Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Case Against Mr. Jones

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,

Do not let the Defense confuse you with its attempts to play on your sympathy or fear for the well-being of other characters, including yourselves. What is at issue in this case is not Mr. Jones' character, but rather the character of Mr. Jones.

And, as a character, Mr. Jones is intrinsically flawed. His origin, even by comic book standards, is simply unsupportable. True, aliens with fantastic powers are commonplace in our universe. But fictional planets in other solar systems are one thing; Mars, a real-world planet adjacent to our own and known to be smaller and without intelligent life, is quite another. Even in a universe as fantastically populated as ours, Mr. Jones' so-called Martian abilities are unbelievable to the point of being ludicrous. I can produce expert testimony that Mr. Jones could reasonably be assigned at least 40 of the 44 standard powers available on a Heroclix figure dial, and still that would not fully comprise all his abilities (see Exhibit A). His shifting and ill-defined powers render him nearly unwritable, by the general agreement of readers and writers alike (including the writer of this very blog, see Exhibit B).

Although haphazard attempts have been made to limit his powers to make him more usable, all such attempts have broken down. In fact, with the addition of telepathy and flight to his power set and the intermittent removal of his equally absurd weakness to fire, he's only gotten more unworkable. In short, Mr. Jones is a character from another time, riddled with sci-fi flaws inherent to that era, who has repeatedly and consistently resisted attempts at ameliorating revision, and has become an embarrassment for the DCU. Mr. Jones' absurdity makes a mockery of our entire universe, threatening its existence and, by extension, our own.

As bad as that is, Mr. Jones is rendered even more unusable by his history of mental instability. The Bloodwynd Incident; Maalefik in his Mind; his Sociophobia in JLU; the Kingdom Come Collapse. These are just a few of the examples of his increasingly consistent portrayal as unhinged and mentally crippled. Is this the kind of hero our children deserve? If a character like this lived in Gotham, he'd have the room next to mine at Arkham!

For several decades, Mr. Jones has enjoyed a pseudo-icon status, due to his association with the Justice League, and association stemming more from historical accident than merit. But the sheen of this gloss is transparently false. Unlike the true icons of the DCU, Mr. Jones has no Golden Age pedigree. He is unable to support his own title even briefly; he's never been able to serve as a Dynastic Centerpiece of a larger mythology. Has he even been seen with Miss Martian since her introduction as such? The Defense would have you believe that Mr. Jones is a pillar of the Justice League and thus of the DCU. But how strong a pillar is he if he cannot support his own title or mythology? If he is indeed a pillar of the League and the DCU, it is not to his credit but to their detriment, and it's a situation that should be rectified by his elimination.

A pillar? No. Where are the Martian Manhunter Megos, the Martian Manhunter Halloween costumes, the Martian Manhunter Underoos? Despite his sentimental inclusion in various media versions on the Justice League, he remains unpopular and uninteresting to the general readership and public. He disappeared for 13 years during the 1970s and 1980s; did anyone really notice? Did the DCU collapse without this so-called pillar? The fact that Mr. Jones has appeared so much, so publicly, for so long with so little success in developing a broader fan base is simply further evidence of his unworkability.

The Defense asks you to take pity on Mr. Jones. But so do I. The "Martian Manhunter" is ill-conceived, inconsistent, embarrassing, unstable, unloved, and wholly unworkable as a character. This is not execution, ladies and gentlemen; it's euthanasia. It's time to put the Mr. Jones out of his misery ... and ours.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Case for Mr. Jones

I don't usually get much help here writing the Absorbascon, so imagine my surprise when one of the DCU's darkest stars contacted me asking politely (with gun in hand) to do a guest column, or two. Apparently, his interest was sparked by all the recent chatter on the likely impending doom of everyone's favorite ice-cream conjurer, J'onn J'onzz. And who am I to say no to an armed lunatic?

So, with no further ado, I turn it over to former District Attorney Harvey Dent, who present in the next day or two the Cases For and Against the Martian Manhunter.

Thank you, Scipio, for your kindness in permitting me this public forum; call me "Harvey" again and I'll shoot you in the leg.

The Case for the Defense, by Two-Face

Today, you are being asked to decide whether Mr. John Jones, a.k.a. the Martian Manhunter, should die.

But for what crime? Has he violated the heroic code by killing, just as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman have all done in the past? No. Mr. Jones is being condemned simply because he is in the wrong place and the wrong time. He's significant enough for his death to provide great impact and gravity for DC's latest orgy of cross-contuity, Final Crisis (itself the mad scheme of a writer known for his lunatic excesses), but not popular enough to stave off execution. He is guilty of no crime of character himself, but is the scapegoat DC is sacrificing to keep its more salable icons alive, like some bizarre form of Shirley Jackson's Lottery.

The only true crime here is the impending execution of Mr. Jones by the Editorship of DC Comics -- a waste of inhuman life and character potential it entails.

