Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Can Mars just go away now?

Okay, my comics finally came and I got a chance to read Brightest Day #12.  Of all the stories, I'm liking the one revolving around the Martian Manhunter one the least.

Since the Martian Manhunter is one of my favorite characters, I had really high hopes for his story arc.  I thought Brightest Day would be an opportunity to take the character back to his roots, or maybe back to his roots with a little twist of noir.

Instead, the J'onn's antagonist is basically a female version of Malefic.  *sigh*  (For the record, I really don't like Malefic, J'onn's evil twin brother, for those of you who don't know who he is.)  Coupled with that is an origin retcon, which always bug me to no end.

But all of that out of the way, here's what I think really needs to happen to bring the charcater of the Martian Manhunter to new heights:

Get rid of Mars.

Get rid of it!  I don't mean obliterate the planet Death Star-style, but just let it stay in the background, not the forefront.  Here's why:

1.  Mars is so poorly defined.  Is it a war-like culture reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs?  Is it a planet/nation of philosophers and poets?  Honestly, I can't keep track of what Martian culture was like.

2.  And while we're at it, can we cut out the whole "the entire planet has the same culture/government/language bit?  As much as I love Star Wars, the fact that Tatooine is entirely desert makes no sense.  (Okay, "Galaxy far, far away," so I guess it has different rules.)  Yes, I know there were White Martians, which to me, are a mess to begin with anyway.  There were Pole Dwellers, but they got retconned out, I tink.  But take a look at these speech bubbles from Brightest Day #12:

The Martian Symbols of Love and Hate?  Slip "Earth" into that sentence and it makes no sense.  Can you think of the Earth symbol for danger?  The Earth symbol for love?  If someone dropped you off a country with a completely different language and culture, would you even know what a stop sign looked like?!  ARGH!  A whole planet can't have the same culture!

I think somewhere in the DC universe it was explained that Earth has a variety cultures.  To me, that's just an excuse to have a lack of imagination.  That's why whenever I see a female alien creature with hardly any similarity to humans yet is still drawn with bosoms to identify her as female, I start wanting to throw things across the room.  It makes no sense and it's just lazy.  Heck, even abs shouldn't be the same.  Which brings me to point 3.

3.  The Green Lantern universe handles aliens and alien cultures much better than any incarnation of Mars ever could.  So you know what?  Let's just forget everything about Martian culture, leave it as some sort of vague understanding that it was slightly different than Earth culture, and let J'onn J'onzz move on to superheroing and detectiving, and leave the aliens to the mythos that does it well.  Stop trying to define Mars, becuase the whole Mars history has gotten so convoluted, that there's just no way you can define it with any modicum of logic short of another history-changing Crisis.

4.  Every story centered around Mars, by default, makes the story about J'onn J'onzz being an alien, not about what he does as a superhero.  There is no forward motion in a story that basically boils down into a character trying to figure out his destiny when he already chose it decades ago.  In any recent story that I can think of, J'onn J'onzz doesn't DO anything other than try figure out who J'onn J'onzz is.  He's become the Odo of the DC Universe, for those who have seen Deep Space Nine: he is only defined by his race and how different/similar he is to them.  Sure, Odo was the security guy who bantered with Quark, but he was the "good Dominion guy," too.  There's more to J'onn than just being the de facto "good" alien of the JLA.

5.  Quick: name three things Superman stands for.  Okay, try that with J'onn J'onzz.  It's nowhere near as easy, is it.  Why?  Because any major Post-Crisis story involving J'onn J'onzz--except American Secrets and DC: The New Frontier--boils down to "Should I like Mars more or Earth more?"  The more Mars is in the foreground, the less J'onn J'onzz's core values are.  And I don't mean core values as in "Earth is more important to me than Mars," which is a passive value.  I mean it in the sense of what a hero considers is worth fighting for and acting upon, like "Truth, Justice, and the American Way."

6.  Get rid of Mars, get rid of the Superman parallels.  The less J'onn is torn between two worlds, the less he is like Superman, and the more he can do other things to make him different.  You know, like be a detective.  Kind of how he started out.

Okay, rant is finished.  Anyone got any counter-arguments?  Or some Maalox?


Anonymous said...

While I mostly agree. It can always be said that there were probably many different cultures on Mars at one point - but as technology and communication progressed they went through the Globalization process the earth is going through and all the cultures melted into one. But I get why you are annoyed...I feel the same way about Superman and Krypton. I like the Post-Crisis Byrne Superman who was raised on Earth and feels human - not the one who yells "Great Rao" all the time.

