Monday, July 26, 2010

A Potential Problem For J'onn J'onzz?

We all know we here at CMMH! love J'onn J'onzz.  But there's one potential problem with his character that didn't hit me until literally thirty seconds ago.

Becuase hit counters have REALLY evolved since the days when I first got on the Internet, I can see what search keywords lead readers to my blog.  Some make me quite proud: "noir storytelling devices," for example, some are non-sequiturs, but make sense given my usage of certain words: "existential crisis comic," some make perfect sense: "adam strange covers," some are plain awesome: "comics bromance," some are funny: "superman is a jerk" and "happy martians," and others make hardly any sense at all: "make me comics."  Well, no, only if you pay me good money will I do that.

But this one gave me pause:

"green skin", "blue cape", "blue boots", comic

Someone was obviously looking for the Martian Manhunter and either couldn't remember or didn't know his name!

My first thought was "whoa."  My second thought: well, how many times does the Martian Manhunter introduce himself in comics, or is introduced by someone else, where, by the magic of comics, when someone speaks a superhero's name, the words are automatically rendered into that superhero's logo?  I can't think of any time when that happened with J'onn J'onzz.  And does he even have an official logo of his name anymore, or did DC forget about that?  And how often do other superheroes call him by his full name and not "J'onn" or "Manhunter?"

So, here's the question which is being begged:  Is "The Martian Manhunter" a catchy enough name?  I'd imagine that most fans from the cartoon don't even know him by his official moniker, only "J'onn J'onzz," becuase that's the only way they ever refer to him.  Smallville fans know him only as "John Jones," too, apparently, becuase when I mentioned how I love Smallville cameos by the Martian Manhunter, my Smallville-watching best friend said, "Oh, you mean John Jones?"  (She must've figured out who I was talking about through osmosis, I think.)  I can understand Smallville wanting to stay away from superhero names, becuase they do that with a lot of characters, but why the cartoon?  Is "Martian Manhunter" too hard for kids to pronounce?  Does Bruce Timm have something personal against the letter "M"?  Is it just too long?  Or--gasp!--is it not memorable enough?

Well, I wish I had the answer, but I don't, becuase I can remember his name.  (Though I still have trouble spelling "J'onn J'onzz" on occation.)  But I challenge you to find one member of the non-comics-reading-general-public who even recognizes the name "Martian Manhunter" and associates it with a superhero.  I'm a betting kind of gal, and I'd bet you good money that you can't find anyone who fits that criteria.

Honestly, I think "Martian Manhunter" is kind of a clunky-sounding nom de guerre, and it just doesn't roll off the tongue like "Superman!" or "The Flash!" or even "Green Lantern!" do, all of which sound like they automatically have exclamation points after them, which is why I put exclamation points after all of them.  Logistically, there's just too many syllables, and semantically, no one knows what a manhunter is anymore, so I wouldn't be too averse to a name change.  "John Jones" is way too plain.  "The Martian Detective" has some potential, but really doesn't sound like a superhero name, and probably wouldn't be any more memorable than "Martian Manhunter" is.  I'm at a loss, because I suck at naming things, and I come from a long line of people who suck at naming things, because every time my grandparents got a new dog they named it the same thing as the previous one.  (Yes, really.)  Talking about dogs in my family made it sound like you were talking about royalty becuase "the Second" or "the Third" was always appended after pets' names for the sake of clarity.)

So, what do you think, fair citizens?  Could J'onn J'onzz use a new superhero name?  Is there no improving the old one?  Could you offer a few suggestions?

Oh, and a side note: the fine folks at the Dow Chemical Company are workin' hard or hardly workin', becuase somebody was surfing for the Brightest Day Teaser Poster and stopped on over for a visit.  Chemists do need their comics, too, I suppose.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

One More Reason I Like J'onn J'onzz...

Well, I've been pretty down on this whole Brightest Day thing.  But yesterday, when I was reading Brightest Day #6, it did give me yet one more reason to like J'onn J'onzz:

Look!  The squirrel is trained how to point!  He's a keeper, all right!

