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

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:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

2014 Alex Dunster Comicpalooza Jam Sketch Detail by Lance Schibi

Lance Schibi is the twin brother of our frequently commissioned artist Cody Schibi, and has accompanied him on all his Comicpalooza visits, but I never figured out how to utilize his talents until last year's show. That's when I started experimenting with multi-artist jam pieces, and Lance was one of the first people I talked to, since he typically specializes in heads & busts.

The original plan was to pack a lot of artists and characters into one piece, like dozens, with Lance setting the standard. I also figured the piece would grow up from low/non-powered hoods seen in the early Detective Comics stories up through the bigger dogs higher up the food chain (and page.) We started off with the first quasi-super-villain of the Sleuth from Outer Space, criminal scientist Alex Dunster. Schibi thought the character looked a lot like Vincent Price, who he used as a point of reference. In my own fancasting, I went with Warren Oates, but I love Price and thought the drawing was nifty. Schibi packed a lot of detail into a roughly 2" x 2" square, with some cool gray tone shading that sadly did not survive the scanning process completely intact.

Unfortunately, I was not so hot at offering art direction to successive contributors, and that commission page soon got a bit out of control. The pieces became increasingly larger and less uniform, so that ultimately only six characters fit and Schibi's effort was dwarfed by the rest. I'm glad to have this opportunity to isolate and blow-up Schibi's piece, which is quite probably bigger on your screen than in real life (unless you're on a phone/phablet.) We'll have to do this again, because Schibi started another jam piece for me the same way, and the same thing happened there (to a lesser extent, but still!)

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Maxim Magazine "Aftermath #13: Cartoon Networking" (September 2001)

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I recently decided it was time to give up on the possibility of my ever revisiting the stacks of "lad mags" I'd accumulated in the late '90s to mid '00s and schlepped around in old milk crates for no discernible reason. For starters, they were water damaged from a leak in my then-roommate's upstairs bathroom down through the garage during the Bush Administration. More importantly though, I ain't a "lad" no more, and am frankly embarrassed that I held on to this mind-numbing collection of bro humor, sex tips, bling, under-dressed never-was actress/singer/model pictorials, listicles, and other useless testosterone-fueled ADHD trivialities. However, I flipped through them on the way out the door, and was surprised to find an old fluff piece that came out between the end of my WebTV "Rock of the JLA" web page and the Idol-Head blog, and so had no cause to remember J'onn J'onzz's rare appearance in the pages of Maxim for Men.

"Circus Maximus" was the front-of-the-magazine, one-page-or-less collection of light pieces that allowed the reader the opportunity to moderate their bathroom experience between a leisurely sit down pee to a quick effortless bowel movement without the distraction of arousal or the commitment of an actual article. One such offering seems to have gotten lost on its way to Wizard Magazine and ended up as "Cartoon Networking: Whatever happened to... the Justice League of America?" It uses a line graph to chart the careers of five Leaguers across the Respectable/Embarrassing spectrum: Superman, Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman and... Martian Manhunter? We all known that the Alien Atlas is taking a spot in lowbrow pop culture comedy that is usually reserved for Aquaman, so alarm bells immediately go off. Was the uncredited writer an Aquaman fan, a truly random Martian Manhunter hater, or did they simply want to avoid fish jokes (while holding gay jokes in reserve, just in case?) Actually, the Flash joins J'onn in perpetual embarrassment, and gets the worst abuse in text. I'd say Green Lantern Hal Jordan would have made a far easier and funnier target, while the Flash text reads as dull and needlessly cruel (even in a piece that includes a "gag" about Christopher Reeve's paralysis.)

As for the Sleuth from Outer Space, well, I don't want to be "that" guy, but most of the jabs are easily debunked. Dark comedy could have been mined out of J'onn's inability to save his race from Commander Blanx's genocide on Mars, but that would require knowledge of the character beyond most hard core comic book readers, much less dudes who read Maxim. Instead, they claim J'onn was shipped out of the JLA for no reason, then erroneously assert that he didn't stop the Martian invasion of 1984 and was a less useful member of the Detroit era Justice League than Vibe, Vixen, Steel, Gypsy... let's be honest, only Zatanna could be argued as a more powerful and effective member of that group than the Manhunter from Mars. There's a reason why most folks reach for Aquaman in these situations, because whether you go shallow (dude talks to fish) or deep dive (never avenged the murder of his own son and allowed Mera to deteriorate into insanity,) it's simply way easier to mock the King of the Seven Seas without resorting to weaksauce Jolly Green Giant material. Ultimately, this is a Yankee Doodle moment for the Manhunter, as he got publicity in a magazine that was selling in the millions at a time when he was a notable enough power in the animated JLA TV show that even a casual reader could have been inclined to stand up for him.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Comic Reader #183 (September, 1980)

It should be evident to anyone who has read my blogs or listened to my podcasts that I'm a big comic reader. However, I'm not big on The Comic Reader, one of if not the longest lived fanzines of the medium (unlike the much earlier Alter Ego, which became a prozine and then a proper magazine.) The publication was always slight on editorial content, likely due to a lack of access to the big companies and their talent, as well as its dependence on their good graces for the book's main service to the community, solicitation art & copy. For instance, the specific issue being covered today ran 60 pages and change, 13 of which were paid advertisements, 18 were newspaper strip reprints, 3 well drawn but unfunny animal strips, and 1 a photo comic featuring the guys who did those strips that actually is kind of funny. Pretty near everything else looks like an early Previews catalog.

