Monday, August 1, 2022

Aztek: The Ultimate Man #10 (May, 1997)

The JLA have been graphically executed by the forces of Apokolips; the Flash's severed and bleeding legs particularly unsettling. "...the Martian Manhunter roasted alive" as Darkseid burns an American flag. Aztek explained what he would do in this situation, earning Green Lantern Kyle Rayner's approval at his handling of the three dimensional virtual simulacrum. "They're mentally-programmed by the Martian Manhunter... which is kind of freaky when you think how disturbing they are. I mean, he seems such a regular guy."

After the JLA title unexpectedly took off like a rocket, new readers flocked to the first new story after retailers started catching up with demand, #5, a one-off about a team recruitment drive. With both books sharing a writer, Aztek benefited from a creative overlap with a second lease on life after a critically regarded but commercially rejected title. To strengthen the connection, a rapidly ailing Professor Ivo, denied his immortality serum in prison, was brought to Dr. Curtis Falconer's hospital in the city of Vanity. Little of this was actually communicated to new readers, unfortunately, but context clues and modern wikis. Years into a lethal dispute, Ivo's Amazo android used the powers of the original Justice League to trap the JLA on the moon for a reckoning with his creator.

Prior, the Martian Manhunter chastised Flash and Green Lantern for bickering, and extended apologies for the absences of Superman and Batman. "As chairman of the new Justice League, it's therefore down to me to open the proceedings." Aztek's candidacy for membership was considered before Amazo's intrusion, and we would soon see the Falconer's "Ultimate Man" alter ego take a beating from the android. Relatively quickly, Wonder Woman realized that the Green Lantern energy bubble trapping the team might be vulnerable to the color yellow, as it was derived from Hal Jordan's power ring. Wrapping the Lasso of Truth around one hand, the Amazing Amazon shattered the energy sphere with a punch. The JLA made haste to Vanity, but when confronted, Amazo produced vials of the immortality solution. The game wouldn't be the same for Amazo if Ivo were allowed to pass.

Following several pages teasing aborted plotlines for the series, we returned to the JLA Watchtower, where Kyle questioned the rite being performed in the meeting room by a natural form Martian. "The Crimson Avenger was the first of our kind, Kyle. Conducting the ceremony before his costume is a sign of respect. Ritual must be observed. The Avenger also symbolizes an era when our secret words and handshakes were first employed in an age of spies and saboteurs. The bible written by the Justice Society serves us equally well in an age of science and shape-shifters." The candidate, Aztek, stated that he was ready. Batman and Superman made a one-panel cameo.

"A League of Their Own" was by Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, N. Steven Harris & Keith Champagne. I believe that this was the first book to slap the new JLA logo on a cover to boost sales, and though the print runs on this title were already abysmal, I bet the sell-through and reorders raised eyebrows. I know I pre-ordered mine on the strength of that gorgeous Steve Lightle cover, and I used a similar crop as that at the top of the post on my late '90s WebTV page. Getting into the interiors? Even post-bust, most DC titles could manage to get past their first year, so there were clearly problems here. The art simply wasn't up to major company standards at a time when stronger talents were hustling to find work, and the drab coloring did no favors. Morrison seemed to still be stuck in a Vertigo mindset attempting to create a stillborn "icon" for the DC pantheon, and this non-starter had to contribute to his protégée's eventual turn toward shock over awe. I know they did a collection a few years ago on the strength of the writers reputations, but I doubt there was any great groundswell around memorializing this project.

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition variant cover by Ivan Reis

I still count the arrival of 1992's Superman #75 as part of my "childhood," but it's on that same sliding subjective scale of whether you consider Brett Kavanaugh an attempted rapist or just a "curious youth."* I'm basically declaring that I've touched base in a schoolyard game with my own mortality, pretending that any monumental date now three decades past doesn't mean I had to sidestep an open grave to get there. It's a little lie that I can still tell myself, though even I'm incredulous at the assertion. I officially stopped living anywhere but Texas past this point, and the anniversary is twice over any legal shielding for a felony here, plus the years needed to acutely recall the period. I am one of the olds, or in Ethan Hawke terms, “I’ve definitely made the turn from being an old young person to being a young old person.”