Now, come on, what other big shot JLA superhero is going to take time to stop and talk to the squirrels?  Superman?  I don't think so.  Batman?  Nuh-uh.  Green Lantern?  Nope.  As we know, J'onn J'onzz has a long history with cute furry animals as sidekicks, so it's good to see him living up to that history.  Maybe he'll take on the squirrel as a sidekick.  I think that could work.

"Did I get any new fan mail today, S'quirrel?"

Yes, I think that should work out quite well.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

DC Artist Copies Famous Artwork; Fans Read Too Much Into it and Go Crazy With Predictions

In case you missed it, DC released a teaser image of a possible future for its Brightest Day characters:

Click to enlarge and have your mind blown.  Mind-blowing results not typical.

So after all this Blackest Night and Brightest Day we're back to dark things again, I guess?  Well, the pendulum can only go so far before it goes back in the other direction, I suppose.

Except that DC never really swung into bright Silver Age joyness like I thought it would.  That was, I thought, the promise of the ending of Blackest Night, and as I've stated before, I became disillusioned when it turned out to be just another vehicle to send us right into the next crossover.

Oh, and in case you're wondering which work of art Ivan Reis paid homage to with this teaser image it's The Rock by Peter Blume.  I don't really know what The Rock is all about becuase I'm not the best when it comes to art criticism, but it looks somewhat surreal and surrealism is always fun to stare at.  (Take a look at Dali's The Burning Giraffe, which, like almost all Dali paintings, is an acid trip on canvas.)

Now, a little over a year ago, I was really psyched by another DC teaser image:

Harvey Dent Batman.  Yes.  Now you know what I dream about.

...because all sorts of awesome things were hinted at in this image: a Batman who uses guns, Two-Face Batman, Alfred re-joining the British Army, Harley Quinn buying a new motorcycle, and Nightwing being stupid.  Battle for the Cowl didn't deliver any any of those promises (except the last one), was boring as hell and almost as convoluted, and just wound up being a vehicle for Grant Morrison to make Bruce Wayne a pirate, and then ended with the obvious ending which everyone knew was coming.

So what about the Brightest Day teaser image?  What does it all mean?  Who's in the coffin?  Why did Aquaman die after having an alien explode out of his chest?  How much more mileage can DC get out of the Anti-Monitor?  Why isn't the cute little kitty Red Lantern in the picture?  Why is J'onn J'onzz shoveling coal underneath Green Arrow's favorite target practice tree?  Did Hal Jordan finally die of syphilis?  If you find yourself asking any of these questions, stop immediately.  Not only is it pointless, but there's other ways to use the mental energy you'd otherwise be wasting trying to decipher answers from an image that will never deliver on its promises.  You know, like sudoku, or learning how to use an abacus or blogging about how you have no faith left in the comics industry.

I'm going to have to change this blog's title to "Comics Make Me Bitter" becuase that's what it's fast becoming.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ted Kord, Not Only Merely Dead, But Really Most Sincerely Dead, or Why I Don't Like You, Jaime Reyes

I was reading the lastest issue of Booster Gold last night, which took us on another nostalgia trip back to the Blue & Gold years:
(Enlarge and read the note by the asterisk down by the bottom, by the way.  It makes me like DeMatteis all the more.)

It finally hit me why the JLI writers Giffen and DeMatteis were moved to this book.  I don't know where Juergens is at the moment, but I miss him here, even though I enjoy the JLI antics.  It's gotta feel weird to be taken off the character whom you created.  But that's an issue for another day.

I can't help but feel Booster Gold is becoming--and I can't find the right word for this but I know one exists--just a few crumbs given to the Ted Kord fans to make us stop asking for his return to regular continuity.  I'm sure this is what the DC Editors would say to me if I asked about Ted Kord coming back: "Well, we're not bringing him back, but we'll let you have Time Travel stories, so shut up already."

Now, to this day (which is all of a year's worth of serious comic book reading...a long time, I know) I can't figure out why DC decided to kill off Ted Kord and replace him with Jaime Reyes.  I dont't know why they killed off Ronnie Raymond and replaced him wth Jason Rusch, either, or why the Dibneys were killed off.  There are some things I just don't get and I'm going to chalk them up to editors picking named out of a hat, because that's the only logic I can find in all of this character-killing-off and screwing-with-a-formula-that-works.

