Friday, January 18, 2008

An Open Reply To Michael Netzer

Dear Michael,

You know I love you right? I've told you enough times, you're one of my favourite people. I'd happily walk through fire for you and I'll defend you to the death, however I have to ask, with all due respect, what the devil are you thinking about approaching DC with an empassioned plea to save J'onn J'onnz: The Martian Manhunter? You know it won't work, it could never work, and there's several good reasons for this. But by begging DC to do the decent thing and not kill off one of their oldest characters is just playing into their hands.

What kills a comic book character quicker than poor sales? Interest. Apathy will always save a character from being killed. The title might be canceled, but the character will survive until someone like Frank Miller comes along and rapes it. But hey, it's there. Barring acts of God and Miller, someone might pop along and go, "Hey, I've always wanted to bring back Tappin' Tommy, I might do so in this issue and have him take out the Hulk and the entire roster of the Defenders again with his smoking tap dance moves, top hat and cane." God love that other Millar, Mark. Still showing absolutely no interest in a character has always been the best way to go. Who wants to create an 'event' with a character that no-one cars about? Sure, kill off all of Team America. Who gives a fat rats? I even know who I'd nominate to write and draw that one shot. But once people show an interest in a character, or a title, then the companies, as you'd know better than I do, can't wait to upset any status quo that might have existed and totally shaft what readers are left. If that character is considered to be loved, hot damn, even better. Let's kill the bastards while someone is still shelling out their hard earnt for it.

So, if you want to save J'onn, stop being a martyr and just show no interest at all. Don't buy the books, stop blogging, stop drawing attention to it. Easy.

Meanwhile you know, better than I do, that the following will happen:
1] DC will kill off the Manhunter because it'll mean an instant sales spike. Nothing that is said, or done, will change that, hey - the more people who complain the better. As I've just said, if you whinge, they will kill it. If you cry, they will laugh. And they will count the dollars you give them.

2] DC will then launch a new series. They will offer up the following, a clone, a J'onn from the past, an impostor or a ghost. Remember, this is the company that killed their flagship character, Superman, and gave us no less than four replacements only to reveal that none of them were the one, true Superman (and while we're at it I'm waiting for the big reveal that the final guy wasn't Superman at all, but an energy being created by the Eradicator, with the real thing still lying in suspended animation waiting for yet another re-boot - don't laugh, odder things have happened). They've killed Robin, more than once it now appears. They broke Batman's back, hell they even killed the 'original' Batman (anyone remember that?), not to mention Supergirl, Green Lantern, The Spectre and the Flash. Some have come back since, as we know, no-one is really dead in comic book land, not even Bucky!

Here's a funny thing. Mid 2007 Norm Breyfogle and myself brainstormed and pitched an idea to DC regarding the one, true death of Batman. Never heard from them. Silence. Nada. Not even a "Jeez, guy, that sucks." Maxwell Smart heard more in his Cone Of Silence. I ran the proposal past a few people, including Alan Weiss who offered up some brilliant suggestions. It even had the best title that I could think about, a mysterious title that would have gotten a lot of attention, along with a great concept. In my dreams the book would have been drawn by Norm and inked by Norm, along with a host of artists as guest inkers - yourself, Weiss, Alan Kupperberg, Rich Buckler, Bob Almond, Mark McKenna, Steve Mitchell, Jimmy Tournas - everyone I've ever met, in my dreams, had a hand in this, one page at a time, barring the splash page and the death page, which would be pure Norm. Hell, I now want to get Fred Hembeck in there somewhere. Everyone loved it (barring one person who believes that Batman can beat anything and is, by default, immortal, but we don't get into that), but clearly DC didn't. I even wrote an out for DC: you see Bruce Wayne dies, but Batman lives on. Nope, not good enough. Nothing. So if I can't kill Batman, and I mean properly kill him, what makes you think you can save J'onn? Oh, and remind me to show you the proposal one day.

3] Eventually the real J'onn will come back to life. As he's a Martian he can't really die. It'll be revealed that he's some form of a Proty and cannot die, he just melts a bit, regenerates and comes back to life. So fret not, J'onn might have a long sleep, but he ain't gonna die. After all, who, in comic book land, is really dead. I mean proper dead. No-one. Don't let Marvel fool you, Captain America, and by that I mean the Steve Rogers Captain America, will be back soon enough. It's 2008. There'll be a build up and eventually the character will explode back into the books sometime around March 2011, to celebrate his 70th anniversary. Count on it. In fact, anyone out there want to bet on it?

