Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Vile Menagerie: BETTE NOIR

Alter Ego: Bette Noir
Occupation: Psychic parasite
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: None
Group Affiliation: D. N. Aliens
Base of Operations: Cadmus
First Appearance: Martian Manhunter #1,000,000 (November, 1998)
Height: Variable
Eyes: Violet
Hair: Black

An unidentified party was known to have created D. N. Aliens outside the aegis of Project Cadmus, the genetic engineering outfit most associated with these types of scientifically manufactured beings. As these rogue, mostly inhuman looking D. N. Aliens would appear in public, often discovered during some form of "rampage," they would be captured and placed in Cadmus' high tech holding facility dubbed "Monster Alley." A subset of these beings were in a vegetative state, and held is a segment reserved for "the sleeping monsters." One of these beings was a large mass of Caucasian flesh covered with various protrusions, some identifiably human extremities and others more foreign, such as tentacles. This being was not truly in a coma, but was instead active on the psychic plane, and in fact contributed to the unconscious states of other "monsters" by sapping their psychic energy to further empower the subject's non-corporeal form.

Self-identifying as "Bette Noir" and composing the form of a seductive pale-skinned woman from pure psionic energy, the "vampire" went undiscovered until she victimized one of Cadmus' most prominent figures, the telepathic D. N. Alien Dubbilex. At this time, the clone Superboy had been working closely with Cadmus, but was unavailable to help due to his commitment to the teen metahumans Young Justice. Further, the crime seemed to require investigation involving a different set of skills and powers, so Superman recommended the Martian Manhunter to assist.

J'Onn J'Onzz attempted a mind meld with Dubbilex, and was nearly sucked into a "psionic black hole within him" where all of his considerable mental power had been drained by an unknown nearby source. J'Onzz oversaw the construction of a cage around Dubbilex's physical form that would disrupt his draining, while the Martian set down a telepathic net to detect the assailant when they investigated the disruption. Even still, Bette Noir arrived without setting off this web of psionic energy, then offered a demonstration of her powers that temporarily bested the Manhunter, the cloned Guardian, and other members of Project Cadmus. However, the Martian Manhunter recovered quickly, traced Bette back to her physical body, and telepathically crafted psionic restraints that trapped Bette within her own mind. J'Onzz expressed regret at this harsh but necessary sentence, and vowed to work toward improving the living conditions on Monster Alley.

Some time later, the serial killer of metahumans Dr. Trap learned of the existence of the highly developed D. N. Alien telepath, and used connections cultivated over the years to make contact. Trap offered to free Bette Noir from her body while allowing her a place within his own mind, but failed to elaborate that he would have her physical body killed while subjecting Bette to conditioning that allowed him to subjugate her. Bette was then used to mentally manipulate J'Onn J'Onzz into confronting the captive Dr. Trap, who unleashed the full force of Noir's power to cause J'Onzz to relive his every painful memory at the same time on a continuous loop. J'Onzz was only very briefly incapacitated, and his powers were temporarily muted, but he ultimately reached a mutually beneficial agreement with Bette Noir to reside within and torment Dr. Trap instead.

When last seen, Bette Noir was revisited by J'Onn J'Onzz as a suspect in crimes actually being committed by the disembodied spirit of Harley Quinn. However, he did find that Bette's continuous punishment of Dr. Trap had become sadistic, so the Martian Manhunter collaborated with Trap to press Bette Noir into becoming a more conscionable warden over his psyche.

Powers & Weapons:
Although the D. N. Alien's physical form was static, her psychometric manifestation as Bette Noir was largely unhindered by corporeal restrictions. She could fly and pass through solid objects. Her powers are telepathic, telekinetic, and pyrokinetic, which allowed her to interact with J'Onn J'Onzz's body even when he would otherwise have been intangible, lighting his molecules on fire and threatening to similarly burn out his mind. Bette Noir can enter a person's mind and alter their perceptions, at one point taking the form of J'Onzz's deceased wife M'yri'ah in a bid to seduce him, and monstrous forms to inspire fear. Since losing her physical body, Bette Noir has needed to be hosted in the minds of others.

Quote: "My physical body-- is just misshapen flesh. This is the only life-- the only freedom-- I'll ever know. And there's so much I could do for you, J'Onny. I sneaked a peek in your mind. I know what you need."

Created by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

2015 M'yrnn J'onzz Space City Comic Con Jam Sketch Detail by Scott Kolins

J'onn J'onzz's unnamed parents appeared in one of the hero's earliest stories as carbon copies of the basic Martian with a color flipped costume and/or a barely noticeable gender swap. They appeared once or twice more during the Silver Age Detective Comics run, and then nothing for 3½-4 decades. If I recall correctly, they didn't turn up again until the last story arc of the 1998 Martian Manhunter series, where John Ostrander finally named the father "M'yrnn" and Eduardo Barreto redesigned the character... as still pretty much J'Onn J'Onzz in essentially the same costume, but with less red and a Jemm-y gem on his brow. I wasn't at all a fan of Ostrander's exploration of J'Onn J'Onzz's childhood through the dark lens of his then-newly invented evil twin brother, but I did like that he bucked a common comic book crutch by having his mother Sha'sheen being the dominant and defining parent while the father was a comparatively minor entity.

With this in mind, I looked at the brand name talents available to work on this jam piece and thought "who would I like to draw the Martian Manhunter besides Carlo Barberi?" Costume variations aside, M'yrnn was a second opportunity to get a proxy J'Onn into the piece, and you know which long time DC artist specializing in their iconic characters who rarely/never got around to the Alien Atlas was in Houston this year?

