Monday, July 31, 2023

Brightest Day #6 (Late September, 2010)

Big Hendy Park, California. A feminine Green Martian with a contorted, conflicted form and multiple faces speaking to themselves spied on a couple lounging by a stream in the forest. "Her life smells so wonderful... her youthfulness simply intoxicating. All the psychological and physical experiences she has yet to encounter can be mine... I want them... I need them..."

"Enough! You have more important things to think about. This may be your last cycle before it passes away forever. J'Onzz is back among the living, and he is the last one. Do you really think now is the time to disappear-- submerge yourself inside their meat again?"

"But I am still so empty-- all those years of loneliness-- a lie of the mind to stay sane--"

"Now is the time to rise and do what the core of your being demands-- you must be fulfilled."

"And I will be. Buy if I can't have these lives at this moment, then I'll simply take them."

"Since your last submersion there's been the appearance of another. Someone who may capture his attention-- before we do."

"That won't happen... because I'll pay her a visit." This twisted creature set off in flight, having decapitated the young man and crushed the skull of the lady.
Denver, Colorado. The remains of Professor Erdel's laboratory. The Sleuth from Outer Space sought clues about the serial killer he was pursuing, but was soon more concerned when every hint of flora that he came into contact with immediately died at his touch. Taking flight, J'Onn found an adorable squirrel in a tree, and was relieved to find that it could survive contact with him, "By the grace of H'ronmeer..." The Manhunter from Mars next visited the Still Zone, activating the White Martian mothership, via the prime codeword "T'ann T'anzz." All remained in stasis, with security at full power. On to Gotham City, where he worked with Oracle to view autopsy photos and hack into secure databases for deeply buried computer files. The authorities hide the details when metahuman involvement is suspected to suppress public unrest and as a comfort for families who find greater peace in more mundane causes of death. Hence, this alien killer could go largely undetected, outside specialized agencies who may secretly be in pursuit.

Detecting a "nagging familiarity" to the killer's m.o., the Manhunter reached out to the Teen Titans, with Superboy reporting that M'gann M'orzz was on "walkabout." In the Tanami Desert, Australia, J'Onzz found Miss Martian's getaway pad, the heroine herself brutalized. Dangling in a downward recline, covered in purple blood, half in White Martian and half Miss Martian form...

"Dead Zone" was by writers Peter J. Tomasi & Geoff Johns, with art by Patrick Gleason & company. Following a two month absence, Martian Manhunter(!) was the David Finch cover-featured star, with an altered version of his 2006 logo. The splash page is glorious, certainly one of Gleason's best images of Manhunter and overall.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Brightest Day #3 (Early August, 2010)

In the Antimatter Universe, White Lantern Boston Brand created hard light power ring constructs of the recently resurrected to fend off the Anti-Monitor. Just acknowledging the cameo.

In Pearl River, New York, at Rockland County Morgue, J'Onn J'Onzz observed the flayed bodies of the massacred family. Finding a dog hair on their clothes, he tracked their absent family dog to the Rockland County Animal Shelter. In its memory, J'Onn saw a corrupted Martian figure stripping off the skins of the family members. He then took the dog to keep Melissa Erdel company, having wiped its memory of the trauma.

"Revelations" was by writers Peter J. Tomasi & Geoff Johns, with art by Patrick Gleason & company.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Brightest Day #2 (Late July, 2010)

In Pearl River, New York, a brown-haired slim housewife prepared dinner for her husband and two children. She became fixated on a GBS news report on the recent resurrections of heroes like Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, shown on the television screen. Absentmindedly pulling a ham out of the oven bare-handed, the mom announced that dinner was ready. The rest of the family were playing a Rock Band-style video game, and wanted to finish the current song. The mom then swiftly, brutally murdered "her" family with objects on hand, before pulling the skin off her face to partially reveal a pale, craggy monstrosity with jagged teeth fully on lipless display.