All the hopes I had of Ted Kord coming back were dashed by news that a live action Blue Beetle TV show is in the works.  That's it.  That's the death knell for Ted Kord.  Becuase once you get the kids hooked on one incarnation of a character, you're never going back to the previous owner of the mantle.  It started out with Jaime's frequent guest appearances in Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  Jaime seems like he would really appeal to kids under twelve, since he's all beetle-y and scarab-y and technology-y and can do all kinds of cool things.  But try as I might (okay, I didn't really try that hard.  Actually, I didn't try at all) I just can't seem to like the guy.

Here's the main reason why I don't like him, and is also the reason I don't believe he fits in the DC universe:

1.  Jaime Reyes didn't choose to be a superhero.

Choosing to be a hero, for me, is the most important critera for my liking or disliking a superhero.  Why?  Well, if you're doing something because you have no choice in the matter, is there really any point in doing it at all?  Besides, what's more heroic: doing it becuase you have to, or because you want to?

But, Liss!  You might be saying, you like The Martian Manhunter!  And he was transported to Earth against his will!  Well, invisible hypothetical sidekick, though J'onn J'onzz's situation was beyond his control, his choosing to be a hero was not.  To me, DC represents the ideal of making the most of a tough situation, and instead of choosing just to survive, characters choose to help other people out.  Characters who are chosen to be heroes water down the concept of sacrifice and doing good with one's life and amount to nothing more than automatons.  When Jaime was tapped by the scarab to be the next Blue Beetle, there was no mistake that he would become a superhero.  It was predestined.

This also takes away another fundamental aspect of superheorics and altruism.  For, if there's a choice, that means that that choice can also lead to evil and selfishness.  The same man (or alien) could use his or her powers for personal gain just as easily as he or she uses them for the greater good.  How many times are villains created as twisted mirror images of heroes...people whose lives went awry for whatever reason and chose the path of evil?  It's a lot easier to be bad than good, and evil is a lot more glamorous, as any Star Wars fan can tell you, so when someone chooses to devote their life to saving the world, I think that's a pretty weighty choice that takes some devotion.  Many villains could have been heroes if they were selfless enough, and some, in fact, were heroes at one point, and when life gave them a raw deal, they chose to give up rather than to move on.  (i.e. Two-Face being the prime example of this.)

Did Jaime Reyes ever face that kind of choice, even as a side thought?  No.  The scarab chose him and there was no separating from it.  Not only that, but it literally tells him what to do, like a futuristic version of Jiminy Cricket, only with the power to kill him instead of just giving him a guilt trip if he chooses poorly.

Which brings me to the second reason I don't like Jaime Reyes and that's the big a-word: Angst.  He's stuck with this mystical scarab thing literally in his body, telling him what to do.  Occasionally it goes awry and makes him act violent.  Oh the angst!  Oh, the metaphors for the dangers of overdependence on technology!  He has no choice whether or not to be a hero!  He has to do the right thing!  Oh, it's so tragic!

Let me tell you what's tragic: some guy's whole planet getting burnt up by his own twin brother.  Or getting acid thrown in your face because you choose to prosecute a mobster.  Or trying to commit suicide because you were the only good man left in a wicked city and angels wouldn't give you a break and let you into the afterlife so now you're stuck living forever.  Or your parents getting gunned down by some random mugger after you went to the movies.  If the best example of tragedy in the 21st century is a teenager who's literally attached to his iPod, then I have no hope for ths century.

The third reason I that I think Jaime is "too cool" with all the technological wizardry that the scarab can perform.  The fourth reason is that he looks to much like a bug, and bugs scare me, and the fifth reason is that his nose disappears when he's in costume.  It makes no sense and it really bothers me!  And don't tell me it's just because he face turns black and it's an effect of lighting, because when he's drawn in profile, you can clearly see that he has no nose.  I don't know why, but it just really pisses me off.

So, anyway, that's my angry diatribe against Jaime Reyes.  I'm sorry if you're a fan of his.  But I don't know where DC's priorities are and what exactly their reasons were in creating him.  I don't know what they're saying about life and the human condition by the fact that a mystical beetle can attach itself to your back and make you do stuff.  To me, it says nothing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wonder Woman's New Costume, Part II

I meant to write this down earlier, but oh well.  Procrastinators of the world unite tomorrow and all that.