How do you change any of this? Here's the hot wire to the head - you can't. Offering your services up to the title, even for free, won't change anything. Indeed the opposite - they'll just get you to draw the death scenes. Hey, as much as I'd love to see you back on a mainstream title, and it'd be almost too cool to see you revisit a title that you once drew, let's face it, if God Himself appeared before the DC brass and offered to pencil the title, with Neal Adams and Jim Lee inking it and Frank Miller writing it, DC would still ask for the character to be killed off. That they could boast a creative team of Miller-God-Adams-Lee would only be cream. So if God can't save J'onn, what chance have you got?

Face it. J'onn is dead already. The minute you and Frank Lee Delano began to protest you signed his death warrant. You drove the flaming sword through his green heart. Have a look at the Hembeck image here, it'll give you an idea of what's going to kill ole J'onn - a flaming team-up cross over. By now DC will have read your words and be drawing blood with their hand wringing. Thus when the Death Of J'onn J'onzz happens it'll be on a lot of people's heads, but not DCs. After all they're only doing what they believe you, Frank and everyone else out there wants - which is to generate interest in an otherwise fading character. And if it's not J'onn then it'll be the only other character that they've not killed and brought back to life yet, Aquaman. And why hasn't Aquaman died yet?

Because no-one would care less.

Think about it.

Drop me a line and we'll draw some more blood.


Michael Netzer said...

You know you're right about everything you say, and I thank you profusely for the well stated sentiment and for spreading this around.

Maybe my intention, knowing the outcome is out of my hands, is simply to begin a process where my involvement in the proceedings will be considered. Maybe nothing more than a job application and self-recommendation.

Maybe. But I'm certainly not going to ruin everything now by telling.

Norm Breyfogle said...

You don't have to tell us, Michael; the truth is obvious.

Danny, your above blog was utterly hilarious, extremely well written, and insightful. You made an obvious point (the cinicism of DC Comics vs. the transparent immaturity of much of fandom) with real panache.

Netzer's plea for the "life" of a fictional character owned by a soulless corporation illustrates either his naievte, his delusions of grandeur, or some more covert intention (as Michael himself virtually admits to in his response immediately following your blog).

Michael, I hope all your dreams come true.


Michael Netzer said...

Thanks Norm! I hope all OUR dreams also come true, wherever they converge. And the same wishes for where they don't.

But, you know, some of the forum discussions on this piece leaves me optimistic enough to push for a campaign to save the Manhunter from Mars, from the forums and blogs. I'll post a report of all the reactions at my site soon.

I mean as long as we have some free time...

Daniel, I agree with everything Norm said about your response. It's right on the nail...but I'm going ahead with it anyway. You know I've never allowed rational thinking to get in my way.

Danny said...

Not allowing rational thought to get in the way is one of the reasons why we all love you Michael.

I'm dead curious to see what comes from this. Keep spreading the word and see the result. I can see it now, a phone in poll,
"You Decide Who Lives & Who Dies: Aquaman or J'onn J'onzz"

I'm sure DC aren't above using the same ploy on a new generation. It worked once...

Frank Lee Delano said...

I'm always happy to see a link to my blog appear somewhere without my having to scuff my knees, but I must protest the mischaracterization of my reaction to this nonsense...

My comment from the blog initially noting the news:
"I have no doubt that Grant Morrison would kill Martian Manhunter if asked. I expect it would be a very good death, and he's one of the few writers I'd want to author such a thing. Again, I'm looking at the options Dan Didio has, and my favorite is the death of J'Onn J'Onzz until the end of his regime."

...and from my response to Netzer's proposal:
"Of course this DC would try to kill off a "major character" like J'Onn J'Onzz, but just as obviously, the move will end up an utter failure. You see, just enough people like the Martian Manhunter to be annoyed by his disposal, but not so many as to even garner a "Ted Kord" level of teeth gnashing. Its simply too easy to write the death of such a character off as a hoax, and impossible to replace him with anyone that will hold an audience's interest without the kind of superstar team you'd do just well with in employing in service to the original incarnation. Also, Martian Manhunter is now, thanks to "Justice League" and "Smallville," a recognized brand within the merchandising machine. Whatever circumstances might befall the character in the short term on the comics page, J'Onn J'Onzz is "safe" in the long haul, so why should I get upset about this development? Better the Manhunter from Mars lay low for a few years than parade around looking like a constipated Skrull with a vinyl fetish. I refuse to feed any sort of "hype" related to the matter."

