Friday, July 15, 2011

Sam Simeon, Vampire Hunter

It is dark days in Gorilla City. Though the Great Usurper Grodd has been thwarted and banished from the city, his shadow of domination still looms large. When Grodd wrested control of that fabled lost city of super-intelligent apes from its rightful King Solovar, he did so through fear, intimidation, and mental domination. It's still unknown how deeply Grodd's mental tinkerings went - some post-hypnotic suggestions go deep and even the best and brightest of Gorilla City's Thought Police can't dig them all out.

Those who were closest to the Court of the Usurper, whether by choice or not, are now pariahs. Those that sided willingly have avoided Grodd's fate of exile, but are condemned to wear the crimson collars of submission, reduced to the lowest rungs of society. Even those who were dominated into assisting Grodd have felt their fortunes falter. Such a gorilla cannot be trusted in any position of power or authority because who knows if or when something will trigger a dormant command.

Such is the fate of Esamuel, son of Nnamdi, grandson of Solovar. Before the Usurper, Esamuel was a rising star of Gorilla City's police force. Though the son of royalty and, in theory, a possible heir to the throne, Esamuel proved his worth stopping the illegal export of gorilla technology to the world beyond the Obfuscation Field. Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished, so when Grodd took the throne he used his potent mental control abilities to twist Esamuel into becoming his Chief of Police. Though he has willingly submitted to multiple mind scans, Esamuel's career as a policegorilla is over. His mind is tainted by Grodd's past presence, he can't be trusted, no matter who his grandfather is.

Disgraced but unbowed, Esamuel set up shop as a private detective in Gorilla City. Grodd helped reveal the cracks in gorilla society and now crime is on the rise. Publicly, the restored Solovar administration will not admit it, but they need help. So Esamuel tackles those cases too dicey, to politically sensitive for the fragile government to take on. Weird stuff, because Grodd dealt in the weird.

It is on one of these cases that Esamuel discovers Grodd's last curse upon Gorilla City. Knowing he would be exiled and forever denied access to his homeland, Grodd committed an unspeakable act: he allowed contagion to seep into the city, the contagion known as vampirism. As it turns out, Gorilla City is the perfect haven for vampires - the Obfuscation Field blocks that element of the sun's light that is harmful to vampires. Sudden changes of behavior can be written off as after effects of Grodd's post-hypnotic suggestions. And those that go missing? Well, Grodd had many loyal followers, perhaps they're finding ways to rejoin their lord in exile?

Esamuel knows the truth of the matter, but the government will not listen. Admitting to another internal threat so soon after the Usurper would be the end of the city. Besides, how can they trust the word of Grodd's Chief of Police? No matter how many times Esamuel proves his mental fortitude, that doubt will always remain.

So it is up to Esamuel to fight a one gorilla war against the creatures of the night in Sam Simeon, Vampire Hunter (#39/54 - Half way there! Edit: So excited, I never added it to the title list!). Somewhere hidden in Gorilla City is the Master Vampire, but who is it? Though gorilla technology and mental powers are advanced, they have yet to find a reliable way to root them out. Even the Auspex herself, the chief mentalist of the city, cannot identify a vampire by peering into its mind. The disciplines taught to gorillas at a young age, those skills that give them strict control over their own mental powers, work just as well when it comes to keeping one's vampiric nature in check. Combine that with the increased strength, resilience, and other abilities of a vampire, and you have a formidable opponent.

The truths Esamuel discovers about how deep the vampiric infection goes will shake Gorilla City to its core. Plus, can you imagine a host of gorilla vampires? I sure can. That's going to be awesome. And we haven't even got to the gorwolves yet.

Esamuel's adventure will eventually lead him from Gorilla City and out into the wider world. Seeking atonement for his actions committed while under Grodd's control, Sam (as his partner/sidekick ex-Cape Town police woman Awa Eto'o call him) will travel the world hunting the creatures of the night.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Poor Metallo. Has ever so much work gone into a character whose fundamental role is to be threatening enough to slow the hero down a bit right before getting uppercutted into the Atlantic? There's not a lot of gradation when it comes to Superman's foes. You go from godlike beings and criminal masterminds straight down to Names Thug #2 pretty quickly. Sure, those nameless thugs tend to get armed with sonic cannons or whatever, but they are really just the Dorritos of the comicbook universe.

