Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Martian Manhunter (for those who have ever been laid)

So, the latest thing we must all (apparently) weigh in on is David S. Goyer's recent convention comments about the Martian Manhunter:

“How many people in the audience have heard of Martian Manhunter?”
Following some applause from the audience, Goyer joked, “How many people that raised their hands have ever been laid?”
“Well, he can’t be f****** called ‘The Martian Manhunter’ because that’s goofy. He could be called “Manhunter.” … The whole deal with Martian Manhunter is he’s an alien living amongst us, that’s the deal. He came out in the ‘50s, and he had basically all the powers of Superman, except he didn’t like fire, and he could read your mind. So here’s the best part: So he comes down to Earth and decides, unlike Superman who already exists in the world now, that he’s just going to be a homicide detective, and pretend to be a human homicide guy. … So instead of using superpowers and mind-reading and like, ‘Oh, I could figure out if the President’s lying or whatever,’ he just decides to disguise himself as a human homicide detective. Dare to dream.
“I would set it up like The Day After Tomorrow. We discover one of those Earth-like planets… So maybe like… we get the DNA code from that planet and then grow him in a petri dish here… He’s like in Area 51 or something and we’re just basically… doing biopsies on him.”

First, we address the attempt to dismiss the Martian Manhunter and belittle those who might consider him significant or even relevant. Goyer is clearly being inappropriate, irrelevant, and rude.  But he's also being foolish. The fact that there are people who care about such things as Martian Manhunter is what keeps people like Goyer employed (let alone famous enough to stand there and deride them for it).  Goyer starts with an ad hominem attack on anyone who, by definition, would able to contradict what he's about to say.  That's a very strong tip-off that he doesn't feel his position is sound (or that he's just generally insecure and cannot bear any debate).

Goyer is well within his right to point out that there are conceptual problems with the Martian Manhunter as a character.  I myself have made a case that those problems are fatal flaws, and that DC should eliminate and abandon the Martian Manhunter.  But most of the objections he raises can be countered.

For example: yes, we know now that there is no life on Mars.  But J'onn's not from OUR Mars; he's from the DCU's Mars.  We know that the Nazis didn't have any giant red robots or a warwheel, and yet I've certainly seen those in comics.  We also don't have in our world: vampires, ghosts, Kryptonians, Atlantis, talking chimps and gorillas, magic lanterns, speed force, Amazons, or people who wouldn't realize that Ollie Queen is Green Arrow.  Yet, there they are in the DCU.

"The whole deal with Martian Manhunter is he's an alien living amongst us, that’s the deal."  Okay. Fair enough.

And damned smug about it, I might add.

"He came out in the ‘50s, and he had basically all the powers of Superman, except he didn’t like fire, and he could read your mind. "  No, not quite.  Mr. Goyer sounds like someone who is confusing the backstory that the Martian Manhunter has been given in subsequent iterations with his ACTUAL introduction into comics.  As any reader of the blog of fan of Apex City, America's Most Flammable Vacation Spot, already knows, when introduced the Martian Manhunter did NOT have 'basically all the powers of Superman; he also could NOT read your mind.  That was, in fact, one of the few things he could NOT do.  Was he stronger and tougher than humans? Yes.  But he was written mostly as having power Superman DIDN"T have.  He could change shape (grow giant, shrink tiny, and alter appearance).  He could become invisible.  He could become intangible.  He could manipulate matter mentally with great effort.  He didn't run superfast, but he could spin superfast.   He didn't have freeze breath, he had hurricane breath.  He was like Grant Morrison's Brotherhood of Dada character, The Quiz; he had every power you hadn't thought of yet.
At least buy them dinner first, J'onn!

What Goyer is actually criticizing is the oversimplication of the Martian Manhunter that came when he was no longer been written as a main character in his own storylines but merely as a me-too in Justice League and elsewhere.  And he is right to do so.  With J'onn as powerful as he is written now and with the power set he now has, it seems pretty feeble that he did nothing more than hide out as a police detective.  In his original stories, it made sense: he wasn't trying to be a superhero, he was trying to get home to Mars, but was trapped. So he chose a life doing something he had the abilities for; crimefighting, alongside normal crimefighting authorities.

Goyer is right that current J'onn with his traditional backstory...doesn't ring very true.  His personal solution to that problem is, well, a bit odd, in that it would make J'onn a passive figure, a Frankenstein's Creation; more like Superboy.  But the only thing that's really needed to fix J'onn's origin is to make him less powerful.  Reduce his power set and levels, make his abilities most a function of his mind, limiting how much energy he has to use powers, not letting him do more than one thing at a time, like a modern day Ultra-Boy.  Suddenly, creating an identity as a detective seems sensible again, particularly since he has no home to go back to.  And...why WOULD he become a superhero, since no one else was doing it?  Only after Superman showed what good could be done by 'coming out' as an alien superhero would it make sense for J'onn to do so.