Mr. Jones is a heroic icon of the DCU, consistently holding his own alongside its greatest heroes. Indeed, while it would be naive to place him on the same level as the Heroic Trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, it can be argued that he is above Flash and Green Lantern in status. They have been repeatedly replaced, becoming almost roles more than characters; Mr. Jones, on the other hand, remains one of a kind.

Mr. Jones is an outstanding character. He has shown himself to be infinitely adaptable and usable in a wide variety of stories and situations. He works well in a group or in short solo adventures and he can do high drama or dry comedy. He can be a hardboiled gumshoe, and international spy (as he was during his Marco Xavier days), or a sci-fi marvel. He can be a tragic loner or a well-adjusted mentor. He is as versatile a character as Batman or Superman. More so, in fact, which probably accounts for his longevity and multi-media exposure (despite getting second-class treatment from the Editorship).

The Prosecution may seek to turn Mr. Jones' success on its head, trying to convince you that a character so unable to fulfill his potential after 30 years has lost his right to live with his fellow JLAers. But isn't that the point? Isn't that the crux of Mr. Jones' problems? When we speak of Mr. Jones, we do not compare him to the lesser lights of the DCU, the 99 percent of our fellow characters who are less famous, less intriguing, less adaptable. Do we compare him to the Huntress, or Liberty Belle, or even Firestorm? No; we compare him only to DCU's first rank of heroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman). Who among us would not suffer by such a comparison?

Although most characters have never made it to another medium, Mr. Jones is continually before the public eye. He was a stand-out character in both the Justice League Unlimited animated series and animated film based on Darwin Cooke's New Frontier, two of the most popular iterations of the Justice League since its inception. He guest-starred on Smallville and was the central figure in the unaired JLA pilot. If the paper page has not favored Mr. Jones, the television lens loves him, and that alone should be reason to preserve him!

It's true that the Defendant has never had sufficient popularity to maintain his own series for very long. But is that a crime, and one punishable by death? If so, most heroes in the DCU would be dead. Now that his series is over, will we be putting Krypto to sleep? This madness must stop, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Misguided editorial bloodlust has already claimed Mr. Jones' longtime close friend, Mr. Curry. And we did nothing. We stood by and watched, and were simply relieved it wasn't us. If DC's Pen of Death can fell the likes of Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter, then are any of us safe? Am I next? If we do not stop this sort of thing, how long before we are reading something like "Batman R.I.P."?

I submit to you that if Mr. Jones' deserves to die, then so do all those of us not among the top six of our respective roles, be they hero, villain, or supporting castmember. Is that the kind of universe you want to live in or read about?

The writers of the past, the men who created me, Mr. Jones, and perhaps you, were men of limitless imagination, who often colored outside the lines of what some might call "continuity". They could put more interest and potential meaning in a five-page Martian Manhunter back-up story then went into the entire run of Countdown. Yet we deride those men as hacks, just because they were more interested in telling an intriguing story than in real-world-style plotting. But they knew the difference between the horse and the hay; they knew that "continuity" is simple fodder for feeding stories, not the other way around.

But now our destinies are controlled by "writers" whose main tool for character development is character assassination (in either sense of that phrase), with Mr. Jones their latest victim. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, make no mistake. I am not trying to convince you that Mr. Jones is without flaw or his continuity record spotless. Far from it. But he is interesting, iconic, and popular. Don't let DC waste that; make the Editorship challenge a writer to use Mr. Jones to his full potential rather than bumping him off for a month's worth of shock value. Do you want literature and philosophy in your comics or merely bread and circuses? How you decide on the fate of Mr. Jones may very well determine exactly that, so consider wisely the ramifications of this debate, not just for Mr. Jones, but for yourselves as well....

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Story of the Human Flame, Explicated

So, what does it all mean?

Because it does mean something. After all, it's not like the writers of the Martian Manhunter saga were simply thin-tied tipsy Manhattanites who jotted out his stories in a half hour on the back of a cocktail napkin. LOL, the very idea!

No, these were philosopher-auteurs, crafting J'onn's individual stories and the larger saga that comprises them on the basis of deep insight into the soul, the human condition, and society, who in the space of five full pages could teach us more about ourselves and the world than most modern writers could in three 52-issue maxiseries and three successive company-wide crossovers.

Take, for example, our little Story of the Human Flame.

Joey represents Man's innate sense of our natural limits, born in the knowledge that he is but a speck on a speck floating in the vast sea of space. When we first see Joey, he arrives at Mike's holding a newspaper that has no bearing on the plot. But the newspaper, symbolic of humanity informing itself about the larger world, immediately tells us that Joey is a very much part of society (criminal society, perhaps, but still society). Joey uses the news to understand his small part in the world. Later, when confronted by the awesome elemental force that is J'onn J'onzz, Joey instinctively realizes that opposing him is beyond the purview of man and fears to step beyond such obvious natural limits.