Metallo is the exception to that - he's usually presented as a thug or heavy, someone who can be a viable threat to Superman but lacks the intellect and drive to really be the Top Boss. "I'm sure you're acquainted with my associate, Superman," says Morgan Edge as he presses a button on his desk. A panel slides open, and Metallo sighs and steps out, knowing he has a good 15 minutes of winning before Supes wraps him up like a lead-lined burrito.

Poor guy! What must really sting is that Metallo is uniquely equipped to kill Superman. His heart is made out of kryptonite, after all. And though I question the wisdom of tying your main power source and your primary offensive anti-Superman weapon together, he really should be able to give better than he gets. Part of the reason for this, as the producers of Superman: The Animated Series is that if Metallo ever actually punches his weight, Superman dies and the comic sort of ends.

So our Metallo is the John Corben version. He's a robot/cyborg made from an advanced metal alloy called metal-0 who is powered by a kryptonite heart. He can use other sources of power (radium, uranium, etc) but they don't last as long or provide the zoom that the glowing green rock does. He's strong/tough and so long as his "brain" stays together, functionally immortal. We're skipping the nanite version because Terminator 2 was like 20 years ago and oh god i'm so old

Ahem. Corben is actually the second Metallo to menace Superman. The first version, a thug named George Grant, was the guy who was rebuilt after being discovered dying by Dr. Vale. This Metallo was a hulking thing, nine feet tall with piston-like fists. He didn't run on kryptonite, just conventional radioactive materials. He faced off against Supes many times in Big Blue's early career (so we'll see him in the short form Action Comics title), but was eventually put down. Not by Superman, but by his own gang.

See, George Grant was a bit of a jerk when human and being rebuilt as a 9 foot tall wrecking machine didn't help matters. While early on in his robotic pummeling career George was a great asset to the gang (which would later develop into Intergang once Morgan Edge took over with his even fancier weaponry), it wasn't long until he became a bit of a loose cannon. Where does the 700 pound robotic gangster sit? Anywhere he wants. Something had to be done, and John Corben was the man to do it.

It was Corben who set up the deal with some shadowy representatives of LexCorp. We'll give you the now 'out of the picture' Dr. Vale's "prototype" to study and reverse engineer. In exchange, you make me the next version. Corben didn't mention his terminal cancer as that would weaken his bargaining position. In the end, Lex agreed on the condition that the gang perform a few 'favors' for him and make sure some competitors come to an accidental end or two (thus Rex Morgan falls down the well). Corben gets a new robot body, Lex gets some new tech to play with (parts of which end up informing Cyborg later on), and better yet, if Corben causes half the damage George Grant did, there may be a market for LexCorp-produced robotic soldiers in the future.

So Grant is betrayed and deactivated. He currently sits, alive and aware but unable to move, in the basement of a LexCorp facility, his sanity trickling away.

Lex even sweetens the deal with the addition of the kryptonite heart. Thing is, kryptonite isn't cheap, so if Corben wants to continue to have access to the stuff, he'll need to perform a few more 'good deeds' for Luthor. The way that the heart is set up is that it consumes small amounts of kryptonite, so if you just have a little bit, it'll go away over time. A larger chunk of rock (in honor of The Flophouse's recurring villain, we'll say 7 pounds worth) will have a more stable field and won't decay over the course of normal operation.

Much of Corben's early career as Metallo is doing the work of Lex Luthor. However, after pretty much stumbling into his own hefty supply of kryptonite, he abandons working for Lex and goes into business for himself. This pisses Lex off, of course, and he points out that he took apart the old Metallo to make a new one, what's to stop him from dismantling Corben too for the sake of progress?

This actually is the threat that starts to drive Corben a bit batty. What Lex said is true: what happens if he becomes obsolete? Even his old gang is starting to tote around weird weapons. How long can Metallo stay on the cutting edge?