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That said, the magazine pioneered the use of original full color professional cover art, and has shown much love to J'onn J'onzz in that regard, including issues 159, #197, #219 and this number right here, described inside as "The original JLA as portrayed by new DC inker Dennis Jensen, and Supergirl and Batgirl by TCR cover artist Bob Staszak." This was actually around the time the Manhunter from Mars saw a sharp uptick in usage, including appearances in Justice League of America and DC Comics Presents, with black and white cover art from the second part of Mongul arc (featuring Supergirl) displayed inside. Detective Comics #500 is also discussed, including "Paul Levitz and Joe Kubert do a HAWKMAN story which investigates the 'Strange Death of Dr. Erdel,' the man who brought J'onn J'onzz to Earth." There's also the brief mention that "Polygram Films has announced that BATMAN is on their release schedule for 1982. Michael Uslan and Ben Melnicker are the producers named."

Over at Marvel, their graphic novel line was meant to begin with an X-Men story by Claremont, Byrne & Austin, while Frank Miller was set to both draw AND write an issue of DAREDEVIL "featuring a new villain called Electra." Their spelling. Did that Daredevil back-up strip "The Ninja" by Hama and Simonson ever happen? Or the Howard the Duck radio show?

Wooo-- there's a fan letter that references an episode of Tomorrow with Tom Snyder that featured a co-interview of Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino! Wait-- I just did a bit of research, and apparently only audio of the episode still exists, and includes Julie Schwartz! Why has no one leaked this to YouTube?

Hey, remember when comic conventions only had one guest? There's a show in here with just Walt Simonson and the dude who played Twiki, and I should have asked Howard Chaykin how his gig in Indiana went when I talked to him this weekend (all three have done Houston shows in the past year.) Say, the top 100 comics are listed her! Okay, forget what I said earlier-- these later issues of the magazine are actually neat. I bought a few issues for a few bucks at Amazing Houston, and if anything Alien Atlas appears, I'll pass it along...

Monday, September 7, 2015

2004 Dateline: @!!?★ comic strip by Fred Hembeck

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Fred Hembeck has a clear love of comics in general, but especially the Silver Age, which results in a surprising amount and prominence of J'onn J'onzz references in his work. There's his appearance in a running strip from 1980's Hembeck #3 that rated a cover, then the back cover to 1981's The Comic Reader #197 and on through modern times with a 2009 J'onn/Zook piece and a 2011 J'onn/Hulk sketch card. Hembeck struck again in the March 2004 dated Comic Book Artist #3, which featured a tiny Martian Manhunter on the cover amidst a sea of characters associated with feature interview Darwyn Cooke. As I search far and wide for material related to the Sleuth from Outer Space's 60th and earlier anniversaries, it stings a bit that Hembeck's strip offered a surprisingly detailed overview of J'onn's early career a mere year & a half before his semicentennial, which presumably everybody forgot about. Speaking of forgetting, it's clear that Hembeck was writing the overview from memory, as he confused the strip's Captain Harding for the Groucho Marx character Captain Spaulding. Diane Meade is mentioned only by her first name, while Mr. V is called "The Faceless One." Still, it's the thought that counts, and this makes for a digestible history lesson for the uninitiated.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

2014 King Zeus Comicpalooza Commission by Thom Zahler

King Zeus is basically the Maxie Zeus of Martian Manhunter villains, except he's cooler and actually predates the Batman foe by nearly twenty years. Zeus was one of J'onn J'onzz's earliest true super-villains, as in a dude wearing a costume and demonstrating "powers" (although Zeus' super-doings came from gadgetry.) I unfortunately haven't done a biography page for him that I can link to, but he still rates some commission love.

I became bored with full figure drawings being drafted for this blog, and wanted to do something different for Martian Manhunter's 60th anniversary year. I started compiling "jams" of interacting figures on one board by different artists. This was unfamiliar territory for me, with its own quirks and tricks. For instance, one page from my first attempts was intended to be a landscape filled with knee/waist up drawings of villains, until one artist drew a large bust instead. Once the "rules" of the page were broken, I tried to figure out how to salvage it as a cohesive effort. Ultimately, Thom Zahler came to the rescue, drawing a broad figure who served as a good transition from the busts to fuller figures. Following his work on Roh Kar and Vulkor, the Capsule Master, I knew I could rely on him to transition away from Scorch. This is a good looking figure that brought out aspects of the character I'd overlooked, especially his boss ram horns!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

2015 The Giant Watery Hand of Gilgana Space City Comic Con Jam Sketch by Antoine Mayes

Back in 2014, I started a series of artist jams related to the Martian Manhunter's 60th birthday. Some of the attempts were just messes of random drawings, others coalesced better but still got away from my intentions, and at least one has awesomely been near exactly what I hoped for (with one dud I hope to fix somehow down the line.) The picture seen here was from a still-developing piece that only had two drawings done last year, but I liked them so much that I became very choosy about finding the right "collaborator" to continue it this year. As it turned out, I made the right choice with Antoine Mayes, a seemingly unknown local artist who doesn't even have a deviantART page.