Unlike Joey, Mike strives to set himself beyond society. Whereas Joey clutches to the newspaper to remind him of that he is merely part of a much larger world, Mike lives "in a secluded country cottage", apart from the world, where he crafts devices to augment his natural abilities. His first act is to tell Joey to "stay right there", waiting for him to emerge. Thus Mike sets the boundaries for Joey, reinforcing the message that Joey stays within the limits set upon him by others and the world, while Mike, on the other hand, feels himself immune such limitations, and as if it is his right to step beyond them at will.

Note also that the cottage shows a disheveled window treatment and crooked picture, but a tidy workbench. These are clever artistic details, through which we see that Mike spurns the external courtesies of common society; Mike's cottage is not designed to welcome members of outside society, but is geared toward scientific pursuits to put him farther beyond it. Nature, in the form a bush, grows in full glory outside the cottage window. This is meant to contrast with the view of the inside of the cottage, where Nature has been tamed and roughly enslaved as wood to bar out others (the outer door), and to serve as a mere platform and facilitator of Mike's higher ambitions (as symbolized by the floor and the workbench, respectively). Mike, you see, represents Man's ambition, the will to dominate nature, and to unlock the secrets of God.

Joey is aghast when Mike appears in a suit designed specifically to separate Mike from the outside world. Indeed, Mike is not seen without this suit until the very end of the tale, when he has been denuded of his pretensions toward supra-natural status. On his first appearance, Mike is showing standing the darkness of his own willful ignorance of humanity's proper place in the world, while Joey stands in the harsh light of man's limitations in a larger world. Is it "a space suit", Joey asks? Joey associates the crime suit with the exploration of space, which is not only man's ultimate attempt to ascend the heavens and exceed his natural boundaries but also the very acme of isolation from the regular world. The crime suit represents the history of human science and technology and how our devotion it has threatened to distance us from God, Nature, Society, and a proper understanding of self. Mike replies that with the crime suit, "no cop on earth will be able" to stop him (emphasis added), reinforcing the idea that Mike means to defy the terrestrial limits of man.

Joey then posits J'onn J'onzz as a natural limit Mike cannot exceed. It is clear from this, and everything that follows, that J'onn J'onzz represents Nature, particular as it expresses an intentional higher will to set limits upon Man. In short, the Martian Manhunter is God. This is why his powers are beyond ken, defiant of science, infinite in variety, and incomprehensible (to mere humans) in how and when they are applied. The Martian Manhunter, you'll note, seldom acts directly, instead acting through nature and the surrounding environment to correct and curb the path of wayward man. When Man, aflame with human ambition, forgets his place, God does not shoot him in the leg; instead, he chooses elements of surrounding nature upon which he moves mysteriously so as to dowse this Human Flame. Note, in fact, that when J'onn soaks Mike, it's not with a lake or a rainstorm; instead, he shatters a water tower, a symbol of man's attempts to confine and control the natural elements.

The Human Flame symbolizes humanity's burning ambition to change its place in the world, to be not merely another element of the natural world, but rather its lord and master. Thus, Mike's first act is to attack an armored truck of unknown contents, which clearly symbolizes the attempts of Man (Mike) to utilize technology (the crime suit) to break open the Pandora's box (the armored truck) of nature's secrets (the truck's unknown contents). Joey, you'll note, participates not by aiding the process directly, but by holding the guards at bay, by reminding them of their boundaries and limits, a role consistent with his overall symbolism. Mike, on the other hand, begins his attack by wandering down the middle of the highway, an unequivocal symbol of his willingness to violate ordinary boundaries; "who is that crazy guy in the road", indeed, other than our own foolish ambition, crossing the line and violating the strictures of both society and nature!

God (J'onn J'onzz) impedes Man's attempts to unlock nature's secrets, and with a gust of wind like a natural hurricane blows the truck beyond the overambitious reach of the Human Flame. Nevertheless, poor Mike believes that he can unseat God, that technology, as embodied by the crime suit, will enable him to render God and nature powerless against Man's will.

Such hubris is not easily dampened, even by the downpour of adversity caused by the snapping fingers of God. Self-deceiving Mike/Man does not perceive the hand of God in his adversity, and ascribes the incident only to bad luck. Thus unbowed, he reignites the flame of his ambition and moves from assailing nature itself to violating the boundaries of society, as symbolized by the bank's steel door, behind which lie the arbitrary values that society places on things, here symbolized, of course, by money.

With this endeavor, God does not interfere; our interactions with one another are in our own hands, though God keeps an ever-watchful eye on us. Note, by the way, that in this panel, J'onn describes Mike's assault as employing not "electric bolts", but "artificial lightning", boldly underlining the author's overall intent for us to perceive Mike's crime suit as symbolic of man's attempts to enslave nature to his will, thus mis-appropriating the role of God. Truly, 50 years is barely enough time for us to begin to appreciate the genius that Silver Age writers brought to their craft!