Our Metallo is therefore obsessed with self-improvement. He takes work to fund his own upgrades, slowly working on building the New Him. He doesn't hate Superman so much as recognize that Superman in his job security. So long as he's flying about, criminals will need guys like Metallo to step in. If Metallo kills Superman, his work dries up. And he needs to work to get the money and tech he needs because deep in Metallo's lair, the half-dead brain of Dr. Vale is humming away in a stolen braincase, insane and dreaming up the next iteration of Metallo. Corben keeps a tight leash on his pet brain, lest it develop an idea designed to supplant him, not supplement him.

What new iterations will Metallo see? Adaptability is key, so Corben should get some neat upgrades out of the brain before Superman rescues it. Of course, allowing the brain of Dr. Vale to build its own body will be a mistake that Superman will quickly come to regret.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why Is Earth So Special?

Today, let's talk about some of the fundamentals of the Drewniverse. One thing I feel that's never really adequately explained in the DC setting is "Why Is Earth So Special?" I mean, yes, most of the stories happen on Earth starring Earthlings because that's where and for whom the comics are actually written, but in universe there's very little curiosity as to why the heck there are so many superpowered beings from this world and others running around.

I mean, in Marvel you have the idea of the Celestials, godlike beings who are responsible for the sheer number of mutants running around due to their past genetic manipulation. (It's probably no surprise, but I was one of the five people who read Earth X all the way through to its finale in Paradise X.) So whenever a seemingly normal human developed some weird technology, you could just say, "err, yeah, they were a mutant or something" and just get on with it. In DC? Not so much.

Do we really need a reason why the focus of the universe is on Earth? For the casual reader, I don't think we do. They don't care so long as Batman punches the Joker and that's totally fine. The stereotypical casual reader would be put off by long metaphysical text dumps about the vastness of space and some ancient godling who blah blah blah. You know, I'm "kind of a comics nerd" and I don't want to read that stuff either. I enjoy the concepts, sure, but really want to be shown, not told.

On the other hand, it is setting stuff like this that rewards the long term reader and hopefully keeps them coming back for more. Think about Lost where viewers were falling over themselves because they felt there was some sort of bigger logic they didn't see lurking beneath the surface. This is the sort of stuff that provides fodder for long-form watercooler talk. I think it is in the best interests of the genre to encourage readers to wonder, "Hey, so Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing both have plant powers, what happens if they cross paths?"

Furthermore, it's just cleaner to have all this stuff set up behind the curtain in advance of rolling out a new universe. One of the reasons comic continuities, and DC especially, need so many reboots is that originally the characters were not supposed to be hanging out together. Superman lived in his own world where Metropolis took the place of New York City, Batman lived in his own where Gotham was there instead. Once characters began to crossover into other titles, you ended up with disparate worldviews that needed to be resolved. So you end up Metropolis, New York City, AND Gotham all crammed into the same general area. Which is fine, provided you don't think about it too hard, but given that people who think about your comics buy your comics, you probably want to put some work into the foundations of your setting.

So with that in mind, let's get back to our question, "Why Is Earth So Special?" Why do intergalactic badasses like Brainiac or Darkseid even care about Earth? I mean, even if their most hated enemy Superman is hanging out there, surely there's the rest of the universe where he's not. Go conquer that and worry about Supes later. But no, like a crusader slouching towards Jerusalem, the baddies time and again keep coming back to Earth. Where did the Rannians first aim the Zeta Beam? Earth. Abin Sur crashed on? Earth. Jor-El aimed his kid at? Earth. Earth. Earth.

Clearly, there's something about our blue marble, something that is lacking on other worlds. What? Well, two things to start:

The Red and The Green.

In the DC Universe, The Green is a concept developed by Alan Moore for Swamp-Thing. It's a sort of connection that exists between all plants on Earth. The Red is a similar thing, except for animals. Both consist of fields that surround the planet that certain people/beings can tap in to, whether intentionally or by accident, as a source of their powers. Swamp Thing, Poison Ivy, and so on for the plant-based Green and Animal Man and Vixen for the animal-centric Red, just to name a few.

In the Drewniverse, Earth is unique for not only having a well developed Red and Green, but for having both together being well developed. Think about the alien landscapes presented in most comics. Sure, you have weird flora and fauna, but there's not a whole lot of variety to them. If there is a purple tree with pink flowers on Planet X, then all the trees on Planet X are purple and pink. All small lizards look alike on Planet Y. This is largely because artists are not insane and don't have the time or wherewithal to make a fully functioning ecosystem. Meanwhile, in panels depicting a park in Metropolis, it's easy to pick out several types of trees and birds.