Scott Kolins is of course most famous for his three year run on The Flash with Geoff Johns, but he's been on my radar since he got his start on the Ultraverse line and my favorite of his runs was a brief stint on The Avengers (I especially dug his Captain America!) Saturday in Space City was tense due to the demands of getting so many parts of the jam completed before several of the intended artists left early, so I was in a bit of a rush when I raced to Kolins to ask him to join in. He was approachable and friendly, not to mention quoting a very amenable price for a full figure that would occupy one of the largest spaces available in the jam.

Look, this project is a collaborative effort, and virtually everybody involved brought their A-game, so it's not fair to call out favorites. It's just that M'yrnn J'onzz looks so much better than he has a right to, by far the best he's ever looked anywhere, that it's hard to love all these commission "children" 100% equally. I'm all about this guy's expression, the brawny curve of his arms, those wicked cut legs, and especially his adorable, lovingly rendered little footsies and toes! Plus, Kolins added those sick graytones that give so much depth and pop... and speaking of pop, it's hard not to assume J'Onn was conceived in an earthly, earthy fashion with the Alex Rossian attention to certain prominent details. Jeebus! Finally, M'yrnn J'onzz is not only appropriately in scale compared to his son and the other characters, but also delightfully larger than life!*

*Not talking about the package anymore. C'mon, guys!

More from Scott Kolins
The J'Onzzes

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

2015 Grandmother J'onzz Space City Comic Con Jam Sketch Detail by Marat Mychaels

Unlike the several other art jams I've been engineering, I wanted the "family photo" to be completely done within the summer of 2015 to insure it could unfurl early and often into J'Onn J'Onzz's sixtieth anniversary year. I also wanted to stick with recognized professionals in the industry, I wanted to maintain the high standard set by Brett Booth, and I tried to approach people I'd never gotten work from before. That was a pretty tall order, and ultimately, those demands had to give in a few places.

As I juggled the various artists and subjects in a premeditated but necessarily flexible sequence across two short weekend shows, I ended up with a narrow gap between a pair of full-sized standing figures where two characters had to fit. Further, I had used green Post-Its to establish not only each character's general location, but also their relative height to maintain scale. Since the as-yet-not-drawn Sha'sheen J'onzz had to be slightly below the eyelines of the already fully rendered J'onn & M'yrnn, that meant the other character had to squeeze in below her dedicated space, no higher than waist up on anyone, and did I mention she also had to interact with the finished K'hym piece?

That was a list of severe demands, and I frankly needed to call on someone I had a history with who I could trust without reservation to pull off this challenge. I needed the maestro behind one of my first commissions who as a result became my ideal figure artist for Commander Blanx, none other than Marat Mychaels! He's worked on hundreds of comics since the early '90s, most notably Brigade, Deadpool Corps, Army of Darkness, & Grifter, plus he's closely associated with another superstar artist I was angling to include in the jam!

"Grandmother" J'onzz was to my knowledge never named, and her even appearing in a comic book is debatable, since not even her creator J.M. DeMatteis could confirm whether the being drawn in Justice League of America #256 was intended to be her or the Martian deity H'ronmeer. Since H'ronmeer looked completely different when he appeared in the 1988 Martian Manhunter mini-series and has been consistently depicted through Mark Badger's version of the design, I basically appropriated this image for the matriarch in J'Onn's thoughts while burning alive in that story. Since the figure was depicted in that tale surrounded by flames, and J'Onn's visions were connected to H'ronmeer and his grandmother, I thought perhaps coupling the two through a fascination with fire typically shunned by Martians would be a nice wrinkle (plus the K'hym artist had already drawn a flame of his own accord.)

Through my long-winded explanation and the various leaps to this point, it was a minor miracle Mychaels managed such a fine specimen! I love the Kirbyesque quality to the hands, feet, and the solid blacks. Note his ability to skew the androgynous subject more feminine through subtle use of feathered pseudo-eyelashes, as well as a general softening of the harsh Luke McDonnell reference art. It's a lovely little piece packed with fine detail, and he even gave it to me at a discount, despite the amount of effort needed to make the piece work within the confines of the jam. As ever, I'm a fan of Marat Mychaels, one of my commission all-stars, who is a class act and has never let me down!

More from Marat Mychaels
The J'Onzzes

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

2015 Sha'sheen J'onzz Space City Comic Con Jam Sketch Detail by Ryan Benjamin

Thanks to the constant distraction of podcasting, and the specific demands of getting new Martian Manhunter podcasts onto this blog every few weeks, I've managed to go over a month without a new member of the J'Onzz Family Portrait appearing. Who better to set the T'hanksgiving D'inner than “Mother” J'onzz, the Silver Age domestic later rendered as "Sha'sheen?" The post-Zero Hour, pre-Flashpoint incarnation of J'onn's mom was herself a Manhunter from Mars who wore an outfit near identical to her son's, which struck me as boring and lacking individuality. The unnamed materfamilias appeared thrice in the old Detective Comics strip, once in the early days with a bald head in a sort of formalized muumuu, and years later in the version you see here. I prefer this sort of austere pilgrim look to the Groening overbite original version, especially the lavender hair, which would also turn up on Bel Juz.

I had considered Wildstorm and DC artist Ryan Benjamin for several members of the J'onzzes, including M'yri'ah and M'yrnn, but as other artists took precedence the selection was made by default. I'd previously enjoyed Benjamin's work on WildC.A.T.s and Grifter, plus his more recent cover work, and figured he'd be a good fit for any of the alien Martians, but especially a female. I actually caught the artist toward the end of his stint at the convention (can't recall if it was Saturday or Sunday) and he was drawing a large, very detailed Bane on his table mat as a going away present (after having already done an attractive Harley Quinn.) I stood around for a long while, watching the artist work. Once I finally attracted his attention, he offered to do a ten minute sketch of Sha'sheen for $80.

