Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Real Reason J'onn J'onzz will Die

There are lots of reasons why Martian Manhunter's going to die (and why DC's been trying to send him to the chopping block since before Identity Crisis): intrinsic difficulties with the character, inability to maintain his own title, a *snort* Rogues' Gallery even more ridiculous than Green Arrow's.

But here's the REAL reason:

Click image to see it full-sized.
And please don't "correct" me about Green Arrow being an original Leaguer;
do you really think I don't know these things already?


J'onn has not been developed as a Dynastic Centerpiece.

Cue the groaning because, yes, it's the Return of My Pet Theory, the Dynastic Centerpiece Model. Now, you can quibble with the specifics of the diagram above (Neptune Perkins?!), but don't bother, I won't engage you. Focus on the central point: the other Justice Leaguers are Dynastic Centerpieces and J'onn is not.

It didn't have to be this way. DC could have tried to build a dynasty around J'onn. In the Silver Age, DC's editors and writers were consciously aware that they were building a mythos around characters, adding a new element every few months. But nowadays, I can never tell whether DC is aware of the Dynastic Centerpiece Model (or whatever else you might wish to call the concept), and whether it's being applied (or not) intentionally (or not). When good writers were working on Aquaman, Hawkman, and Firestorm, they clearly were building dynasties; it didn't save the titles in the short-term, but they certainly had the right (long-term) idea.

It seems so simple. Trim his powers a bit (particularly telepathy... that's a story-killer). Give him the old "Ultra-Boy" limitation. Instead of casting him as a bottomless well of power like Superman, portray him as a "limited charge" player, like Green Lantern. Let him become Marco Xavier as a new secret identity. Cluster around him some characters he's been linked with before in his varied career or who otherwise make sense, and let them interact with one another in new combinations. Give him a brief, like chasing down villains who are on the lam from their regular fictionopolises. Put him back where he belongs, in the incendiary capital of the world, Apex City.

Imagine Martian Manhunter stories that don't focus on frickin' long-dead Mars. Imagine Martian Manhunter stories where he's solving external problems rather than grappling with his own alienation and insanity. Imagine a Martian Manhunter cast of characters of this sort:

You can swap out any of the particular players here,
but tell me you wouldn't find this group intriguingly bizarre.
Oh, and throw in a Dachshund named Jupiter II and Plastic Man;
how could such a thing fail to sell?


Face it; no one will miss J'onn when he's gone. Oh, sure, they'll miss him, but nothing will fall apart without him, and that's the real reason he's so easy to get rid of.

The other Leaguers have "families" that are built around them, that would not cohere without them as the centerpiece (if you need evidence of that, read pre-Rebirth Green Lantern, the last 23 years of Flash, or this month's issue of Aquaman). J'onn doesn't have a "family"; just co-workers in the JLA, and, to be painfully frank, they've got families of their own. Their lives (and titles) will press on just fine without JJ around. If you want the Martian Manhunter to stick around he has to be the center of some dynasty, not just the Odd Man Out in the Justice League.

41 comments:

psychonaut-raz said...

Good call, Scip...I agree that J'Onn's whole lone alien thing should be treated as a part of his overall character, not his whole MO. He's meant to be a detective as John Jones, when's the last time we ever actually saw that?

I also see your point about telepathy being a story-killer for a solo title, though I don't know if I necessarily agree with it. I read a JLA story once where Ollie knew some guy funding them was a bad man, J'Onn read his mind and found no evidence of evildoing, and it came out afterwards that it was because the guy himself didn't consider what he was doing to be so wrong. I think if the Martian Manhunter's telepathy was more THAT kind of vague reading general impressions rather than full mental manipulation, it could actually create some quite interesting stories..

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Can't argue with any of that. I'm a big believer in the need for a large, varied, and constant supporting cast for starring characters.

It's a pity. He was a very effective "central pivot" for the comedy-era Justice League. At times, he was the centerpiece of that team, and it worked.

The Martian Manhunter series of a few years back didn't really put together a regular supporting cast for him, did it? There was Diane Meade, his human detective partner, and Chase Cameron, but I can't think of any others just now.

I'll miss the big green guy. Until they revive him in a few years, of course.

Anonymous said...

What about ZOOK, then, 'Mr. Know-It-All'!

Jacob T. Levy said...

