Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Darkstars #30 (April 1995)

The Martian Manhunter was contacted by his Justice League colleague Wonder Woman, who had spotted something landing on Mars while on monitor duty. Imagine his horror when he saw Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) and Darkstar (Donna Troy) "...frolicking on the graves of a venerable old race." J'Onn tackled the startled couple, already addled from a previous encounter with Darkseid's son Kalibak.

Once the dust settled, J'Onzz told the duo, "Believe me... I have no great desire to be here. My memories of this place are anything but joyful." Perhaps that's why he was so irritable on this adventure, which led the three heroes to track down the uninvited spaceship that first caught the Amazing Amazon's attention. It belonged to "The Syndicate," an interstellar criminal operation often at odds with the Darkstars. "...They've razed an entire quadrant of my people's dwellings... Clumsy fools. Don't they know what they're destroying? This is all I have left! All my people ever wanted was peace... and it eludes them... even in death." The Manhunter launched into the hoods, but was repelled shortly thereafter by an energy cannon. Donna chided, "Damn it, J'Onn-- I never thought I'd be the one telling you to chill out. These syndicate-types aren't your garden-variety space goons. They pack a punch." Under Darkstar Troy's leadership, the group brought the Syndicate's operation down.

This was the first true meeting of J'Onn J'Onzz and Kyle Rayner, discounting passing glances during crossovers. At first, the Martian Manhunter questioned the new Green Lantern's courage and penchant for jokes, comparing him unfavorably to Hal Jordon, but acknowledged "I stand corrected," as the mission wound down. For Kyle's part, while he related to J'Onn's survivor's guilt after the death of his girlfriend, he still felt J'Onn was too tense and unfriendly. "Even a Martian's got to let off steam now and then. Doesn't he?" Manhunter departed with a curt, "My method of relaxation is my own business-- just as this Syndicate installation is yours. All I ask is that you remove them as quickly as you can. I don't relish the idea of coming back here." As for Darkstar Donna Troy, "J'Onn's not half-bad once you get to know him. Remember, this was his planet once--before his people were wiped out. I think he feels the weight of all those ghosts."

"To Wake The Dead!" was by Michael Jan Friedman, Mike Collins, and Ken Branch. Collins would of course return to J'Onn J'Onzz in Martian Manhunter Special #1 (1996). No love for the Alien Atlas on the cover, where his guest appearance went completely unacknowledged.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Green Lantern #87 (April, 1997)

Green Lantern Kyle Rayner can't believe that he's seated in a meeting with the new Justice League of America inside their new lunar base. Electric Blue Superman doesn't look the part, but he's still the Man of Steel, while Wonder Woman is the ultimate warrior he'd met in Gateway City. The Flash is closest to Kyle's age, but has many more years of experience, and never hesitates to remind Rayner of it. Batman barely shows up to these things and the tragic loner Aquaman barely more so. "Batman... gives me the creeps. He could probably wipe up the floor with the lot of us... J'Onn J'Onzz, the Martian Manhunter. He spooks me even more than Batman... Aquaman's surly if he's in a good mood, and Batman's just plain frightening. But at least they're both human. At least I think Batman's human. J'Onn's... not. And the green skin and that brow aren't what's alien about him. He seems so detached... cold. That Martian mind meld or whatever it was when we fought Know Man, that wasn't a lot of fun either. Don't get me wrong, I respect J'Onn. Incredible strength, shape-changing, invisibility, telepathy. He's really the next best thing to Superman, and he's been a hero forever. He just gives me the willies, that's all."

Green Lantern was stuck at the Watchtower after everyone else left to receive orientation from the Manhunter on facility operations. "Man, how much am I not looking forward to this?" Kyle tries to make awkward conversation, but "What do you say to a Martian?" Bringing up that he's a Martian? "I believe we're both aware of my heritage." Kyle figured J'Onn thought he was a dolt and entered a shame spiral that was blessedly relieved by the triggering of a long range scanner. A space craft larger than the island of Manhattan had dropped out of warp and begun firing a beam at Earth. Kyle initially didn't want to drag the rest of the just-departed JLA back, but the matter was rendered moot when communications were jammed. The ship was terraforming Southern California, where Kyle's mother lived, so he was in a hurry to address the ship. Likewise, the ship swiftly zapped the pair of interlopers.

