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Author Topic: Along Came J'onzz  (Read 7371 times)
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Permanus
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« on: August 18, 2006, 10:17:40 AM »

The other day, I picked up the first issue of the new series of The Martian Manhunter; I'd heard they were doing one, but I'd sort of forgotten about it, but I was pleased because I always liked the character. Then I sort of forgot I had it, and I discovered it in my bag yesterday and read it on the bus. Then I got home and had dinner and kicked back for a bit, and then I went to bed, and realised I couldn't remember what happened in the issue, so I read it again. Okay, J'onn tracks down an escaped Martian named Roh Kar (homage to 1950s Batman, okay, got it), who has been held prisoner by some dirty tricks agency. He's also got a stupid new costume that makes him look like Halle Berry in the X-Men. Except green. Right, so much for the story. It's okay, not great. The artwork's okay too, nothing special.

So I tried to remember what it is I like about the Martian Manhunter, and I realised I couldn't come up with anything. I still like him, but I don't know why. There's a strange kind of blandness about the character that seems to suck all the energy out of you. You're not crazy about him or anything, but you think he's okay. He's got lots of powers, none of which is original, his weakness (fire) is silly, his costume is, I don't know, on him. Apart from Darwyn Cooke's excellent treatment of him in The New Frontier, I couldn't think of a single Martian Manhunter story that stuck in my mind. DC have tried again and again to revamp him, but the stories are always a bit insipid and and the art is always dull. Even the Martian culture he comes from seems austere and uninspired: despite the fact that there are several dramatic elements in it, conflicts between Martian races and all that, it just comes across as a bit boring. It's not the fault of the writers or artists, it's just something about him.

Even his personality is boring. He's got this dramatic cognomen, Martian Manhunter, that doesn't suit him at all. He never seems to do much manhunting, for a start. In fact, that would be pretty much at odds with his beliefs: he's a bit of a peacenik, which is fine by me, but doesn't make for great manhunting. He's not got much in the way of imagination, which is a pity when you consider the fact that he can change into any shape. (In an unbelievably stupid subplot in one of the miniseries they made of him, his conventional appearance is just a disguise he's adopted so people won't be afraid of him. He's made his head less pointy. If he was that worried about public perception, why stop there?)

Even his real name is dull. J'onn J'onnz. That's his name, so in his assumed guise as an earthman, he calls himself John Jones.

It's as if everything about the fellow conspires to make him awe-inspiringly dull. His origins are mired in exciting stuff like Cold War hysteria and McCarthyist paranoia, science fiction and crime drama, the colourful world of the superhero. Mix it all up, and what do you get? Him. It's as if you took pineapples, cayenne pepper and wild boar, mixed them all up, and ended up with porridge. Maybe that's his problem: he's cobbled together from too many parts. He's got too many origins, too many powers, too much of everything. Perhaps it all just cancels itself out.

And despite all this, I still like the character. I don't know anyone who doesn't. Perhaps there is a tendency among comics fans to forgive too much, to feel affection even for the eternal second banana. Perhaps one likes him because, hey, I could come up with a character like that too; maybe I could have a career in comics after all! His very mediocrity affirms our ambitions. Which comics fan never dreamt of working in the business? As long as we keep the Martian Manhunter going, we'll at least have him to practise our hack talents on, à défaut d’autre chose. He's the puppet whose strings are far too plain. We wouldn't have him any other way.
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2006, 03:01:04 PM »

Very interesting insights, Permanus. By definition, this is a character you don't really think about; sure, he was one of the 1950s crop of science-fiction "demi-superheroes" that are part superguys and part-spacemen, only without Captain Comet's cool rocket, powers and sobriquets, or without Ultra the Multi-Alien's grotesque weirdness.

Very little about the Manhunter is unique; other superheroes are aliens, other superheroes are the last of their kind marooned on earth, other superheroes are detectives, and even the Manhunter's "stranger in a strange land" angst and curiosity about humanity is a combination of Superman and the Silver Surfer.

I'm disappointed to hear they aren't using that Escape Master, or whatever his name was (even John Jones's villains are unmemorable). At least when Dan Slott did She-Hulk, a character not known for her villains, he brought out Titania (Shulkie's only real archenemy) within the first three issues.

What I find really interesting about Martian Manhunter's appearances in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA in the Gardner Fox years, is that in his fifties strips he demonstrated all these weird powers like mesmerism, telepathy, clairvoyance, and shapechanging, but in Fox's JLA, he pretty much is Superman, using "Martian Breath" and so forth.

