Thursday, August 29, 2019

Does Martian Manhunter #8 herald the return of one of comics' most gloriously stupid villains?!

Yesterday, I read Martian Manhunter #8 and, as a result, I have a theory.

It's rather out on a limb, but I can't shake it.

This odd miniseries---well, it's Martian Manhunter, how could it NOT be odd--has focused mostly on two things in its eight (wow, that's a lot given how little has happened) issues: J'onn's less-than-honorable background on (extremely weird) Mars as a crooked cop and his relationship with his police partner, the visually memorable Diane Meade:

SO memorable, she makes it hard to sleep.

While wending its way through J'onn's backstory, the creators have shown us the Vulture organization and Mr. V:

In Diane's case it should be VO5.

For the unknowing, "Vulture" and "Mr. V" are from Martian Manhunter's secret agent phase back in the late '60s.  

The story also name-drops "Dr. Trap", a villain from J'onn's time as the Bronze Wraith in the Justice Experience (a sliver retconned into his past by the Kate "Manhunter" Spencer series, the one that tried to make create a Mary Sue to serve as the Jack Knight of all DC's manhunter-named properties).

Based on these throwaways (and some other incidents too spoilery too share), the miniseries seems interested in folding in some pretty diverse aspects of Martian Manhunter lore.  Which is why THESE have me thinking:

On the one hand, moths could just be a metaphor for the Martian race; drawn to the flame that destroys them, and all. That would be a rather naturally grab for someone writing about DCU Martians.  

On the other hand....


I certainly hope so, and that his updated version shines with all the glory he deserves. If that happens, DC, there is much I will forgive you for....

Monday, August 26, 2019

Apex Lex is discount Neron

I have been wondering lately why no one but me seems to be rolling eyes at DC's current crossover schtick. I mean the "Doom" one with "Apex Lex" (which slows me down every time I type or read it, because I need to involuntarily eyeroll). Not the one with Leviathan.  Or the one with the Doomsday Clock.  Or the one that I probably don't even know about that probably involves Aquaman, because isn't there ALWAYS some Aquaman-based crossover happening at all times now...?

Doom is the one where they have cobbled together some folderol about Lex dying but getting better and embracing nihilism so that they could find some storyline excuse for the name "Legion of Doom", and being empowered by the latest new Cosmic Entity that is Beyond, Above, and Before all the OTHER previous Cosmic Entities because now we know the real story of the universe / multiverse / omniverse / metaverse / diversiverse / free verse.  Speaking of pretentious entities, all you kids who laugh at Silver Age names like "Starro" and "Despero" and "Amazo" can get off my lawn and read your comics about "Perpetua" and "Apex Lex" somewhere else.

Now-cosmically-empowered Lex is skittering about Earth offering Faustian power upgrades to any and almost all villains like he's the Exchange Counter in a DCUO game; "I'll offer you Spiked Synthium Shoulderguards and a Soder Cola if you agree to continue to be evil, which you are already doing for nothing."  

This ridiculous "Let's Make a Deal" routine is SUCH a clear copy of the demon Neron in the "Underworld Unleashed" storyline that I've been amazed that no one seems to be noticing it. But then I realized : Underworld Unleashed was 23 years ago, so a lot of readers just don't remember it.

In short, the '90s was the era in which DC, as part of its neoPlatinum age, made a statement of rejecting the moral relativism of anti-heroes and turned up the moral contrast between its heroes and villains.  Underworld Unleashed complemented this approach by using a convenient plot device (a magical demon from Hell!) to give power-ups to whatever villains DC wanted to make sexy again.  

That's part of a era-based cycle in comics. Over time the hero gets more powerful or SEEMS to be, because he keeps defeating his Rogue's Gallery again and again.  In short, Batman (or any other hero) always starts out like this:

What's this? The Cape Crusader pwned by the Penny Plunderer?!

and winds up like this:

Darkseid, killed by the man who was pwned by the Penny Plunderer

One of the signals that a continuity cycle is re-initializing is when the hero is de-powered or his villains get powered-up.  "Uh-oh! NOW you must BEWARE the Polka-Dot Man!"

"In exchange for your soul I shall give you...
this baseball bat!"

Villains who rely on gadgets for their abilities are granted "power internalization"; cold guns are replaced by ice powers, heat guns are replaced by pyrokinetics, the Prankster gets nanobots with which to craft props out of thin air.  Never forget that Underworld Unleashed turned Killer Moth into "Charaxes" and tried to sell us that as an improvement.

"What If...."
"...Alan Moore had created Killer Moth?"

"Apex Lex" is doing the same thing now, and, I note, making some of the same offers to the same villains. Somehow even though Carl Sands' original shadow-suit was eerie and powerful and then Neron gave him an upgraded one and now he's getting ANOTHER upgraded shadow-suit from Lex, he STILL comes off as a yutz.

Somehow you know that the Shade would STILL kick his ass, and without scuffing his shoes.

Lex's DoomShopping Network is also skipping some of the same villains previously skipped, such as the Riddler, who gets no offer from Lex (and demands to know why), who refused any offer from Neron, and who, you'll recall, was the only major villain in the "No Man's Land" crossover to do the sensible thing and just leave Gotham City.  The Riddler is immune to power upgrades because what he can do has nothing to do with 'powers'; his only limitation lies in what the WRITERS can do with him.

Lex, like Neron, is giving villains upgrades mostly just so that they can be bigger pains in the ass for heroes and as part of some Bigger Picture where he benefits from The Triumph of Evil.  Despite Lex's OWN upgrade from "Perpetua" (*snort*), his QVC-level offers seem pretty crappy.  Giving Cheetah a mystical artifact of the kind archeologist Barbara Minerva could dig up herself? Giving Black Manta a giant black mecha, which is the kind of thing Black Manta puts together in his garage on the weekends?  Giving Brainiac his 10,000th upgrade? At this point, I'm just hoping for a Steam version of Brainiac, so that the upgrades are automatic upon login.  Silver Age Lex, I remind you, could have outdone all this with some bed spring coils and the warden's busted transistor radio.

Yup; Lex Luthor invented Twitter.

The only difference this time around is that Lex seems to be making offers to heroes as well (Batgirl, Red Hood, Martian Manhunter), but, of course, those come to nothing. Those are mere exercises in showing us how good the good guys are by refusing to make a deal with the worst person they know, who is currently trying to bring about the end of the universe.

The end result of this event is certain: the DCiverse will NOT be destroyed, any classic villains who were powered up will, over time, return to their classic forms, and a few less-than-classic villains will retain their power ups, get a few good licks in against their traditional foe, and either take their place on a higher tier in their respective Rogue's Galleries or it will be collectively, silently decided that they are more useful as background Z-list bad guys, so their power ups will fade away until they finally move to Star City to fight Green Arrow.

I think there are a LOT of villains in Star City who'd love to hear from you, Apex Lex.  Then again, they are fighting Green Arrow... do they really NEED upgrades?