Thursday, March 30, 2023

Justice League of America #230 (September, 1984)

The breathable air was sucked out of the environment within the JLA Satellite. Bel Juz convinced The Marshal to have his warships destroy the space vessel that caused the explosive decompression aboard the satellite before it could get too close... and Martian Manhunter could be positively identified, to prevent his potential martyrdom. Hunter Commander J'en overheard their conversation while eavesdropping aboard the command ship "The Vengeance," but could only look on in horror as her former lover seemingly died a second time before her eyes. The Hawks' Thanagarian Star Cruiser had been completely obliterated by laser fire, leaving no trace. The Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, Konstantin Chernenko, swayed President of the United States Ronald Reagan to deploy their combined nuclear capabilities against the Martian armada. Nine key international military bases had already been leveled by the invaders. All was lost.

Well, about that. As demonstrated by J'onn J'onzz before his departure, the League had specialized space suits aboard the satellite that allowed the heroes to use their powers while protected from the ravages of space. The League ambushed Martian troops that explored the disabled satellite. Hawkgirl and Hawkman had maneuvered their ships' warp drive to evade fire and retaliate. J'en wielded her credentials and the stun setting on her pistol to take out three members of the Soldiers of the Red Brotherhood. Stealing a scout craft, she found that J'onn J'onzz had once again been miraculously thrown clear of his ship before its destruction.

When roused, the Sleuth from Outer Space was relieved to learn that the full attack upon Earth had not yet begun, and that there was yet time to stop The Marshal. J'en still believed in her leader and their mission, drawing her pistol on J'onn, who despite no outward resistance insisted that she would have to kill him. Tearfully, J'en let go of her quest for Martian glory, as well as the grip on her laser. Just as the Hawks prepared for their final stand, The Marshal placed his order. "This day, we will write in fire on the pages of Martian history. Technician, open a channel to the entire fleet-- I wish to speak to all my warriors."

This was the moment the Manhunter from Mars, having made his way aboard The Vengeance, had been waiting for. The challenge of a duel, before the entire Martian force, who could already plainly see that J'onn J'onzz had not fled like a coward, as their commander had claimed. Bel whispered, "The eyes of the fleet are upon you, my leader! Kill him now, prove him a weakling, and you are untouchable!" The Marshal literally ripped off his shirt and assailed the man he'd framed as a traitor. Despite his genetic enhancements, the Marshal struggled against his foe, and used an invisibility technique outlawed for a millennium in duels of honor. Bel insisted, "What matter? The Marshal is above the law!" After more blows were traded, the Marshal tried to two-handed choke J'onzz to death, but the Alien Atlas picked him up by the midsection and smashed the militant head-first into equipment, leaving the Marshal out cold. Bel Juz defied this result, grabbing a pistol from a soldier with the intent to kill J'onzz herself. However, Firestorm had recovered from his last brush with Martian muscle and pursued the Manhunter, only to use his powers to save J'onn from Bel's blast.

J'onzz ordered the armada back to Mars II. The Soviets and the U.S. stepped back from probable nuclear winter. All seemed to be right, except the fleet would be leaving short one Martian Marvel. As Aquaman observed, "His people don't want him... His presence would be a constant reminder of their humiliation... J'onzz showed them that they'd sold their hearts to a madman and coward. The Marshal betrayed their faith in him... but J'onn J'onzz forced them to face reality... and that's something a nation can never forgive...

"The Concluding Chapter: War of the Worlds 1984: Part Three: Blessed Is the Peacemaker" was by Gerry Conway & Alan Kupperberg. While not as embarrassing as to be defeated by the slighest hint of a flamable, the Martians regardless proved pushovers when faced with non-powered heroines in fetish gear kicking them really hard in weightless space. I still like this story, and love the Patton/Giordano covers, but the illogic and mere lip service paid to stakes make it fold before the slightest critical analysis. None of this material makes it into Post-Crisis continuity, so my buzz over the observance for Bronze Age Martian continuity is further harshed by none of this having "happened" in canon going further than a year out.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Justice League of America #229 (August, 1984)

Probably more sore about being manhandled on the Martian Marvel's previous visit to Earth during his JLofA tenure than because of legitimate concerns, Firestorm let J'onn J'onzz know he would be keeping an eye on him in the event of a double-cross. "If you believe that, we have nothing more to say." The Martian invaders had destroyed most of a space shuttle orbiting the planet, and the pair of heroes were dispatch to address the remains. Too weak to control the nose cone where three surviving astronauts hid, the Nuclear Man cursed the Martian for imperiling them, but managed to salvage the attempt with his matter restructuring abilities. Upon return, Firestorm was still finger-pointing, and Zatanna chastised him for it. The Thanagarians vowed to stand by Earth until the end, and when military police showed up to round up all "ETTIES," Firestorm's defense showed that his prejudice didn't extend past J'onzz.