Goyer's criticisms of the Martian Manhunter are poorly put, to be sure.  But rather than focus on correcting Goyer's failings, let's focus on correcting J'onn's.  Because frankly, I don't care at all about David S. Goyer, but I do care about the Martian Manhunter.

P.S. Even though I have, in fact, ever been laid.


CobraMisfit said...

"Apex City, America's Most Flammable Vacation Spot"

Quote Booked.

But, yes, it seems odd that Goyer would take a shot at his own customer base. That said, the reboot is still relatively fresh, to retconning J'onn for more "reasonable" powers should be fairly easy.

But yeah, I'd love a MM series with him simply being the most normal thing in Apex City.

SallyP said...

Then there are the comments that he made about She-Hulk. He doesn't really seem to care all that much for the Super Hero genre...does he?

Scipio said...

Perhaps he has/had aspiration toward 'higher writing' and thus has become a self-hating comic book writer, resenting what he does for a living. This happens.

CobraMisfit said...

Good point about the She-Hulk comments, Sally. That was out of left field.

Maybe he has a crude sense of humor (which would explain a lot), but still...snark at the expense of fans and characters stings those of us who kinda' like the characters in comics. And the folks who read read them.

Oh, and Scip, it'd be a real shame if he's become a self-loathing professional. Especially when there are so many out there who had a passion for comics.

Then again, as was pointed out in one artivle, he might just REALLY hate the color green....

CobraMisfit said...

Well, hell.

Too many typos for one day....

*slinks away in shame*

Diabolu Frank said...

Two corrections, and then I can mostly stand behind you.

1) Middletown.

2) Literally the very first thing J'onn J'onzz does upon arriving on Earth is read Professor Erdel's mind. That's probably why the power came back after being absent for the entirety of Jack Miller's run-- '70s reprints of the origin story.

Nathan Hall said...

Hi Diabolu - apparently you didn't know where you were, or you wouldn't have said the "M" word here.

Anonymous said...

"But the only thing that's really needed to fix J'onn's origin is to make him less powerful. Reduce his power set and levels, make his abilities most a function of his mind, limiting how much energy he has to use powers, not letting him do more than one thing at a time, like a modern day Ultra-Boy."

Bingo. My personal thought is, make him mostly a shape-shifter who's somewhat more powerful than normal humans, frame him as more of an undercover detective with superheroic leanings than the other way 'round, and you've got someone who is a good fit for Green Arrow, Aquaman, and the other B-Listers who have roots but can't compete with the Justice League.

Here's what I've got so far: Aquaman as the powerhouse, Martian Manhunter as the sneaky guy / chessmaster, Green Arrow as the bag of tricks, Black Canary as the ass-kicker; I'm not sure whom they would fight month after month, but maybe Suicide Squad fans would have some ideas.

Diabolu Frank said...

Nathan, I stumbled upon a second story in Showcase with a non-Hugo reference to Mmm-mmm-town a few weeks back, but that's a whole other thing than Goyer's nerd-shaming.

I keep being reminded that Smallville did a great job with John Jones, and if Smallville can do it, anyone can. Every word in "alien homicide detective" is awesome. You can even play with it by investigating homicides committed by or against aliens, and you're just adding peanut butter to chocolate. John Jones in the Silver Age was basically Kyle MacLachlan as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, and John Jones in the Iron Age was basically Kyle MacLachlan as FBI Special Agent Lloyd Gallagher. How can anyone deny the manifestly sublime?

Scipio said...

Unfortunately, Frank, DC writers seems addicted to portraying MM as an uberpowerful one-man Justice League.

Which, of course, makes him impossible to use.

Even the Justice League cartoons, which generally did a good job with him, had to start inventing reasons for keeping him out of the fight. Usually, leaving him at the satellite 'to coordinate' because he is, um, 'the League's tactician'.

Murray said...

I haven't a sniff of an idea who "David Goyer" might be, and based on this example of his mental might and humour, I'm not even curious enough to Google him.

On to important matters: I can do little but chime in on the tone of reducing MM to "only the stuff Superman cannot do". Telepathy, shapeshifting and shapeshifting with spectacular camouflage instead of actual invisibility. That's about it. The power set of a "man hunter", instead of a "day saver".

Scipio said...

Well put, Murray.

Unknown said...

What Goyer Oh-Boyer might have been trying to say, in his own vulgar and unappreciative-of-his-own-customers way, is that the name "Martian Manhunter" sounds goofy.

So stipulated. But really, what super-hero name doesn't, in a cold reading? Superman. Spider-Man. Wonder Woman. Captain Marvel. The Flash. I can go on and on.

Sure, the name and concept of the Martian Manhunter may be hopelessly outdated, relics of an era when UFOs and "little green men" were everywhere. The name and concept of "Captain America" are hopelessly outdated relics of a time when our country was fighting a World War and just about everyone was behind it, doing their part in one way or another.