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

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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.