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.