Clearly, at no time are God (J'onn) or Nature in true danger from the machinations of man. With the merest snap of their fingers, we would be gone, reduced to nothingness by the Atom Vision of God or poofed away by the Martian-breath of Mother Nature. But God's goal is not to simply obliterate us; rather it is bring us to a better understanding of ourselves as part of Nature, not as its foes, and to bring us back down to earth when we fly too close to the sun.

In the final confrontation, Man's ambition (Mike) seeks to destroy God (J'onn) through Science (the crime suit), while Man's caution (Joey) looks on, afraid. For a while, God allows us to believe that we have vanquished nature and rendered God non-existent. Man is emboldened by the success of technology in conquering Nature; "God is dead and Man reigns supreme!", Man announces.

But this is clearly folly, and all part of God's plan to return us to right understanding of our place in the world. Because we are blinded by the glare of our own accomplishments, God withdraws from direct interaction with us (as the Biblical Old Testament's Angry God of the Burning Bush gave way to the New Testament's Loving God of Holy Spirit, or the Classical Golden Age of Communion with the Titans gave way to the Bronze Age of Cowering from the Olympians) and retreats into hiding his role within the details of Nature.

God "punishes" us and defeats our ambition by giving us our wish; remaining unseen, he detaches us from nature and places us far above the context of the world and its society.

When they are flown into the upper atmosphere, beyond the comforting context of society and nature, it is Joey (Man's Caution) who announces that they have indeed climbed too high, beyond where Man should go, and the cold that he experiences is both physical and spiritual, as their attempts to set themselves apart from the world has denied them the warmth of society. Suddenly, in the rarefied atmosphere of a universe without meaning, the flame of human ambition falters, and Man seeks only to return to the safety of the known world and the comfort of its contextualizing confines, with the newfound knowledge that to separate oneself from one fellow man is, in fact, to separate oneself from God and from self-understanding.

As Man's Caution chastises his Ambition for its prideful fall, Joey and Mike are brought down to earth and the proper precinct of Man with a harsh realization of their limits and boundaries, as symbolized by their incarceration. "Bah! Still think technology is God's weakness, Michelangelo?"

Meanwhile, J'onn, representing the godly understanding of right arrangement of the world, rushes to return the upturned piece of ground to its proper place within the humble earth. "Sorry I can't stay," God says to Humanity, "but I've got to return this slice of Earth" to its proper place, just as I have now done for you.

I mean, really; the author made it all so clear that it seems hardly necessary to explain it at all.

P.S. The Magical Tudor Barn symbolizes the impermanence and arbitrariness of Man's artificial boundaries between himself and nature. Just in case you were wondering.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Story of the Human Flame 4

So, I'm not going to even bother repeating the options in our multi-choice cliff-hanger question in the previous post, since I'm positive that you all correctly guessed that the answer was
(e).Employs his two stupidest powers in combination and in a way never seen before or since to defeat Mike and Joey.

Yes, if you read enough J'onn J'onzz, it should be obvious what the solution to J'onn's problem with the Human Flame would be. It's the same solution he uses for
all his problems...


Yep, J'onn literally twirls the earth right out from under them! Really, it's kind of sad how J'onn can't just cut loose on his own, and has to maneuver himself into absurd situations where he can pretend that twirling is his only reasonable option (rather than just shooting someone in the leg). J'onn, sweetie; just go out to the club, throw your arms above your head and start twirling to the latest from Mary J. Blige.

Wait a second. Saying that made me realize something: Mike and Joey look AWFULLY familiar in the panel. Almost... almost as if I'd seen them before. OH, no! OF COURSE!

God, don't you hate those dancing queens at the club who insist on shooting fire out their nipples at the mirror ball?

What was the name of that club I saw them dancing at here in DC? Oh, yes, now I remember. What else would it be called?


Oh, the comic book irony.

Anyway, I promised you J'onn combined two of his stupidest powers in taking down Mike and Joey, and so he did. He Martian-twirled the ground out from under them, then Martian-breathed them all into the upper atmosphere.

No, the Silver Age Martian Manhunter could not fly. He could conjure ice creams cones from thin air, alter the path of baseballs with his mind, and frighten sharks with one look, but he could not fly. So here he uses his Martian breath to blow them aloft. And you thought Wonder Woman "riding the air currents" was stupid (and it is, by the way).

There's a "clod" joke here, if you look for it.

So, the Manhunter successfully twirls and blows Mike and Joey to jail. Typical.

Another of Apex City's distinctive architectural touches is the use of giant decorative vanilla wafers on rooftops.

Note that this is the first time we've seen Mike without his helmet. Stunning, isn't it? By the way, is that John Jones's boss, the all-consumingly corpulent Captain Harding, or is this just Frank Quitely's first work for DC?