Anyway, since Wonder Woman's new costume actually hit the national news I decided I finally had a chance to talk to a non-comics reader about comics, which happens very rarely.  I like hearing the outside perspective, and there's nothing better than mother-daughter bonding over comics.  So I asked my mother, "Hey, did you see Wonder Woman has a new costume?"

"Oh, I saw it and IT'S AWFUL!" was the response I got.  So then I thought I'd try to defend the new costume a little bit (or at least the reason why the new costume came to be) via a little feminist logic: why do male comic book heroes get to run around fully clothed while female comic book heroines have to run around half-clothed?

"Oh, please!  They changed her outfit because it offends women like you.  I want the Wonder Woman I know!  I used to watch Lynda Carter ever week!  Why did women baseball players have to wear a skirt in World War II?  So what about Batman!  Batman doesn't fight crime half-naked: he's overdressed!  Do you want her to dress like a man?"

So I gave up on the feminist angle and said that Wonder Woman's traditional costume just isn't practial.  You know...things can fall out.

"Nothing fell out when Lynda Carter was running around!  It's just like a bathing suit!"

To which I replied, "They would air a scene if something fell out of Lynda Carter's costume!!  And who fights crime in a bathing suit?!"

"Maybe she'll confuse criminals with her good looks!"

"But what about the high heels?"

"Hey, you get kicked with a high heel and you know it."

So, there you have it.  Two things I learned from this exchange: I never knew my mother watched the Wonder Woman TV show that avidly, and two, I'm one step closer to going to work in my bathing suit just to see what Momma Lissbirds has to say about THAT, when wearing a high-slitted formal dress apparently "gives the boys a show."  Honestly, as a kid, I never could understand why it was okay to wear a bathing suit at the beach but not at the mall, but then again, I was a weird child.

Apparently, in the eyes of the general public (and one generation removed), a second thought isn't given to men and women dressing differently, and as long as it's somewhat similar to a bathing suit, heroines can run around in whatever they want.  I'm guessing that along with my mother, the general public hates Wonder Woman's new duds, because it's boring and ugly and doesn't signify anything.  In my opinion,  design-wise, the new costume is kind of lazy, like car companies who just use the model name on a car in lieu of an emblem or hood ornament.

So, in conclusion, Wonder Woman should just change back, but I'm glad she did try on a new outfit because it made for one heck of an argument conversation.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Wonder Woman's New Costume

Well, as we all pretty much know by now, Wonder Woman got redesigned, both costume-wise, and origin-wise.  I don't know if this is some alternate timeline thing, but I'm suspecting it is.

Here's a nice article about the subject courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, in case you're not too familiar with the whole thing.

Well, my first though was "groan."  Then I came up with a whole bunch of other more articulate thoughts which I then forgot and am trying to recreate.

I have mixed feelings about Wonder Woman.  I never actually have read an actual Wonder Woman comic--the only exposure I've had to her stories have been in the 90's JLA run and the original 1960's JLA, plus the Justice League Unlimited cartoon.  There's several reasons I never really sought out the character, first and foremost being that she doesn't really interest me all that much.  I didn't know much about her, honestly, and I didn't find her intriguing enough to research.  Secondly, it's because I find her costume rather absurd, but not for the reason most people find her costume absurd.  I remember somewhere online I read that Wonder Woman was an "Amazon," which I thought meant she was just tall.  You know--when someone sees a tall woman, they often refer to her as an Amazon.  Later I learned she was Greek, but still didn't quite understand how the whole "Amazon" thing fit in.  (Shame on me for not knowing Greek history, I guess.)  Later still I found out, as one internet poster said, she was "blessed by the gods," and then learned a bit about the classical Greek influences on her character.

And that's where it all kind of unhinged for me.  Hang on: why is this Greek woman running around in the Stars and Stripes?  Greek women wear white togas.  Or battle armor or something.  So right off the bat, there's a disconnect with Wonder Woman's premise and her appearance: superpowered Greek princess wearing something obviously crafted in America, by a man.  That's where I gave up on ever being a fan of hers.

