Monday, November 20, 2023

Brightest Day #21 (Early May, 2011)

On Mars, the cover(s)-featured star engaged in final, fatal battle with D'kay D'razz (solo on one, with D'kay on the variant.) J'Onn J'Onzz fought off mental manipulation, with tears of rage over the molestation of his family memories. D'kay insisted that J'Onn was invested in the fantasy as she was-- that it could still be a reality-- and that it was the future their child deserved. Although their bodies had melded often in recent weeks, the Sleuth from Outer Space probed his mistress' psyche and form, determining that she was barren and deluded. In denial, D'kay picked up bones from the Martian skeletons that she had exhumed and began stabbing the Manhunter with them. In retaliation, the Martian Marvel flooded D'kay's mind with the thoughts of the living multitudes on Earth, exceedingly painful for one as sensitive as she.

Snaking her body around J'Onn's and taking advantage of the fear and dread being experienced by those Earthlings in the midst of unknown calamity, D'kay swore that she would never stop coming for J'Onzz... that she would use and destroy each and every life on his adopted world in her pursuit of his eventual companionship on their red planet. The Alien Atlas believed her... that she was an existential threat to multitudes on Earth, and that her menace would only end with her demise. The Manhunter from Mars flew himself and D'kay D'razz into the sun, where their flesh cooked off their bones, and those bones exploded into dust.

The White Lantern J'Onn J'Onzz emerged from the inferno, once again restored by the Life Entity. Asked to choose his home, the Martian Manhunter returned to Earth. Star City was aflame, and the forest imperiled. The Martian Marvel rescued innocents for a moment, but was swiftly drawn by the White Power Ring of Deadman. Recently, the Hawks and Aquaman had been disintegrated by its power, and now it seemingly threatened J'Onzz's newborn reincarnation. "Your heart is no longer divided, J'Onn J'Onzz... Your sense of devotion and duty is now pure and singular in purpose." Deadman protested that the recent "killings" of Manhunter's fellows was the Lantern's doing, and that he couldn't stop it from using him as a vessel for its wishes. Manhunter had read Deadman's thoughts, not only absolving him of guilt, but also the White Lantern itself. In the belief that it was necessary to surrender himself to halt the new menace to the Star City Forest and beyond, J'Onzz allowed himself to be swallowed into the earth

"Mars Attacks" was by writers Peter J. Tomasi & Geoff Johns, with art by Patrick Gleason & company. Beyond the stupid title, the belabored conflict, the average art, the impossible astronomy, and maybe the ultimate instance of Martian Manhunter jobbing himself-- dying twice in one comic to addresses menaces he should have been able to beat with regular old powers and a little brain work-- this one was alright. And yes, the rare Green Martian survivor living secretly in isolation until reemerging well into the Manhunter's career before J'Onn kills them and nearly himself by diving into Earth's sun was already done to Ma'alefa'ak in the Pete Tomasi-edited Martian Manhunter #9. If you're going to be a second-rate Johns, might as well plagiarize from his second-favorite source, John Ostrander.

Monday, November 13, 2023

WEBTOON Red Hood: Outlaws (2022-2023)

The Outlaws try to go legit -- and fail spectacularly. The Justice League has issued a challenge to DC’s Dark Trinity, forcing Red Hood, Artemis of Bana-Mighdall, and Bizarro to try and replace their goody-two-shoe counterparts as the heroes the world neither deserves nor needs. In this original series, the Outlaws will battle some of DC’s biggest Super-Villains and Super Heroes -- but their biggest battles are among themselves. Can this team last? And can they find their own identities separate from Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman?
Per Wikipedia, WEBTOON is "a South Korean webtoon platform launched in 2004 by Naver Corporation, providing hosting for webtoons and compact digital comics. The platform is free, and is found both on the web at and on mobile devices available for both iOS and Android." DC Comics has apparently farmed out some of their IP to the company, including the New 52's Red Hood & the Outlaws, under the recenty "Dark Trinity" model of wannabe bottom shelf Bat-Supes-WW. While doing research, I stumbled upon the project, and then suffered through it. I readily admit myt biases: I am an old. I like "Modern Age" North American comics, except most generations of readers are maybe fifteen years long and "modern" starts more or less in 1986, so it's an unweildy conceit. To be more precise, I like a combination of late Bronze Age world building/aesthetics but with "Dark/Chromium Age" mature and subversive elements. It would be especially ignorant and prejudiced to say that I don't like "manga," but I can say that I'm not big on stereotypical Asian storytelling tropes like massively decompressed storytelling and cutesy banter/romcom elements. I especially don't like when American super-heroes are forced into this model without regard for continuity. As an added bonus, the episodes are infinite scrolls optimized to be read on a phone, but I read on a desktop. This is not my jam.

The story is that the Outlaws are mercenaries hired by the presumed deceased mobster Franco Bertinelli to recover a stolen family heirloom on Dinosaur Island. Yes, that's the name of Huntress' father, and he looks the part, but this is just the sort of superficial nod to continuity that only serves to confuse and frustrate the kind of people that will catch the reference. Besides facing dinosaurs, the Outlaws also run a Raiders of the Lost Ark gauntlet of boobytraps to capture the "heirloom." Did I also mention that I hate overt references to obvious pop culture sources?