In many ways, it's a good thing that John Jones was a founding member of the Justice League, because the League gives him so much of his identity. Strange how people associate Jones with the JLA, despite the fact that occasionally, he was absent for a hundred issues at a time!

In the cartoon, John Jones is the Justice League master M.C. on the watchtower; it might be said that it's appropriate that the Manhunter lives in their headquarters, because really, he doesn't have much of an existence apart from his team!
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Permanus
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« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2006, 07:59:24 PM »

Yes, and that shows how amorphous the character is: he starts off hiding in the shadows alone and friendless, then seamlessly becomes the shill for the most prominent team on earth. In narrative terms, it does make sense for him to dedicate himself so much to the Justice League, though, because it's a given that it's all he's got. It's interesting that he can't really go socialising with ordinary people: he has to associate with extraordinary Terrans, perhaps because he is so paranoid about standing out from the crowd. (It says something about the character when I start to defend him by trying to explain that he actually needs to be boring.)

I should mention that I also sort of liked Frank Miller's treatment of the Martian Manhunter in DKR2, which was inevitably bleak: an ageing drunk (a bit like the alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth), he has lost most of his powers, possibly through overindulgence, or perhaps just because living on Earth is killing him; either way, Miller kills him off in a few panels.
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« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2006, 10:46:32 PM »

Quote from: "Permanus"
Yes, and that shows how amorphous the character is: he starts off hiding in the shadows alone and friendless, then seamlessly becomes the shill for the most prominent team on earth.


The thing I think is most interesting about this is that there's a REASON Jones goes from being a detective to being a full-fledged superhero, at least in terms of the story: at one point, John is exposed to a chemical that means that he can't use his other super-powers while invisible (a Martian way to make sure their prisoners don't escape). So in other words, he has to start operating in the open.
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« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2006, 11:27:04 PM »

Can't any of this partly be the "fault" of the amalgamation known as the early Justice League as seen in their own mag and the Brave and the Bold?  None of the heroes really seem to carry their personas into those team stories without losing something.  Even their constant splitting into smaller teams and showcasing their powers almost one-by-one seemed odd to me, though I enjoyed a lot of the stories...

It was an interesting era, starting a team when the roster of total DC heroes was fairly small to start, I can see how J'onz's character got as shifted out of weird powers and police science as easily as Batman rarely used the detective skills he might use in an average World's Finest issue...
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« Reply #5 on: August 20, 2006, 01:40:03 AM »

Quote from: "MatterEaterLad"
Can't any of this partly be the "fault" of the amalgamation known as the early Justice League as seen in their own mag and the Brave and the Bold?  None of the heroes really seem to carry their personas into those team stories without losing something.  Even their constant splitting into smaller teams and showcasing their powers almost one-by-one seemed odd to me, though I enjoyed a lot of the stories...

It was an interesting era, starting a team when the roster of total DC heroes was fairly small to start, I can see how J'onz's character got as shifted out of weird powers and police science as easily as Batman rarely used the detective skills he might use in an average World's Finest issue...


THink the splitting-into-multiple teams bit was Fox's holdover from his writing of the Justice Society in the 40s, when the JSAers would use similar tactic for fighting the bad guy's multi-parted plans...
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« Reply #6 on: August 20, 2006, 02:05:05 AM »

Well, I'd say sure, but at the same time, I don't think anyone really had a take on how all these powerful people could all act at once, there could be all kind of excuses, Xotar trapping them all in their chairs and releasing a few at a time, Kanjar Ro sending a separate team to each world he wanted to conquor, etc...
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« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2006, 09:02:03 PM »

Quote from: "Permanus"
It's interesting that he can't really go socialising with ordinary people: he has to associate with extraordinary Terrans, perhaps because he is so paranoid about standing out from the crowd.

I was never clear on this.  Is there anything to prevent him from adopting his old "John Jones," normal-earth-human-in-appearance secret identity, and having friends and family?  As I recall, Jones was a pretty good police detective.

S!
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"The bottom line involves choices.  Neither gods nor humans have ever stood calmly in a minefield forever.  Good or evil, they are bound to choose.  And when they do, you will see the truth of all that motivates us.  As a thinking being, you have the obligation to choose.  If the fate of all mankind were in your hands, what would your decision be?  As a writer and an artist, I've drawn my answer."   - Jack Kirby
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