As he settled into the drawing using my waist up reference, Benjamin asked me a lot of questions about the character's costume details, especially those left unseen. I frankly didn't have many answers for him, since to my recollection Mother J'onzz was never drawn below the waist in this costume, and I ultimately regretted frustrating the artist by not asking for one of the character's other two designs. Truth to tell, I have no great interest in Sha'sheen, which played into her late, obligatory, and cramped inclusion in the jam piece. I think the artist sensed my lack of enthusiasm and inability to articulate much of interest about the character. Obviously, there's a lot missing from view in this scan, as Sha'sheen is interacting with two other members of the family I'm saving for later. Also, I had another artist add graytones to this figure to better integrate it into the overall piece.

More from Ryan Benjamin
The J'Onzzes

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Podcast: John Jones in Smallville, Part 1

Episode #18

Look for us on iTunes, ShoutEngine or directly download an art-tagged MP3 from the Internet Archive

Beginning this episode: an irregular series of shows covering appearances by the Sleuth from Outer Space on the WB/CW's long-lived Superboy Clark Kent developing into Superman TV show Smallville. This initial installment looks briefly at the show's formative development, then summarizes John Jones' cameo debut in the sixth season episode "Static," followed by the launch of the Martian-less not quite a "Justice" League, and finally the full debut of the Manhunter as portrayed by Phil Morris in "Labyrinth."

Episode Art Tumblr

We enjoy dialogue on the red planet, so here are our non-telepathic contact options:

Monday, November 2, 2015

Podcast: Martian Manhunter #4 (2015)

Episode #17

Look for us on iTunes, ShoutEngine or directly download an art-tagged MP3 from the Internet Archive

Frank summarizes and critiques the fourth issue of the New 52/DC You Martian Manhunter series by Rob Williams and Eddy Barrows! Also, a deeper, angrier critique of the series and look at sales, plus a brief look at the Supergirl pilot.

We enjoy dialogue on the red planet, so here are our non-telepathic contact options:

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

2015 J'onn J'onzz Space City Comic Con Jam Sketch Detail by Carlo Barberi

If I recall correctly, my enjoyment of Carlo Barberi's work predated his professional career, when I first noted his fan art. From there, he continued a legacy of high quality cartooning begun by Humberto Ramos on Impulse, facing the unenviable task of replacing Ethan Van Sciver and staying with the book for the rest of its run. He went on to notable stints on Deadpool, Gen13 (with Gail Simone,) and Ultimate Comics X-Men (with Nick Spencer & Brian Wood,) as well as various brief spots with Spider-Man and my personal favorite, the Batman: Orphans micro-series. Barberi first drew the Martian Manhunter in adorable form for Sins of Youth, then in the animated "Timmverse" fashion as regular artist on the Justice League Unlimited comic adaptation.

After Brett Booth established the scale and quality bar with T'omm J'onzz (still only penciled at this stage of the project) and Ken Lashley maintained it with M'yri'ah J'onzz, it was time to form the centerpiece character, J'onn J'onzz. I wanted this take to be as close to ideal as possible, capturing a contented Alien Atlas in the midst of his family. I was confident Carlo Barberi was the best choice for the joyful J'Onn of my heart and in my head for this jam effort.

The main figure stands nearly 11" on the page, so he's quite a bit grander in scale than this scan represents. I'm afraid the small scale of this scan reduces your ability to spot the finer details of Barberi's work, and also adulteration in the scan causes it to be overly contrasted and appear rougher in the tones than on the physical art. However, Barberi did such a great job of incorporating J'Onn into the presence of the previous pieces of his wife and kid brother that I wanted to focus on that. I love the slightly cocked beetle-brow, the soft smile, the curve of the collar and drape of the cape. Barberi is wonderfully on model for the Martian Marvel of my childhood with his body posture and specifics like the "pie" symbol belt buckle. J'onn holds M'yri'ah's shoulder, and his expression is both loving and slightly curious about his bride's distracted glance away toward T'omm. That's an element we got to build upon further down the line.

For the record, Barberi had a very limited color palette at his disposal to produce the tones, and while the scan gives the appearances of bright green skin and clear reds on his straps & eyes, the actual piece is all shades of gray that merely give the impression of color. Barberi's J'Onn J'Onzz is rich with subtle style and dimension, and he proved the perfect choice for my favorite subject on this "grail" piece. Of course, with J'Onn in the middle, there's a lot more of this portrait to reveal in due time...

More from Carlo Barberi The J'Onzzes

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Podcast: Martian Manhunter #3 (2015)

Episode #16

Look for us on iTunes, ShoutEngine or directly download an art-tagged MP3 from the Internet Archive

Frank summarizes and critiques the third issue of the New 52/DC You Martian Manhunter series by Rob Williams and Eddy Barrows! Plus, Martian Mail covering the 60th Anniversary Special (Part 1.)

We enjoy dialogue on the red planet, so here are our non-telepathic contact options:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

2014 New 52 Martian Manhunter Comicpalooza Commission by Pat Broderick

Did I say that I was going to run a J'Onn J'Onzz commission every day late last week, one from each year leading up to the anniversary? What I meant to say was that I'm very, very tired from working on the 60th podcast and it'll be a week from the day of my last post.

Pat Broderick was one of the first comic book artists that I was exposed to, thanks to my uncle having been a fan and having left and/or given me a bunch of 1970s comics associated with a mutual favorite, Jim Starlin. For instance, I at least got to read Starlin's Captain Marvel issues, and I recall having some copies of his successors' issues around the house, including some by Broderick and Al Milgrom. However, unlike with Starlin, there was a huge gap in time between inheriting those comics and having access to any more work by Broderick, which meant waiting until 1987 for my next major fix. The title was Captain Atom, which I totally bought into from the first issue I could get my hands on until I stopped finding it on the newsstand a few months later. Regardless, I loved Broderick's style and was always happy to see him turn up on later books. I finally got to meet him and his wife last year, found them to be pleasant folks, and picked up three sketches. I'd recommend anyone do the same, since they're quality, affordable, and quickly turned around, exactly what you want from a convention commission.