The first twist is that the "heirloom" is an artifact kept safe in this cave for "thousands of years" by Artemis' reckoning, so the premise of the entire mission is a lie. The second is that there is seemingly an African-American police officer on a date with a girl named Caitlin who resembles Babs Gordon and works nights, but isn't Batgirl. They're at the Mimic Coffee Bar, he orders a plate of Chocos sandwich cookies for their dinner, and the girl is actually into it. The cop has to exit the date, because his warning device that intruders have broken into his secret Dinosaur Island hiding place for a Martian artifact has gone off. This story is by a first time writer who is heavily invested in this work, so it gives me no pleasure to attack his work. However, "likes Chocos and gets ornery when you touch his Martian stuff" is the most basic, pathetic characterization for J'Onn J'Onzz, and that's about the level of every character in this strip. Also, Martian Manhunter hasn't been on Earth for thousands of years to mind the artifact, and I'm pretty sure his high tech detection and force field detention system are unrelated to the Ray Harryhausen reanimated skeletons also defending the object. There could be a story in that, but it's not told here. It's merely another plot contrivance, which starts with "why didn't you have the containment force fields set up for before someone stole the artifact?"

So Martian Manhunter captured and replaced Artemis, hanging out with Red Hood and Bizarro for hours, until Jason Todd deduced that "she" was not actually his teammate. They fought, and Bizarro beat Martian Manhunter, so J'Onn called the Watchtower for back-up. THe Outlaws got through the force field and back to whatever Western country "Franco Bertinelli" was in. The Outlaws take their wages, but then fight "Franco" to force him to explain what the real deal was with "his" scheme. It turned out that Franco was actually D'Kay D'Razz in disguise. Despite the story repeatedly referring to it as an "idol," and it vaguely resembling the New 52 Pandora's Box, "The Heart of H'ronmeer is the most powerful remnant of life on Mars. It hold the ability to replicate a fascimile of Martian life. A mirror. A bastardization." What this meant was that D'Kay turned a bunch of humans in the building into clones of herself. Why the Outlaws were exempt, I know, because plot contrivance. A trio of mercenaries held their own against a small army of Martian serial killer clones who keep homaging that Ivan Reis D'Kay D'Razz variant cover merged with Junji Ito in AI, and then the Justice League showed up. Despite this, the D'Kays escaped to Mars, and the condition will be permanent if The Heart of H'ronmeer touches down on the red planet. So now would be a good time for a Batman-Red Hood heart-to-heart where Bruce Wayne unmasks?

The story just stops when Red Hood insisted that the Outlaws were more effective than the Justice League, so Batman makes his former protegee agree to a deal herein the Outlaws will replace the League for a month using approved, non-lethal tactics. So the League stands down for a month, giving the mercenaries free reign of thew Watchtower. The Martian stuff gets dropped without resolution. I think the League went to Mars to stop D'Kay, the crux of the initial argument? And did I mention that the Outlaws were just hired by a presumed mobster to steal stuff with no qwuestions asked? Make any of this make sense.

Nearly twenty episodes and four months later, it made sense. The D'Kay D'Razz situation was resolved in a few panels with minimal complications, but did involve her literally backbiting Martian Manhunter off-panel. The Outlaws' adventures were all virtual reality simulations echoing the circumstances the Justice League were dealing with, and Manhunter was left on the Watchtower to guard them in their suspended animation. J'Onn J'Onzz used his telepthy to speak clearly with Bizarro and help him deal with an especially cruel false family scenario. By this point there were a team of additional artists, and you can tell. There was also a team of bounty hunters, mercenraies, and assassins after the Outlaws, now that Wayne was no longer protecting them, and he was a real pal to leave J'Onn J'Onzz to get caught up in all that. He claimed to be proficient in 1,827 languages while playing punch face with KGBeast and looking too much like Piccolo. Artemis took out Merlyn, Codename: Assassin, and Lady Shiva, who surrendered. At chapter 33, J'Onn had fought Lobo, then they both teamed up with Bizarro to save the Watchtower from falling out of orbit, and Artemis had taken out some Medusa chick who turned out to be the main baddie? I'll be honest, by this point I was free-spinning the scroll like a The Price is Right money wheel. I justy stopped when I saw green, as you do, and there were blessedly fewer Robin appearances to interfere with that process. Things got very talky and metaphysical, the chapters seemed to short, and I'd say the art improved (collectively?) I think Batman and/or Red Hood learned the error of their ways, even though they're supposed to be the heroes rather than the recidivists?

Episode 53 had another green blip. Artemis was being imprisoned and tortured. Red Hood got help from Martian Manhunter to get into the place where she was being held, under stipulation that J'Onn would have no further involvement without proof of criminal involvement, and that Bruce wouldn't get word of it. There was a sequence where you had to turn your phone sideways for an Oldboy hallway fight. Artemis got a Green Lantern power ring. There's a fakeout where Jason and Artemis appeared to get married, but it was actually Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon. So the writer got a treat for spending three years of his life on a story that can never be collected in print and is certainly out of continuity. Oh hey, Caitlin from the date catches the bouquet, so finally a callback to all that.

In my frustration, my critique will be a reductive "this sucks." Not only do I hate all the scrolling, but it is actively detrimental to the storytelling. Every episode has sequences where you're just rolling past scenery of negative space. I think it might be a bid to control narrative time and mood, but it mostly feels like thumb isometrics. You can tell the artists are used to doing digital pin-ups, as they struggle with basic visual storytelling, and everyone is posed like Colorforms on vague backgrounds that they don't seem to inhabit. Without a break point like the turn of a page, unheralded flashbacks and dream sequences are jarring and utterly disorienting to the point where I thought I might have clicked on the wrong chapter, except "oh, right" I was still in the same chapter when things went pear-shaped. Money may have technically changed hands, but this is still fanfic in terms of craft on display. The story ended on 8/27/23, and is primarily credited to Patrick R. Young and Nico Bascuñan. You can read it for yourself here