So anyway, I read a Newsarama article** that's clearly an unproofed first draft paraphrasing of DC's press release for the Generation X equivalent of a catalog relist for a story that wasn't that great in the first place. "The Death of Superman" was a morbid cash grab stunt that partially works as an indictment of the practice, with its threadbare story inching we(a)ekly toward an all splash page dudebro punch-out. What was supposed to be a reminder that DC was still around while drowning in Chromium Age excess got picked up by the media as the four color equivalent of the JFK assassination at the peak moment of comic book penetration of every urban and suburban area. Even then I was too jaded to fully buy in, but the hype was enough that the shady lady I was living with insisted that we travel to one of the many neighborhood comic shops to stand in line to buy a copy each of Superman #75. Quantities were limited, and I think we had to drive to Deer Park to find a shop that still had copies available to the public. When I caught a ride with my parents to go to the flea market where I had my pull box that Saturday, I was wearing the black armband. Unfortunately, the guy who ran the booth insisted that I buy my newly arrived Kelly Jones Sandman t-shirt before I got any comics, so I only had enough money for that and a spare copy of Superman #75 that I would soon trade in for store credit anyway (probably about $8 worth. Put me through college.)

I bring all this up because guys like Dan Jurgens (who takes a Stan Lee-sized portion of the credit for Jerry Ordway's tongue-in-cheek recurring suggestion at plotting sessions) love to tell you how many new readers this thing brought in, despite sales going off a cliff within two years and getting progressively worse with little abatement ever since. I'll admit that editorial and creative recognized the rising tide and offered the highly regarded "Funeral for a Friend" in the aftermath, but for many of us, Superman #75 was mostly a collection of pin-ups in a week starved for actual story. Also, the featured cover reminds readers that the Jurgens-created Bloodwynd was a separate character, despite Jurgens' own inadequate storytelling often leading online resources to assume they're one-in-the-same to this day. Also, despite my cynicism, I'm totally going to buy this stupid thing, if only to see Jon Bogdanove illustrate John Henry Irons again.

* It's academic because he's still sexually violating women with the full weight of the "Supreme" Court today. Go have a good cry at a Landry's steakhouse if you don't want to hear about it. You can't boycott what has only ever cost me money to begin with, and Martian Manhunter's story is about championing justice on this earth.

** I quit Comic Book Resources when they were forcing people to whitelist them to see articles, and stayed away because of their penchant for spoiler headlines. Newsarama is very lame, but the visual aesthetic is jazzier than The Beat and I don't go down any editorial rabbitholes, aside from mocking their moldy reheated listicles.

*** After nearly a quarter century of blogging, I still can't spell "separate" without spellcheck. Is it my accent?

Monday, July 25, 2022

JLA #5 (May, 1997)

At the Watchtower on the moon, Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman observed the "IF" entity on the monitor banks as it caused electromagnetic havoc on Earth. The newly electric blue Superman had attended Metamorpho's funeral with very few others, but now joined most of the League for a meeting. To combat accusations of elitism, the Man of Steel confirmed the intent to expand to a permanent roster of twelve to allow for new blood. Manhunter agreed, "...with reservations... We already have a long way to go before our current roster has even begun to function as a team. It's essential that we develop group tactics. Candidates included the then-current incarnations of Artemis, Damage, Steel, Supergirl, Hitman, Warrior, Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Aztek, and Max Mercury. An image of a seated J'Onn with his hands cupped on the meeting room table was statted in as he "considered" each candidate in turn, like the unintentionally destructive Damage, whose trial he had stood as a witness for a short time back. "We'll fix it. Next." Of this killer Tommy Monaghan, he simply requested, "...No smoking."

A final interviewee made a grand entrance, and Tomorrow Woman thoroughly won over the League as she worked tirelessly for days to help minimize the damage caused by IF. Batman eventually determined that IF was from the 32nd Century, having escaped the control of the U.S. military after having been confiscated from the Lord of Time. An especially strong EMP pulse would be required to stop it, and Tomorrow Woman sacrificed herself to deliver it. Unbeknownst to the League, Tomorrow Woman was the creation of Professor Ivo and T.O. Morrow, with the intent that she would win the trust of the team before killing them telepathically. Despite the word "freedom" having been intentionally left out of her vocabulary, her rudimentary android soul had manifested the will to reject her programming and act to the good. Superman saw to her burial, while J'Onn and Diana apprehended the mad scientists.

"Woman of Tomorrow" was by Grant Morrison, Howard Porter, John Dell and Pat Garrahy. It was a cute one-off take on the old Red Tornado / Vision scheme, and despite a solid design, it was honored by keeping future appearances by the heroine to a minimum. I recently bought the DC Direct action figure on sale. Inaction more like, and I have no confidence that it will ever stand under its own power, but the sculpt was decent. The diaphanous skirt was a nice touch.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Aquaman #28 (January, 1997)

The trio met in a parking garage, each dressed in trench coat and fedora. "Are you out of your mind," J'Onn asked, possibly meant literally. Not long prior, Aquaman had set his former teammate afire with napalm during a tense encounter with the Justice League, and had since fended off an alien invasion without alerting anyone, then declared war on the island nation of Japan. Ultimately, Aquaman was probably not insane, though he was emotionally unstable in this period, and very angry. In this continuity, Aquaman had been abandoned to die as an infant, but had survived under the guidance of an intelligent dolphin named Porm. An adoptive mother to the hero, Porm was killed by the Japanese sea captain Kimon Tanaka, who soon entered into a vendetta with Aquaman that saw him become the cyborg villain Demon Gate. Backed by the Japanese Government and Raiden Industries, the only path to avenging Porm meant entering into a proxy war between Japanese sea vessels and the ocean life under command of King Arthur.

