Thursday, May 01, 2008

Things That Terrified Me...

in my comics this week.

It's not that weren't things that "Made Me Happy"; there surely were. The entirety of El Escarabajo Azul and the Super-Friends versus the dinosaurs, for example.

But my primary reaction this week was terror. Sheer, delicious terror!

  • The villain in Action comics, revealed. Shudder. Not many villains really scare me; that's one of them.
  • The Black Glove and the Black Hand.
  • The bodies of Triplicate Girl and Karate Kid-- nothing more than clues.
  • Starboy, who's seeming less like comedy relief than scary-crazy.
  • The Joker's attempts to communicate with Batman.
  • The Anti-Amazons, and the force behind them.
  • Seeing Hal Jordan get his ring (really, what could be more terrifying than that?)
  • The "hand" imagery that permeates DCU #0, just like the Hand of Creation the Krona should never have seen.
  • "I never paid attention to his powers." God, Hal Jordan terrifies me.
  • The skies grow red.
  • The return of the unreturnable.
  • Mike. Ye gods, it really is Mike, after all these years... .
  • The real, honest-to-Infantino skyline of Central City, in all its horrifying bizarre glory.

The rainbow corps, the death of Karate Kid, Batman RIP, the Three Legions, the Human Flame, and more... it really is part of one big story.

And it terrifies me.


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....