I've stated pretty clearly that while I'm happy to support Michael Netzer's bid for attention and work, I don't buy into "saving" J'Onn J'Onzz. Like Raymond Chandler, I recognize the character I love will always live on in my back issue collection.

Michael Netzer said...

So, does that mean you'll sign the petition?

Danny said...

Michael: I'll be happy to sign it, for all the good it'll do.

Frank: I'm sorry you believe that this is all nonsense and that you've been 'mischaracterized'. That's not the intent. I don't even know you, so how I've done that is beyond me. My point was, and remains, that DC won't kill off a character that no-one has interest in. Your blog equates interest, hence you'll have a small role in the characters demise. It's heartening to see that you fully support the death of your beloved character though and that you're not in screaming denial.

However, by virtue of comment you are feeding into the hype. Each time you mention Michael on your blog or a forum, and his proposal, then you're feeding the hype. Food for thought perhaps?

Still, who's to say that once it's gone anyone will bother to bring it back? But yep, you're right, better to kill J'onn J'onzz now and be done with it.

Viva la back issues!

Frank Lee Delano said...

Most of this has been addressed, but I'm a windbag, so I'll type as long as I wanna.

"The minute you and Frank Lee Delano began to protest you signed his death warrant... After all they're only doing what they believe you, Frank and everyone else out there wants - which is to generate interest in an otherwise fading character."

My problem with this:
1) I'm not protesting the death. I have in fact repeatedly encouraged it. I'd rather him die and stay dead until someone worthwhile has something to say wth that specific character. Most writers just turn him into a Spock to play off a bigger name character's Kirk and fall in big battles as a shortcut to dramatic tension. Alternately, he's a pissy Martian Namor, avenging son of Mars. If he isn't dead, all signs point to his going all Dark Phoenix/Parallax eeee-vil. I'm yawning in the general direction of these options.

2) I don't think it's fair to call Martian Manhunter a "fading" character. He's actually more famous and popular now than he's ever been, thanks to "Justice League," "Smallville," "The Batman" and so on. Less than ten years ago, if you approached random people on the street asking about the "Martian Manhunter," they'd call the police. Today, a solid 1-in-50 might know something about him, if you employed targeted demographics, racial profiling, and coached them a little. Point being, he's always been a loser, but he's now he's also notable also-ran with some market viability in video games, action figures, etc. Hence, there being some mileage in killing him. I'd like to shake off the multitudes-- er-- dozens of worldwide Johnny-Come-Latelys to Manhunter fandom.

3) They did kill Aquaman, in "Our Worlds at War." No one cared, except a video game licensor, so he was alive again just outside a year's time. At this specific moment in time, Martian Manhunter is by some fluke also a license with some value. Therefore, his death= whoop-de-do in every way. I don't think DC will kill him, and if they do, I don't think it will last long. I am, in essence, agreeing with your "Open Letter" almost to the letter.

As for my blog-- before Mike Netzer started referencing it, had you heard of it? I get less than 100 page loads on most days, even though I update every single day. My hits to date over the last five months are barely over the 6,000 mark. I've never had a post receive more than 5 comments, and I actually only receive about one comment for every five posts. I am envious of the traffic to the Atom's blog, and the heights of the Aquaman Shrine are dizzying from my vatagge point. If anything, my blog is an excellent sign of how little interest there is in the character. I'm fighting the good fight by showing what a personal and generally unappealing obsession the Manhunter from Mars happens to be.

Danny said...

I'll freely admit that I'd not heard of your blog before this, but then had you heard of mine? Probably not. I've not heard of the Atom blog either, but to hear you talk it's the biggest thing on the internet, comic book related, right after that site that has those naked super girlies in bondage. Not that I've seen that one either.

I don't get you Frank. You have a site devoted to a second string character that most people would find hard to recognise outside of comic book readers, if at all, and yet you're lining up at the gates to have DC kill it off. For what? In the hopes that someone, somewhere, sometime might come to DC and re-invent it and bring it back to the second string glory it once had?


If it were a character that I enjoyed so much that I had a site devoted to it, I'd be screaming that DC fire the writers and the rest of the creative team that are clearly so devoid of originality when it comes to J'onn and offering up a viable alternative in their place. Odder things have happened.