An ancient cybernetic organism had taken command of Aquaman's nation of Poseidonis, so Manhunter was needed to help the Sea King and his current partner Dolphin (note uppercase) to penetrate its defenses, both physical and mental. Aquaman broke and subjugated the entity to his will, and used the power of Poseidonis to intimidate Japan until the government turned Demon Gate over to the sovereign. The Sleuth from Outer Space was very unhappy to have been misused by Arthur once again. "Gods... the loneliness... so near and so far, for centuries... just wanting to be touched... loved... we've done a terrible, terrible thing this day." The Alien Atlas abandoned the crusade before Aquaman finally claimed Kimon Tanaka from his brother, who willingly shut down Demon Gate's cybernetics. Initially intent on executing the killer of his mother, after the sea creatures sought clemency in Porm's loving name, Arthur instead sentenced him to life imprisoned upon a deserted island.

"Setting Sun" was by Peter David, Jim Calafiore, & Peter L. Palmiotti. As I've mentioned too many times by this point, I had an interest in Martian Manhunter dating back at least to my purchase of his 1985 Super Powers Collection Action Figure, but my true fandom began with 1996's Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare #2. With the help of Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, I've come to the conclusion that this was the first new comic that I bought specifically for J'Onn J'Onzz after that point of demarcation. I was a big fan of PAD's, and so excited for his upcoming run on Aquaman that I sought Sea King back issues to prepare. Problem being, I very much preferred the prior work to David's frankly underwhelming and derivative approach. I dipped into his run here and there, but it never took, and I was especially disinterested in the issues drawn in this brittle style. There was absolutely no reason for me to pick this issue up aside from the guest appearance, and therefore it was my first step toward the level of fandom that would see my developing pretty much the primary hub for the character on the internet. It wasn't especially rewarding, as I was at a loss amidst the plots and subplots of an unfamiliar leg of the run, but I still appreciated the prominent cover booking for our favorite Martian.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Action Comics #1042 (June, 2022)

At the abandoned Casino Riviera, the new Faceless asked an oozing green mass on the floor, "Who the hell is J'Onn J'Onzz? Or is it Rita Gonzales today? Or perhaps Albert Schmidt? Who is it you see when you look in the mirror? What is left when your body can hold no form? Do you know? Does anyone?" Most of the story is devoted to J'Onn's absence of self, a partial refutation of the Ostrander series where the multitudes of assumed identities and dutiful time spent with the League are a distraction from the Martian's inability to move past the death of Mars and fully manifest a true, evolving self while living on Earth. Meaning he's been spinning his wheels since at least the end of the Giffen DeMatteis JLI in 1992.

Faceless sent Professor Hugo to fetch the "naplam blood," but the Alien Atlas nigh-instantaneously pulled himself back together, turned invisible and intangible, flew across the room, then stood in place in solid form so that Arnold could bump into him. Just so's you know that none of the villains ever stood a sliver of a chance. The Manhunter then orders the fledgling Vulture chicks to run in their highly reflective featureless golden masks that couldn't ever be confused with the Helm of Nabu. While bashing the adult Vulture committee and Faceless, the Sleuth from Outer Space noted that he'd bested the neuron scrambler by moving his brain to his tongue, biting it off, and reforming. I wasn't on Twitter (more later,) but if the message boards were still up, I could have audibly heard the cries of "overpowered."

After the initial defeat of Vulture, they spent years rebuilding, watching Manhunter from the shadows to eventually exploit some weakness. Because J'Onn only ever lived a ghost of a life, he supposedly had no loved ones to imperil, so that his only vulnerability was his amassing of foes in the years since. So Vulture exploited that by enlisting... only the ones from the old Showcase Presents economical black & white reprints... and Dr. Trap, I guess. Oh, and Faceless is just some guy, I think? A lot of the male characters from this strip look enough alike that it could maybe be that researcher guy at the police station from an earlier chapter, but they make a point of his being "no one," so probably not. I don't care enough to check anyway.