I think the Ostrander series was trying very, very hard to get a regular supporting cast going with developed connections to J'onn. Jemm and the Saturnians; Mal'efik, the evil twin; the race of human telepaths part-descended from Martians; the telepathic villainess who got introduced and who we were told would be a major part of his life; Kanto, who Ostrander desperately tried to retcon and shoehorn in as a longtime adversary. The unearthed Martian Fortress of Solitude just seals the deal-- Ostrander really was trying to do for JJ what the SIlver Age had done for Superman, right down to the creation of a ridiculous number of survivors and associates of the ostensibly long-dead planet. (Silly, but it works! It creates a Dynastic Centerpiece.)

Scipio for some reason wants to insist that a proper J'onn dynasty not focus on "long-dead Mars," but Superman has never had a shortage of Kryptonians and near-Kryptonians (J'onn: Jemm = Superman: Mon-El) in his dynasty. J'onn needs a good human supporting cast *too,* and his ties to the League's different incarnations can be used well (not just the JL Detroit and the JLI but even the JLTF-- how about Ray?). But you could see the sweat on Ostrander's brow as he tried to create a mythos for J'onn as fast as he could before the post-Morrison era of the JLA screwed him up or took him offstage.

Scipio, considering that your Flash Dynasty includes more than half characters who *never* appeared in the book with Barry, plus one who rarely did because then he lived on a different earth-- and that's not even counting XS, who got left off-- why do you think Wally hasn't served as a successful centerpiece? Waid's first run on Wally's book was as explicitly Dynastic a book as we've ever seen.

Tony said...

How does Black Lightning fit into Green Arrow's dynastic centerpiece? I haven't followed either character closely, so this one's escaped me.

SallyP said...

I like J'onn, I've always liked him, but I think you have hit the proverbial nail on the head. The last time that J'onn really was relevant was when he was head Zookeeper of the JLI.

So, I love your idea. Maybe they can do something like that when J'onn gets his inevitable resurrection.

Stephen said...

when j'onn was in detroit it seemed his place in the dcu is the justice league steward. taking him off te league kills the character

beta ray steve said...

J'onn is probably the biggest hero DC can kill, without guaranteeing he'll stay dead for more than a month.
I think killing him would be a good idea if they can retool him along your lines, a mind reading, shape changing detective is pretty ridiculous to start with.

Anonymous said...

Why not make him the centerpiece of a cosmic story? Have him explore the unive... er... GALAXY... You could even use that as an excuse to mitigate or remove his telepathy (alien minds, dontcha know).

K26dp said...

J'onn will be the baddest-ass Black Lantern of all.

thebraveandtheblog said...

Isn't Huntress technically Batgirl 2, since she was Batgirl during No Man's Land? That makes Crazy Ass Cass Batgirl 3. Hm.

Anonymous said...

Green Arrow and Black Lightning have the "protector of the urban poor" angle in common. Also, they both follow the naming construction of [color] [thing that can strike you in the ass].

totaltoyz said...

Isn't Huntress technically Batgirl 2, since she was Batgirl during No Man's Land? That makes Crazy Ass Cass Batgirl 3. Hm.

It all depends where Betty Kane falls in the current continuity.

totaltoyz said...

Also, they both follow the naming construction of [color] [thing that can strike you in the ass].

Technically, so does Blue Beetle. As any aborigine who's accidentally sat on a Hercules beetle can tell you.

Jeff R. said...

I'd argue that the think that will fall apart without him is the Justice League itself. It's not a coincidence that your proposed JJ DC looks like a non-big-7 version of the league. Even if you toss out the Detroit-Era characters. Any JJ-centric community will become the Detroit League, the Giffen League, Justice League Task Force, or a subtle blend between those. J'onn is, simply, a sufficient ingredient for a Justice League. And either J'onn or all five of the Big Five (Superman, WW, Batman, GL, and Flash) are necessary ingredients. Ergo, without J'onn, they'll be locked into a Big Five-based league forever, which in turn means that nothing significant can be done with any of those characters with continuity that reaches the league without the book falling apart...

Scipio said...

"J'onn will be the baddest-ass Black Lantern of all."

That's a scary thought.

Black Lightning was a strong ally and supporting character in Green Arrow before it was replaced by his joint title with Black Canary.

Yonatan said...

J'ohn for me at least is the League. He has been the centerpiece of the JLA since I was 2, members have come and gone but J'ohn has remained throughout. J'ohn can provide a voice of reason for the JLA that noone else can. Look at the post Crisis of Concience League. While there was a team together doing stuff in the book, every member of the league told J'ohn, "well this version of the League is done for a while... give us a call when you reform the league." I think that is part of the reason why I dont really like this version. J'ohn, not Hal Jordon should have been the one to reform it.

Mike Noga said...