Then-President Ronald Reagan apologized to Aquaman for the incident, and explained that world leaders were intent on pushing back against the Martians. Both men bemoaned the unexplained absence of Green Lantern, The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Superman, a too-common recent trend. Elongated Man reported that one silver lining was that he was seeing people around the world unite as one against the extra-terrestrial threat.

Aboard his warship, The Marshal expressed his confidence to his lover and confidant, Bel Juz, in her first appearance in a dozen years (and second overall.) She expressed doubts... that the Marshal should have slain J'onzz already, and whether his bravado masked insecurity. When the U.N. Secretary* announced the world's rejection of the Marshal's terms of surrender via satellite television broadcast, the furious fascist admitted as much. The overall resistance was not a concern so much as the rival in their midst. "I had to send my personal guard after him... because too many of our warriors are still loyal to the J'onzz mystique... You know the man, Bel Juz. You recognize his charisma." Indeed, she feared her own betrayal of the Martian people would eventually be uncovered by the Sleuth from Outer Space, taking on the Marshal and encouraging his coup as a means of protecting herself... even if it meant worlds at war.

The Martian strike was swift and unprecedented. They had somehow managed to accumulate hundreds if not thousands of interstellar attack craft with invisibility, allowing them to ambush the Hawks' Thanagarian Star Cruiser, the JLA Satellite, and numerous key cities around the world simultaneously. Terrestrial weapons were useless, and the League's base was left shattered. Challenger, in golden battle gear, boarded the remains in search of survivors. There were in fact no casualties, and though the robotic Challenger battered Aquaman, its was taken out by a single "wall-smasher arrow." Firestorm still distrusted the Manhunter, and took out a trio of actual Martian invaders while searching for him. Finding J'onzz donning a spacesuit, the Nuclear Man assumed the Alien Atlas was abandoning his allies. Silently swatting the nuisance aside, the Manhunter climbed into a League spacecraft, fired upon an exterior wall, and flew off. Firestorm was left to fend for himself in the ensuing explosive decompression.

"War of the Worlds, 1984: Part Two: Bitter Ashes" was by Gerry Conway, Alan Kupperberg, & Pablo Marcos. Going back to his underappreciated Blue Devil run, Alan's been my favorite Kupp-brother, and a welcome relief from Tuska. It's still jarring how completely Challenger was redesigned from one issue to the next, but I'd assume the second pass was closer to the desired vision. Maybe The Marshal had a point about needing to take over, since the last time we were on Mars II, his people were still living in tents waving swords, and now they have an entire armada? As for J'onn's pronounced charisma... I wish that had been present enough in any of his solo series to have kept any of them going for longer than a few years. I do like this story, especially its rare care for Mars II continuity, but it needed more room to actually demonstrate the Martians as the threat they're spoken as. Plus, all those Marshal monologues undermine the attempt to create any doubt in the reader's mind about the Manhunter's loyalties.

* Technically it should be the Secretary-General, who in 1984 was Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, although perhaps they got confused and thought it was his eventual successor, Kofi Annan?

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Justice League of America #228 (July, 1984)

In 1961, Vostok 1 orbited the Earth. A dying Mars took no notice.
In 1963, Project Gemini yielded the first Terran spacewalk. "On Mars, a grim decision is taken... and a once-great race prepares for a strange exodus..."
In 1969, Apollo 11 landed on Earth's moon. "On Mars, as before, no notice is taken... for now, no one is there."
In 1976, Viking 1 lands on the Red Planet... "conforming some scientists' fear that Mars is, indeed, a dead world."
In 1984, an abandoned and neglected Viking 2 found new life on Mars, or rather was found by it.

After an effective two-page build up, the action began, as J'onn J'onzz piloted a wounded spacecraft toward the blue world that was once his home away from home. Two of The Marshal's Hunters were in pursuit, but by seeming sheer will, J'onzz managed to maintain his lead. Hunter Commander demanded that the traitor be stopped before reaching his allies, and despite the love they once shared, Hunter Two privately vowed to kill J'onzz to this end. Aboard the Justice League of America Satellite, Aquaman was the first to detect the approaching vessels. Black Canary, Green Arrow, Red Tornado, Elongated Man, Firestorm, Zatanna, Hawkman, & Hawkgirl were swiftly called into action. Barely missing collision, the JLA followed the invaders down to terra not-so-firma. His ship destroyed by Air Force missiles, J'onn J'onzz splashed down in the waters near the Statue of Liberty.