It is the variety of species of plants and animals on Earth that have allowed the Green and Red to evolve to levels not normally seen anywhere else in the universe. The Green, being significantly older than the Red, has even evolved to the point of a sort of demi-sentience. The Red's development is accelerating as well, especially since the rise of man, Earth's most devious animal. There is a sort of Cold War conflict between the Green and Red and this rivalry spurs on new developments. On other worlds, it's common for a comparatively few number of species to fight it out and become dominant (think about the pre-history of Krypton presenting in Doomsday's backstory), which in turn stunts the growth of their Reds and Greens.

Life calls to life, so on a fundamental level, even life from other worlds and ecosystems would rather be on Earth. Pin it on their selfish genes, but whatever it is, there is a sort of instinctual pull to the planet. Most are not even aware of the affect the Red and the Green have on them - they just know that they want to be here. This is why big names like Darkseid or Trigon just can't get Earth out of their minds, even though for them to possess Earth would mean the destruction of the fields that drew them here in the first place.

Even artificial intelligences like Brainiac are drawn to Earth like vermin looking for scraps. Heck, maybe there are other, similar fields out there for them. It would be interesting to explore the birth of a third field for mechanical or artificial life. Call it The Grey or The Blue and have it slowly emerging on Earth due to the rise of technology. How would the established fields react to the emergence of a third on an already crowded planet?


Hey, so this blog got a mention on the Metafilter podcast! Cortex brings it up around the ~30 minute mark, right after a discussion as to whether or not Babes In Toyland was a porno or not. I wonder how many hopes have been dashed by the operetta? And how many children scarred by unaware grandparents buying them an album by the band of the same name. It reminds me of some friends who, when looking for an apartment, were told of a nice one right across the street from a tapas bar. They got all excited and agreed to rent, sight unseen, and then were severely let down when confronted with delicious nibbles and not shirtless jiggles. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Outsiders

Batman is a man with a plan. As the only "non-powered" member of the Justice League, he has a different perspective on the team's role in the world. Not only is the League the biggest crisis-response team on the planet, the folks you call when aliens from another dimension invade, the moon drifts out of alignment, or clouds turn to acid, but they symbolize the promise of superheroism to the world.

This role is tricky because on one hand, the League has to be all "Don't worry, we're watching out for you" without appearing to be above the people it protects. In a way, the League has to be the sheepdog that lives amongst the flock, not the shepherd that watches over them. Even when saving humanity, the League has to watch itself. "We just saw three people stop a giant the size of a mountain, what will happen if they turn on us?" The League has to perform humanitarian actions on top of its heroic ones, almost distracting the populace from the fact that those seven people could, if they wanted to, likely end civilization as we know it.

But still, there are things that need to be done. If a mad scientist has built a volcano lair deep in the sovereign nation of Markovia and is getting ready to churn out an unstoppable horde of MagmaMen, the League can't just show up and pound the snot out of him. Think of all the diplomatic nastiness around the death of Osama bin Laden - yes, his death is a Good Thing, but the idea that any world figure is just two black helicopters full of hard men away from a watery grave is disquieting.

So the League needs a way to do good, quietly. This is the idea that Batman presents them, the idea that forms The Outsiders (#25/52).

It is also Batman's long con.

So the pitch around the Big Table is like this: We need a group of heroes who are willing get their hands dirty in the best interests of humanity. The League has to maintain a spotless reputation, lest people start think of us as rulers, not heroes. There are things that need to be done in order to save lives that we can't do, so let's form a team on the down-low that can.