Eyz said...

Well, we do have some international shapes and signs that you'll find in India, Japan or Russia too, like the little "heart" shape, and those warning/attention signs often spot international logos, which is always nice for tourists and such~

But, yeah, I get what you mean :/

Isn't this new MM foe that same Green martian from the last miniseries? You know, where a bunch of white martians impersonating green ones turned out to be good guys and the bad guy as a Green one instead disguised as a friendly human.

You know, this girl with poor tastes in costume :P

SallyP said...

M'aalox? Wouldn't that be J'onn's great uncle?

I have a feeling that Mars is not going to be a huge plot point once we get past all of the shenanigans going on in Brightest DAy, which is probably a good thing, since J'onn will then have much more free time to hang around on earth, and eat chocos, and head up the newly restored Justice League...at least in MY dreams.

It's a tough call on alien cultures. You have to make it "alien" of course, and yet in order to make the aliens sympathetic, you have to make them at least partially humanlike...or at least it makes them more relatable.

I mean, Hal loves him some alien ladies, but I can't see him humping the female version of Shorm, for example. Although...all those arms could come in handy.

Tom Hartley said...

Liss, I agree with everything you said.

Eyz said...

Though I don't imagine him rejecting that Martian lady, Cay'an, I posted a link just above :P

Aaron said...

The whole idea of an entire planet haing the same language and culture thing has always kinda bugged me in sci fi properties as well, unless it could be explained they were so far advanced in terms of travel and communications they really had blended and harmonized at some point.

Eyz said...

Well, in Star Wars it's sort of worse since the whole universe speaks the same kind of language, with only a few species using variants and/or their own primitive tongue...

Eyz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mathematicscore said...

I thought I had posted this, but it must not have taken...

Alright, some of this has been touched on, but I feel like going point by point...

1. While we definitely see some disparity from creator to creator, I think the culture has been consistent, if a little vague since at least the JLA era; This has been largely thanks to writer/editor Tomasi. Pre Crisis Mars is solidly a thing of the past, and while I wouldn't mind seeing some of the characters and events (Marshal, Bel Juz, etc) molded in, I think the current status quo works well, especially with some additions.

2 One such addition I'd make is that Martians are so highly evolved, they reproduce less often, and have a much smaller, more cohesive society than we do, especially considering the comparative lack of resources between Mars and Earth. Also, I don't think Tomasi is necessarily implying that there is only one, unified culture when he calls things "Martian." Native American tribes were often named by other tribes or Europeans; this is because they almost always referred to themselves simply "the people." In a conversation between two martians, denoting a symbol or a place as Martian is for our benefit, not a literal translation.

2.5 A similar argument for the breasts being for our benefit to denote D'Kay as feminine could be made, but I also like the idea that Mars and Earth are linked in someways, especially in light of some events in the Ostrander series and Geoff Johns recent assertion that Earth was the beginning of life in the universe.

mathematicscore said...

3. Green Lantern, being more popular than our beloved Martian, has had more and better talent work up it's universe. I think a good creative take (and frankly, I've not yet been let down by Tomasi) on Martian culture could help the franchise, such as it is.

4. You've got a good point here. My favorite takes on J'onn (JLI and JLA spring to mind) have him well established and matured. The solo stories that "change everything" do seem to miss the point. That's why I'm cool with D'kay. She has a plausible backstory, without retconning everything there ever was. Not disimilar to the Phantom Zone villains or Supergirl. Mars can still be a dead planet without ALL of the Martians being dead. Do all of J'onn's villains have to be Martians? Resoundingly no, but I don't mind that some are. Also, Odo, like J'onn is only as good as the writer writing him.

5. Truth Justice and the American Way? How about Justice, Compassion and Alienation?

Justice may be stealing from Superman, but I'll get to that in a a second; Besides, it really is fitting. Lawman, on Earth and Mars, most anyway you slice it. Justice Leaguer through and through. I feel confident that Justice is a core value of J'onn J'onnz.

Compassion is similarly an obvious one. From the Mayavanna solution for Despero and his numerous mentor relationships with younger Leaguers, all the way back to his original decision to remain on earth and use his abilities to help us, compassion is J'onn J'onzz's bread and butter. Or cookies and cream if you prefer.

Finally, Alienation is something key to his character. More of a factor in modern versions, even early on, the fact that he hides his alien identity for the first part of his career, and even when creators aren't taking him to angstville over his outsider nature, he's a loner, a quiet, reserved warrior poet type. Heck, he was on the Outsiders, AND HE DIDN'T FIT IN.