I guess we're supposed to assume that Mike and Joey go to jail after this. Personally, I assume that, since Mike's still wearing the crime suit and it's apparently impossible for anyone to simply, say, shoot him in the leg, that the next panel would show Mike burning the cops to screaming husks while Joey distracts Captain Harding by throwing him a Hostess Fruit Pie with Real Fruit Filling. Because I'm certain I've seen those two dancing at Apex since then... .

TOMORROW: What It All Means!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Story of the Human Flame 3

When last we left Mike, Joey, and J'onn, J'onn had snapped his magic Martian fingers, causing an entire water tower to topple, dowsing the flames of our plucky villain. But the Human Flame is not so easily extinguished, Grant, and Mike immediately leapt into action with his next idea.

As previously discussed, Mike (the Human Flame) was very big on the concept of the crime suit, but his plan for applying it seemed a bit spotty...

I can just picture Mike's personal page on "Just your average curly-haired, barrel-chested guy with a handle bar mustache. My pastimes include sewing outfits to aid my criminal endeavors, jogging down the center of Florida highways, and robbing ugly banks." No wonder Joey fell in love.

”As long as I’m here, I’ll rob this bank,” is quite the impromptu crime plan. Mike’s the kind of guy who, in our universe, winds up shirtless face-down licking macadam on Cops. In the DCU, he winds up being the pivot point of a company-wide crossover.

Finally, we get to the World's Ugliest Bank, as promised in the splash panel (this scene does appear in this comic!) Let's focus a bit more on this panel; there's important stuff here I don't want you to miss! Specifically...
  • The bank has glass walls.

  • The bank is closed

  • The bank is adjacent to or comprises a Tudor Barn, whose magical nature has yet to be revealed.

  • Joey tiptoes through the water to avoid damaging his Kenneth Coles.

  • J'onn packs junk.

Cantilevered populux architecture… at a bank?! Mike, don’t rob the place: TORCH IT.

So, when they reach the Bank With Glass Walls, what does Mike do?
Burns through the steel door. Of course. Because what's the point of being the Human Flame if you just break through a glass window? Obviously Mike learned how to apply his power by following the Martian Manhunter's principles. Always use the least natural application of your abilities possible. Whenever possible, make up new abilities (like the ability of fire to burn through steel).

"I dare not get any closer!"
J'onn thought-gasps, utterly oblivious to the fact that Mike is within arm's reach. J'onn, baby; you just blew a 12,000 lb. armored truck away on the previous page. Just give the man a Martian kick and break his leg. Heck, I could do that, and I'm not even a Martian.

By the way... you didn't notice the Magical Tudor Barn disappear, did you? Maybe it's a Martian barn and went invisible to hide from Mike.

So, this bank, which apparently was once a barbershop, is, as we know,
closed. Well, it must be a very profitable bank, because they can afford to pay two uniformed guards to stand around in the closed bank all day. Unarmed guards, too, I guess; otherwise, they would just, you know, shoot Mike in the leg.

At least, now we understand the narrative reason for the glass walls: it's so J'onn can see (and comment on) the action in the bank. Because it's not like J'onn can see through solid objects. Oh, wait, that's right;
he can. I tell you, the writers of J'onn's stories really needed to take better notes, or at least enter him in their Contacts Database: "Jones, John. Detective, Apex City. Hometown: Mars. See through walls. Magical finger snapping. Likes Oreos. Dog's name is Jupiter. Does not smoke."

While J'onn continues to pose helplessly so that the light shadows his junk flatteringly, Mike and Joey skip off with the loot, headed for home and a private celebration.

I love Joey's look:
"When we get home and get that suit off you,
we'll see just how pregnable you are, stud!"
P.S. Oh, Magical Tudor Barn, come back to us!

J'onn follows them and, rather than sneaking up on them with his power of invisibility, he opts for a full frontal assault.

Joey's afraid of J'onn's full frontal come on because, well, he's notice the Manhunter's junk, too.
Actually, J'onn's faking them out. Because the main use of superpowers in the Silver Age is to deceive people, not breaking criminals' legs.

Because Mike and Joey are idiots, they assume J'onn just sort of fades into nothingness, kind of like a Tudor Barn. This, kids, is the difference between a scientist and an inventor.

Behind every successful criminal is a love-struck gunsel. And Mike's thinking, "Tonight, he'll do ANYTHING for me...!"

Now that the Experienced Martian Manhunter (cj083) has been knocked of his first click, his Invulnerability is still prey to the Human Flame's Exploit Weakness, so he moves to the closest Hindering Terrain, a nearby tree, and activates his Stealth, waiting to use the Ambush Feat Card on his next turn after he rests and clears his action token. Oh, sorry... for a second the whole story seemed to turn into a Heroclix maneuver.