Proposed Team Members include:

  • Metamorpho - Rex Mason was a young businessman with a bright future until he discovered some illegal dealings on the part of the company he worked for, STAGG. When he tried to turn whistleblower (on the advice of Bruce Wayne, an old school chum), STAGG's founder, CEO, and Rex's father-in-law commissioned a little "accident" involving chemicals (developed in partnership with LexCorp, natch) and an explosion. Metamorpho, The Element Man, was the result, and he stopped at nothing to bring Simon Stagg to justice, even though his quest cost him his wife and family. (Shapechange into elements, stretching, super strength/invulverability)
  • Katana - Tatsu Yamashiro is the daughter of one of the many sensei who helped train the man who would become Batman (though she was only a child at the time). Still, the patronage of a young billionaire did wonders for the school and it grew and prospered, so much so that Tatsu's brother developed a taste for the good life. When their father, tired of his son's excesses, tried to disown him, Maseo killed him with the sacred sword Soultaker and took over. Tatsu saw everything and fled with the sword, which is now haunted by the ghosts of those it kills. Cut off from Wayne patronage, Maseo turned the school into a training ground for Yakuza. Tatsu eventually avenged her father's death, but rather than taking her brother's life (and thus being haunted by him), she instead gave him the "to the pain" treatment out of Princess Bride. (Ninja skills, mystical interactions via Soultaker, ability to heal by burning soul energy stored in the sword)
  • Terra - Tara Markov was also betrayed by her brother. Brion Markov desired the throne of Markovia, a small city-state on the shores of the Mediterranean (ala Monte Carlo), but his older sister Tara stood in his way. She was aware of his deep gambling debts and how criminals would use said debts to force unsavory things through Markovia's port. She tried to help him free himself of his entanglements, but he failed, always returning to his self-destructive ways. She promised to cut him off once she became queen, so he had his gangland friends "disappear" her onto a cargo ship (human trafficking ala second season The Wire). While crossing the Atlantic she managed to escape her captors and dived overboard, eventually waking up on a small forgotten island where a strange idol granted her powers over rock and stone. As he father still lives, she has yet to bring her brother to justice - it's bad enough that he lost a daughter, must he also lose a son? (Earth bending)
  • Technocrat - Geoffrey Barron is seventeen years old and a genius. He's been a genius all his life, constantly tinkering and inventing. A whiz at technology, Geoff was his parents' ticket to the good life, they doted on him, constantly pushing him to achieve more and more. As a minor, Geoff was unable to patent his own inventions, but his father, a community college engineering professor, had no problems do so and taking the credit. When Geoff realized what was going on, and what his inventions were being used for, he cut his parents off from his work and attempted emancipation. They responded by saying he was insane and got him committed to Arkham, then sold his remaining patents to the highest bidder (LexCorp again!) and skipped town. Batman got Geoff out of Arkham after the boy was able to prove he was not (that) crazy. Geoff knows exactly where his parents are and enjoys toying with them, using his computer skills to mess with their ill-obtained lives. (power suit, inventions, hacking, I mean, he's essentially Tony Stark, right?)
  • The Yeti - Yeti is from mountains, Yeti come down from mountains when got lost. Yeti met people, nice people, who cared for Yeti, even though Yeti so big and strong. Yeti was happy, never got angry at all anymore. Then soldiers came. They tried to take Yeti. Yeti. Got. Mad. No more soldiers. No more village. No more family. Now Yeti have new family. This time, he will protect them better. (7 foot tall Yeti, becoming 9+ foot tall Hulked out Yeti when enraged)

There's a family theme here with the Outsiders. Each member of the team had to make a Hard Choice (even Yeti, who is not as infantile as he may seem) when it came to those close to them. This is partially because of Batman's own hangups regarding families, but mainly so that the team would easier congeal as a unit, forming a surrogate family bond (Batman got the idea from Terrific's Titans). Batman wants a team that is capable of making hard decisions for the greater good.

He also wants a team that's capable of taking down any member of the Justice League. He'll never voice that opinion (or even think it with all those telepaths running about), but over time, he will guide the team towards facing off against villainous analogs of Justice League members under their Black Ops guise. So Bizarro, Major Force, Nemesis (A Wondy villain I'm making up), Sinestro, Zoom, the rapey Dr. Light, etc will eventually be targets. If called out on it by a member of the Justice League, Bats will just point out that it doesn't do well for their image if people with similar powers as team members are running around committing Bad Acts. The first real test will be when Black Adam eventually turns on the League.