I can't recall if this was the first or second piece I got that year, but the idea was to have the modern New 52 version of the Manhunter from Mars strike the earliest pose anyone would consider "iconic" for a relatively minor super-hero property. All the way in the beginning, Detective Comics #225, Joe Certa drew a couple of shots of the Alien Atlas that were memorable enough to be homaged by later artists and even repurposed for a cover element on 1961's giant Secret Origins #1 which was later redrawn by Jerry Ordway for a 1998 replica edition. I didn't communicate the intention to carry on that tradition well enough though, so the result was closer to other pieces I've had done that were more akin to Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe entries of full figure reference shots. I still dig the piece though, especially the contemporary Manhunter design reinterpreted in the Bronze Age style I and many of my generation tend to favor as the flavor we were reared under.

As I've said repeatedly, I'm a fan and defender of Jim Lee's New 52 redesign, and feel the Sleuth from Outer Space has long needed a visual overhaul. That said, I still very much wish DC would allow the color scheme to revert back to shades of dark blue, as was seen in several of Martian Manhunter's early appearances in the current continuity. Once you color the suit purple, he starts to look rather derivative, and when you do it in old school flat colors by a period artist, it becomes really obvious that the Martian Marvel is in fact nigh identical to the version of Drax the Destroyer created by Starlin and later drawn by Broderick. Still, purple is a complimentary color, and Drax decided to become Riddick before making the leap to a highly lucrative major motion picture debut, so I can live with fly hand-me-downs no one else is using. Heck, even Hulk stopped sporting eggplant jeans ages ago.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2013 Martian Manhunter Comicpalooza Commission by David Mack

A couple of years ago, I started thinking seriously about what I wanted to do for the 60th anniversary celebration, and one thing I tried to do was save back a few pieces from each summer convention commission season for the occasion. This was of course before 2014, when I a) started a bunch of jam pieces that are muchly still unfinished, halting their post progress and b) was still producing a daily blog of reasonably freshly produced content. I could probably post a new illustration every day for the rest of the year and still not completely exhaust the stockpile thanks to hoarding, other projects and procrastination. I was also still concerned about "debuting" pieces based on whether they had shown up on the internet outside my control (usually on the artist's social media/art galleries/et cetera.) This work by David Mack was threefold perfection, as it was a name artist who to the best of my knowledge never circulated the piece and actually spotlighted J'Onn J'Onzz instead of another obscurity from his circles. Niftily enough, it also allows me to offer a new bit of Alien Atlas art for the rest of the workweek, from 2013, 2014 & 2015, each from creators of some profile.

I first became acquainted with Mack from reading a few issues of the 1995 Caliber Press series Kabuki: Circle Of Blood when it passed through the comic shop I was working at that year. It reminded me a lot of early Frank Miller, and was strong enough that I followed his career from indie books to the majors on Marvel titles like Daredevil and Alias, which was easy to do since he mostly just did covers and pin-ups outside of Kabuki (who by the way turned 20 last year.) The man works wonders with watercolors, but I'm not sure that's an option on commissions. Doesn't matter, because he does produce work for fans in the 水墨画 (suiboku-ga/suibokuga) realm, a Japanese technique of ink wash painting that produces very iconic (in the literal sense of the word) images. It may sound esoteric, but they used that technique on the movie posters for 2013's The Wolverine, and it sure made the home video boxes pop on the shelf.

Among my friends, the piece is divisive, with folks having an art background digging it and those without "not getting it," and though I lack for formal education, I know quality when I see it. I love the Martian's distinctiveness in semi-silhouette, with the oblong celestial body in the background and the slight anatomical distortions evoking the subject's shapeshifting alien otherness. At the same time, it isn't remotely minimalist, with the features of the neck up resembling a film negative of a precisely shot but high contrast living being. The folds of the cape, its circular clasps with rope bridge, the rib cage, chest straps and even the beloved "pie symbol" belt buckle-- there's a wealth of detail in what appears to be a simple drawing from a ways out. The actual piece is roughly 11" x 16" on heavy stock board that holds rich, dark inks still slightly tacky after all this time, with lots of scribbly pencil layout artifacts that didn't come through on the scan. It's a lovely piece, and when the Photobucket account offered prices for matted/frame/metal reproductions, I confess that it gave me pause (even as I hold the original!)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Podcast: Martian Manhunter's 60th Anniversary Special Part One (1955-1993)

Episode #15

Martian Manhunter's 60th Anniversary Special:
A Celebration of the Alien Atlas

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New York Times Program Synopsis:
A special which pays tribute to The Manhunter from Mars, the least popular co-founder of the Justice League of America and one of the greatest hanger-on associates to pop culture heroes of all time. The special interweaves memorable moments from J'onn J'onzz's television series, cartoons and comics highlighting his super powers, secret identity, acts of heroism, and personal life. Also included are comically inept text-to-audio vignettes featuring unrecorded guest stars discussing the best super-hero ever of Middletown, U.S.A.
Audio Source Credits
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Monday, September 28, 2015

2015 “DC Superhero Profiles: Martian Manhunter” by Luke Daab

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At long last, it's J'onn J'onzz, The Martian Manhunter! I've been ready to create this illustration for several months. I was so glad to finally have an open weekend and the time to do this personal work!

