the F.B.I. for metahumans. Technically though, he should have been Director Robert Todd, not "Director Bones."

Chase was something of a spiritual successor to Suicide Squad, which seemed to give license for John Ostrander to cannibalize its fresh corpse for his Martian Manhunter series. Cameron Chase was sent to investigate the murder of John Jones' partner in private investigations, and stumbled upon a list of the Alien Atlas' many international assumed identities. Director Bones tried to leverage this information to draft the Martian Manhunter into working with the DEO, or at least stop him from spying on the department. J'Onzz balked, so Bones released the list to the media, only to catch blowback when people took umbrage over their local hero being unnecessarily compromised. J'Onzz continued to cross paths with Cameron Chase, since he'd been grafted onto her origin story, but Bones seemed to fall off his radar.

Established as a creepier and more adversarial desk bound Nick Fury, Director Bones started having cameos all across the DC Universe. This led to a recurring role in another Manhunter series, in which vigilante prosecutor Kate Spencer was successfully brought into the DEO under Bones' supervision. After that book ended, J.H. Williams III carried Bones and Agent Chase over to his Batwoman series. This protected Bones from the arbitrary revisions of the New 52, although his Infinity Inc. backstory surely, and perhaps blessedly, did not survive.

When Director Bones started turning up in Martian Manhunter, he was a minor character from a trivial '80s team who'd lost his supporting role in a critically regarded but popularly ignored series. Under those terms, it made sense to absorb him into the Vile Menagerie. Nearly fifteen years later, Mister Bones is his own distinct entity appearing regularly in series involving entirely different manhunters, but most importantly, not having much of anything to do with J'Onn J'Onzz in the years since.


will_in_chicago said...

I am leaning against Director Bones, as he has not had much to do with J'Onn for sometime. His backstory is train wreck that should be left in the old continuity.

Perhaps Bones could be brought back obsessing over how little is known abut J'Onn J'Onnzz. Even once J'Onn joins the JLA, he may still a mystery to the DEO.

will_in_chicago said...

I decided to vote against Director Bones, as he is not really that impressive a figure. I think that all it would take to destroy him is exposing his past. Plus, I think Amanda Waller has a good claim to the same gig in monitoring heroes without having a bad backstory.

Diabolu Frank said...

I figure a new Mister V would best serve in this capacity.

will_in_chicago said...

Yes, as a Mister V could be trying to out heroes and make them miserable as a criminal master mind. Someone as shady as Mister Bones would probably be dragged before Congress once his background became known.