But you're right, kill J'onn and keep him dead. Like Bucky dead, or at least Bucky dead as he was in the '60s through to the '90s. Perhaps a 30 year gap is what you need. 30 years with J'onn and by that time people might appreciate what they've lost.

Still, all's not lost. If Mike fails, and clearly he hasn't got your support despite his best intentions, then perhaps you can find an artist and pitch a Bloodwynde mini-series. People might well buy that and eventually say, "J'onn J'onzz who?"

Keep up your good fight. Perhaps you might discover what it is about J'onn that attracts you so, and in that discovery you'll then start fighting to not only change this sad choice, but put into place a pitch that brings J'onn back to his full glory. If you do that I'll admire and respect you even more, for what it's worth (and from I can gather, from your comments, it'd be worth quite little).

Remember, it was the fans that saved Spider-Girl from cancelation all those years ago...

Frank Lee Delano said...

"I've not heard of the Atom blog either, but to hear you talk it's the biggest thing on the internet,"

That was part of the joke. The Atom's blog gets, like, 5-6 comments per post to my 1-2, and he started his months after mine. Just goes to show how much more appealing the Atom is compared to Martian Manhunter, or maybe its just me that turns folks off? Either way, the point stands that the Atom's blog kicks mine in the teeth, and you've never heard of it, either.

I'm not so much cheering the death of J'Onn J'Onzz as saying, with all my heart and soul, an empassioned cry of "meh." I haven't read a really good story starring the character in years, and his death would mean less obligatory purchases of middling fair for blog fodder. Also, it means really unfortunate directions like grim-n-gritty Leatherboy from Mars and treacherous Evil Manhunter go away for a while-- a blessing to us all.

"In the hopes that someone, somewhere, sometime might come to DC and re-invent it and bring it back to the second string glory it once had?"

Pretty much. Martian Manhunter is sort of like a little niche rock band you're into. They've got maybe a handful of recordings that are truly brilliant, and a lot of okay stuff you can roll with, so long as it doesn't get played to death on Top 40 radio. You don't want them to blow up, because they're "your" band, and if every other douchebag stars yelling "wooo-MANHUNTER," and the attention/money starts effecting the music/band, it just ruins it for you.

J'Onn J'Onzz is a supposed "Big Gun" who mostly hangs out with the lamest heroes, has the shoddiest villains, the cheesiest weaknesses, and manages to join both the best and worst super-teams. Make him "kewl," and it ruins him as one of the greatest losers in super-herodom. Fuck's sake, his claim to fame is being a glorified walkie-talkie relied upon by heroes who can actually carry their own books. Kill him or let him be the ineffectual geek in tights I rock to. Don't let him "sell out" to "the man," even as I'm the man and you're the man and he's the man as well...

"I'd be screaming that DC fire the writers and the rest of the creative team that are clearly so devoid of originality when it comes to J'onn and offering up a viable alternative in their place."

I did that for over two years on the DC Message Board. I slung so much shit at the "guilty parties," specifically John Ostrander, and all it accomplished was occasionally harshing John's mellow and maybe contributing to an early cancellation. That kind of thing works when Chuck Austin hops aboard "Action Comics" or Larry Hama "Batman," but Martian Manhunter fans just have to take whatever we're handed. DC could give a fuck, because our money just doesn't talk. Worse, I'd mostly prefer guys with even less drawing power than John Ostrander-- pariahs like Christopher Priest or Gerard Jones. That ain't happening, and hoping for a Grant Morrison is pie-in-the-sky fare. I'm not going to suck off DC to get a Manhunter series written by Bruce Jones or even Kurt Busiek, so fuck it. Kill him or shut up about it.

Also, it's not that I couldn't write the hell out of Martian Manhunter series, but who's going to buy it? Why should they? Better men than I have paved that road to irrelevance, God bless their hearts. You write J'Onn J'Onzz for yourself, because the base audience isn't that much bigger. I know exactly the qualities that draw myself and other true devotees, and it isn't "he's all Superman-level powerful, yo!" I've got a blog devoted to explaining it to other people, but trust me, I get it myself. In fact, I understand better through the blog, which is part of the point.

"Like Bucky dead, or at least Bucky dead as he was in the '60s through to the '90s."

Don't get me started. Just don't. Please. Brubaker dropped the tranny on my Captain America ride with that shit. I'm still in denial.

P.S. I'm still behind Netzer, but a Breyfogle book would also rock. I posted his take in my "Incarnations" synopsis last month, and it was perty.