Martian Manhunter is my wife's favorite character—I think it's because of her ability to look at circumstances from an outsider's perspective. She became a fan of the character through Bruce Timm's Justice League cartoon. Can you blame her? When I told her I would be illustrating a Martian Manhunter superhero profile her response to me was, "It's about time."
Check out this early present on the eve of J'Onn J'Onzz's 60th birthday! The artist continues on his Patreon page about what the character means to him and his household, as well as offering some very kind words about myself and the blog. The site is designed to allow one to become a patron to help encourage his work, which you ought to do and I need to get set up with to show my own appreciation. Also, because I want to make him nice and comfortable so the world can get a Martian Manhunter song as sweet as Aquaman's "Child of a Lighthouse Keeper" & "Oceans Rise", which are radio-quality (cue gradeschooler asking "what's a radio?") I also most certainly enjoyed this minimalist image, incorporating the classic Alien Atlas costume, the planet Mars, the fire weakness (or in this case lack thereof) and especially the "pie symbol" around his name (the only icon of the too numerous, often nauseating options I can roll with representing our hero.) This is a great start to a week of J'Onn J'Onzz-specific commissions, interrupted only by the 60th anniversary podcast special tomorrow (which will be more like a 40th, since the show ran so long I broke it in two!)

Friday, September 25, 2015

1992 “Along Came J'onzz” text piece by Mark Waid

Originally presented in DC Silver Age Classics Detective Comics #225, an article from one of J'onn J'onzz's best writers...
“The enduring heroes are the ones who are products of their time. Superman, protector of the weak and oppressed, was conceived during the Great Depression, when the American Spirit was at its lowest ebb and peo­ple longed desperately to embrace a symbol of justice. Batman, the righ­teous vigilante, was birthed by the feelings of helplessness within the common folk, who were faced with the reality of urban crime when the Industrial Revolution created dark, crowded cities around them.

The mid-1950s, by contrast, were a lighter time. As a nation, America had been tempered by victories in World War II and Korea. People throughout the country entertained a new prosperity...and a weird, paranoid fear that someone was going to take it away from them. Senator Joe McCarthy had everyone believing that "evil Communists" skulked around every corner, posing as normal Americans while threatening our moral fibre. Likewise, science-fiction movie mak­ers ran with that paranoia and used it to fuel films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and I Married a Monster from Outer Space, which enforced a "Keep Watching the Skies" mentality and personified the "enemy" as an Alien Threat. The message was clear: your life could easily be touched by aliens from that stellar infinity known (redundantly) as "outer space." Why, anyone you knew could secretly be an alien. That nice, new neighbor couple down the block...that remarkably clean-cut young man your daughter married just last week...anyone.

Little green men from Mars walked among us, undetected. They, could be barbers, politicians, insurance salesmen...or, in DC's case, a police detective.

In 1955, DETECTIVE COMICS was edited by a man named Jack Schiff, whom I believe—now that I've followed this "product of their times" theory out—was shrewder than I ever gave him credit for. Picking up on the mindset of the generation, Schiff commissioned writer Joe Samachson and artist Joe Certa to create a new science-fiction series for the book, one that used the element of paranoia to terrific effect. "John Jones, Manhunter from Mars" premiered in DETECTIVE #225...and to say it was a depar­ture from the norm would be a radical understatement.

While DETECTIVE'S star. Batman, had been enjoying steady success for over fifteen years, his co-stars hadn't been nearly as fortunate. During its Golden Age heyday, DETECTIVE played host to such exciting cos­tumed characters as The Crimson Avenger, Air Wave, and Robotman. As the 1940s gave way to the 1950s, however (and as the super-hero genre waned), they were systematically replaced by features that were— to be kind—substantially more mundane. During the '50s, the pages of DETECTIVE were popu­lated by Batman...and a whole slew of run-of-the-mill lawmen. A dime spent on DETECTIVE brought you the adventures of Pow-Wow Smith, DC's Native American crimebuster, who cor­ralled his share of prairie criminals; the seafaring sleuth known as Captain Compass, who bat­tled crime on the high seas (and just how much crime is there on the high seas?); and Mysto the Detective (my own personal favorite), who employed stage magic to bring criminals to jus­tice ("Hey, Rocky—watch me pull an embezzler out of my hat! Nothing up my sleeve...").

Now, mock them though I do, I'll personally attest to the fact that there's nothing really wrong with any of these characters. Not even Mysto. There's a certain inarguable level of craft that their artists and writers invested into their stories. They're not bad...but there's a numbing sameness to them all. It's almost as if Pow-Wow Smith, Captain Compass, Mysto, and the rest were really all the same guy.

And then along came Jones.

Acknowledged as the first of DC's Silver Age super-heroes, he had a lot of the same things going for him that Superman did. He was, after all, a strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men—but that's where the similarities ended. Unlike the Man of Steel, who col­lected accolades by using his powers openly and freely, Jones was forced by his otherworldly appearance to work in secret performing his deeds invisibly rather than risk exposing himself to a distrusting world.

Fortunately for John, those times are long gone. Today, he lives in an era where many of his fellow heroes are more horrific-looking than the criminals they pursue. Next to, say, Lobo, the Manhunter from Mars looks downright innocuous. It's been over thirty years...but John Jones has endured. And he has finally come of age. Our age.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

2015 M'yri'ah J'onzz Space City Comic Con Jam Sketch Detail by Ken Lashley

The second subject drawn for my "grail jam" was M'yri'ah, the deceased wife of J'Onn J'Onzz created in 1988, who went unnamed until 1998, and then another seventeen years later had her whole existence pointedly brought into question (although I think she'd gone unmentioned since the 2011 New 52 reboot anyway.) It's a weird situation, because the majority of modern fans who have an interest in the Martian Manhunter define him through being a widower and bereaved father, which has even factored into his animated adaptations. On the other hand, J'Onn supposedly "forgot" that he was once married with child, attributed to psychological trauma and telepathic tomfoolery, in retroactive continuity assigned 33 years into his comics career. Even in the cartoons these loved ones only appear in vague flashbacks and additional episodes of mental whammies, plus the cartoon pronounced her name "My Rhea," and I'm sorry, but I already have enough trouble bouncing between anglicizing it as "Maria" or "Mariah" without descending into pure gibberish. Further, John Ostrander is the only writer who ever delved into the character at all, and he still left her an ill-defined victim/motivational aid of single dimension rather than none at all (which is why I've been doing this blog since 2007 but still don't have an in-house biographical profile of her to link to. Try DC Wikia.) I really like the depth M'yri'ah & her daughter's passing bring to the Manhunter's origin, but should she really be jettisoned from the canon, I'm not emotionally invested in the character for herself.