The exact same scenario had played out in the previous issue, where a Black man working at a fish market was triggered by news of Aquaman's return, and murdered everyone at the shop with a knife. For a moment, especially with the TV shot of Aquaman, I thought the writers might have been playing at some sort of mass hysteria event related to Blackest Night that obfuscated the exact triggers/targets. But then I remembered that the man was revealed as Black Manta at the end of the issue, and the woman hissed J'Onzz's name after her homicidal episode, so their individual obsessions were never in doubt. They were just repeating the exact same gory, exploitative plot element in unrelated circumstances. Or put simply, writing poorly, which can happen with fatigue toward the end of a biweekly group collaborative maxi-series, but a severe warning sign on the third issue out of 25+. The exact murder weapons were an electric slicer, drum sticks, and a toy guitar/game accessory, in case you were curious.
In Denver, Colorado, J'Onn visited the grave of his "old friend," Saul Erdel, whose headstone read "TEACHER AND EXPLORER." In Post-Crisis continuity, the nature of J'Onn's relationship with Erdel has remained contradictory and unclear, though generally Erdel still dies almost immediately after encountering the Martian. Manhunter ghosts his way though the ground into Saul's coffin. Erdel's emaciated, near-skeletal hands were laid across his chest, left clutching photographs of Saul and the unidentified woman from the vision, dressed for the lab. The back of one read, "Me and Dad at the lake." So was it a lab at a lake, or a lettering error? The Sleuth from Outer Space swiftly located the now elderly woman at Mount Hope Senior Home. The blue-eyed woman identified as Melissa was in a wheelchair, where she liked to stare out her window toward the stars, and she had a large outwardly branching scar at her right temple. J'Onzz took the form of her father, whom she still remembered, even though she now routinely forgot a great many important things.

On a moonlit flight, Melissa was willing to tell her story, if "Dad" could just help her remember. "I remember when you first showed me the stone tablet you found in the ancient ruins of that Aztec temple when you were a boy... I can still hear the wonder in your voice when you told me the same bedtime story every night of how space travelers from the red star once visited our planet and helped an ancient people survive and thrive. Once you had it translated it became your life-- our life-- and I was glad Mom left-- She never understood what we were trying to do-- All she saw was an obsession-- and all we saw was the future... but the future was pain... and horror. We should have run, Dad. We should have run as fast as we could. But we didn't. Because intertwined in all our fear was hope... Hope that somehow peace and understanding would win that terrible night. But it didn't. All our dreams of reaching out to a new world... only put our in jeopardy."
Oh-- I thought we were introducing a mystery that would play out over the course of the series, not creating a brand new character to insert into Martian Manhunhter's origin so that she could give an exposition dump in issue #2. Gee, I hope that doesn't mean that with all that extra space, the story won't devolve into a bunch of meaningless screaming and violence where the mystery could have gone. Also, mom was right, actually. Let me break down that mess of run-on sentences and misused dashes. Saul Erdel was apparently such a privileged white boy that he was able to steal a square foot of stone artifact from a Latin country that seemed to confirm the existence of aliens via a crude rendition of a cone-headed Martian wearing the classic Manhunter costume. After somehow translating the language of a presumed millennia-dead people from a planet away via mid-20th Century science, it was determined that this alien played into debunked racist theories of non-White civilizations being reliant on extraterrestrials for their noted achievements. Father and daughter wasted their lives trying to make contact with an alien race not recorded since at least 1521 A.D., and their "success" was to unleash a body horror creature onto their world that was all twisted limbs and jagged teeth. Despite presumably being the same alien that massacred their own "family," this first contact involving elongated and grotesquely enlarged appendages applying throat chokes and tossing the Erdels around like rag dolls, but they survive intact and barely bloodied. Maybe they'd also made a scientific breakthrough in the field of plot armor? Worst of all-- Saul brainwashed his little girl with Chariots of the Gods fanfic on nightly repeat? Mom should have called CPS on the way out.
"So you had a new mission, Dad. A new obsession. And I hated you for making me hide in the shadows and not allowing me to be part of it. I remember when I asked you why in the world you would try something like this again after everything that happened. A sad smile crossed your lips, Dad, and all you said was: I'm a scientist, Melissa, and science is built on the foundation of failure. How could I not try to right a wrong? And then one night, there he was. Standing before you-- before us-- the same type of being we saw etched into the ancient stone tablet. The one I would learn years later is called J'Onn J'Onzz, the Martian Manhunter. He was going to be our savior-- deliver us from the evil we had unleashed. I didn't see the cyclonic power generator arcing from behind the door... but you did. I still hear your scream every night, Dad, just as I can see the flash of the explosion that blinded me for weeks... along with a piece of the transporter console that left it's mark on me forever."