Seriously, this is J'onn's final gambit against the Human Flame, because it's already been five pages and he's got to wrap this up soon. What does J'onn do?

(a) Pushes the tree over onto Mike, breaking his leg.
(b) Seduces Joey to betray Mike by taking the form of a giant octopus.
(c) Snaps his fingers, causing Mike's head to explode inside his helmet.

(d) Goes back to his police car, gets his service revolver, and shoots Mike in the leg.

(e) Employs his two stupidest powers in combination and in a way never seen before or since to defeat Mike and Joey.

Really, if you don't get this one, you just haven't been paying attention.

Oh, in case you're wondering why J'onn never does the obvious thing -- call the dang Fire Department -- to capture Mike, the answer should be clear: this is Apex, America's Most Flammable City. Don't bother calling the Fire Department, because they're already busy elsewhere. Everywhere, in fact.

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of the Story of the Human Flame PLUS an analysis of the deep deep symbolism of this story and what it says about the human condition.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Story of the Human Flame 2

When last we left J'onn J'onzz, he was faced with a quandary over which of his 47 powers to use to stop the Human Flame from heisting an armored car (rather than just, say, shooting him in the leg with his policeman's pistol). The main choices were

(a). using his superstrength to throw a rock at Mike, breaking his leg.
(b). using his invisibility and intangibility to sneak up on Mike and tie his shoelaces together, causing him to trip and break his leg.
(c). using mind-over-matter to draw gold from the local seawater and bribe Joey to shoot Mike in the leg.
(d). summoning all the powers from the void of space to conjure a giant ice cream cone atom by atom with which to dowse the flames.
(e). something pointless that doesn't debilitate Mike but gives him the opportunity to attack the Martian Manhunter.

If you didn't guess (e), then I'm guessing you've never read a Martian Manhunter story before!

He uses his Martian breath to blow away the armored truck. Of course.

Do you know what an armored truck weighs? Twelve thousand pounds... empty. What force of blowing does it take to whisk away an armored vehicle? I'm thinking at least 200 mph, which is a Category 7 or 8 hurricane (on a scale that only goes to 5, by the way). That's how much the Martian Manhunter blows (and, presumably, sucks as well). Pity J'onn didn't think to, oh, knock over gun-wielding Joey or poof the Human Flame into a nearby telephone pole at 200 mph, breaking his leg (and probably every other bone in his body). But Martian hindsight-vision is always perfect, I suppose... .

I think even an armored truck would crack like an egg if blown into a hillside at 200 mph. But don't worry. Martian breath is kind of like telekinesis; J'onn just sort of "latches on" to stuff with it, and then guides it around, willy-nilly. Which is consistent with the previous story where J'onn uses Martian breath to lift burning leaves from a pile several miles away and deposit them in a tidy circle around his foe (named B'rett-- yes, really) without extinguishing them. So J'onn uses his magical telekinesis breath to gently rest the armored truck down the road aways.

Joey, not being a lunatic like Mike, immediately realizes what this means.

"Just get behind me, Joey, and you'll see..." I bet that's not the first time Mike's said that.

Mike, having gone insane from the heat of being inside a full-body suit that shoots flames while standing on a Florida highway, laughs madly while running straight at the alien with 47 powers, whom he just witnessed picking up an armored truck with his breath.

Hey, Mike; next time, consider testing your theory BEFORE you take on the guy who could blow you into the next county. Oh, by the way... where do you think the "hidden button" is and what the heck is Mike pressing it with?

Of course, Mike's theory really is correct. Which leaves JJ with a thorny dilemma.

Actually, we have to give JJ some credit here. He, at least, tried to keep his weakness secret.

Superman, on the other hand, used to talk about his weakness out loud all the time.

"Oh, I hope that green traffic light doesn't happen to be filled with kryptonite! Or that supposedly lime-flavored gelatin dessert!"

That's why no one was surprised last week, when, in Brave & the Bold, Superman says, "If you were really smart, you have turned into kryptonite by now!"

Superman just can't shut up about how special he is, even his weaknesses. You know how you can append "in bed" to any saying in a fortune cookie? Well, anything Superman says can be appended with, "because I'm from Krypton, you know!"

Anyway, faced with the horror that is crime-suited Mike, the Martian Manhunter is all "WHAT'LL I DO?!?!?!" Poor J'onn; he's only got 47 powers. How on earth can he possibly defeat a guy dressed as a giant Zippo? I mean, it's not like he could just blow him away at 200 mph. Or shoot him in the leg. Because he's the Martian Manhunter, and must do everything as indirectly as possible, with the most byzantine application of his powers imaginable.

"I'm saved!"

Luckily, there’s a water tower nearby (atop the World's Ugliest Bank). After all, this is Apex City, and the only thing more common in Apex City than water towers and raging fires are meteors. Besides, it’s a general rule in comic books that the likelihood of a fire is directly proportionate to ones proximity to a wooden water tower easily toppleable by the hero’s power or ability of choice (batarang, heat vision, magic lasso, tower-toppling arrow).