Don't get me wrong--I don't dislike her.  It's just that that is too big a chasm of logic for my brain to jump, and I don't want to go through a lengthy rationalization process just to enjoy a character.

The other thing that bugged me about Wonder Woman was that I really don't know what she's about, except that on first glance I think something patriotic.  I think she's somewhat anachronistic, and very much a product of a 1940's flag-rallying, Nazi-fighting, women-can-punch-people-too sentiment.  It's what our country needed during WWII, and after the war ended, I have this feeling that comics creators didn't know what to do with her because her purpose had been fulfilled.

I guess you could say Wonder Woman is a representation--albeit a generic one--of the ideal of a strong woman capable of not only going toe-to-toe with men but besting them, just as Superman is the ideal for a superhero.  But in a post-feminist world, again, is that necessary?  Do women need a liberator?  Do they need on in the comics universe, as represented by Wonder Woman?

I honestly question why anyone is a Wonder Woman fan.  I don't mean that in a harsh way.  I just wish to understand why people like her.  There are other strong women out there in the DCU.  For example, why would one like Wonder Woman more than, say, Black Canary?  What is it in particular that makes her fascinating?  My best guess is that it's the Greek angle, because that seems like a wealth of interesting back story.  But from what I can gather, not much was done with Greek mythology in her stories, and making her an Amazon was just a plot convenience to have her come from a world populated only by women.  (Feel free to prove me wrong, since I know very little about her.)

Bearing all this in mind, let's look at the new costume and the new origin.  Saranga said it best by saying that the costume is no longer iconic.  It would be like Superman losing the "S" symbol.  But that begs the question--what was Wonder Woman's original costume representative of?  The new costume on the whole is very anticlimactic because it's so mundane.   I admit: I think the bodice is really cool and "regal"-looking.  But why minimize the tiara so much?  She is a princess after all.  The jacket is downright ridiculous, I think, and very 90's.  The wrist gauntlets are clumsy--her originals were leagues better.  Her costume isn't hideous, just rather average.  I will say this in defense of the new costume, however: the old was was getting impractically revealing, especially since Wonder Woman's cleavage kept on growing over the years proportions ridiculous enough to render her into a parody of herself.  At least she's a bit more realistic here, though a bit too thin...she's not really projecting any sense of strength or power.

But the real mistake of the revamp is not the costume, but the origin story.  The biggest mistake they could've made was getting rid of the "born of the clay" birth of Wonder Woman.  Why?  Well, not only is a character literally born of the clay via Greek gods a literal child of Mother Earth--overtones of feminity which could be a treasure trove of story elements--the fact that she was born of parthenogenesis--reproduction without the need for a male--was (or could have been) an important part of her character's identity and metaphor.  Wonder Woman, as I see it, comes from a world where men are not needed--not even to have children--and you'll hear her refer to our world as "Man's World" in the cartoon, and probably the comics.  How is Man's World different than Paradise Island?  What can Wonder Woman teach us about these differences?  Is a matriarchial society "ideal" when compared to our current society?  What kind of hope, if any, could Wonder Woman's world view offer us?  This isn't to say that neither is better than the other, but wouldn't that make for a great philosophical discussion?  What's with that lasso of truth, and how does that play into all that Greek mythology and Amazonian culture?

From what I can tell, Wonder Woman's current representation just seems to be a man's personality in a woman's body, who stands for nothing other than killing bad guys, in a comics world where a "strong woman" is tantamount to a woman who can crack someone's head open and enjoys doing so.  There are many kinds of strength, and many kinds of "strong women," and DC really needs to get that last bit through their head: a woman doesn't have to kick ass to be strong or to be accepted.  She does, however, need to stand for something to be a well-written superhero, and she needs to show strength of mind along with strength in her fists.  If ass-kicking is the only requirement for a well-written female heroine, well, then I think something's wrong.

The story-behind-the-story, though, is that both the origin story and the costume were created by men.  That is a real tragedy, I think, because when the female hero of the DCU, who stands for the power of the feminine, is both created and revamped by men, then something's a little off, and I can only think of Wonder Woman as just another commodity created to sell comics to (primarily) men, with a few touches thrown in to keep me interested (Ooooo!  Cute new outfit, Wondy!), and in the end is now nothing more than a shadow of an ideal from decades past.