Albert Einstein was also a scientist, often attributed the quote "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." For instance, unleashing an alien xenomorph, shrugging, then tapping on another egg in hopes you'll get lucky and find a Kryptonian instead of a facehugger in that one. Writ large, it would also apply to revising Martian Manhunter's origin as a way in for new readers instead of telling, I dunno, an actual new story? We're not all Melissa Erdel over here. Also, notice how I put those little two-finger wave things on either side of phrases in which I'm directly quoting someone? Might want to try it sometime. One of my particular writing quirks is overly long sentences, arguably in need of better structure or truncation, but it's a conscious stylistic choice on my part. This reads like a child all sugared-up on Pixie Stix whose every sentence is a paragraph of nonsense. How exactly was Erdel "protecting" his daughter by having her in the same house where he's trying to manifest an opposite number against SIL from Species, in line of vision so that she could be blinded, and less than a stone's throw distance because an actual chunk of debris flew into her brain? Saul tackled J'Onn to "save" him from the explosion, but forgets to tell the Martian in a lab ablaze, "Oh hey, can you do me a solid and make sure my adult daughter gets out of here safely?" I assume that her childlike recollection is from the brain damage, and that she was not in fact a teenager imperiled and disabled as a result of her father's negligence.
Even here, Melissa was still entirely concerned about the comfort of her dying father, left to wonder what his final words were. The reader is not so deprived. "... forgive me... for taking you from your home... needed someone to save us... save us from my arrogance... my recklessness..." Not "my baby-- she's still in the fire! Save her!" Not "I brought you here to fight a horrible creature that I accidentally ripped from your planet, if you don't mind looking into that, once you get settled." Not even, "so, like, what can you tell me about those Aztecs." At least he didn't specify that he wanted the Leonard Cohen and not Jeff Buckley version of "Hallelujah" played at his funeral service. That would have been selfish, and also, not the broad preference of any potential mourners of this nutjob shut-in. Anyway, Melissa still expressed gratitude that her father "protected" her from his experiments, rather than plainly ruin her life like what we saw, and she was proud that he'd delivered the Martian hero that would presumably confront their mistake (after a decades long unchecked and undetected rampage of uncounted carnage,) hopefully before she died of old age?

"Nuclear Options" was by writers Peter J. Tomasi & Geoff Johns, with art by Patrick Gleason & company. Yeah, nuclear options are indeed looking good at this stage. "Stop me before I retcon again." The art was much better this time, more in line withn his excellent, undervalued Aquaman run.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Brightest Day #1 (Early July, 2010)

At the northern polar cap of Mars, J'Onn J'Onzz delivered a lake's worth of frozen water, source unknown. Using laser vision, he melted it, and saw the first sprout of flora. Then he was struck by sudden psychic pain that caused him to partially shapeshift back into Black Lantern Martian Manhunter. J'Onzz saw a vision of himself choking Saul Erdel, while a young blond woman lay unconscious on the ground near their feet. Recovering, J'Onzz attested that his vision was not what had happened when he was teleported to Earth. Assuming that the vision had to have originated as a singularly focused psychic flash from his adopted world, J'Onn began the flight to Earth to find this girl he had seen...

"Second Chances" was by writers Peter J. Tomasi & Geoff Johns, with art by Patrick Gleason & company. While I was pleased that J'Onn had made a swift return from his stunt death, as he settled into his narrative within the quasi-anthology, I found the direction wanting. I had really enjoyed Fernando Pasarin art in the initial shared section with the Green Lanterns in #1, only to be succeeded by Pat Gleason delivering some of his worst art to this date. I guess someone felt the need to reenforce J'Onn's ties to Earth after the Coneheadhunter offered a brief and mostly overlooked reembrace of his Martian identity, but I don't think the fandom needed this. Given the state of Earth even then, wasting vital resources on Martian nostalgia just made J'Onn look foolish, and spun his narrative wheels at a point where he desperately needed traction.