Okay, it goes without saying that JJ uses the water tower to put out the Human Flame (rather than having it actually land ON him, breaking his leg). But, the reason question is, how? Does he…

(a) Use his Martian vision to poke an expertly aimed hole in the water tank?

(b) Use his omnipotent Martian breath to blow or suck the thing down?

(c) Turn invisible to deceive his foe, then intangibly move underground to get away from the fire, then leap up and push the tower over with Martian strength?

(d) Stamp the ground at superspeed causing tremors that knock Mike over, breaking the crime suit and possibly Mike's leg?

(e) Use a previously unmentioned, weirdly specific, and utterly absurd power to knock the tower over?

Really, if you don’t get this one right, you're just not a Martian Manhunter fan.

Naturally, the answer is (e). J’onn simply snaps his fingers and this – somehow – causes the water tower to collapse exactly when and where he needs it to. Mirabile visu.

Just as Martian breath acts like telekinesis, Martian finger-snapping is like a Tyroc scream. It simply ... makes things happen. Just the things that J'onn needs. Water towers to fall. Waitresses to bring Oreos. Unwanted octopus pregnancies to abort. Whatever.

Now you’ve done it; now Mike is psssst.

But, as we'll soon learn, the spirit of the Human Flame is not so easily extinguished...

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Story of the Human Flame 1

Alright, since no one else seems willing to do this, I guess I’ll have to. After all, thanks to my Apex City research, I’ve spent LOTS of time reading the Martian Manhunter Showcase, so I’m as inoculated as one can get against the characteristic lunacy of a J’onn J’onnz story.

And since I'm the only blogger I know who ever talked about this guy before he was revealed to be a pivot point of the
Final Crisis crossover, it behooves me to tell...

The Story of the Human Flame

"Yes, the secret is out!"
This story takes place right after the existence of the Martian Manhunter first became public knowledge (in "The Unmasking of J'onn J'onnzz") to the phlegmatic citizens of Apex (Apexians? Apexites?). Instead of going "Nyyaahhhhg! A Martian is among us! Bomb him!" like any decently xenophobic denizens of the 1950s, the Apexers simply said, "Cool; our own superhero." When you live in a town where meteors fall daily, I guess you develop substantial sang-froid.

So, once he's come out, J'onn's first challenge is facing a Human Flame. Ain't it always the way?

Who is the Human Flame? Once upon a time there was a handyman/criminal named “Mike”. He had a pal named Joey. That’s what you called your male lover in the Silver Age; your “pal”. This does not apply to Jimmy Olsen, because we all know what Superman called his male lover in the Silver Age.

Anyway, Mike liked to tinker, so he made himself an undefeatable crime suit, using the workbench pictured below; Ty Pennington, eat your heart out.

I'm guessing the box marked "XXX" had a lot to do with inspiring the crime suit.

Poor Joey. Home from getting the Sunday edition of the Daily Clarion, ready to snuggle in at the secluded country cottage, eagerly anticipating Mike's emergence in a frilly negligee, or a boy scout uniform, or a leather harness. But instead...

"Nnyyahhhhg! Jeez, Mike no "full body suit" scenarios!
Who do you think you are... Masterman?"

Now, if someone asks you over and is wearing a jury-rigged hazmat outfit that shoots fire and tells you he’s wearing a “crime suit”, you or any ordinary person would say, “heh..heh heh… yeah, um, that’s real nice, that’s a real nice crime suit alright oh, look at the time, gotta go return some books to the library catch you later, ‘cuz, heh, the police sure won’t while you’re wearing your crime suit!” But Joey is not an ordinary person, he’s a person in love, so he decides to tag along with Mike as his crime spree begins.

And thus we set the stage for our tale:
Apex City is known for its many unusual architectural adaptations, such as the "Internationalist/Tudor Crushed by Monstrous Water Tower" style.

Gee, water tower; human flame. Wonder where that's headed... .

Anyway, Mike seems pretty confident that no cop on earth can stop him because he's wearing a suit that shoots fire. I suppose the ordinary police couldn’t possibly handle the crime suit by, you know, shooting Mike in the leg.
The crime suit raises other interesting questions, like, where does the fuel for the flames come from, how does it generate lightning bolts, and is that a cinch-waist jacket or sansabelt pants? If they're sansabelts, then Apex City is definitely in Florida.

Mike didn't just design the crime suit to confound the cops (who couldn't possibly just shoot him in the leg), but to stymie the Martian Manhunter as well, since there's a rumor in the underworld that his weakness is fire. You see, in the previous story, J'onn defeated an invading Martian villain by using his Martian breath to suck in burning leaves from several miles away, then blow them into a circle around the villain, all without extinguishing the flames. Yes, really.

