Sunday, July 09, 2006

Not so brave, not so new

So, I have been testing out the waters of new comics again, and in that effort bought and read Brave New World, the showcase for several new series (and, I guess, some new underlying themes in the DCU continuity). Working from the back of the book forward, here are come responses:

The big reveal: I was the opposite of thrilled. I thought this was a slapdash character from the start and have zero interest in any more variations on this theme. Nice range of facial hair styles, though. Bonus: the final word balloon only made me think of this - anybody else out there remember it?

Shazam: The most visually interesting, this story also had a nice brisk pace and flow. I don't think I am interested enough in the characters to care to follow it.

The All-New Atom: I was predisposed to like this: Atom is one of my A-list characters and like Gail Simone, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was re-reading the Ant-Man's fantastic voyage inside the Vision in that Avengers comic from, what, 1969? The sensibilities seemed the same and the action too similar. Beyond that, there wasn't any new emotional core to make me care about anyone in the story.

The Creeper: Justiniano's pencils just didn't do it for me, and while the story contained many of the elements that I like about Jack Ryder (why is he a lefty now?), the last-panel set-up seemed silver-age silly.

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters: Let me get this out of the way: the way Phantom Lady is presented makes her look flipping stupid, particularly in the context of how the other Freedom Fighters have been revisualized. The super-heroes-as-government-team theme has never pushed my buttons, and this tease didn't change that. Great last panel, though.

OMAC: Y'know, I only ever read two issues of IC, and if I never saw another one of those robots again, it would be too soon. I can't imagine how y'all can stand it.

Martian Manhunter: J'onn has always been my number-one man in the DCU, and this story held my highest hopes.

I try not to reify characters or over-emphasize "the purity of the concept" or anything like that, and the Martian Manhunter has had more than his share of changes. After all, J'onn started as more of a science-fictional detective than a super-hero, back when he was "The Manhunter from Mars."

His own strip moved him from that position to more traditional superheroing in a clear break with his origins.

(He even took a detour into man from U.N.C.L.E. territory in a long series in which he adopted the identity of Marco Xavier to infiltrate an international gang.)

All along, however, he was growing as a character in the Justice League, and I personally loved seeing him alongside Superman. Even when I couldn't articulate it well, I could sense that there was a variation on a theme to be found in comparing the two: they were both immigrants, but Superman looked like a member the dominant culture of the country; Manhunter didn't. There was something going on there about assimilation versus multiculturalism, although I didn't consciously think about it all that much. I just liked that there was an alternate to Big Blue - a bald, green tough guy with a really lame weakness.

As time went on, J'onn got the bejeezus ret-conned out of him, with his Martian history getting altered and his finding his space-gumby "true form." In the main continuity, the road was bumpy and sometimes silly, but through it all, J'onn developed into what seemed to be his most successful and enduring role: the heart of the league, the wise mentor, the father-figure, the counselor. This seemed an appropriate and useful position for him to occupy, one that honored his long history in the DCU and at the same time recognized his generally secondary place in the pantheon.

Some of these changes were particularly well in non-continuity stories. Jones & Barretos American Secrets did a great job of pulling together various threads of J'onn's mythos, and Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier was a wonderful re-imagining of the character's roots.

After all these sometimes wrenching changes, which have barely been reconciled, I can't imagine why anyone would want to add more. And if some sort of change were editorially mandated, why couldn't it have been a natural growth or evolution of the character, or failing that, even just a new deal slipped in with the rest of the punched-by-Superboy reality shifts? Why did it have to be the lame everything-I-have-ever-known-is-a-lie schtick? How many new histories can there be? Can the reader (or even J'onn) remember the details of what now is supposed to have been not the case anyway?

Maybe that's what bugs me: not that the character is changing (again) but that he is changing in a way that seems unimaginative and unfruitful. After all, isn't this New Earth stuff supposed to be getting away from the overdone grim 'n' gritty? Doesn't this hardcore, take-no-guff avenger routine seem a little old to anyone else?

I guess you can figure out that this new Martian Manhunter doesn't grab me. There's plenty of the old Manhunter from Mars to keep me happy; this new version can go on without me.


Marionette said...

Where's the Martian Girlhunter from?

Walaka said...

That's from the Justice League Task Force "Valley of the Daals" story; Dave Campbell covered it here.

The Fortress Keeper said...

You mean you don't like his new look - The Angry Asparagus Man?

I'm shocked.

I still wish somebody would follow up on the concepts devised by Grant Morrison - champion of Third World countries, multiple identities, etc. etc.

Heck, I'd even go for the married J'onn we got at the end of JLU.

Walaka said...

Y'know, Keep, the only reason I didn't use the Angry Asparagus Man line is that I was envious that you had come up with it instead of me! It does sum the new concept up perfectly.

Now maybe we can get Blockade Boy onto the new costume (once we get a good look at it, anyway).