Cops busted in to bag the perps, but the Manhunter bolts to spend the day hanging out with... Zook and Gwen from the museum? J'Onn commits to spending more time being himself with his... friends... like the little girl fan he just met and the random lady that escorted him to a crime scene? Like Harry Callahan at the end of the first of five movies spanning 17 years, J'Onn disposes of his police badge. Did we ever figure out which cop he was in the first place? And his throwing it in the garbage could have been a meaningful critique on police violence, which isn't a topic in this story, so treating it like refuse was merely circumstantial?

"A Face in the Crowd: Part Six" was by Shawn Aldridge and Adriana Melo. I had the option of covering the penultimate and final chapters of the Martian Manhunter serial more or less back-to-back, but wanted to give each installment room to "breathe." Then I got into a fight with a bot on Twitter, who then locked my account, and I refused to budge on anything related to the matter for two months. I was so sick of everything that I was thinking of scrubbing the entire Diabolu Frank identity and moving on with my life. I'm still probably going to delete the Twitter account and just fold any further promotion of this blog into the Rolled Spine Podcasts account, but one of the things I wanted to do first was completing the coverage of this serial.

The other reason I held out was because this story wasn't very good. As fan service, it made me very happy to see so many moribund concepts foundational to J'Onn J'onzz's original solo strip finally recognized and deployed in modern continuity. I believe that I already referred to this story as the Alien Atlas' "Hush," which sucked as a narrative but sang as a showcase for Jim Lee to draw Batman characters. Except Melo isn't Jim Lee, and the art takes a tumble in quality on the final entry. By burning through the old rogues in rapid succession without offering much in the way of revitalization, it simply reinforces the notion that they are disposable and unworthy of further consideration. Any future writer is robbed of the opportunity to shock an audience that "X" has returned after half a century-plus, deadlier than ever. "X" already came back in that Action Comics serial, and they accomplished squat.

Also, like Ostrander, the writer calls something a Zook that has no real similarity to the Silver Age character named Zook. To continue an analogy, that's like introducing Stephanie Brown as the new Bat-Mite. One is a human girl and one is a super-powered otherdimensional imp. There's not a parity there, just mutual diminishment. The little girl by definition can't be the thing she's named for, and the thing that still isn't getting screen time is at best suffering a trademark infringement besides. You can't announce that we're getting a sundae and hand us yogurt. That's just not even what you said you were going to do. Yogurt isn't ice cream drizzled with hot fudge and sprinkled with chopped nuts... maybe some whipped cream and a cherry? Even if there's a little cherry at the bottom of the yogurt, who do you think you're fooling?

I'm used to being disappointed by Martian Manhunter stories, robbing me year after year of motivation to continue blogging and otherwise championing the intellectual property of a soulless, clueless corporation for no reward whatsoever. It was nice to see the familiar faces and names dropped. Wasn't much else to it, however. Also, the part where he forms a fist in the middle of his chest to throw a punch? Blech.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Action Comics #1041 (May, 2022)

At the abandoned Casino Riviera, J'Onn J'Onzz confronted his past with the once thought "extinct" Vulture cartel. Inside, plainclothes officers Fox and Certa were led at gunpoint by masked men, until their heads were banged together by "The Alien Atlas!" The Manhunter was surprised someone as young as Fox knew that nickname. "My granddad told me about it." When the Martian Marvel told the cops to clear out for their own safety, the veteran Detective Certa knew enough about supers to believe him.

The Sleuth from Outer Space cemented the basic set-up of his late House of Mystery stories as modern canon: French Riviera, retirement of John Jones, Marco Xavier, et cetera. The one major new wrinkle was that he also meant to "Determine what, if any, connection they may have to Gotham's Court of Owls. The iconography is too close to be a coincidence."

Fighting his way to the casino floor, the Manhunter was reintroduced to Professor Hugo, Faceless, and a bunch of kids in Vulture masks called "The Wake." Hugo had devised a "neuro-scrambler" that can fry the brain of a Martian and cause him to cycle through his identities (like Bloodwynd) uncontrollably. The villains were all furious with Manhunter for having discarded them as "insignificant details. Easy to toss away, to forget when we no longer fit the story you wanted to tell. The life you wanted to live." Meta.

"A Face in the Crowd: Part Five" was by Shawn Aldridge and Adriana Melo. No story has ever done more to honor the entire history of the Martian Manhunter, especially the Silver Age material, as this serial. Including the quality of Jack Miller's plotting that felt like it was written on a napkin during a liquid lunch. It was practically written specifically for me, and being me, I still have to poke it in the eye with a stick. It's my nature.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Action Comics #1040 (April, 2022)

Lurking outside the first floor Middletown Apartment of J'Onn J'Onzz was Doctor Trap. I feel seen. After nearly a full page of social media baiting cat petting while explicitly referencing Marco Xavier in 1960s Silver Age stories, the trap was sprung. Double Stuff evaded the thermal that detonated when J'Onn reached for their kitty food in the cupboard. J'Onn began melting like he'd been eating The Stuff before the story started while Trapp kicked down the door declaring a "House call." In a tell that makes me think a pass wasn't made at reading the original stories, the two characters exposit Who's Who bulletpoints while Trapp's voice sounds off for the character. Hired to capture the Manhunter, Dr. Trap decided he just had to kill the former Bronze Wraith, just about the time the cat attacks him. Yes, the big fat orange cat bought J'Onn the time to recover, then was safely "caged" in his abdomen.