Anyway, the rumor may have gotten started when the villain, who was a total drama queen, fell to his knees screaming out loud to the entire city, "FIRE--the one Martian weakness! I--I'm losing all my strength! Oh-h-h!" That's how rumors get started.

By the way, how we got through that panel without seeing Mike light Joey's cigarette, I'll never know.

Mike, like many inventors, had his concept down pat, but was a little fuzzy on how to apply his technology. Thus, his plan for using the crime suit is to stagger leadenly down a Florida highway like a crazy guy on the road until an armored truck comes along. Which, fortunately for the plot, and Mike, it does.

Just in time. Mike's already taken a dump in the crime suit and is about to pass out with heat exhaustion from walking along a Florida highway in a fireproof suit. I think I'm going to re-do my Apex City map to include a roadsign that says "DETOUR -- CRAZY GUY IN ROAD NEXT 500 FEET".

Although we call crime-suited Mike “the Human Flame”, the suit actually did more than just shoot flames. Give the guy some credit. It also shot out electric bolts. In fact, Mike appears to have developed a practical, affordable, portable, non-lethal, and directable EMP generator.

Oh, if only someone like, say, the Army, would be interested in such a thing. They might have made Mike a nice offer. Pity. Or he could have marketed it as an anti-meteorite coat, and become the richest man in Apex overnight.

Naturally, the security guards radio for help, and, even more naturally, John Jones is the only person to turn up.
Even more more naturally, John turns into the Martian Manhunter to handle the situation. Rather than, you know, just getting out of the car and shooting Mike in the leg... .
So, instead of just shooting Mike in the leg with his service revolver, J'onn has to use his absurd panoply of Martian powers to deal with the situation. What do you think he does (no fair peeking in the MM Showcase?)

(a). uses his superstrength to throw a rock at Mike, breaking his leg.
(b). uses his invisibility and intangibility to sneak up on Mike and tie his shoelaces together, causing him to trip and break his leg.
(c). uses mind-over-matter to draw gold from the local seawater and bribes Joey to shoot Mike in the leg.
(d). summons all the powers from the void of space to conjure a giant ice cream cone atom by atom with which to dowse the flames.
(e). something pointless that doesn't debilitate Mike but gives him the opportunity to attack the Martian Manhunter.

Turn in tomorrow to find out, same Martian-time, same Martian-station!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tirade: Guardians of the Universe

Of the universe? No, I don't think so.

There are upwards of 125 billion galaxies in our universe; let's assume the same is true of the DCU. If the Guardians have decided their universe into 3600 sectors, and since galaxies are, on the whole, rather evenly spread out, that means the average Green Lantern sector would contain...

34.7 million galaxies.

That's ... a lot of galaxies. Our galaxy, which is a fairly typical one, has about 100 billion stars. That would make the number of stars in a Green Lantern sector about...


That's ... a lot of stars. But if they don't have planets with life on them, they don't really need policing, of course. How many life-bearing planets would there be to protect? Well, let's continue to assume our galaxy is typical.* Let's also assume there's (currently) no other life in our galaxy (which is conservative an estimate as you can get). Still, that would mean an average galaxy has one planet on it that's currently rocking with life. One life-bearing, protection-worthy planet per galaxies would mean at least...

34.7 million relevant planets in each Green Lantern sector.

That's ... a lot of planets. And it seems fair to say that the DCU is little more teeming with alien life than ours seems to be. So 34.7 million is a serious lowball estimate. Do you think DC wants us to imagine Green Lanterns as policing 34.7 million planets each? I don't think so.

DC; please don't call the Guardians the "Guardians of the Universe" any more. It's just stupid, and not in the same way that power rings and kryptonite meteors are. It's not "suspension of disbelief" stupid, it's "insulting the readers' intelligence" kind of stupid. Ignoring science is one thing; you need me to accept a Rainbow Brite "emotional power spectrum", sure, fine, no problem, sounds fun, and now I can have a powerful ring to color coordinate with any outfit. But ignoring math is something entirely different. I can swallow an internal logic for the DCU that is different from that of the real universe, but not one that's not really consistent with itself.

But please concede what it seems pretty clear you really mean: they are the Guardians of the Galaxy. They live at the center of the galaxy. Not the universe. The universe has no center (or, if you look at it another way, every point in the universe can be treated as its center, meaning that if you think you're the center of the universe, you're correct).

If the GLCorps protects the galaxy that means each sector has about 27 million stars in it and if, say, one in a million has life on it, that gives them each 27 life-bearing planets to take care of. That seems a little more in keeping with the GL stories I've read. And even that small number still would mean there's about 97,200 planets in New Earth's galaxy that support life!

*Yes, I know that not really true because of the large number of dwarf galaxies, but that only changes things by about 2 orders of magnitude. The point remains valid, even if you divide all the numbers used by 100.