6. Superman. Maybe it's just because I've had the opinion that J'onn is his own man for so long, but I feel like the Superman connection is only detrimental at first glance. Superman was the first superhero. Captain Marvel, Captain Atom, even Batman are all variations on his basic theme. J'onn's first years on earth as a detective were a unique twist, but ultimately he's a demigod from another planet here to help us, and there is not getting around it. And besides, as Frank often points out over at the Idol-head, Superman hasn't been a man of two worlds for quite sometime, so J'onn taking some of that milieu isn't such a bad thing.

In closing, I know what you're saying, but don't agree that drastic changes need to be made. Basically, more Martian Manhunter stories need to be told, not different ones.

LissBirds said...

Good points, all. There are international symbols, true, Eyz, and I could see globalization as a good reason why Mars has one culture, antididio.

It's a different Martian girl from the last series, Eyz, though they bear similarities. The other one was named Ca'yan. Or Cay'an. I never know where to put the apostrophre.

M'aalox! Hee. You're so optimistic about Brightest Day, Sally. I get what you mean about making aliens relatable. I think it's called the "uncanny valley." The Avatar girls were pretty humanoid. And no comment about who/what alien creature Hal would have a go at. :)

LissBirds said...

Thanks for posting again, m.c. It looks like your first attempt didn't go through.

1. It's my own fault for getting pre- and post-Crisis Martian culture mixed up. Add the DeMatteis miniseries into the mix and I'm all confused.

2. Good point about the Native American tribes, and yes, since we're the ones reading the comic and we're human, everything referring to Mars is going to be "Martian" for the sake of clarity.

2.5. I do completely understand the need to show females as looking like human females becuase they we instantly know they're, well, female. I don't remember the Earth/Mars connection from the Ostrander series, but it makes sense in a Star Trek Next Gen sort of way. (All races having a common ancestor, which is why they could interbreed on Star Trek.)

3. Plus a lot more people have worked on GL, too.

4. I just hope Brightest Day doesn't evolve into a "change everything" story. I'm really worried about that happening.

5. That's three good reasons. But could the average DC comics fan think of them as easily? They probably could, but it's no where easy as it is with Superman. (Okay, I've got to stop comparing J'onn to Superman, becuase everything is easier with Superman.) I like him as the Outsider who has a better perspective on things becuase he is an outsider. (to pull an example from American History, the foreigner-no-allegiance-to-any-state Hamilton vs. Jefferson, dyed-in-the-wool-Virginian.)

6. This is probably where we diverge, because I see J'onn alway as a detective first becuase that's what he was created to be. If he hadn't been shoehorned into being a superhero, the Superman parallels wouldn't have been so strong.

I wasn't really proposing any drastic changes, just more of a "back to basics." I really had my hopes set on BG being a reboot of characters back to their original vision. In J'onn's case, a detective who happens to be a Martian. Or, at the very least, having him be the head of a re-formed JLI.

Maybe I'm just losing the forest for the trees and taking the whole "Mars Lives" thing too seriously. It's probably only temporary, like most people said.

mathematicscore said...

Good call on the ST:TNG connection! I had forgotten about that episode. The Next Generation was a formative show for me.

The Earth/Mars link in the Ostrander series I was referring to were the connections with earth culture in the past, mostly with ancient Egyptians, outlined in the "Ghosts of Mars" storyline. As I recall, Ostrander makes a case for Martians having influenced our societal and genetic evolution, and implies that many metahumans own their powers to ancient Martian tinkering.

Saranga said...

I'm glad you posted this. I've been meaning to ask what your take was on Brightest Day and J'onn.

Personally, I'm hoping that we get good, plausible, quality stories out of all these retcons. so far, i'm not convinced. aqualad is the only one to have shown real depth so far, i reckon.

Diabolu Frank said...

I was watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine at the same time the Ostrander series was running, and clearly John was to, because he stole liberally from it. I used to razz him for it all the time on the DC Message Board.

Anyway, I'm mostly with Liss. Mars is a dead world that's been flogged like a dead horse. I dislike D'Kay because once again, she's a villain created to fight the Martian Manhunter, not a character with her own story that eventually involves J'Onn J'Onzz. I also dislike Tomasi, because his Martian Manhunter stories essentially meld Superman and Batman into the Manhunter, and almost invariably sadistic sci-fi ultraviolence comes into play. I'm not even sure I like J'Onn as a sci-fi character, as the space stuff always leaves much to be desired.

Finally, I must point out that what doesn't make sense is a planet of telepaths not speaking the same language. That's one trope that suits Mars fine.