Mayes put a lot of thought into his drawings, as with here, where he explained that he gave the hand six digits because he imagined this was the construct of an alien intelligence that wouldn't necessarily understand that humans default to five, thus only approximating a giant aqua-recreation. I apologize for the less than stellar scan, but the gray inks gave me trouble, so I oped to go with a more basic representation here.

Friday, September 4, 2015

2015 Horn Firing Creature of Gilgana Space City Comic Con Jam Sketch by Antoine Mayes

The first ever Houston Space City Comic Con returned to town this year in a big way. See, there was a show called "Space City Con" that played local hotels until one of the founders went through a divorce, so that partnership was dissolved and the other backers created "The Houston Con" to take its place... on Galveston Island, a minimum of fifty miles away from the eponymous city... in January... during a rare deep freeze. Fast forward a year and a half and a very mild rebranding later, we've got an impressive "new" show conveniently located off I-610 in Southwest Houston at the spacious NRG Park complex. The show still has some growing pains, including a highly segregated layout rife with unfortunate inequalities that rendered Artists' Alley a barely navigable series of claustrophobically narrow strips, but I adore guaranteed plentiful proximal parking for $12. This Friday, I'll be braving my first Amazing Comic Con at the same old George R. Brown convention center Comicpalooza's been at since 2010, with lots of brand new horrendous construction all around it, located at the nexus of freeway congestion hell that is I-10+I-45+Route 59/SH288, where I'll get to fight for $20+ parking spots a mile away with attendees to events at Minute Maid Park and Toyota Center. Give me NRG Center, please!

Anyway, here's an illustration detail by Antoine Mayes, one of several done by him at SCCC that I'll discuss in more depth on future posts. It depicts The Horn Firing Creature of Gilgana, but reimagines it as an obscured, foreboding, craggy beast that might well have been the image that would pop into H.P. Lovecraft's mind if you mentioned dinosaurs. I love when artists take the time to reconsider and revise these hoary Silver Age menaces I throw at them, rather than hewing to faithful but boring reproductions. Speaking of reproductions, I had a hell of a time with that aspect of Mayes' art, as he works in shades of gray that do not photocopy or scan very well at all. I did the best I could to deliver a workable version here, but it loses a lot of detail.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Justice League of America #31 (November 1964)

The Martian Manhunter's solo stories in House of Mystery had degenerated into monster-of-the-month juvenile pablum early on, and no one seemed to think he was essential to sales on Justice League of America, either. The team book began slowly phasing J'onn J'onzz out once Superman ably and more lucratively filled the Alien Atlas role, plus there were new heroes with greater potential fans were clambering to see join.

For instance, the Manhunter from Mars only appeared as part of a meeting at the start of the story where Hawkman was inducted into the League. The Atom had actually invited the Winged Wonder to join, which was probably why he also had the uncomfortable task of explaining to Hawkgirl why she wasn't in (due to League by-laws about having only one member join at a time and mutter shuffle...) Shayera Hol was cool about it, even though she wouldn't finally join the team herself until thirteen years later!

Hawkman was greeted by the full team and even given a plaque. "I've already shared adventures with the Atom and Aquaman-- and I'm looking forward to fighting crime and injustice along with the rest of you!" In fact, the Hawks would team-up with the Flash and Martian Manhunter almost immediately, but for now, Green Arrow announced that, "We hate to break away but Superman, Aquaman, Atom, J'onn J'onzz, and I have important cases to work on!"

"Riddle of the Runaway Room" was by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

2014 The Conjurer Comicpalooza convention head sketch by Shane Davis

If I recall correctly, Shane Davis was in town for Comicpalooza 2013, but when I asked about a commission, I learned that he was only doodling quick "S" shields in copies of Superman: Earth One. He was back in 2014, so I took another shot at getting a piece, and was surprised that he was game this time. I'd previously had him pegged to do a Ma'alefa'ak, or to subvert expectations, the Human Squirrel. By this point though, I had numerous pieces of both those characters, and opted for someone I'd neglected so far, The Conjurer. He was one of J'onn J'onzz's first novelty/super villains, as opposed to the usual run of the mill hoods, and I like the idea of a stock stage magician going rogue with variations on old standbys. He's only ever appeared once though, and he wasn't even the primary focus of the story, which was more about John Jones trying to catch the Conjurer without his powers while stuck with a reporter following him throughout the case. I think there's enough in the name and premise to revisit in a modern story, and Davis does a nice job imaging how that would look in this pencil sketch. Unfortunately, try as I might, the pencils are so light and fine that I can't get the piece to scan worth a flip. I finally opted to take a digital picture, which wasn't a huge improvement, but the best I could do. The piece is part of one of my first attempts at a jam, and sits next to James O’Barr's Scorch bust.