Aquaman dove in to investigate, but was brushed off by an escaping figure from the wreckage that he was able to recognize through telepathy and a scant vision before it turned invisible. " old friend... who seems to have turned into an enemy..." The Leaguers had presumed that he was still with his fellow survivors in another star system, resettled on "Mars II." Speeding away on some unknown mission, an overzealous Nuclear Man tried to steam the Martian out of the water, only to be chastised by the fairer Winged Wonder. "J'onn's our friend, Firestorm. Something's driven him to act desperately-- but he's still our friend!" Hawkman surmised that he had been running for days without food or sleep, and even without the hotfoot, J'onzz soon collapsed into Shayera Hol's arms.

Jones was taken to the United Nations to recover, where the disbelieving U.N. Secretary heard the League's tales of Commander Blanx causing the Blue Flame of Mars to rage into an inferno that rendered the world uninhabitable. J'onzz explained that three Terran weeks earlier, he had determined the true fervor of the Red Brotherhood, a nativist, fascist collective of mostly young militiamen seeking to abandon their subsistence existence on Mars II to return to their home planet. Months earlier, a masked ally named Challenger had found an destroyed the Viking 2 rover on a pilgrimage to Mars, and the charismatic genetically-engineered militant leader The Marshal would use its intrusion as pretext for an invasion of Earth. So convincing was he that even J'onn's lover J'en had her simmering anger weaponized towards a successful takeover big against the current government within the week. Forewarned by his investigation, the Sleuth from Outer Space evaded the imprisonment and death that befell resistors, and managed to escape in a scout ship.

Shortly after recounting these events, a warship appeared outside United Nations Plaza, and Challenger emerged. This being offered to accept humanity's surrender, so that they could be interned in camps for a single generation, as a sign of Martian mercy. The Manhunter from Mars called out this plot of slow genocide, but was in no condition to resist at this time, as Earth was afforded one day to answer to the Marshal's terms...

"War -- of the World?" was by Gerry Conway, George Tuska, & Alex Nino. I've often written that DC Comics house ads featuring the covers to this debut and the final issues of this arc were among my first, in not the first, exposures to the Alien Atlas. You should have no doubt that I wish the interiors matched those glorious Martian images rendered by Chuck Patton and Dick Giordano, but I was still happy with the initial chapter of the tale that, as announced on the cover, brought the Manhunter back to comics!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Martian Manhunter in Lazarus Planet (2023)

While there was a part of me that wanted to continue with Bloodwynd material after Black History Month, just to finally close that long dangling thread, at a rate of one post per week, it would still take up another few months... maybe even the rest of the year. That would rather strain the parameters of this blog, not to mention my interest in the concept. Reader dissapointemnet (don't ask me to spell or pronounce that Ctrl+C/+V) asked last week about covering a recent Martian Manhunter story which felt like a nice pivot point, but I lacked context. I pretty much gave up on the DC Universe during the New 52, aside from a tiny blip following Rebirth, and didn't even bother to collect or fully read the 2018/2019 Martian Manhunter maxi-series (bought the trade only.) When I became estranged from Marvel Comics in the early '90s, I continued to read all of their monthly solicitations as an informed retailer into the next century, but finally gave up on that sometime before the 2010s. With DC, the estrangement began in earnest sometime after Infinite Crisis/One Year Later (I quit 52 halfway through,) but I think we were well into the Rebirth period before I finally opted out of reading the DC solicits, or as Grandpa from The Lost Boys might have put it, my TV Guide. I just stopped caring about the ebb and flow of that universe, and even a stab at creative writing that saw me try to catch up was abandoned more than a year ago. Lazarus Planet has been well reviewed, but it's also a weird mash-up of super-heroes, Vertigo, and Chinese lore that's daunting to wrap my brain around.

As I understand it, current Robin Damian Wayne has been mucking around with his mother's side's resurrection apparatus, some monstrous entities got involved, Batman got possessed by one, and a volcanic eruption of the Lazarus Pits caused alien parasites to gene bomb an underworld. Or as less of a geek test, a plot device gave DC editorial an excuse to muck around with people's powers on a grand scale to mine crossovers and spin-offs. And because a good chunk of the readership hate anything magic or related to China, the Batman Family get shoehorned in to force feed it to that lot. Also, they continue to push the entire discipline of inking over a cliff by shooting directly from the pencils to turn everything into a washed out muddle, and inflict a bunch of excess text on the audience by crediting nine different artists for variant covers that they (hopefully) only bought one of. But I'm not bitter.