The point is made between punches that our boy self-identifies as the Martian Manhunter, not Bronze Wraith, Marco Xavier, or even John Jones. Besides being arch and not exactly relevant, I think the one direct punch connecting would have done Doctor Trap in. I'm glad we moved past the untrained stand-ins for classic rogues to the non-powered real deals as an escalation, but like, what exactly was he going to do with that leg trap he kept swinging? His mind can't be read because of an implant by a guy named "Hugo. Funny looking dude. Head four times too big for his body." Trapp had been sent to give J'Onn a message. "If you want this to end, find them at the place you first met." The implant was in Dr. Ttap's jaw, which J'Onn shattered, then telepathically shut him down.

The next day, Certa and Peters investigated a dilapidated mansion property bought eight months prior by the presumed deceased Marco Xavier. Apparently, Ostrander was under concussion protocols from... um... I don't know? There wasn't a car crash last issue. Anyway, they got shot in their necks with tranquilizer darts. Is this comic a 1970s' TV show? Weird installment.

"A Face in the Crowd: Part Four" was by Shawn Aldridge and Adriana Melo. I know that it's a relatively small thing, given that these are only eight page monthly installments, but I'm really glad the creative team on this strip has been consistent. I liked Melo's work on Female Furies, and her mix of quirk and menace has really defined this story for me. I'll be so disappointed and have to track her down at a con for a commission if we don't get to see her Arnold Hugo in this arc. I've timidly dipped my toe into the waters of Shawn Aldridge coverage because, put indelicately, past interviews with previous Manhunter writers have led me to the conclusion that they're a bunch of f***bois. Honeyed words, crappy intentions. I mean, Aldridge even kind of looks like the new Getaway King. But he seemed like a good guy in the podcasts I've heard him on, and he's clearly done the work here. He's not just slapping legacy names on his own creations (well... Zoey...) but clearly knows who all these characters were and could be again to our Martian Marvel.

This really is the closest we'll ever get to a Batman: Hush or a Who is Wonder Woman? where the entire rogues gallery Vile Menagerie turn up in one Batman: The Movie style romp. The Diabolu Idol-Head, Human Flame, Monty Moran, Vulture, Mr. V... I'm not arrogant and I try not to be excessively paranoid, but it definitely feels like somebody's been reading this blog. Or the reference sites that borrowed heavily from here. There's a vague semblance of payoff for all these years of largely thankless effort. But also a bit of wistfulness, as there was always that not-so-secret hope that I'd get to do something like this someday, mixed with gratitude that somebody with actual motivation and any accomplishment within the industry actually did.

Monday, March 21, 2022

2022 Justice League International 35th anniversary art by Kevin Maguire

Click To Enlarge

Now that the JLI 35th anniversary passed, I got to thinking what they might look like now and I think they MIGHT look something like this...

Monday, March 14, 2022

2018 Garden State Comic Fest sketch cover by Jason Baroody

I used to think posting links to Comic Art Fans posts was lazy and redundant, but man, a lot of stuff disappears without notice from CAF. When I'm bone dry for content, I guess there are worse crimes, like skipping weeks entirely.

Monday, March 7, 2022

35 Years Ago

I don't believe I owned or read "The Origin of the Justice League-- Minus One!" until after I started this blog, but it swiftly became one of my favorite Martian Manhunter related stories. That statement is thick with disclaimers, among them being that the Manhunter is at best a supporting player in the overall narrative, and I'm not all that enamored with the actual script. It's down to the conceit. Retroactive continuity grounded firmly in established lore, supplying an untold story of how most of the original Justice Leaguers first met, researched to the month of proposed publication, referencing exactly where the players in DC hero comics would have been at that exact moment in time. Obscure characters and continuity minutia are my kink, so a story working in the little seen original Robotman (All-Star Squadron wasn't even a twinkle in Roy's eye yet) and contextualizing where vanguard teams like the Challengers and Blackhawks would have been relative to one another? *Ecstatic shudder* It was obviously a primary influence on Darwyn Cook's The New Frontier, made rare direct nods to actual Manhunter from Mars strip elements, and grounded John Jones so firmly in one of the most fascinating periods in United States history that he was still acknowledged as a 1950s hero as canon during Zero Hour? The event series designed to euthanize surviving 1940s heroes? It's positively miraculous that this thing still has a toe-hold of relevancy, much less an actual artistic legacy.