Maybe we can petition Nabisco to sponser J'onn in exchange for Oreos somehow joining The Dynasty. He could have a sentient genetically created lamb-sized Oreo with chimp-level intelligence as a pet named "Dunky" or "Crumbs"

Anonymous said...

Was J'onn's characterization in the "New Frontier" mini-series the type of crime/mystery solving hero with a secret identity that you have in mind versus the mopey, lonely (kindy crazy) Martian?

Scipio said...

Yes. It's how he was originally used

Dave said...

I'm just happy to see the return of the Dynastic Centerpiece Model! For my money, it's the Reason the Internet Exists!

Mart said...

I love your ideas for a J'onn book and supporting characters (hurrah for Gypsy and Reverb!).

Tony said...

Thanks for the clarification re: Black Lightning.

J'onn's real purpose is to get his @$$ kicked until Superman shows up. That way you establish that the Justice League faces a credible threat without taking out one of the big five.

I read this on a blog somewhere (I forget which one) and it makes sense to me.

totaltoyz said...

J'ohn for me at least is the League. He has been the centerpiece of the JLA since I was 2, members have come and gone but J'ohn has remained throughout.

That just illustrates the generational difference. J'Onn was almost completely absent from the League for fifteen years (1969-84), and my own personal Golden Age of Comics was during that time. My only memories of J'Onn in the League are a guest appearance in #115 and reprints in 100-Page Super Spectaculars and Limited Collectors Editions.

Scipio said...

"J'onn's real purpose is to get his @$$ kicked until Superman shows up. That way you establish that the Justice League faces a credible threat without taking out one of the big five."

So, he's like Worf, then?

Scipio said...

"I'm just happy to see the return of the Dynastic Centerpiece Model! For my money, it's the Reason the Internet Exists!"

Thanks, Dave; I thought I was the only person who thought that...!

K26dp said...

"So, he's like Worf, then?"

There's a reason I read all of his lines with Michael Dorn's voice in my head.

K26dp said...

Why do you think it's so critical that big DC characters be Dynastic Centerpieces, but Marvel charaters (generally) do not?

Anonymous said...

Boy, that's a pretty weak "dynasty" for Wonder Woman, considering DC keeps claiming she is one of their "Big Three".

Scipio said...

"Why do you think it's so critical that big DC characters be Dynastic Centerpieces, but Marvel charaters (generally) do not?"

Iconic characters take on mythic aspects (and vice versa). Marvel's characters are intended to be down to earth and identifiable; once you start making them too mythic, they being to lose the very quality that you're selling them on. Therefore, Marvel's characters are non-iconic, and to some degree Marvel has to keep them that way.

They are characters; often strong, rich, and interesting characters. But, on the whole, they are not symbols. We are interested in their personal stories, not their role as pillars in their universe.

For example, Spider-Man personal story (perennial hard-luck hero) is in constant conflict with his role as a pillar of the MU; he's kind of like Kathy Griffin, who's famous for being not-famous. I think it's very telling that Spider-Woman has no organic literary connection to Spider-Man.

Jeff R. said...

Spider-Man and Daredevil, sure. On the other hand, the Hulk has got pretty close to a full-blown Dynastic Centerpiece going on by this point, and Iron Man and Thor aren't far behind. (With the caveat that Marvel doesn't 'do' Contextualizing Cities)

Scipio said...

"Boy, that's a pretty weak "dynasty" for Wonder Woman, considering DC keeps claiming she is one of their "Big Three"."

Well, yes and no.

Writers have been (re-)building it. For example, if I had chosen to include Hercules, Nemesis, and Sarge Steel in the diagram, it would look much stronger. One of the problems is that writers are changed on and off of books much more frequently than in the old days.

As a result, supporting casts get changed MUCH MUCH more frequently than they should be. Potential dynasty members get dropped or replaced, and no one gets to build up enough momentum to see permanent. Did you think Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen would have lasted long, if Superman had gotten a new writer every year since he was introduced...?

I mean, for example... DC editorial allowed Byrne to replace the Kapatelises -- the central figures in the post-Crisis Wonder Woman's supporting cast -- with NEARLY IDENTICAL characters, for no apparent reason. Trevor Barnes, regardless of what you think of what Jimenez did with him, was a fine character, but disappeared as soon as his creator did. Ferdinand was a GREAT character; gone with his creator. Artemis; well, I put her in the diagram, mostly because she has a Heroclix figure. But when's the last time you saw her with Wonder Woman, or, for that matter, at all?

I think that DC editorial (and its writers) still understand the need for an icon to have dynasty. As proof, look to the fact that they stopped trying to replace Green Arrow and Green Lantern; they brought them back and made their former replacements into members of their dynasty, to the benefit of all, I'd say.