"Maybe I'm a little more comfortable around Wally or even Supes, but being paired up with J'Onn has its advantages. His telepathy is better than AT&T in this void." The heroes' uncoordinated attacks dealt only incidental damage, so J'Onn recommended a more strategic approach. "Your ring allows you to be more adaptable than I. You concentrate on getting inside the ship... I'll provide what distraction I can. Listen to me. The last time I trusted a Green Lantern, an entire world died. Don't fail." Kyle refused to allow another Xanshi to happen, though where his confidence that he could avert one when John Stewart couldn't comes from, I'd rather not guess. The Green Lantern made his way into the ship expecting to confront an alien horde, and so is unnerved to find a single long dead extraterrestrial, seemingly by its own hand.

Startled when he was soon joined by the Sleuth from Outer Space, it was determined that the ship was entirely automated, and Green Lantern intended to blast the control panel with a replica machine gun before being physically deterred by the Manhunter. "...We don't know what effects disabling the ship's systems would have. Neither am I in the habit of destroying what I don't understand... And as you said, there seems to be as much organic component to this system as there is mechanical." The Martian Marvel was able to telepathically communicate with that element, learning the the ship was an ark carrying the seeding material to recreate the civilization that had perished on the long journey to find an appropriate substitute world. Luckily, John Stewart had told Kyle about a more suitable planet than Earth... called Mogo. "So what do you say, J'Onn? Not a bad first mission for the last Green Lantern and the last Green Martian." The Alien Atlas concurred, "In fact... quite fitting."

"Last of Their Kind" was by Ron Marz, Tom Grindberg, and Romeo Tanghal. I had to check several times to make sure that I hadn't written about this comic for the Idol-Head blog. I did a post linking to the late Shawn Engel's Just One of the Guys Podcast Episode #87, and I know I did a brief synopsis on my old WebTV page, but somehow never here. This was another early instance of my buying a comic book specifically for the Martian Manhunter logo on the cover, but it had more resonance than his slightly earlier Aquaman appearance. Arthur had used his long time association with J'Onn as a utility or plot device, where this story was specifically about how rookie hero Kyle Rayner related to the veteran J'Onn J'Onzz while trying to settle into his new team situation (having briefly served with The New Titans.) Despite having read Justice League titles off & on since the JLI period, including the final couple years of the previous incarnation, I very much appreciated the story's embrace of the new. For the first time, I felt like I was reading a "real" Justice League series, and despite being a young and not entirely accepted legacy, that "last" Green Lantern represented an icon that belonged in a revived comic book pantheon pantheon that included the Manhunter from Mars. Since the Detroit years, J'Onn had been treated as a mentor to younger heroes, so it made sense for Kyle to be shown under his watch. Kyle represented a revitalization of the Green Lantern brand that was legitimized by association with the JLA, while restoring his connection to both the icons and a more commercial newer hero allowed the Manhunter to gain a relevancy not really seen for him before. The story itself wasn't anything special, but it indicated a direction of welcome renewal for the World's Greatest Super-Heroes.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Adventures in the DC Universe #1 (April, 1997)

The Batman & Nightwing villain Blockbuster was attempting to steal millions of dollars worth of gold from the Denver Mint, and despite having been forewarned about the Martian Manhunter, was caught off-guard that the "treacherous alien" could turn invisible. J'Onn J'Onzz tried to cart the big brained brute back down into the tunnel he had dug underneath the mint to prevent his doing any more harm. Blockbuster fought back, unintentionally trigger a gas explosion, into which the villain vanished. The alien fought off his fear of fire to douse the flames by breaking a water main, then pondered Blockbuster's fate. Elsewhere, Flash's foe Super-Gorilla Grodd pulled a similar mid-heist disappearing act, as did recent Aquaman adversary Major Disaster, Superman scoundrel Parasite, Wonder Woman wretch The Cheetah, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner devil Dr. Light, and another Batman baddie, the Scarecrow. The JLA convened at their moon base, and the Caped Crusader traced satellite transmissions related to the vanishings to a location in the desert of the southwestern United States. The JLA crashed their cavernous base and easily overwhelmed the evildoers. However, a mysterious mastermind in an armored mech known only as "Cipher" easily downed Manhunter, Superman, and Lantern with weapons exploiting their weaknesses. Batman directed the JLA to victory, but when the allied aliens ripped open the armor, "He must have teleported away! The suit's empty!" Aside from a bomb to be evaded, that is. The League was left with a mystery, and their foe a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses...