That mid-century, postwar, paranoiac, conformist, xenophobic period is such a perfect milieu for the Sleuth from Outer Space. It's also the overlooked middle child between the roaring 20s/Depression/WWII and the revolutionary 60s/Me Decade/80s excess that it speaks to a Gen-Xer like me. Eternally, horrifically tainted creative ped(-o-)gree aside, Martian Manhunter: American Secrets remains a top contender for my actual favorite story that not only unquestionably stars the Alien Atlas, but is also about exploring the same themes as the character himself. In 1994, J'onn J'onzz was explicitly stated as arriving "35 years ago," which supported that 1977 Steve Englehart's setting for only the year Zero Hour #0 was published. I'm sure the intent was Marvel method, where Reed & Ben went from serving in World War II to Korea to... jeez, didn't they end up in the Persian Gulf at some point? And yes, J'onn J'onzz did have a bunch of '60s & '70s set stories published in the '90s & '00s, but he never felt unmoored from the 1950s. The Justice Society exited, and the Manhunter from Mars quietly, covertly entered. I big part of his appeal, certainly to myself and in my experience others, was that he was a rare super-hero "holding the line" before the likes of Clark Kent was (functionally) born, much less "The New Heroic Age" begins. Even when my fandom exploded in the late '90s, it was hard to swallow 40+ years of no one else appearing in the JSA's stead. It was even harder when I finally read "Minus One" another decade (and century) removed. Today, it's too great a logistical hurdle.

It should surprise no one that after decades of writing about the Martian Marvel, I have oodles of stories conceived for the hero swimming around my head. Every comic fan carries some fan fiction within them, whether they express it or not. A lot of mine involve continuity patches. When DC Comics bought Wildstorm, they had a fair amount of continuity set in the '40s and '60s that could have been absorbed by DC to fill those "lost decades" before Batman had his Year One. My feeling was that a lot of DC's properties really only worked for the time period in which they were conceived, so why not just leave the Sea Devils or the Metal Men in the 1960s? DC so radically altered the Charlton heroes when reintroducing them post-Crisis that there could have just as easily been a real "Watchmen" made up of their inspirations who had come and gone in times past. If I wanted to keep some vestige of "Minus One" in continuity, why not recast the Barry Allen Flash as Johnny Quick, or really lean into a want of mine, Superman replaced by Captain Comet for even more fifties team-ups?

The "why not" is pretty obvious. DC's love-hate relationship with the JSA for sure, and those historical ties to the Golden Age are often considered an albatross. All that continuity that I wanted to patch was cast aside in 2011 by Flashpoint and "The New 52." Even after Rebirth and Dark Nights debuted an all-inclusive Hypertime omniverse, there's little editorial appetite for deep dive continuity implants. With 89% of DC's current output being Batman Family titles, where would you even put one? Frankly, dear as the generational legacy aspect is to my heart, World War II was nearly a century ago. Do we really want to be conjuring up Nazis and straight patriarchal Caucasian heroic hegemony into infinity? That's rhetorical. No rando partisan gater comment bombs are being solicited here. You guys are a little too into Kylo Ren, right? "Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to."

Speaking of solicitations, for two years next month, I've devoted entirely too much time to obsessively crafting fake ad copy for a line of books in an alternate DC Universe as part of Siskoid's Who's Editing. "Why" is an excellent question. I have a number of answers of varying degrees of quality and desperate raving madness that I vaguely allude to in a companion podcast, The DK Encyclopedia Diaries: The Drunken Guide To The Characters Of The DC Universe. Hopefully I can slur out a semblance of a satisfying response before my liver gives out. But one of them is to serve as my personal island of misfit ideas, aborted concepts lost to space and time and lack of ambition... tears in the rain streaking down little seen comments. This entire post was a ploy to fill a week of blogging with a visual aid I roughly threw together of a final alternate draft for the DC You Moi "Minus One." I had Captain Marvel still active in the 1950s in my "DC Comments Challenge," while Captain Comet is otherwise engaged, so he got the Superman spot. Knight & Squire, the Fury, Max Mercury, and Neptune Perkins stand in for the rest of the proto-JLA. Rex the Wonder Dog from the original story is rendered Thor the Thunderdog here, and a non-pictured Tommy Tomorrow takes pre-GL Hal Jordan's place. Variations of this substitute League have swirled in my subconscious for at least three presidencies. It's never to be, and acknowledging it here as a pure fan fiction is cathartic for me. Thanks for indulging my eleven-hundred word blogging therapy session.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Action Comics #1039 (March, 2022)

"Three days ago, I decided to live a more grounded life, connect with my adoptive home and the people I protect. Two days ago, I fought a gig economy knock off of an old adversary. Now I sit across from a thirteen-year-old girl who says she's my biggest fan..." Zoey... "Zook" had watched the break-in, and relayed the details over milkshakes at a Metropolis diner. The waitress, Blu, seemed to be familiar with J'Onn J'Onzz and his Choco-Shakes.