Still, I wanted a full figure rendering of M'yri'ah in a specific context by one of the swell name brand artists attending this year's Space City Comic Con. I learned from my initial launch into the world of collecting art jams last year that without a clear picture of which artists and characters you want in a well defined theme and time frame, you end up with a bunch of partially completed or conceptually "ruined" efforts. My hope was to get this entire jam done at the one show, and I spent a lot of time figuring out the logistics. In a first, I actually set the blank 11x17" page in a landscape format and placed green Post-It notes at the approximate position and relative height where I wanted specified characters by premeditated artists "assigned" to them by name, which were still in place when I made the downsized color Xerox for scanning at this stage in the jam's process.

After looking at a variety of internet-posted commissions at length, I decided Ken Lashley was the best choice to deliver an attractive, dynamic, non-exploitative representation of the Alien Atlas' bride. I've been a fan of Lashley since his run on Excalibur, and one of the bright spots in the New 52 has been his being given a lot of cover work at DC in recent years. I still agree with my assessment, even though I'd have never predicted this specific piece, and wouldn't recognize the artist's style here if I didn't already know it was him. The art reference was from a comic drawn by Rick Leonardi, who I feel has done the best version of M'yri'ah to ever see print. I think Leonardi's pensive take influenced Lashley, who mentioned wanting to make a point of posing her to maximize the visibility of her unique alien head and garments. I couldn't get it to translate into the scan, but Lashley heavily augmented the dress with various shades of gray tones that are barely hinted at in the JPEG, which is a shame. You can still see a bit of the abdominal definition it lent. I dig the detailing of the neck and collarbone, as well as the cool contorted xeno-hands. There's a delicacy to the body lined and posture I appreciate. Like I said, it doesn't look like the artist's usual style, but it seems like he stepped out of his comfort zone to better represent the character. The lively colors were also thrown in as a bonus, and they appear here more limey than the natural shades on the actual art board. I especially enjoy M'yri'ah's bittersweet expression, seeing as she's meant to be a loving wife and mother in a celebratory setting, but is also separated from her husband by the veil of death which she traversed alongside her daughter after both were massacred with most of the Martian species by another member of their family. That ambivalence plays extremely well in the finished collaboration.

More from Ken Lashley
The J'Onzzes

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Robot Brain and the Observatory-Lab

The Observatory-Lab was the workplace of Professor Mark Erdel and his lab assistant, Fred Schneider. It appeared to be developed from out of a lighthouse, based on its unusual shape and location near a cliff. Within the lab, Erdel constructed "The Robot Brain," a "strange, humming contraption, dotted with twinkling lights," which "crackles and buzzes" when in full operation. The bulky equipment filled much of a room, with its purpose being to explore "the cosmos... other dimensions... reach into space-- time-- or the fourth dimension..." How close it came to fulfilling its directives is unknown, but it most famously plucked out a scientist from just one planet over, teleporting J'onn J'onzz from Mars to Earth over long moments in a vivid flash. Erdel suffered a fatal heart attack soon after, and J'onzz struggled for years to decipher the Robot Brain's workings.

While the Observatory-Lab's location was long kept vague, it eventually became clear that it was near Middletown, U.S.A., serving as the home of J'onn J'onzz for several years during his stint in the identity of local police detective John Jones. The lab suffered a terrific fire in 1959 during an altercation between J'onzz and the forces of his archenemy, Commander Blanx. The Robot Brain appeared to be rendered slag, although J'onzz later made use of a similar device, so it was presumably rebuilt for his 1960s adventures.

The Observatory-Lab was also restored at some point, but had been long abandoned before being revisited by Hawkman and Hawkgirl in 1981. The former Thanagarian policeman Katar Hol had decided to investigate discrepancies in the death of Mark Erdel. He eventually learned that Erdel had in fact been murdered by the Robot Brain, which had gained some semblance of sentience. Desiring to teleport its intelligence "to roam the universe at will," the Robot Brain sent an electrical shock to trigger Erdel's heart attack to allow itself unfettered access to travel. It is unknown how J'onn J'onzz's work on the brain had impacted its designs, or why it proved more inhibited in addressing the Martian.

Regardless, the Robot Brain teleported a wyrdbeast from Alpha Centauri to kill the Hawks, but the intelligence was instead seemingly destroyed by Hawkman's mace, which caused the wyrdbeast to disappear.

Powers & Weapons:
According to Erdel, the Robot Brain required a "thinking plot" to be directed toward a specific location. After blindly teleporting J'onn J'onzz to Earth, Erdel feared it would take "weeks-- months-- even years" to change the thinking plot and return J'onzz home.

Monday, September 21, 2015

2015 T'omm J'onzz Space City Comic Con Jam Sketch Detail by Brett Booth & Norm Rapmund

I would have liked to have gotten thirty posts done in the thirty days in the month of J'Onn J'Onzz's sixtieth birthday and relive the days when this was a daily celebration of the Sleuth from Outer Space. However, I had friends surprise me with a visit on Saturday, which meant I buckled down to work about twelve hours Sunday to lock in roughly the first half hour of the Martian Manhunter Anniversary Podcast Special, so something had to give. Besides, the blog was never great about actually getting a post in on a given day-- more like 365 total posts a year with a lot of backdating.