Unfortunately, the current culture of Creator's Rights and rapid turnover doesn't allow for steady cast development. You don't have Joe Typer writing Awesomeman for 15 years or long enough to cement his characters as permanent fixtures (e.g., Lois and Jimmy). Neither does editorial have a strong enough hand to say, "This is Awesomeman's cast: if you want to write Awesomeman you will use these characters.

Perhaps this topic should become a separate post...

Anonymous said...

If you accet the Dynastic Centerpiece argument, it would seem telling that Zatanna and even Red Tornado make a better showing than JJ, much though i love him. And has he even met Miss Martian 'on screen'?

Scipio said...

Zatanna, yes, but I'm not sure I agree about "Reddy". Still your point remains... .

As for Miss Martian, I myself have never seen the two of them. Honestly, I don't even know where she comes from (not Mars; I mean "what story" she comes from).

For someone as supposedly lonely for Martian company as JJ, he sure doesn't seem to take advantage of it when it's available.

totaltoyz said...

Iconic characters take on mythic aspects (and vice versa). Marvel's characters are intended to be down to earth and identifiable; once you start making them too mythic, they being to lose the very quality that you're selling them on.

Which is as good an explanation as any why so few writers have ever been able to do Captain America well.

Anonymous said...

Marvel characters aren't symbols? How about Captain America?

Marvel characters, by their very nature, more or less short circuit the 'Dynastic Centerpiece' model because very few of the characters, post WWII, have sidekicks. Barely any of them have someone waiting in the wings to pick up the mantle (a la Wally West) if needed.

The exception, of course, is Captain America, whose former sidekick, Bucky, has taken over being Cap. And seeing as how Cap dates from WWII days...well, you see the connection. Gotta have a sidekick (or former sidekick) to have a dynasty.

Marvel characters don't tend to work in teacher-student, parent-child relationships. Exceptions include the Wolverine/Kitty Pryde partnership before she got older.

They DO work in successful, short-term, recurring partnerships.

Spider-Man/Daredevil
Daredevil/Black Widow
Captain America/Falcon
Spider-Man/Silver Sable
Spider-Man/Prowler
Silver Surfer/Nova (until she died)
Luke Cage/Iron Fist
Luke Cage/Iron Fist/Daredevil
Captain America/Nick Fury
Thor/Hercules
Wonder Man/Beast
Spider-Man/Human Torch

Matt said...

...Scipio just related Spider-Man to Kathy Griffin, and it made sense. I fainted a little bit.

Nick said...

Can't say I agree that telepathy is the power that should be first on the chopping block. His telepathy is what he's best known for within the DC universe. He's the go-to guy for telepathic problems. I don't think you can remove that power and still have J'onn.

If anything, it would help to tone down the powers that make so many people think of him as a second-rate Superman. As long as he has near Superman level superstrength, lazy writers will put that power front and center and treat his more esoteric abilities as an afterthought. With the range of powers at his disposal, J'onn should throw punches about a tenth as often as he does.

mattcd42 said...

I'd argue that Martian Manhunter hasn't earned some place in the DCU. For instance in the Sandman he was used to show that Morpheus was known on Mars as well.

This is where J'onn is a character that is beyond himself, a representative of a concept.He plays up the alien aspect that Superman has lost since becoming an American Icon, he is a variant on an archetype in a fictional universe that has one. But he is his own character and serves his purpose.

DC shouldn't kill him, because in 5 years he'll come back, some writer will have a great story taking advantage of J'onn and what he has to offer that other characters don't. His Martain ties allow some connections to DCU that others don't have. There is also his abilities as a physic and as a shap shifter making for a great reconnaissance character that won't have equal, and would fit well in the direction DC is headed.

Plus DC loves all things green, so he should be sticking around. Maybe he just needs to be reinvisioned, much like Green Lantern was not too long ago, or how Wonder Woman is right now.

Redforce said...

Changing the topic (slightly), but... do you think it's possible to build a Dynastic Centerpiece around a GROUP of characters? I know the FF has a sort-of DC of their own, what with Alicia, Willie Lumpkin, Agatha Harkness, etc.- but it's really more supporting characters than a proper DC. Is it possible to extend this concept to a proper DC for a group (like the Elder Statesman, Black Sheep, etc.) in some way, even for a 'forced' group (JLA/Avengers, as opposed to one that was CREATED as a group, FF/Doom Patrol)?

Nerites said...

i'm SORRY but those charts are just WRONG because J'onn will always have...

OREOS !