The plainclothes detectives, Lt. Jack Certa and Ostrander, follow Zoey's lead on kids recruited to crime while wearing gold variant Court of Owls facemasks. They stake out the home of a kid named Justin Miller who seemed a prime candidate for the operation. I actually thought the partner was Peters from the first chapter, and it makes clear that a byproduct of diverse representation is that I wouldn't be confusing three different brown-haired white guys that basically all look like me and who all work together. I have to wonder if they're setting up a fake-out with that. Anyway, MISTERTWENTYTWO slid into the kid's DMs, and involved him in Katharsis Aureus, which Ostrander had researched. "It's like Greek or Latin for 'Golden Purify.' And it's kind of the scientific name of vultu'"

The conversation abruptly stops as the cops tail the kid after he exits his home with a packed dufflebag. Following directions on his cell phone, Justin ends up in a white van with dark tinted windows full of men in owl masks. A high speed pursuit follows, the van driver looking like a J. Scott Campbell rogue with an imperial circle beard, his vibrant red hair in a high fade slickback over his flaming neck tattoo. This would be our New 52 Getaway King. I can dig it. "Told ya, bro, no one catches the king." Well, a Martian Manhunter can. "I let the driver escape... for now. He is of no consequence. The kid is the priority." Cue a very special riff on that moment from All-Star Superman. Or maybe "You Are Not Alone." Well, probably not a Michael Jackson number, right?

The Sleuth from Outer Space has no patience for the threatening henchmen for info track when he can just reach into their minds... only to "hear" a voice. "Hello, J'Onn, it's been a long time... Let's call it a telepathic wiretap. Nanotech implants, really. All our operatives have them. You should feel proud, J'Onn. They were designed specifically for you." The voice chides him for not being the detective of old, unable to figure out the riddle before him. Another hint? "What's a kettle? ...It's a circle of... vultures. And vultures, J'Onn... only circle the dead."

"A Face in the Crowd: Part Three" was by Shawn Aldridge and Adriana Melo. Sorry for basically taking the month off, but I was pursing other obsessions. I've been watching Mutant X for podcasting purposes recently, and an episode referenced the "Infantino Hotel" on "Carmine Street" or some such, and it made me think of this strip. I will be seriously surprised if Vulture and the Court of Owls aren't explicitly connected, maybe leading to a continuation in Gotham City? I was going to point out that town will soon be down a Batman, but for all I know, this nostalgia parade is a long goodbye to our own imperiled Alien Atlas in the run-up to "Death of the Justice League".

I confess a shudder at that last page reveal. Excellent line. I guess once Marco Xavier shed the Faceless fat suit, he swore off ever donning it again. In fact, the modern Mr. V is positively anorexic, better reflecting his favorite bird and running counter to the common Kingpin trope of a literal "big man." I did the last write-up in one minimalist steam of transliteration burst. This one was an off-and-on hours long summation. A lot to digest here...

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Podcast: Mark Waid at Comicpalooza 2018

Amazing Heroes Interviews Episode 6
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The original interview from which clips were deployed in past episodes of The Idol-Head of Diabolu Podcast, now in one handy presentation (although I did save about three minutes of material for one planned episode to come.) Interview conducted at Houston’s Comicpalooza, on either May 26 or 27, 2018. The interview has been edited for time, content, consistency and quality. We spend a lot of time on his early career as a writer and editor, including Amazing Heroes, Comics Week, Secret Origins, The Legend of Aquaman Special, Who’s Who in the DC Universe, DC Cosmic Cards, Doom Patrol, Daily Planet Special Invasion! Edition, Atlas of the DC Universe, !mpact Comics, Legion of Super-Heroes, Underworld Unleashed, the death of Tora “Ice” Olafsdotter, and surely more Martian Manhunter questions than he ever had to field in one sitting. Finally, a brief tribute to the late Brian Augustyn via a critical review.