Another thing I had to at least half consider was having Brett Booth draw one of my favorite Vile Menagerie villains, B'rett. However, not only would that have been annoyingly cutesy, but I had a very special quest jam I wanted Booth to initiate. I've been a fan of the guy since he was getting started on Backlash at Wildstorm, where he drew the youngest looking grizzled Vietnam veteran ever. I remember writing a letter to Wizard Magazine way back in the day when they solicited fan choices for creative teams on books, suggesting him for Spider-Man (and he eventually did draw a crossover book with Backlash.) While I like the dude in general, his forte is vibrant rookie heroes, and quite frankly, not every artist can believably draw teenagers. T'omm J'onzz appeared in one silly Silver Age story that came out before the artists I was talking to were born, and it would be easy for one of these guys to not give cares and hack something out. I needed someone who could not only hit a piece featuring the thoroughly silly younger brother of our hero out of the park, but to also set the standard for other artists who contributed after him on the projected jam. I wanted all the characters to be full figures, proportionate to one another, and to be awesome. If you check out Demonpuppy's Wicked Awesome Art Blog, the word "awesome" is right there in the title, and his Twitter feed maintains his high standards of usually doing full figures and always kicking tail while doing it.

Booth was totally cool with all I asked of him, and gave me a bargain basement quote for a figure. Here's the rub-- he wasn't confident in his inking abilities, as I believe he said he'd only started working on the discipline recently. His pencils were wicked tight though, and he sure enough did the kind of excellent job to put anyone who followed him on notice that they take this jam seriously or look sad by comparison. Now, when you're laying your own line down on the art board, the job was done, but when it came time for me to try to scan this deal for the internet, the pencils weren't hacking it. I tried all sorts of photocopy reproductions and digital filters and such, but my attempts to represent Booth were falling way short. I think I finally put the original 11x17" board on my scanner, which was significantly smaller than 11x17", played with the levels to death, blew out the contrast, and only managed the less than desirable image at the top of the post. And for the record, that black bush looking thing was originally a nice detailed color piece by another artist, so you can see how warped this got to be.

I followed through with the plan I made when Booth expressed concern about his inks-- to simply employ his established embellishment partner from the comics, Norm Rapmund, one of the best inkers in the business. But here, once again, was the rub-- he'd have to keep the piece overnight, and finishes would cost twice as much as the original, which I again have to point out was way below any estimate I could have reasonably expected from an artist of this caliber to begin with. Further, as much as I dug Booth's pencils, I couldn't do anything with them like drop some color in and turn the image into a sidebar icon. Rapmund gave the piece a crispness and clarity that not only made that kind of fun tinkering possible, but also enhanced the details so that I could better see the character with the naked eye. Also, I got a fun story about driving around southwest Houston at 5-something in the morning trying to find Rapmund's difficult to locate & access hotel room before his 7-something flight and my being due at work. That plays into an odd bit of continuity later in the jam. Anyway, it's an education seeing the difference between pencils and inks, and I relish the opportunity to present both to you here. It's the same drawing, yet clearly not the same drawing-- a great demo track followed by the single ready master. Of all the commissions in my collection, this one is among the most clearly ready for prime time/ a publisher could use this in their reference handbooks and be proud to do so works in my possession. This was my first and last T'omm J'onzz commission, because it cannot be topped.

The J'Onzzes

Friday, September 18, 2015

2014 “Choco Monster” art by Denver Brubaker

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"I love the idea of Martian Manhunter being somewhat addicted to Chocos cookies (the Oreos of the DC Universe). I would love-love-love to work on an all-ages MM comic. I feel he is such a wonderful character to spark the imagination of kids and giving them a gateway into reading comics."
More here.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

2014 Perkins Preston Jam Sketch Detail by Isaiah Broussard

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As I mentioned yesterday, in my initial zeal to pack a ton of small character pieces onto jam pages in the belief I'd eventually get to everybody, I've ended up with two Perkins Preston commissions, and... c'mon-- Perkins Preston? It took me years to finally remember the guy's name and in which order to say it (hint: the least natural and realistic option.) It's not that I dislike Perkins-- he's an analogue for young Elvis Presley and I have indeed been to Graceland-- but when I think of all the Martian Manhunter characters that are unrepresented in my commission collection I'm like "dang!"

That said, I love that one of my favorite J'onn J'onzz stories, American Secrets, is represented in these jams, and I'm also glad we finally get to see the guy really rocking instead of just running from Lizard Men. This was the first of two pieces I got from Isaiah Broussard (there was a lot of one hero/one villain per artist action in the early jams,) and I was very impressed by how well he represented such an obscure character in limited space. The character appears iconic here, recalling Elvis while clearly not intending to represent The King, with his big wild pompadour and his dual sideburn "horns." I like how Broussard worked in the microphone and Preston having a slick, unique hand gesture while working it. There's a lot of personality here without an excess of detail, and I enjoyed Broussard's work so much that I wanted to ask him to do the official banner for Rolled Spine Podcasts. The idea was to get drawings of me, Illegal Machine & Mister Fixit that could represent our crew's sense of self without providing the feds with overly functional wanted poster material when they eventually try to capture us, and I thought that either Broussard alone or a jam scenario would do the trick. Then Mac completely shut that idea down as something he wanted nothing to do with, and Broussard joined a host of other artists on the front end of these jams that I only waved at and show the slow progress on these things as they've trucked along. That said, I'm still going to run the idea past Fixit, and if he's game we'll steamroll Mac and do this thing!

