Sunday, May 19, 2024

Martian Manhunter Annual #2 (October, 1999)

"In the early years of my residence on Earth, I traveled to Africa, took the form of a gorilla and lived as one of them among a tribe in the wild." Though he was treated as one of the lowest status, J'Onn J'Onzz was at least tolerated, and even embraced as a friend by some. When human researchers came to study the apes, the G'Orilla studied them back. Then the poachers came while the Martian was elsewhere, slaughtering scientist and gorilla alike in pursuit of valuable... novelties. Severed heads. Ashtrays fashioned out of paws. The Sleuth from Outer Space tracked the poachers, and used his telepathy to force them to turn themselves in to authorities. He mused that the savage beast assumptions regarding gorillas was more a projection of human's own aggression and avarice than what he had seen amongst the tribe.

Even the various assaults and forced conversions during JLApe: Gorilla Warfare could all be understood as repercussions of the assassination of King Solovar-- but by whom? Who stood to gain? After purging his recent gorilla hybrid-form from his "shape-memory matrix" and restoring his super-hero default, J'Onn J'Onzz traveled to the JLA Watchtower to collaborate with The Batman on this impenetrable mystery. Following Green Lantern Annual #8, "The Morphic Resonance Array was destroyed, but not before a significant portion of the world's population had been transformed into gorillas. Chaos currently reigns. In response to your earlier comments, I'd like to point out that Green Lantern's condition was the reason for my hasty departure from the U.N." [JLA Annual #3 (September, 1999)]

Despite The Dark Knight Detective's constant condescension and dimminishment of his abilities, The Sleuth from Outer Space had also deduced the identity of the mastermind behind this incident, but felt the need to build a case in order to understand where to locate and how to defeat the culprit. To this end, private investigator John Jones, and other alien alter egos, interviewed known associates like Bobo T. Chimpanzee, Monsieur Mallah, Sam Simeon, and William "Congo Bill" Glenmorgan for insights. Sam fanboyed over the Manhunter from Mars, asking him to pose for a sketch.

While John Jones was playing Simian Team-Up, the JLA were doing real stuff, like averting nuclear catastrophe and joining Grogamesh in evacuating Gorilla City as a precaution. It was here that the Sleuth solved Cluedo, explaining that it was Gorilla Grodd in the coup with the assassination. Envy was the motive, and thanks to having absorbed all the mental energy of the gathered gorillas and neo-simians globally, Grodd had the power of a god to blast Martian Manhunter, who reverted to his natural form. However, fully ascending to a deity seemingly meant Grodd being stripped of his identity, and when the Martian pointed this out while "worshiping" the Super-Gorilla for his sacrifice, Grodd recoiled and collapsed. This was done in a sequence of three double-page spreads, joining the many Image-style visuals for big annual storytelling that did thankfully help the pacing on these thickish books. A babbling, vegetative Grodd was locked away in an asylum, and Ulgo sought to normalize relations between Gorilla City and the human world.

"Fear and Loathing on the Planet of the Apes" was by Len Kaminski, Gus Vasquez, & Mark Propst. As I was suffering discontent about a year into the run of the 1998 ongoing series, I especially enjoyed this, the final ever Martian Manhunter/Magnificent 7 JLA solo annual. Which I largely lay at the feet of Ostrander/Mandrake, but that's an admittedly minority opinion. Kaminski was a writer that I always tended to enjoy, who should have had a better career, and who I thought had a really good handle on the Alien Atlas. He and fill-in writer John Arcudi were the guys I kept hoping would take over the series when Ostrander was done with it, only for the title itself to give out after three years. But it was so good, the DC Message Board lectured me. Here, I loved stuff like J'Onn inserting himself into non-human Earth populations, and I really appreciated the trend of pitting J'Onn against Grodd. He's best known as a Flash villain, but the mental powers and outsider perspective made their pairings natural. Obviously it would have been even better if these Silver Age revivalists had, y'know, revived actual Silver Age Martian Manhunter villains, but that's asking too much. Grodd's one of my favorite DC villains, going all the way back to Challenge of the Super Friends, so bring him on.

Vasquez has a rubbery quality that suits J'Onn in a way it wouldn't any other JLAer, and I felt it was more of a piece with the popular style of Howard Porter on JLA broadly and Don Hillsman III very specifically on the Martian Marvel in this time period. I especially liked his Natural Form Martian, which I digitally "cut out" in one of my first forays into Microsoft Paint, to post on my late '90s Web-TV site, so we go way back. For the artist, it was mostly just back-ups and one-offs going forward, though he was still kicking around as late at the 2010s. Kaminski did some more JLA work here and there, but was mostly out of comics after the turn of the century, and I understand is currently committed to a wheelchair in a nursing home against his will. That certainly puts things in perspective. But hey, sorry for the delay in wrapping up this coverage. It's been a lot of apes for a long time. Despite generally liking this storyline, I had misgivings about taking it on in the blogging medium, especially once I felt compelled to look at each book for my different venues. Well founded misgivings, hence the delay.

1 comment:

Kevin from New Orleans said...

J'Onn should have told Batman "I've been a detective longer than you've been alive!"