Where Dark Crisis (I'm already exhausted by the title alone) seems to have been the more classical (if perhaps largely irrelevant in the excessively grand scheme of things) crossover, Lazarus Planet feels like an old Marvel Age Annual on steroids, cocaine, and PCP at the same time. Aside from the Batman vs. Robin tedium and a two(ish)-part bookend series, this event is mostly a collection of short stories by a vast number of creative teams setting-up/previewing new directions for the DC line. I guess this is where Jon Kent gets his dad's (and Strange Visitor's) old electric blue look/powers, and where the decision to make Renee Montoya the Question that got reverse years ago de-reversed (can I quit yet?) There's a lot of the Maryest of Sues, Black Alice (trigger warning, come @ me,) and a mountain of ah-spaghetti hits-ah alla the walls (best/worst Chris Pratt Mario voice?)

In a huge, very 21st Century tell, a mash-up of Martian Manhunter and Doomsday that might as well have been generated by an art AI program (did Dream get a credit with all the variant cover guys) was used to promote the event, even though J'Onn J'Onzz barely appears in any of these books. In the core story, the Alien Atlas is simply adjunct to the Superman Family, showing up as part of a cavalry straight outta Metropolis.

In the March cover-dated, January-shipping one-shot Lazarus Planet: We Once Were Gods #1, Dan Watters and Max Dunbar had the thankless task of validating the gimmick image in a ten page story. A person of color (but indeterminate race,) Raphael Arce gained the ability to absorb people's pain from the Lazarus rains. Arce selflessly visits hospices to relieve all the terminal (exclusively white male?) patients at a Metropolis hospital. In a big reach, his proximity to the city has him absorbing the residual pain of the time Doomsday "killed" Superman, and that memory is enough for Doomsday to begin regenerating within the dude's body. Martian Manhunter tried to relieve the reliever by taking the Doomsday seed into himself, becoming the advertised hybrid for barely two pages. Arce then takes the Doomsday back from him, seemingly immolating into a hyperdense red crystal. "Crushed down into a psychic gem of blood and pain. He allowed his flesh to become this. Dense enough to absorb the living memory of Doomsday."

There's a bookend where Martian Manhunter likes to fly way up into the something-sphere (he still needs to breathe, I assume, but can also see the whole Earth from wherever he stops) and partake of a symphony of pain and pleasure down below that's supposedly better than music. In the end, he's explaining all this to Superman, his seeming immediate superior in the DCU these days. For all his powers, Superman can't pick up "The patternless patterns of emotion rippling on the surface of the Earth?" I'm right there with you, pal, and since when did J'Onn switch from Chocos to pot brownies? Anyway, the pseudo-poignant denouement offered by J'Onzz is, "There are no songs among them today."

The intent is unclear, but we can choose the yarnwall this as a set-up for a post-Infinite Flashpoint 52 Convergence Rebirth Infinite Metal Dark Crisis reboot of Bloodwynd, even though the exact phrase is never uttered. I'm not sure if Raphael Arce is Black/Hispanic/Both/Neither, though that was definitely some "Magical Negro" s---, and I have exactly zero (hour) faith that this will ever be follow-up in any way. YMMV.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Justice League Quarterly #9 (Winter, 1992)

So this is your basic temporal paradox. Booster Gold meets a homeless kid who he recognizes as a huge celebrity and Samaritan from his past in the far future. She died tragically in the 21st Century, so Booster helps her avoid an unscrupulous Hollywood type and reunite with her family. Her twin sister survives what was once an early death, and together they forge a brighter future. As a result, Booster mostly forgets both the runaway and her erased infamous fate.

That wasn't the temporal paradox that I was referring to, though.

The girl shines up real good for someone previously routinely mistaken for a boy, blossoming like a made-over nerd in a teen comedy. Everyone's jaw is on the floor when she *gasp* applies make-up and raids Fire's closet. Booster. Max. Beetle. Bloodwynd... who even requests an introduction. "Geralyn, this is J'Onn... Ted... Max. Send them your autograph--"

This story came out roughly the same month as Justice League America #69, the Doomsday tie-in where Blue Beetle is beaten into a coma right before seeing Bloodwynd transform into someone else while exposed to flames. Five months before Justice League America #74, where that form was revealed to be the Martian Manhunter. Maybe it was an accident, or at least written off as one, but Booster still outed Bloodwynd as J'Onn J'Onzz way ahead of it being anything but a Feudian slip...

"Tomorrow Belongs to Geralyn" was by Elliot S. Maggin, Dave Cockrum, & Jose F. Marzan, Jr. Quite the hoary lot in the '90s, and this was Cockrum's second story in the issue, so I'm sure the little fanboys were just thrilled.