For more from Isaiah Broussard, check out his Deviant Art Gallery, Facebook Page & Twitter feed! Also, if you're bummed I didn't get a New 52 Martian Manhunter from the guy, how about this Piccolo versus match?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

2014 Professor Mark Erdel Comicpalooza Jam Sketch Detail by Jamie Kinosian

Jamie Kinosian has done a couple other pieces for me, and I hadn't noticed before, but they were both duos, Perkins Preston & Patty Marie and M'yri'ah & K'hymm J'onzz. I never would have thought I'd have gotten two Perkins Preston pieces before ever getting a drawing of the scientist who brought J'onn J'onzz to Earth in the first place!* This one is also interesting because Erdel doesn't inhabit the same space as other characters in the piece, but because of its placement it is more highly integrated into other characters' space than anyone else on the page. I didn't see it at the time, but in retrospect, that makes perfect sense. Erdel died within the first pages of the original Martian Manhunter story, and in one of his last stories as Mark Erdel in the early '80s the previously nonexistent "mystery" of his passing was created and solved. Mark Erdel is defined by being dead, but his legacy was the history of Martian Manhunter's heroism on Earth, and that legacy "touches" all the other characters in the piece. I really enjoy Kinosian's take on Erdel, leaning into the more flamboyant aspects of Joe Certa's design while retaining a real soulfulness. My only regret is that I didn't get a separate solo piece where Erdel could breathe more, as he looks cramped by all the other elements in the jam (many remain here as artifacts, or make their presence known in the gaps where I removed them for this solo spotlight.)

*The second Perkins Preston will probably run this week. And in fact, I still only have this one Erdel, yet I'm now on seconds of M'yri'ah & K'hymm, which feels like an oversight on my part.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

2014 Lieutenant Saunders Comicpalooza Jam Sketch Detail by Lance Schibi

If I recall correctly, I had Lance Schibi do the initial drawings on two separate jam pages, one for friends of J'onn J'onzz, and one for enemies. I think his Alex Dunster was second, because I believe the main character I wanted him to draw was Detective John Jones' original commanding officer, Lieutenant Saunders. Though he only made a handful of appearances in the earliest stories, I liked Saunders, and always wondered what happened to the guy. I offered the character actor Lawrence "Larry" Dobkin as a point of reference since Schibi seems to be a film buff, and that's who I fan-cast in the part, but I think the artist went with a more personal and unique take on the character. Saunders is older here-- paunchier-- a fair few more wrinkles. All those cigarettes that used to unnerve Jones caught up with the fellow. I like to think this is Saunders after he retired to a quieter life out in the suburbs, only coming in to town to visit old friends and catch the odd ballgame at The Vast Stadium.

The image seen here is larger than actual size, and the scan retained Schibi's details and tones better this time. I enjoyed the weathered take, as well as the posing of the hand. You can also see a lot more artifacts from later artists in the jam, who better maintained the proportions than on the villain piece. Those will be unveiled in due time, in part because I had characters added to this jam at two additional shows and still want to squeeze in at least one more in the tight space remaining. What can I say? J'onn's got a lot of buddies!

You can check out more from Schibi on his blog and @lschibi, or check out his wrestling themed web comic FOR THE TITLE!

Monday, September 14, 2015

JLA Vol. 14: Trial by Fire (2004)

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Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen
Cover by Mahnke

The Burning arrives in this thrilling trade paperback collecting JLA #84-89! The surviving members of the JLA unravel the secret of a creature of unimaginable power and fight to prevent it from unleashing World War III!

On sale Sept 22, 144 pg, FC, $12.95 US
Oh boy, Fernus! Blech. I hate this story, but as is often the case, your Martian Manhunter mileage may vary. Sorry for the insubstantial "break" post in our daily 60th anniversary celebration, but I spent the weekend working intently on the centerpiece of this shindig, a feature length podcast modeled slightly after the 1988 CBS Superman 50th Anniversary TV special, but less terrible (H'ronmeer willing.) There'll be some familiar folks there, but to my recollection, no SNL cast members. Look for it on Tuesday the 29th.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

2005 JLA Alex Ross Oversized Poster

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Art by Alex Ross

The World's Greatest Super-Heroes come together in this beautifully illustrated, oversized, horizontal, full-color poster painted by fan-favorite painter Alex Ross! Don't miss your opportunity to adorn your walls with this stunning image by one of comics' most popular artists!

Advance-solicited; on sale Jan 26 o Full-color Poster, 22" H x 58" W, $19.95 US

Saturday, September 12, 2015

JL8 (Unpublished)

As found at Universe B: The Unpublished Grant Morrison, the acclaimed JLA writer at one point around 2004 discussed with editor Dan Raspler how he would approach a return to the Justice League. The idea was to reverse the "Magnificent Seven" paradigm that he'd used to restore the franchise in favor of a more classic Avengers formula of a team staffed with the most also of also-rans that couldn't support their own solo projects, but could be intriguing in a team book. The heroes would have been extremely minor to allow for the greatest latitude for revisions, including the likes of The Enchantress, Alias The Spider, and Etrigan the Demon, used as approximate parallels to Avengers like Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, the Hulk, etc. Less clear on the analogue front was the one JLA founder to transition to the z-team, the Martian Manhunter, now with heavier emphasis on reflecting the "Manhunter" along the lines of Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson's revision of Paul Kirk. "Morrison envisioned the character in a more brutal, alien form... much of the story written around the character was set on a ruined Mars and this was retained when Morrison re-worked the title as Frankenstein." As mentioned, "JL8" evolved into the cycle of Seven Soldiers of Victory mini-series released in 2005. I've often bemoaned the lack of a Morrison Martian Manhunter book, but this... would not have been what I had in mind.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Podcast: Sleuth from Outer Space Semicentennial

Episode #14

Look for us on iTunes, ShoutEngine or directly download an art-tagged MP3 from the Internet Archive

This week we discuss the only major acknowledgement of Martian Manhunter's 50th anniversary to see print, the 2005 SDCC convention program book, including a reading of the Mark Lucas article "Fear and Loathing on Mars: The Long and Strange Trip of J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars." We also searched the web for the 2006 blog post J. Caleb Mozzocco's Actually Essential Storylines: Martian Manhunter, as well as the DC Comics Martian Manhunter character page.

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2005 Comic-Con International: San Diego Souvenir Book Art Gallery We enjoy dialogue on the red planet, so here are our non-telepathic contact options: