Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wednesday Win!

Well, it's high time one of my all-time favorite comic book characters made it to this blog.

Here's Two-Face, in a moment of epic win (or fail?) that I found rather amusing.

And a few panels later...

Now I'm not the biggest fan of (not-Martian) Manhunter, but I have been enjoying Kate Spencer's run in Streets of Gotham, even if she does beat up Harvey Dent.

Gotta give him credit for playing both the sympathy card and offering her a job:

Next up: he puts on a pair of glasses and says, "You wouldn't hit a guy with glasses, would you?!"

From Batman: Streets of Gotham #7.  Written by Mark Andreyko (whom I would like to see write more Two-Face), pencilled by Cliff Richards (whom I would like to see draw more Two-Face) and inked by Art Thibert (whom I would like to see ink more Two-Face.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Guide For Writing the Rebooted Martian Manhunter Part 9

Top Ten Things Writers Need To Remember When Writing the Martian Manhunter

So you don't miss one second of Martian appreciation goodness:  Number 10Number 9Number 8Number 7Number 6Number 5Number 4, and Number 3.

2.  Give the Martian Detective a few supporting characters, and give him a place to go "home" to.

Now, the first part of this, I will admit, I have trouble with.  It's a tricky line to walk when you're creating supporting characters for a main character who is the outsider.  You can't have a character sit alone in a room by himself and expect him to carry a series.  He needs to be around people--like what I was saying back in Number 8.  At the same time, I don't want to see him "saddled" with, say a love interest or a sidekick, because it dampens the "outsider" vibe.

So, the trick is to get the relationships right.

I'll jump out of the Silver Age for a moment and dip into the gooey goodness that was the late 1980's Justice League International series.  J'onn played the father figure to Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, and Booster Gold, and the straight man to their juvenile (read: hilarious) antics.  Not only was it comedy gold, but it was a good role for the wise and stoic Martian.  We saw him in the role of protector and father figure:

And occasionally he'd offer his own dry humor:

Oh, and Starbucks was on Mars first, too.

Now I'm not saying go back to the JLI silliness.  It wasn't my very favorite portrayal of the Manhunter from Mars (but it ranks pretty darn high), since J'onn rarely had any solo story arcs during the JLI run.  (One annual does come to mind, though.)  What I am saying is that DC needs to find a way for J'onn J'onzz to interact with people.  Otherwise his character will never be revealed.  One of the JLI's most endearing qualities was its characterization: well all felt we knew these characters, who weren't one-dimensional stereotypes or bogged down with the "Standard Generic Hero Personality."  So, DC, find some people J'onn can play off of and put them in a room with him and let's see what happens.

I don't think we have to go full out "Dynastic Centerpiece."  I know Scipio was a big believer in creating a "family" of sorts which revolved around a particular superhero.  He faulted J'onn for not having one, and therefore, offered this as a reason why he would get killed off.  I think there's some credence to the idea, but for some reason I balk at having J'onn be the center of a family of supporting cast.  Perhaps because of the reasons which I'll get to in the next installment.

Scipio did propose some characters to be part of J'onn's Dynastic Centerpiece.  I agree with a few of them: Slam Bradley, Gypsy (but not as a sidekick), King Faraday.  I could see the JLU version of The Question in there (even though he has zero connection to J'onn), only to act as a darker, paranoid foil to J'onn's more upright methods of crime-fighting and truth-seeking.  I would probably add Diane Meade in there to not only give a Silver Age flair to it all but I think there needs to be a strong female character in there somewhere.

In addition to that, J'onn needs a "home" to call his own.  And not the Watchtower.  Like an actual apartment, or a cool secret cave crimefighting hideout.  (And no, not the abandoned House of Lies, either.)  With some roots in a fictionopolis, it will only help J'onn's character development.  Can you have Batman without Gotham or The Question without Hub City?  Nope.  So give Middleton back to J'onn (or another fictionopolis), make it reflective of J'onn character, and use it to provide conflict for some solo stories.  (Preferably not the failing-meteors-every-other-week-and-Froot-Loops-From-Space kind, but the crimes-outside-the-norm kind.)  Make his fictionopolis a little noir, a little old-fashioned, a little mysterious, and a tad strange.

In short, give J'onn some friends, partners, and possibly surrogate children (when Ted Kord comes back to life, that is!), and a nice place to call home.  Perhaps an apartment with golf clubs and a Basset Hound.

Hurry!  Someone call PETA!

Autocomplete Me, Google

I was aimlessly browsing the internet and trying to figure out (of all things) the "birthdays" of DC's superheroes.  (I just found out that Nightwing's is March 20th, apparently.)

Anyway, I went to Google and typed in "Hal Jordan" and one of the autocomplete suggestions was "Hal Jordan for Congress."  Well, lol, I'd buy that T-shirt and wear it.  Wouldn't that be funny.  Hey!  They should make a whole line of "So-and-so for Congress/Public Office" T-Shirts.  So then I clicked on the link to see what Hal's platform was.

Oh, wait.  It's a real guy.  Named Hal Jordan.  Running for Congress.


Oh, and it gets better.  He has a Twitter account.

Imagine how much fun I could have with this...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's been very, very quiet....

This past week has seemed kind of dull, comics-wise.  Nothing too exciting is going on...maybe it's the calm before the end-of-Blackest-Night storm?

As for my Silver Age silliness, I'm brainstorming ideas for the penultimate entry in A Guide For Writing the Rebooted Martian Manhunter.  I've got an idea for the last one, but it's that second-to-last one that's driving me up the wall.  And after I finish that countdown I won't have a clue what to write about next!

Hopefully something interesting will present itself soon.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Guide For Writing the Rebooted Martian Manhunter Part 8

Top Ten Things Writers Need to Remember When Writing the Martian Manhunter

You shook your head at Number 10, Number 9, and Number 8.  You'll always remember where you were when Number 7 went live.  Number 6 made you tear up just a little and say to yourself, "It's true.  It's all so true."  And Number 5 and Number 4 left you wanting only more Martian appreciation goodness.  So now here's what you've always wanted: Number 3.

3.  Give the Manhunter From Mars a proper nemesis.

Like it or not, superheroes are defined by the characters around them.  And no character can provide a better crucible for characterization than his or her nemesis.  A villain must attack the hero's various weaknesses, and in so doing, define who the hero essential is.  Part of Batman's success is due in part to his stellar Rogues Gallery: it's iconic, archetypal, and each villain, when contrasted with Batman, highlights a different aspect of Batman's fundamental nature: Joker his need for order above chaos, Two-Face his need for justice over revenge, Riddler to test his detective skills, and so on.  There's a reason Batman's Rogues Gallery bridged the gap to popular culture: great villains only make their heroes greater.

Now, our friend Frank over at The Idol-Head of Diabolu has undertaken a massive effort to compile a list of all Martian Manhunter villains in I-HoD's "Vile Menagerie."  There are all sorts of worthy villains listed, spanning the Silver Age to villains from Final Crisis.  Though Frank makes a strong case for many of the foes J'onn has battled, such as Professor Hugo, Commander Blanx, and Despero, I'm still holding out for "THE" Martian Manhunter villain.  You know, the guy whose name you can't help but mention when talking about the character: like Batman and the Joker or Superman and Lex Luthor, there really is no Martian Manhunter counterpart.

That's not to say that there isn't a proper villain hiding in J'onn's Vile Menagerie, it's just that no one in modern times bothered to take the idea and really run with it.  (And I don't mean a one-time villain like the Human Flame.  I mean a constant thorn in J'onn's side.)  And since most villains in his Vile Menagerie were also JLA villains, I think the strongest contenders for a proper nemesis are--you guessed it!--lying in the Silver Age.  Professor Hugo is at the top of my list.  Why?  Becuase you just can't go wrong with a megolomaniacal genius with aspirations of world domination and a real nasty streak:

Yeah, that's right: Kneel before Zod!  I mean, Hugo!

My second contender would be Commander Blanx.  Since Blanx is also a Martian, albeit an evil (white) one, he's uniquely positioned as the perfect foil for our good-hearted J'onn J'onzz.  Blanx is maybe even a better candidate for the role of Nemesis of the Martian Manhunter, considering that not only did Blanx have grand world-dominating desires, but when it came to the rivalry with J'onn, it was personal.  Blanx wanted to downright destroy him, and when it comes to arch-nemesi, there's nothing better than a guy who wants to destroy the hero and everything he stands for.  J'onn himself called Blanx his "arch-enemy."

It was J'onn's efforts to return home that brought Blanx to Earth.  Ouch, that's irony.

Whether it's a foe the Manhunter from Mars has faced before, or whether it's an entirely new creation, J'onn needs a nemesis.  Or two.  Or three.  Whoever it is who ultimately becomes his arch-enemy, though, they must take into account who J'onn J'onzz is.  Once you see our Martian friend battling a well-crafted villain, then you'll truely see him shine.

Forget Blanx.  The best part about JLA #144 is the fact J'onn's still wearing that same striped red tie he's been wearing for the past FIFTEEN years.  That is dedication.  Oh, and kudos to Dick Dillin for drawing the invisible Martian head while J'onn is traveling icognito--a nice homage to Joe Certa.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Off to a wedding...

Can't blog today.  I have to go to a wedding.


I really, really dislike weddings, which involves having to deal with large groups of people, dancing, talking to people I don't know, and keeping sarcastic comments to myself.  This last one is really, really hard for me.

One wedding that I wouldn't mind going to?  This one:

Now wouldn't THAT be fun?  The fact that it appears as if some Rannian high priest is performing the ceremony is worth the price of admission alone.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Guide For Writing the Rebooted Martian Manhunter Part 7

Top Ten Things Writers Need to Remember When Writing the Martian Manhunter

In case you missed the previous entries in our riveting count down.  (Okay, it's not really a countdown because I'm making this up as I go.)  Here they are: Number 10Number 9Number 8Number 7Number 6, and Number 5.

Wow, that means I'm more than halfway through in my list of ways to return J'onn J'onzz to his Silver Age glory days.  (If there ever was such a thing...it's all subjective.)  Anyway!

4.  Get the ethics right.

[Intones in a grave voice]  With great power, comes great responsibility....whoops.

Hold on, let's start over.

J'onn is, no doubt, one of the most powerful and versatile characters in the DCU.  He's perhaps the only hero who could run around solving crimes and defeating bad guys by mentally controlling them, and then erasing their memories that any such mind-control ever took place.  Not to mention the shapeshifting, which is a whole other can of ethical worms.  Theroetically, there's no end to the kinds of damage (both psychological and emotional) he could do to a person.

Take for instance, this 90's appearance:

That's Private Eye Jones "mentally nudging" (a.k.a. mind controlling) a policeman friend to give up some information to help with his own case.  I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that's all kinds of illegal, but let's ignore that for now.  How would you feel if your "friend" made you give up information that could jeopardize your job instead of just asking you for a favor?  I don't know about you, but I'd feel a little used.  I'm not sure I'd comply with that favor, though, and maybe that's J'onn's problem--he doesn't trust us.  Or, a third option, he's just plain lazy.  Either way, it makes our hero seem...gee, I don't know...not heroic?

Occasionally there were hints made at J'onn not wanting to pry into minds because of Martian ethics, and then there was that whole "mind rape" thing involving his brother, so it's not like creators hadn't thought about applying ethics to telepathy before.  It's just that some ad hoc ethics "code" tacked on by writers doesn't really sell it for me.  I'd rather see J'onn come to his own conclusions about his own personal ethics based on the kind of guy he is, not on some artificial law applied to him.  He's a principled guy, so let's see him act that way.

As always, I seem to choose the Timmverse version of characters over many of their comic book interpretations.  Bruce Timm just gets it right with characterization (except for one of my other favorite characters) usually by simplification.  The recent Crisis on Two Earths DVD handled the ethics of telepathy rather elegantly: J'onn is standing next to a young woman and accidentally "overhears" her thoughts, answers her own question and then immediately apologizes and explains how he knew what she was thinking: occasionally he'll overhear thoughts when they are unusually strong.  He managed to wipe his conscience clean and not look like an eavesdropper all at the same time.  (Did I happen to mention that Martians are smooth operators?)  Also, he doesn't go around in the movie mind controlling anyone.

But what about crime fighting?  When I was watching SciFi Science last night, Michio Kaku asked some policemen if telepathy would be helpful in solving crime.  Well sure, they said: we can read images from witnesses to get a better mental picture of the suspect, and then we can read the suspect's mind.  It's a little Orwellian.  But should J'onn probe someone's mind if it means helping someone?  I don't know.  It depends.  DC needs to set some ground rules on how telepathy should be used and what J'onn's own opinions of having that kind of power amidst us non-telepaths are.  I would want him to use telepathy if it was important, and only if he couldn't get the information any other way (unlike in the above example), or if lives were directly on the line.  (i.e. there's a bomb about to go off in Middleton and the suspect isn't talking.)  Reading a guy's mind would be less dangerous than dangling him off a building.  (Or would it....?  That's for you to think about.)

Anyway, get crackin' DC.  Let J'onn examine the ethics of his situation and come to a conclusion, and then stick to it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

J'onn J'onzz is the Ideal Crimefighter, Because Michio Kaku Said So

My new favorite show is SciFi Science hosted by Michio Kaku on the Science Channel.  Basically the show consists of Michio, who is both an amusing guy and a physicist, trying to find ways to make science fiction a reality.  Tonight's episode was about creating a superhero suit.

Of course the show opens with clips of the old Superman TV show and references non-powered humans who have built crime-fighting suits like Batman and Ironman.  The standards for the suit are super strength, "super" vision (X-ray vision and the ability to see in low visibility), and telepathy.

Wait, telepathy?

Now, I wonder which superhero out there is super-strong, has X-ray vision, and can read minds?  (And who wasn't mentioned on the show, of course.)

Martian powers for the win.

Interestingly, Michio spoke with the police about how telepathy would be invaluable in revealing accurate witness testimony and/or getting information directly from the suspect.  I don't know how that last one holds up in court or if it's even ethical.  The one caveat is that the person needs to be thinking about what you want to read from their minds.  But the atomic magnetometor that Michio decided to use for the mind-reading part of his his suit was pretty darn cool: it's the size of a sesame seed, not the size of a room like an fMRI machine.

But, I digress.  I suppose all of these powers combined makes J'onn J'onzz the ideal crimefighter.  That just warms my heart.

Of course, the show decided to throw a wrench into the mix at the end by adding in mechanical arms attached directly to the crimefighter's spine controlled with the mind.  But that's not a good idea!!  That's what made Doc Ock go crazy in that Spiderman movie!!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Guide For Writing the Rebooted Martian Manhunter Part 6

Top Ten Things Writers Need to Remember When Writing the Martian Manhunter

5.  Develop (and stick with) a unique Martian fighting style.

Part of what makes a hero exciting is his or her fighting style.  Now, the Martian Manhunter is uniquely poised in the DC universe to have a very unusual fighting style, which has the potential to be visually striking.

J'onn has the powers of intangibility, shapeshifting, and telepathy (amongst others), so let's give some thought to how that would play out.  Possessing intangibility (passing through solid objects and likewise having them pass through him) means that bullets, fists, anvils, and anything else lobbed at our hero will go right through him.  Throughout the new Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths DVD, J'onn's fight sequences really shined and took advantage of his powers.  One sequence relied on my favorite Timmverse move--a villain smashes J'onn with a heavy object, he disappears, and comes up through the floor behind the guy and knocks him out.  It's something that (to an extent) showed up in his Silver Age appearances:

Imagine how much the sight of a big green guy bursting through the floor would scare the crap out of criminals?  It's so cool and visual exciting it just never gets old.  (Though I prefer he would do it without the property damage...) It's something the writers should stick with and exploit to its fullest.

As for the shapeshifting, it hasn't been handled in comics too well because it often descends into cheesiness--like J'onn taking the form of a saxaphone-playing Bill Clinton (I am not making this up) to scare villains.  It's got to be more than just taking the form of scary Martian "monsters" to instill fear--it's got to be a little more organic and practical (e.g., Alex Ross's Martian sea creature to make swimming easier) or something that lets us peak behind the curtain into J'onn's psyche and cultural memory (e.g., J'onn's shapeshifting sequence as he chases Earth-2 "Green" Arrow down an embankment in the Crisis on Two Earths DVD, where the terrifying forms he takes seem to be expressive of anger.)

Also, we've got the telepathy, which I've complained about before.  Telepathy would probably give him enhanced awareness of his enemy.  Meaning, if someone's behind him they shouldn't be able to sneak up on him and punch him because he should know they're coming.  I'm not really hard-set on the telepathy staying around anymore, and if we have a hero who never can get hit, well, that's going to get boring fast.  (At least we've got the common weakness of fire to balance out all that insane power.)  He definitely shouldn't get hit as much as he does just because of the intangibility.  (Unless the writers want to add some more rules to that superpower as well--it takes concentration, etc.)

Anyway, my personal favorite fight sequences of J'onn always seem to come from the Timmverse, both the JLU cartoon and the new DVD.  They always seem to get it right, with few exceptions, and I think comic writers should take note.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ta-Da! (Or, The Results of Loopiness Brought On By Sleep Deprivation!) Now with Updates!!

(Update: A third version now appears at the bottom of this post.)

I just had a revelation.

Well, it's 3 a.m. and I got lots of revelations this time of night, but anyway...

Regarding that bright red in J'onn J'onzz's costume.  Let's take out that red and replace it with a color more analogous to green, shall we?

Ignore the purple halos around the medallions, please...that was an accident.

Yeah, that's right.  Purple is green's analogue.  And if any male hero gets to wear purple, it's J'onn.  I think I'd darken the cape and boots a bit and then I'd be happy.

Compare with the original:

Ow!  My eyes!

Okay, so I darkened the cape a little and tried the make the medallions silver (gray, really), just to see how that would look:

Now he matches my blog's color scheme!

I'll probably start playing around with the Black Lantern costume, but for that I'll have to bust out the pencil and paper, so that'll actually take some effort....

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Guide For Writing the Modern Martian Manhunter, Part 5

Top Ten Things Writers Needs to Remember When Writing the Martian Manhunter

Here's Number 10, Number 9, Number 8, and Number 7.

6.  The non-question of J'onn's costume.

Trying to decide what the Modern, post-Blackest Night Martian Manhunter will look like will be easy.  The question of "what should he look like?" shouldn't even enter your minds.

Just go back to what works.

Here's what works:

And here's the modern version of what works:

For the costume: navy blue cape, red cross-straps, blue boots, gold medallions, popped collar or folded collar (artist's choice), and the "pie" belt buckle.  As for our Martian friend himself, he's got a superhero physique, a prominent brow, and green skin.  He looks different enough to be recognized as an alien, but not too far removed from a humanoid form to be relatable.

Edited to add: I'm not hard-set on the costume's color scheme per se, and as long as there are no bodysuits involved, I'll probably be happy.  But I am dead-set on how J'onn himself looks.  Keep the beetle brow, of course, but by all means, get rid of the conehead.

And when going icognito in his secret identity of John Jones?  Then J'onn wears a suit, a trenchcoat (with popped collar--isn't he stylish?), and like all proper noir detectives, a Fedora.  Let's not forget the tie.

A classic never goes out of style.

Jaunting about town?  J'onn still wears a suit, sans overcoat.  It doesn't matter what color, really.  Usually it's blue, but I've seen him take a chance and wear the occasional burgundy suit.

As you can see, he rotates his ties in addition to his suits.  And the pocket hanky?  A must.

Now.  Let's look at a modern mishap, shall we?  This is what J'onn looks like after he decided he'd parade his natural Martian form in public:

Is he supposed to be Nosferatu?!

What IS this?  What is this saying to the reader?  I believe in intuitive character design: at first glance, you should get a pretty good handle on what a character is all about.  Is he good or bad?  Can you tell by looking at him?!  Why is he so angry?  What's with the grabbing hands?  The dark bodysuit?  Is he an assassin?  What's with the conehead?  Does he use it for sonar reception?  I know J'onn was off "finding himself" during this period and wanted to stop compromising his appearance based on satisfying the public conception of what a Martian looks like.  But J'onn never harbored dislike for humanity--he was distant, yes, but never unapproachable, and his looks reflected that.  Changing his look to the alien conehead look throws out the unapproachable bit right out the window and gives our hero an air of "I don't care what you think about me," and I don't think that's who J'onn is deep down.  The conehead looks just looks sinister to me, and if there's a shapeshifting telepath from Mars running around, the last thing I'd want is for him to look unfriendly.  Not to mention that it also throws the sanctity of the true Martian form right out the window--something that used to be private, even back on Mars.

Really, he looks like Nosferatu:
I found your reference photo!

And by no means should J'onn ever been seeing wearing a T-shirt and jeans while barbecuing/spooning with Scorch.  (T-shirt + bald = Mr. Clean!)

Don't ask.  You don't want to know.  Trust me.

Why is all this important?  Clothes make the man...or Martian.  J'onn is a classy kind of character, he's formal and probably a traditional kind of guy.  So he should dress that way: a nice sharp suit (not striped), with a Fedora to clue the reader in to his being a detective.  Just like I think all comic book journalists should wear press passes in their hatbands, all detectives should wear Fedoras.

As for his superhero costume, J'onn is the gentle giant of the Justice League.  His costume should represent that.  He shouldn't look angry or distant or emo or too alien--in post-Crisis continuity he choose his traditional look as an amalgam of his true Martian form and what humans expected Martians too look like.  (Pre-Crisis, well, that's what Martians looked like and how they dressed.)  The Martian Manhunter should never look pissed off unless he has a REALLY GOOD reason to be, and that coneheaded guy up there looks like he'd rip your lungs out if you so much as looked at him crossed-eyed.  I suspect that's why he's reaching out like that....

In short: to return J'onn to his classic roots, return him to his classic duds.  Classic superhero costume, and a sensible suit (with hat) while in human form.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Guide For Writing the Modern Martian Manhunter, Part 4

Top Ten Things Writers Need to Remember When Writing the Martian Manhunter

Here's Number 10Number 9, and Number 8.  Onward to Number 7!

7.  J'onn J'onzz likes Earth.

For a minute, put aside all that cone-headed post-52 full-body-suited goth version of the Martian Manhunter.  Clear your mind of all that angsty "why should I help humans" nonsense.

Are we clear?  Good.

On more than one occasion in his Silver Age appearances, J'onn had the opportunity to leave Earth.  And he always chose to stay, either because he wanted to keep helping us, or because he remembered his Earth friends, or because he just wanted to do the right thing.  You know, heroes did that back in the day: sacrificed their own needs to serve the greater good.  It's kind of the definition of the word "hero."

Exhibit A:

Detective Comics #228

J'onn chooses to apprehend a criminal rather than escape back to Mars.  What makes this even more impressive is that this is from an early appearance, where no one even knew who the "Martian Manhunter" was--he hadn't yet gone public as a superhero, just used his powers covertly to solve crime.  He hadn't gotten any public adulation, just everyday human decency and friendship, yet he still considers Earth a welcoming (albeit lonely) place.

Exhibit B:
Detective Comics #267

Whereas I would've been like, "Screw it, I'm going home to my family and my dog," J'onn takes the high road because he's a class act.

Bottom line: he likes Earth.  He likes Earthlings.  He considers Earthlings his friends.  He wants to help Earthlings.  Got it?  Good.  Now don't forget that.  And don't let any emo-body-suited Martian Manhunter impostors tell you otherwise.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Guide For Writing the Modern Martian Manhunter, Part 3

Top Ten Things Writers Need to Remember When Writing the Martian Manhunter

We've already covered Number 10 and Number 9.  Onward with the Top Ten:

8.  Give him back his secret identity.

Why?  Well, I'm glad you asked, and if you didn't, I'll tell you anyway.

Giving J'onn J'onzz his secret identity of human John Jones accomplishes several things.  First of all, it's the easiest way for him to observe humanity directly, and by assuming the guise of a human, it's the best way to show the differences between humans and a lone Martian.  Whenever I hear J'onn waxing tragic about feeling alienated from humanity when he's in fact sitting far above Earth on the Watchtower, I feel the need to roll my eyes.  How can you feel alienated from something if you never spend any time with it?  It just rings hollow.  To feel truly alone, you need to be around lots of people different than you.

Second, having J'onn assume a secret identity of a human opens the door to all sorts of juicy story conflict. Now, besides having to save the day, he's also got to keep a lid on his secret--that's more to juggle, and therefore, more interesting.  The constant threat of having his identity exposed is a wellspring of conflict and keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense.  There might be people threatening to give away that secret:
Detective Comics #243

Or J'onn might be tempted to give away that secret himself:

Detective Comics #246

It's a very classic conflict, and there's a reason it's stuck around for so long: from a storytelling standpoint, it just plain works, and it never gets old.  That's why Clark Kent is still around.  It also works wonders for effectively showing his alienation.  It's so efficient that it only takes two panels for us to understand his dilemma.  (You learn efficiency pretty quickly when you only have six pages to work with, I suppose.)

Third, having J'onn live amongst humans will deepen the character by allowing (or not allowing, depending on who it is) him to connect personally and professionally with humans.  Letting him have some acquaintances and deal with the quirks of daily life on Earth will only help readers identify with him.  Plus, it's another source of conflict: how close will he allow himself to get to his human friends?  What will happen if he loses one?  Also, seeing the people he cares about threatened by a villain is a classic weakness to be exploited, and J'onn J'onzz is the type of character who is defined by his weaknesses, not his strengths.  Just don't have him do anything stupid and pointless while he's down on Earth, like, you know, live as a cat or something.  (Wait, what?  That actually happened?)

Finally, having J'onn live among humans will show how much he cares about us Earthlings.  I mean, he's always going on about how he loves his adopted world, and he genuinely does.  Well, let's see him put those words in action and get down in the thick of it, rather than stand off in the corner and watch everything from afar.  Watching things from afar gets kinda dull after a while, both for you, and the reader.

In short, let's see John Jones come back.  After all, in his early appearances, that's how he was billed: John Jones, Manhunter from Mars.

Friday, March 5, 2010

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming...

I saw this meme over at Sea-of-Green's blog, Hoosier Journal of Inanity, and she inspired me to fill this out.  I like surveys, and I'm not prepared to write another entry in my Silver Age J'onn J'onzz appreciate list.

So here goes.

1. What time did you get up this morning?
10:32, after hitting the snooze three times.

2. Diamonds or pearls?
Pearls.  Though I don't wear jewelry much.

3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
Umm....wow, I can't even remember.  The second Night at the Museum movie, I think.  I really don't go to the theater much.  DVDs, Turner Classic Movies, and TV are usually what I rely on.  And like Sea, I haven't seen Avater yet, either.  I need to.

4. What is your favorite TV show?

5. What do you usually have for breakfast?
An English muffin.

6. What is your middle name?

7. What food do you dislike?

8. What is your favorite album at the moment? 
I don't really listen to albums.  But I've been listening to the Children of Dune soundtrack a lot lately.

9. What kind of car do you drive?
A silver Olds named "The Star Destroyer."  Yes, I named my car.  After Star Wars.

10. Favorite sandwich?
I hate sandwiches!!  But I like the Dunkin' Donuts chicken sandwiches.  That's about it.

11. What characteristic do you despise?

12. Favorite item of clothing?
Um...fun socks.

13. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?

14. Favorite brand of clothing?
I don't care about brands.  As long as it's comfortable and decent-looking.

15. Where would you retire to?
I'm staying here, wherever here is.

16. What was your most memorable birthday?
My 16th surprise birthday party.

17. Favorite sport to watch?
Figure skating, or anything at the Winter Olympics.  (Hello, biathlon!)  Summer--baseball, occasionally.  Everyone keeps switching teams and that makes me lose interest.

18. Furthest place you are sending this?
I have no idea.

19. Person you expect to send it back first?
No idea.

20. When is your birthday?
December 12th.  The same as Frank Sinatra, John Jay, and Bob Barker.

21. Are you a morning person or a night person?

22. What is your shoe size?
5.  Make shoe shopping rather difficult.  But I don't care much about shoes anyway.

23. Pets?
A nutty little Brussels Griffon named Fiona, an angry Chow Chow named Peaches, a rabbit (just one, though I used to have 48 at one point), my horse just passed away last week, sadly, and a pitbull named Lucky that kind of hangs around here.

24. Any new and exciting news you 'd like to share with us?
Let me see....umm...nope.

25. What did you want to be when you were little?
An artist, and later, a writer.

26. How are you today?
Okay.  Tired.

27. What is your favorite candy?
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

28. What is your favorite flower?
Orchids and lilacs.

29. What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to?
None, really.

30. What's your full name?
I shall remain anonymous.

31. What are you listening to right now?
Brave and the Bold in the background.

32. What was the last thing you ate?
Dango (rice dumplings) that I just made.  Rather interesting.

33. Do you wish on stars?
No.  But I try to keep recognizing the constellations so I stay fresh.

34. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?
Green Blue, becuase it was my favorite, and Crayola RETIRED it when I was a child.

35. How is the weather right now?
Cold.  I wish there was more snow.  :(

36. What is your natural hair color?
Brown, never dyed.

37. Favorite soft drink?
Dr. Brown's Black Cherry Soda, though I hardly drink soda.

38. Favorite restaurant?
Does McDonald's count?

39. Favorite color of nail polish?
I rarely wear nail polish, but anything mauvey, berryish or purple, I guess.

40. What was your favorite toy as a child?
My Raggedy Ann doll.

41. Summer or winter?
Either.  I don't like the transition seasons: spring and fall.

42. Hugs or kisses
Neither.  Get away from me.

43. Chocolate or Vanilla?

44. Coffee or tea?
Tea!  I'm not supposed to have caffeine, and I can't stand the taste of coffee anyway.

45. Do you want your friends to email you back?

46. When was the last time you cried?
I can't remember, but it probably had to do with work.

47. What is under your bed?
Comics, believe it or not.  And dust bunnies.  And books.

48. What did you do last night?
Fell asleep on the couch, woke up, and stayed up to watch Craig Ferguson while I recorded my comics for reselling.

49. What are you afraid of?
Enclosed places and not being able to breathe.

50. Salty or sweet?
Either.  I put like a tablespoon of salt on my food.  Yum.

51. How many keys on your key ring?
Two on one, two on the other.  That's kind of a boring question.

52. How many years at your current job?
This'll be my sixth year...wow.

53. Favorite day of the week?

54. How many towns have you lived in?

55. Do you make friends easily?
Not at all.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Guide For Writing the Modern Martian Manhunter, Part 2

Time for the next installment in Top Ten Things Writers Need to Remember About the Martian Manhunter...the first one is here.

9.  J'onn is a detective.

J'onn J'onnz is a character with a gimmick, like most comic book heroes.  While Superman is the ideal hero of goodness, Batman is the relentless drive for justice, J'onn's premise is that he's a detective who happens to be from the planet Mars.  He uses his Martian superpowers to collar criminals, leaving the humans around him stumped as to his uncanny ability to solve crime.  That's pretty much the extent of his early years in Detective Comics.  His stories were police procedurals with the occasional dose of the absurd.  Not only did his use his superpowers, but he used good old fashioned deduction to figure things out, too:

Most importantly, even though he was marooned here against his will, J'onn choose to be a detective to help rid Earth of crime so that we could enjoy an enlightened age just as Mars has.  Back home on the Red Planet, J'onn was a scientist.  He believed, much like we do, that science--reason, enlightenment, technology--will bring us a better future, free of human hardship.  If you know anything about science in the 1950's, this will make a lot of sense to you.  J'onn choosing to help us out is all rather benevolent and what we would expect from an advanced race.

Now.  Let's clear up this whole "Manhunter" business, becuase I think it needs to be addressed.

In recent years, his role back home has suffered from the same muddled treatment that pretty much everything about his character has suffered.  So what's a "manhunter?"  In his 90's solo series, J'onn was said to have been a "manhunter" back on Mars, and it's defined as sort of a policeman who hunts down people.  (Like a Mountie, I guess?)  So, basically, when he arrived on Earth, he's doing pretty much the same thing he was back home.  Where does that leave his decision to help us out and bring forth a better future for us?  I guess in limbo.

So why'd his original creators use the word "manhunter?"  What does it mean?

It's dumfoundingly simple, really.  Back in the day, a manhunter was just another word for someone out looking for a criminal.  You know, like a cop.  So, in his early days, when J'onn was known as "The Manhunter from Mars," basically it means, "The Cop From Mars."  Occasionally you'll hear "manhunt" today when police are out looking for a criminal at large: "the manhunt for so-and-so continues," etc.

The Spanish-language version of "The Martian Manhunter" provides a more apt title: Detective Marciano--Martian Detective.  It's a much more accurate description, and if I had to change one thing about J'onn J'onnz it would be that.

So there you have it: J'onn J'onnz is a detective who happens to be a Martian.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Guide For Writing the Modern Martian Manhunter, Part 1

March is fast becoming Month of the Manhunter here at CMMH.

With all the Brightest Day hullabaloo, there's the promise of a reboot of many a character back to their Silver Age days.

First, I urge you to read Manhunter of Integrity over at I-HoD (Idol-Head of Diabolu), a post explaining J'onn's original incarnation as a detective, which is the essence of his character.  It's a great introduction for readers and a guidepost for writers on how to remain faithful to this character's original design.  Currently, the Martian Manhunter has derailed mightily from his roots, and I hope that will be fixed.

And now, my own humble foray into how the Martian Manhunter should be written...