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Monday, January 24, 2022

Action Comics #1038 (February, 2022)

The Martian Manhunter told Mrs. Heath to run from this rookie Human Flame, not the original and "first super-villain I ever fought." He made short work of the suit's flame jets with laser vision, as even though this Flame had been told of the Martian vulnerability to fire, he didn't exactly wilt at the sight of birthday candles. The Alien Atlas carried the imposter "ten thousand feet" in the air, then dropped him as an intimidation factor to get the facts. Apparently, telepathy wasn't an option anymore? He'd only met his benefactors once in person, to get the suit. It was all set up on an online forum. They wore white face masks, and had offered him half a million dollars to kill the Manhunter. As least he could still verify the store with his mental powers, seeing only those familiar featureless masks.

Metropolis Police Department Lieutenant Certa was soon knocking on the door of the parent of another teen taken in by the site. He was met at the door by his protesting (and all-too-similar looking) partner, Ostrander, who still believed that there were times when he wasn't on-duty. Sarah Garber's dad didn't know anything about Katharsis Aureus, respect her boundaries. Was he wrong for that?

Back to the Metropolis Museum. "Elements of my past, previously unrelated, now parts of the same puzzle." Shredded bits of white cloth on an air vent to small for a "normal-sized person" to access. In an alley outside, a young girl brown-haired girl in a orange hoodie claimed she'd seen kids perform the break-in. "I kinda patrol this area... Name's Zoey, but most people call me Zook. And you're Martian Manhunter. Big fan."

"A Face in the Crowd: Part Two" was by Shawn Aldridge and Adriana Melo. This is the part where the inevitable tweaks begin. Not my Zook, but better than a flower, at least. Getting used to the quirks of the art, and still appreciating that Pugh vibe. Good fit for the material. I'm calling Ostrander as the bad guy, but that may just be my bias when it comes to the Sleuth from Outer Space.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

2021 “The Legend of Isis” fanfic commission art by Jean Sinclair

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I got so into my fan fiction 2021 “DC Comics 1999 Editorial Presentation: Countdown To The Millennium” project for an appearance on Who’s Editing #14: No Man Escapes the Editors that I solicited several commissions to be produced to support it. Where I asked Brad Green to do specific characters for “Lords of the Ultra-Realm” and “Primal Force”, for my first piece ever from Jean Sinclair, I gave him the stacks of reference I'd accumulated and let him have his picks.

One of his choices was Mary Marvel, and since the premises at the back of the "book" were less formed, I figured to mostly work backward from his art to expand upon her entry. That said, I wanted the members of the Marvel Family to have new identities, and asked Sinclair to make Mary a hybrid with The Secrets of Isis from the Filmation "sister show" to Shazam! While I made some suggestions, really Sinclair came up with his own amalgamation on display here. As you can see, there's a lot of crossover between his character selections and the ones already in the other commissions, which gave everything continuity, and guided the writing end of it. So glad the Big Red Cheese was available to, as the Dude would attest, tie the room together.

I was of course pleased when he chose the Martian Marvel to join Mary, especially after research I was doing for the project uncovered Karmang, the perfect bridge between the properties and a happy surprise for me. It just now occurs to me that I could have worked The Gray Man in there somewhere, but things were already pretty crowded, and I was just glad the artist could oblige my requested inclusion of the sorcerer. You know I'm happy with all this Red Planet representation, especially that big Manhunter recalling EVS (especially since the actual guy is now persona non grata.) I was also happy with Garn Daanuth and Maaldor the Darklord, who I really wanted to work in, but hadn't asked for.

The Demon is among my favorite DC characters, and he tangled with J'Onn J'Onzz during the '90s Ostrander/Mandrake series. I confess to struggling to find Etrigan's role in the larger story, but I was still pleased to have him, and an angle finally presented itself. This is a fun piece that pleased me, and Sinclair was a joy to work with. He enthusiastically tackled oodles of characters, more than I ever expected, and totally delivered. I recommend him for your own future commissions, perhaps via the links below?

Jean Sinclair

Monday, January 3, 2022

2021 “Gypsy Zook and Cry'll - In Color” commission by Val Semeiks & Tom Ziuko

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I had planned to finish out running original material commissioned for the fake DC Editorial Presentation this week, but I felt like the artist didn't get the traction his work warranted on social media due to the holidays and so many people being on vacation. Also, I only got one day off each of those weeks, so I didn't set aside the time to draft those posts. Thankfully, derekwc alerted me to this delightful work.
So love Val's version of Detroit Era Gypsy and asked him for a commission. I wild idea came to mind to add Zook and Cry'll the alien sidekicks of Martian Manhunter and Space Ranger. Val said it was very unique commission but think he had fun with it. I asked him to add a small Space Ranger in the background as he already had Martian Manhunter.
Lots of fun choices made here, and I'm always up for an untold adventure of Zook in the right spirit. Here's the original black & white art. By the way, there's no apostrophe in Cryll... or Zook for that matter, and don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
My crazy commission piece - by Val Semiks now in glorious computer color. Tom Z knocks it out the park again.