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.


Anonymous said...

I think I like Harvey's argument better....err, yesterday's that is. The idea of an albatross to writers of JLA simply speaks to me as the wrong writer on the project - or a lazy one. As with any other b-lister, there is someone out there with the appropriate way to take Mr. Jones story.

And, by the way, J'onn DOES have a costume:
(beats this frightening piece of Justice League cosplay -

Derek said...

I believe in Harvey Dent.

Anonymous said...

Unlike the true icons of the DCU, Mr. Jones has no Golden Age pedigree.

Objection, your honor. No, don't shoot me in the leg; hear me out.

Mr. Dent states that the Martian Manhunter has no Golden-Age pedigree; I would submit that this is an erroneous statement. While it is true that the Martian Manhunter was not created in the Golden-Age and continually published throughout the dark ages of the 1950s, like the four heroes who eventually became the Super Friends; and it is also true that he did not appropriate the name and abilities of a Golden-Age icon, like the Flash and Green Lantern; Mr. Jones has a clear inspiration among the heroes of that shining era.

Consider the Martian Manhunter. A super-human, one might even say para-normal, being from another realm far removed from our own. Possessed of a fantastic array of abilities, too numerous to catalog, sometimes inconsistently defined. Come down to Earth to walk among mortal men and protect them from threats that they cannot protect themselves from. Hiding his true nature in the guise of a mortal man, a detective with a metropolitan police force. He becomes a founding member of the first and greatest super-hero team of his era, but eventually leaves them.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the Martian Manhunter is the Silver-Age extension of the Spectre.

ASK said...

Excellent work. I really enjoyed this.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. Poor J'onn. I loved him (as a Verdophile from way back), and he'll soon be burnt to a crisp.

Waahhhh! :(

Anonymous said...

It's pretty harsh for anyone's right to exist to come into question and, for all the joy his exploits have brought me over the years, I owe it to my favorite Martian to use my lawyer skills in his defense-

If the argument is that- "Well, he's from Mars and we know there isn't intelligent life or civilizations there." I say, so what? Should Aquaman be erased for lack of real world evidence pointing to an Atlantis? The idea that there are or ever were Martians is more plausible than time-travelling teens or Gorilla cities. In fact, it's a very comforting notion for humanity that we may have had neighbors just one planet away.

And as for the argument that the Manhunter's powers are too varied and ill-defined, allow me to point a finger at Superman, whose bizarre assortment of abilities never led to calls for his execution.

Harvey may be of two minds about this matter, but I certainly am not. Remember when J'onn yelled at L-Ron to stop chasing the ducks in the pond outside his cabin? Warms my heart every time.

-Citizen Scribbler

Anonymous said...

Save the Martian Manhunter? Or kill him? The arguments presented yesterday and today seem equally compelling to me.

Maybe someone should just flip a coin?

Scipio said...

"Should Aquaman be erased for lack of real world evidence pointing to an Atlantis? "

Nice point.

"Remember when J'onn yelled at L-Ron to stop chasing the ducks in the pond outside his cabin? Warms my heart every time."

I do. Me, too.

Anonymous said...

Harvey's argument was certainly the more compelling of the two! That the real Mars may (or may not; have you drilled beneath the ice caps to make sure?) be void of intelligent life has no meaning in the DCU. I'm pretty sure that in the real world Earth doesn't have two New York City stand-ins in addition to the real one, nor does it sport the nations of Bialya, Markovia or Kooey Kooey Kooey. And wasn't Pluto destroyed in the DCU? Ours may not still be a planet, but last I heard it had not been converted into a Warworld.

Is a weakness to fire any more absurd than a weakness to WOOD? And I recall John Stewart being nailed by a bowl of (yellow) pineapple chunks in an episode of JLU, and no one's setting him ablaze.

Timothy Burke said...

It's curious. I started reading JLA around #137 of the original title, Dick Dillin and Gerry Conway, as a wee lad. Every once in a while the Martian Manhunter would pop up and I loved the mysteriousness of the character--a guy that all the other heroes treated as being Very Important and a Big Buddy but who was also off in limbo-land most of the time. Like a regular migrant from the character Limbo that Grant Morrison wrote into Animal Man.

More than anything else, he made me feel like I was reading about a universe of stories that had begun before I had started reading and that would continue after I stopped. I really think this is what we don't appreciate about "continuity": the characters who are not in constant use but who are treated as important throughout define the beauty of continuity as much as the characters who have six titles and tons of constant exposure.

Marcos said...

So, Scip, did nothing in your comics make you happy last week or this week?

Jacob T. Levy said...

I like totaltoyz' mapping of J'onn onto the Spectre-- and it does a nice job of explaining why Ostrander & Mandrake moved from one to the other. Their MM series wasn't quite the artistic and intellectual success that their Spectre series was, but that's a high bar. Their MM series was plenty to convince me that MM is eminently writable, and doesn't need to be wiped out...

Diabolu Frank said...

After I read the defense's argument, I assumed the prosecution would be forthcoming, but began writing his closing in my mind, just in case. Funny how it's easier to destroy the things you love than praise them, as the latter as often indefinable, while the former is all too apparent with familiarity. I might have to add to both arguments when I inevitably link here.

I did have some technical clarifications to make...

"In fact, with the addition of telepathy and flight to his power set"

Both telepathy and a form of levitation were evident from J'onn's first appearance. In fact, the very first thing the Martian did upon arriving on Earth was to read Erdel's mind. Both are essential elements of the character as represented for most of his existence. That said, he's dead because that representation failed to safeguard him.