Still, that's a little ways off. Until then, they'll focus on dealing with state-sponsored supercriminals (Egg Fu!) and their own internal struggles with their pasts.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Martian Manhunter

So back in the Justice League entry, I mentioned how J'onn J'onzz was being left out of the initial line-up as he had other things to do. While many (me included) see him as a vital part of the League, I think automatically sticking him on the Watchtower ignores a lot of the character's history. He only really ended up in the League in the first place as a stand-in for Superman when Big Blue reduced his appearances due to oversaturation. Before that, he was a cop who was also an alien who busted crooks from this world and that. His stories were about as two-fisted as you could expect from the Silver Age, full of gangsters and creepily-eyed aliens.

One time, he even kidnapped a dude he suspected of being a crook, locked him in a shed in the wilderness, and took his identity. In order to keep the crook in the shed, Manhunter had his extra-dimensional sidekick threaten to burn him if he tried to escape. Just to be clear, this is a guy who is afraid of/drained by fire pretty much threatening his own worse nightmare on some dude he only suspects of being a thief. "Stay here," Batman said, " Or Robin will kill your parents."

That's pretty tough.

Let's bring Martian Manhunter, aka J'onn Jonzz aka John Jones, back to that. Maybe I'm influenced by his appearance in The New Frontier, but really, is that so bad? (I mean, J'onn set up Batman's best line in that whole story, if not one of his Top 10 Of All Time: "I have a $70000 sliver of a radioactive meteor to stop the one from Metropolis. All I need for you is a penny for a book of matches.") So John Jones, aka the Martian Manhunter, is a detective who with partner Diane Meade works the beat in ________, USA. I'm a bit hesitant to nail down which city J'onn is in. In the comic's he's in ever-generic "Middletown" which is kinda bleah and not worth importing into the Drewniverse. I'm thinking Star City as it's Seattle/Portland-like damp weather might appeal to a guy who dislikes open flame, although something arid in the Southwest might make him think of home. But considering that our J'onn won't be staying in town forever, it's a minor consideration.  We'll give the antennaed alien bear sidekick a miss, too, OKEY-DOKEY?

Martian Manhunter's powers and origin are pretty tied in together in the comics, so they're worth taking as a set. Initially, J'onn was pulled to Earth from Mars by accident. Some professor switches on his new Computer Brain, accidentally summons a Martian, flips out, and dies. Standard stuff in comics. For awhile, it is the machine that keeps J'onn on Earth and gives him his powers, so fiddling with the machine fiddled with the Martian, but that's soon abandoned. Besides, the writers fiddled enough with his powers. At first, he started with the basic set: strength, durability, sight, and hearing, plus the ability to turn invisible/intangible and limited shapechanging. Over time, they tossed in flight, telekinesis, increased shapechanging abilities, and telepathy. They also removed his ability to use his Martian powers while disguised as a human or invisible.

Even his vulnerability to fire was variable. Sometimes it was as Batman said, only taking a book of matches, others it was being shot directly with a flamethrower. In the early stories, the number of times crooks got away due to the happy chance of committing crimes next to a leaf fire was shameful. Whether or not fire affected J'onn in his human (or other) guise seemed to change as well.

So it looks like we have a fair bit of standardizing to do and to do it, we'll have to go back to the Fall of Mars. Remember how in the Green Lantern entries I talked about Parallax and Ion as Lovecraftian Outer Gods of limitless power and unfathomable intent? Well, if we have our Azathoths, we might as well have our Great Old Ones too. In contrast to the energy beings that the Green Lanterns secretly hunt/use to fuel their rings, these alien beings were not leftovers from the moment of creation. Still, they are so old that the difference might, at this point, be largely academic. Though they don't feed on stars or rend the walls of time and space like the Entities do, they are still pretty big deals. When they wake, they can bend entire solar systems to their whims and when they dream, they can destroy continents.

And one of them slumbered on Mars. By the time the martians figured out what threat slept beneath their feet, it was almost too late. The creature was stirring, soon to wake, its waking dreams dripping into the martian psyche, slowly twisting and changing them. Mars was doomed unless something could be done. Using strange technology and psychic weaponry, the martians fought the dragon lurking at Mars' core. This only hastened its awakening, its stirrings toppling cities, wiping entire nations off the map. When it fully awoke, the psychic backlash drove the populace mad, twisting reality, and dooming the solar system.  As a last act of desperation, the martians called in their Final Solution (a comet is a bit bigger than a fishing boat, neh?), killing the creature before it fully woke up, saving the solar system, but at the cost of the entire martian race. What was once a verdant planet sporting a thriving ecosystem became a barren ball of red dust.