The Justice League of America in "Now You See 'Em..." was by Steve Vance, John Delaney, & Ron H. Boyd. In the editorial material by Frank Berrios, Vance is introduced as a co-founder of Bongo Comics who designed several DC logos and wrote for Paradox Press' Big Book series. Delany was an animation veteran with credits including Flash Gordon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Savage Dragon who was looking for the creative liberty of... corporate comics? Boyd was a film school grad who had one of the longest run working on Legion of Super-Heroes titles. Despite being created as an intentional complement to the Batman and Superman animated series tie-in titles, they allowed Delany to indulge his own design aesthetic rather than hewing closer to the Bruce Timm school as Ty Templeton and Mike Parobeck had done on the short-lived Superman and Batman Magazine. However, like that magazine, Adventures clearly targeted a younger demographic with shorter, simpler stories. This one basically repeated the same plot in four segments of decreasing length, then three additional single panel summaries, leading to the final battle. It's nice that J'Onn got the second, and thus second-longest segment to introduce him to new readers. I preferred Delany's design to Timm's on the Manhunter, and I guess maybe Blockbuster was perhaps some sort of nod to Arnold Hugo and the Detective Comics run? As with Kyle Rayner and the hook-hand Aquaman, Adventures was aggressively rooted in then-modern comics continuity, perhaps to its detriment.

Monday, August 15, 2022

1997 Adventures in the DC Universe Promotional Poster

I was watching FOX on the Sunday evening of September 6, 1992 when the networked debuted Batman: The Animated Series, and either that night or soon after took to taping the broadcasts on long play EP-setting VHS tapes that I made crude custom sleeves to adorn (out of TV guide ads and other ephemera.) I had done the same thing for the early episodes of X-Men, (using trading cards and a Wizard magazine back cover ad,) and which I also recorded upon their debut, well ahead of the proper series' arrival. Wikipedia and the BTAS Wiki reports the show was launched the previous Saturday with "The Cat and the Claw: Part 1," with the second part offered on the following Saturday, but that's not how I remember it, so make of that what you will. These were the days when super-hero animated adaptations were still uncommon, and ones taking the material seriously especially rare, so I was enthused by any offering of familiar properties. I probably saw most of the first several seasons on FOX Kids afternoons. I thought it was a good show that captured the feel of the comics and sometimes bettered it, but also my interest in Batman began to wane, and I didn't find the noir-ish detective stories lent themselves to repeat viewings.

Superman: The Animated Series seems to have been much less loved, with "STAS" yielding no immediate search results in the way "BTAS" does. I was also over videotaping most super-hero programing by September 6, 1996, but I certainly watched the three-part origin "movie" upon its premiere on the Kids WB, though I don't recall it being on a Friday? I better enjoyed the Krypton saga than Batman battling Man-Bat, despite one of my earliest Batman exposures being a Power Record with Man-Bat. Aside from a period in the late '80s when the likes of "Year One" and The Dark Knight Returns reigned over all, into the early '90s as Batman Returns faded into Batman Forever, I've tended to prefer the Man of Steel to the Caped Crusader. Superman's cartoon was funner and more action-oriented, so I didn't mind as much that they ran a ton of repeats, especially since there were fewer episodes produced anyway. Regardless, I drifted away after a couple seasons.

Naturally, the next series was Wonder Woman: The Animated Series, but ha-ha girls stink go cry in your pillow fanboy. I'm writing this in the year 2022, and this world still hates women so much that the third leg of the supposed DC Trinity has never had her own cartoon series. Instead we jumped to Justice League, of which one of my best friends' girlfriends taped a few episodes off Cartoon Network for my broke ass, and I have still never seen broad swaths off. Instead, just as JLA was revitalizing DC fandom, a quasi-Timmverse series joined The Batman (and Robin) Adventures and Superman Adventures, this time "manifesting" a cartoon for DC instead of merely adapting...

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.