Top Ten Things Writers Need to Remember About the Martian Manhunter

10.  Stop trying to explain the weakness to fire.

Guys, you don't even need to bother with this.  Just accept it and move on.  It's part of the premise of his character, and yet I've lost count of how many writers have tried to explain it, make sense of it, or just plain get rid of it.  It's psychological, it's a phobia, it's genetic, it reminds him of the funeral pyres during the plague on Mars, it's only flames of "passion," etc., etc., etc.  How many multi-issue arcs have been written about why Kryptonite affects Superman?  Or did Superman ever go so far as to be best buds with Metallo to "get over" his weakness?  No, because the Man of Steel needs no explanations.

And quit whining about how a civilization can be built without fire.  I give you this panel to whisk away that complaint:

From Detective Comics #245

What's that, Mr. Jones?  Earth weakness?  Yeah, you heard him.  Fire only weakens him on Earth.  So there you go: now you don't have to worry about how a whole civilization got built without fire, becuase it probably didn't.  Just like the yellow sun of Earth somehow mystically gives Superman his powers, fire on Earth mystically takes them away from J'onn.  No need to explain it.  Simple, no?

Wow, looking back at all these Silver Age issues, it's like all of J'onn J'onzz's current problems could easily be solved.  I think we're on to something...

To be continued...

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Trouble With Telepathy?

I've been stewing on this for some time, and a recent discussion over at The Idol-Head of Diabolu brought it back to mind.

We here at CMMC are big fans of the Manhunter from Mars.  (By "we" I mean the royal "we."  There's only just me.)

Now, one thing that seems to be an instant plot hole for J'onn (and arguably any character) is telepathy.  J'onn has always suffered from a fuzzily-defined powerset, and this isn't limited to his mental powers.  Throughout his history, we've seen the Manhunter from Mars do everything from read thoughts to control minds to erase memories.  In 52: World War III he took Black Adam down by barraging him with memories of the tragedy of Mars.

J'onn's telepathic powers showed up very early in his history.  In his second appearance ever (Detective Comics #226) he is seen using "Martian molecular hypnosis" to mind control a baseball player:

Dammit, J'onn.  Where were you when the Red Sox won the Series?!

In the next issue, Detective #227, he reads a criminal's mind, but then he lays off the telepathy for a while and relies on "Martian superhearing" and his other powers to get information on crooks.  Later on his adventures mostly revolve around his not trying to give away his secret identity and the telepathy seems to have fallen by the wayside.

But it's panels like this that irk me:

The market share for luminous paint in that town is off the charts...

The plot revolves around some crooks who fool J'onn into thinking he's no longer affected by fire so that they can later set a trap for him.  He could easily have read that man's thoughts to determine a.) he's a crook, and b.) it's not really a match.  However, he didn't really use telepathy after that.  J'onn seemed to have abandoned his mental powers, the problems with telepathy fell to the wayside, and J'onn resorted to other means to solve crime.  In Detective #299, J'onn didn't even bother using his mental powers to determine the identity of a spy; he just went undercover.  Was this abandoning of telepathy a conscious change by writer Jack Miller?

Telepathy is a huge plot killer which opens up all sorts of plot holes.  Why do any detective work if you can just read minds?  (Okay, I guess maybe because telepathy won't stand up in a grand jury because it's hearsay...)  In Detective #227, J'onn knows a criminal mastermind is guilty from reading his mind, but can't prove it, so he drives the guy crazy until he confesses.  I suppose he could've kept on pulling off stunts like that, but a trick like that can only work just so many times, and it might make our hero look a little cruel after a while.  I'm almost wondering if the Silver Age writers wanted to abandon the telepathy entirely.  In his early appearances, when his character was being still being developed, J'onn had all sorts of crazy powers, many of which were whittled away.  Maybe the telepathy should've gone away, too.  It just leads to all sorts of story problems.

If you can mind-control people, then you could stop criminals in their tracks.  And not just petty criminals, but supervillains, too.  Why doesn't J'onn use this ability all the time?  If I had those kinds of powers, I'd lead with a mental assault, not my fists.  (Not only that, but since he can go intangible, he never should get hit at all.)

What about simple mind-reading?  J'onn tries not to "invade" the minds of others.  Since he's an upright guy, that makes sense to me.  But in the Silver Age, he didn't mind resorting to a little deviousness to get the job done.  I think the whole "ethics" of mind-reading was tacked on later to depower him a bit.

Basically, if you're going to write a chracter with telepathy (or magic), you need some clear-cut rules.  Maybe he can only read what someone's currently thinking about.  Maybe he has to touch them.  Maybe he can't read insane minds.  Maybe using telepathy exhausts him and takes him out of battle for a while.  Maybe there's the risk of feedback which can shut his mind down.  There's got to be limits on power, or you don't have an even battle, and hence, no story.  And putting rules (though not necessarily limits) on J'onn's power will get rid of the need for silly ad-hoc plot devices like "telepathic locks" and whatnot.

Either that, or ditch the telepathy entirely.

End rant.
For Luthor's sake, I hope he chose Master Lock brand