Flash forward to the modern age (say, .4 SU ago) and move a little to the left to bring Earth into focus. Dr. Erdel has developed a telescope that uses the background radiation of the universe to effectively peer back in time. Just like normal telescopes can only see the light that emanated from a distant star long ago, Erdel's device targets past emanations of energy. So when he points his device at Mars, not only does it lock onto the death-throes of the planet, but it somehow establishes a brief gateway allowing something to come through. The psychic backlash still roiling around the event from the death of the dragon is enough to kill the doctor, so when J'onn J'onzz comes through, there's nobody around to tell him what the hell is going on. One moment, he's dying in a psychic cataclysm of fire and flux, the next he's standing over a dead alien. What's worse, something else is coming through the connection, Something Bad. J'onn is still together enough to destroy the machine before anything else reaches the here and now, but that act pretty much uses up his last reserves of sanity. He enters a fugue state for a year or so, flitting about invisible and intangible, slowly rebuilding his own psyche, using humanity as a foundation.

This is why, once J'onn gets it together again, he decides to become a cop. He wants to help people as a person, not as one of those superhuman demigods that are soaring around all over the place. Besides, at this stage in his recovery, disassociating himself with his John Jones identity might not be the best idea. His new abilities scare him a bit too, so it'd be better if he didn't use them all the time. More a product of the reality-twisting death-throes of the dragon than any innate martian ability, J'onn is now stronger, tougher, able to turn invisible and intangible, and able to change his shape. His normal martian psychic abilities have been enhanced, but they are still unreliable. They'll settle down over time. Note that, for the moment, Martian Manhunter cannot fly. His fire phobia is also a product of the cataclysm, a psychic imprint left seared into his brain.

So that's the status quo we open Manhunter (#24/52) with. Of course, within the first Issue everything changes. We open with J'onn J'onzz having troubling, fractured dreams. Something has happened, but he can't figure out what. This sense of unease and weirdness starts to pervade his waking life, a feeling further triggered by the case Jones and Meade are assigned: a ritual murder/suicide at a big mansion in the hills. When forensics put the time of death of the victims at the same time when J'onn was awoken by his dreams, the detective knows something up and is driven to get to the bottom of it.

What is up, of course, is the Idol Head of Diabolu. Back in the original comics, the Idol Head provided a nice macguffin for the Martian Manhunter to chase after. It would crop up, spawn some weird being for J'onn to fight, and then fade away again, always two steps ahead. Such is the case here, but in the Drewniverse, the Idol Head is not just any mysterious smoking head, it's a fertilized Great Old One egg. Guess "something else" did actually make it through the connection to Mars' death - elder sperm - and it fertilized an alien ovum that had been shaped into a stone head in the distant past. Though the size of a jack-o-lantern, the Idol Head contains within it the power to destroy the world. Anyone (or anything) that could harness that power would be nigh-unstoppable, so of course there are many different groups after it. What's more, the Idol Head itself can birth untold horrors and grant weird, twisted powers to those who come in contact with it (this is how Manhunter will get the ability to fly later on).

As he tries to track down the Idol Head, J'onn J'onzz comes into contact with other superheroes and slowly starts to loosen up about the use of his powers. He also comes into conflict with new antagonists, like the mysterious Mr. Z, a man who seems intent on facilitating access to the Idol Head, a sort of weird power broker (or consulting cultist), who will be the Moriarty to J'onn's Holmes. In time, the Idol Head's threat will be removed and J'onn will be free to join the Justice League, having proved himself in a big way by helping out in a giant fight against the Head's progeny in the Pacific Ocean (shades of The Centre here).

But until then, we get a Martian Manhunter who is focused on fighting weird aliens and men with bad powers and worse intent in a noir-ish setting. Think Kolchak: The Night Stalker meets X-Files meets film noir. That should be fun, right?

Because 60s-style covers get the linkage, natch?