"As bad as that is, Mr. Jones is rendered even more unusable by his history of mental instability. The Bloodwynd Incident;"

I really must consider jumping my timeline to cover that period, as it is constantly misunderstood and poorly represented, including here. Bloodwynd is a seperate entity from the Martian Manhunter who briefly took possession of J'Onzz's body. Or rather, Rott did. Fuck. I need to cover this soon.

"Maalefik in his Mind;"

I understand something along those likes occured in a non-cannonical JLA: Classified story arc, and move that it be withdrawn from evidence.

"the Kingdom Come Collapse."

See previous request to suppress, on grounds that this was an alternate future.

Marcos said...

I agree with Mr. Burke. I started reading JLA in the 70's and MM was off in space somewhere or something. They would occasionally wax nostalgic about him while admiring his statue, but never went into any details. So I held him in a sort of awe just as they did.
I was surprised when I came back from comic hiatus in the 80's to find him casually chomping on Oreos with the JL as if he'd never left. (Yes, I know a few things happened in between...)

Anonymous said...

Are we so sure Kingdom Come is an "alternate future"? Since it was published it seems DC has bent over backwards to bring the current continuity into line with it; from bringing Oliver Queen and Mark Mardon back from the dead, to bringing Thom Kallor to the present day, to turning Nuklon into Atom-Smasher, to introducing a new furry Wildcat, etc. In a recent JSA issue I read (thanks, Scipio) everyone was talking as though KC Superman came from another Earth; but I suspect they were just afraid to face the fact that he may possibly come from their own future.

Anonymous said...

there are martian manhunter underpants, my kids have them

Anonymous said...

I think Martian Manhunter needs to die so that he can be reborn as J'onn J'onnzz, Hero of Apex City! (Seriously, Scipio, send DC a pitch letter!)

I think the character needs a well thought-out fresh start (as opposed to the haphazard "let's give him a costume, bad attitude, and Skrull chin for no particular reason" stuff.) Too many barnacles from previous versions attached to the poor fellow now.

SallyP said...

This is a as well-reasoned as the "pro" argument. However, I must disagree with the conclusion.

J'onn J'onnz managed not only the DETROIT incarnation of the Justice League, BUT he survived and ended up managing the Giffen/DeMatteis incarnation. The man has survived not only a cranky Batman, a brain-dead Guy Gardner and the machinations of Max Lord, but he also managed to deal with Fire's tantrums, and the insane shenanigans of Beetle and Booster. We should be giving him a medal for heaven's sake! And he did it all, powered by nothing more than the strenght of his mind and character and occasional boxes of Oreos.

Besides, if they kill him off, it would make me cry.

Anonymous said...

My 4-year-old went as Martian Manhunter for Halloween. His grandma made him a kick-ass homemade costume, complete with buccaneer boots and a high-collar cape with gold fasteners with a chain. We painted him green. His pre-school class, full of Batmen, Transformers, and pirates, thought he had the coolest costume, even if most of them had never heard of him.

Sorry, I don't care what Dent says, Martian Manhunter has to stick around. Preferably changed back into his own costume, in the Justice League, and written by someone who understands him. Gail Simone has recently expressed interest in him... I say let her have him for awhile.

Anonymous said...

Everyone's acting as though J'onn dying is a foregone conclusion, but it seems a bit obvious, this whole Libra-Human Flame-MM plotline. Even people who don't like Grant Morrison as a writer would probably admit he's usually a bit cleverer (or "grandoise" or "showy" to taste) than to just redo "Underworld Unleashed" ten years after.

I've a sneaking suspicion that what we've seen of Final Crisis is superficial misdirection, and that even if he does "die" it won't be the end of J'onn (and not just in a "nobody stays dead in comics" way). I sense a plan in the works, though since DC and Marvel both tend to draw up these elaborate rolling events (I've begun to think of them as "campaigns") years in advance, it may unfortunately take some time to pay off.

Anonymous said...

"I think Martian Manhunter needs to die so that he can be reborn as J'onn J'onnzz, Hero of Apex City!"

I'd also settle for Blaine, Missouri. Tell me you wouldn't pay top dollar to see JJ on stage singing:

Nothing ever happens on Mars
No sports or entertainment, or swinging bars
You stand around, you stand some more
On a planet named for a Roman god of war

Nothing ever happens on Mars
No supersonic airplanes, no sporty cars
The sun comes up, the sun goes down
You can't go to the country, you can't go to town


As for fixing J'onn, maybe they should do a Snowbird with him: his powers are at full strength on Mars, but when he's away from there, they're much weaker. We've already seen that his powers go peculiar if he's got too much earth-matter in him, so that could be leveraged.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of J'Onny's vast array of inconsistently-described powers, I was reading the Superman vs. The Flash TPB with my son, and came across one I don't recall seeing or hearing about before: elemental transmutation.

In The Flash #175, J'Onn J'Onzz uses "Martian science" to change a chunk of gold kryptonite into lead. (In this same issue, when he used his shape-shifting power to change into Superman, he gained all of Superman's powers and weaknesses, too; Superman's form allowed him to walk through a cage of flame, but the gold K took him out.)

Shamus said...

Every one of the reasons you give to 'euthanize' MM are the same reasons he is a cool character. He is not locked down like the big three. There is room to write some great stories with him. There are no bad characters only bad writers.

Griffin said...

The writer is totally fair, and there's no doubt.
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