DESPERO versus MARTIAN MANHUNTER/AQUAMAN
Crisis of Conscience: Part Four (DC comics)
Where: JLA #118 When: Early November 2005
Why: Geoff Johns & Allan Heinberg How: Chris Batista
The story so far...
With their dirty little secrets exposed, the Justice League is imploding into itself in a maelstrom of disapproval and mistrust. The revelations over Zatanna's mind-wiping practises regain their relevance when members of the Secret Society of Super-villains discover the true identities of the heroes.
Unknown to the league, the foe responsible for awakening the minds of the Society, Despero, is hurtling toward Earth in pursuit of a helpless Martian Manhunter. Unable to locate the league, the Manhunter plummets Earthbound with one member in mind -- Aquaman!
Will J'onn J'onnz find the assistance he needs, or has the inner turmoil of their actions exposed a weakness in the League, and allowed Despero the opportunity to finally seek a final revenge on those he has called enemy?
Aquaman (#73): Gained an unlikely victory over the Sub-Mariner.
Despero, Martian Manhunter: Each making their Infinite Wars debut.
Tale of the tape...
Strength: Martian Manhunter 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Draw 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Martian Manhunter 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Despero 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Aquaman 2 (Average)
Fighting Ability: Aquaman 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Despero 5 (Lasers)
So, this is the first time we've talked about Martian Manhunter, which is kinda one of those travestys of justice you tend hear about. I guess if there's a reason, it might be because J'onn J'onnz traditionally isn't one to pursue combat as actively as others, but that's something you can read more about in the hammer, later in the entry.
Still, like the Batman animated series, I feel like this might be one of the few glaring omissions to what I've done, so it's nice to rectify the situation. Shame about Aquaman. Ho ho, tee hee, ha ha. Yes, I think that's out of the way now.
Yes, I'm a Sub-mariner man, but I'm going to try to be impartial about Aquaman's total inability to have anything but an anchoring effect on this scenario. I of course mean this purely from a statistical standing, which sees Aquaman's particular brand of unique abilities less expressive on the statistics listed above.
Despero's a pretty tough customer. He's one of those space foes that's got a wide bredth of capabilities, and specialist skills like telepathic manipulation, and laser beams, and all that kinda stuff that compliments your usual flight and super strength. He's a character that has to work on a scale of both Superman alone, and also a team that includes Superman, so his capabilities are broad.
Martian Manhunter is on a Superman level, and I'd like to think on his day he could single handedly take Despero out. His telepathy tends to range everywhere from the incredible, to the struggling bare minimum. I like to think of it as levelling out somewhere in the middle, so telepathic dominance might not be within reach for ol' J'onn, but he's got other tools to combat Despero.
Aquaman remains a conundrum on the comic landscape. I don't think anyone is really one hundred percent committed or comfortable with the theory that he has super strength, even if it makes perfect sense for the same reasons Namor's strength makes sense: A lifetime spent in the crushing depths of the ocean.
Together, I'd probably like to lean toward the heroes on paper, even though Despero does represent one of the prominent threats to the League. Right about now I'm too tired to wax much harder on it, saving my energies for later, so...
The Math: Martian Manhunter/Aquaman (Total) Despero (Average)
The Pick: Martian Manhunter/Aquaman
What went down...
Escaping the Justice League's moonbase headquarters, the Martian Manhunter hardly notices the searing heat as he hurtles through Earth's atmosphere followed by another. Blazing a trail toward San Diego, he telepathically calls to the members of the League, but they're both too busy, and out of reach, as Martian Manhunter combats the dampening effect of Despero's strong brand of offensive telepathy.
Climbing bruised from a crater created by his impact on a barren construction site; Martian Manhunter is picked up by the following Despero. He boasts of the League's distractions, while burying his fingertips into the Martian's malleable flesh, as though to create a physical manifestation of his telepathic invasion on J'onn J'onnz' mind.
Having already unlocked erased memories from the minds of members of the Society and sent them in the direction of the hero's loved ones, Despero declares off the back of his machinations, that there is no one left to save the Martian.
A defiant answer comes in the form of a spiked piece of construction metal, piercing Despero's alien shoulder in a spray of blood: Enter Aquaman!
The Atlantean monarch continues his assault, knocking Despero through the surrounding barrier of the construction site, into the surrounding ocean.
The grizzled Aquaman calls ahead, telepathically summoning the aid of sharks to "Make. Him. Bleed."
The deep sea monsters do as commanded, gnawing viciously at the hulking frame of Despero. Aquaman plummets into his domain to strangle the beseiged victim of his patrons, presumably with the advantage in the familiar surroundings of water.
Meanwhile, Martian Manhunter recovers from the assault suffered at Despero's hands. He dusts himself off, telepathically coaching Aquaman in combat.
He offers a stern reminder of Despero's tactics, ensuring Aquaman is ready to defend himself mentally, should Despero find himself unable to match him on the physical plane of combat.
Aquaman stoicly welcomes Despero to try psychic attack, avoiding a laser blast from the alien's powerful third eye, and an equally dangerous fist that buries deep into the ocean floor.
Aquaman returns Despero's hostility in kind, using his water-bound strength to uppercut Despero out of the water!
The break in the action provides Aquaman the first opportunity for some face-to-face discussion with his Martian teammate. J'onn J'onnz is able to finally reveal his intention to seek out Aquaman, with the hopes that together they could use their combined telepathic influences to overcome the mentallist threat in Despero.
Battered, but not defeated, Despero rises to challenge the Justice League duo to test their strategy to disarm him.
Though they presumably fight valiantly, the pair are apparently unsuccesful, emerging next as king and rook in Despero's league against the league.
Well, how would you be? We finally invite Martian Manhunter to the party, and what do we do? Serve him up on a platter to our winner, Despero. That's bloody charming, eh?
On a tangent, I came across info regarding The Batman cartoon. You know, that redundant one with the monkey-Joker and other assorted disappointing revisions of classic villains, and the indulgence of Adam West as Gotham City Mayor. As if it weren't redundant enough, it looks like they're spinning the Justice League out of this new Batman. Groan.
The thing that bugs me more than the creatively questionable efforts of the series, is the fact that it's actually filled the few voids I felt the Timm/Dini animated series overlooked. Those, of course, are appearances by Martian Manhunter in Gotham, Solomon Grundy, and the still as yet unchecked emergence of Gotham's Green Lantern, Alan Scott. Oh, give them time...
So, we've been talking a lot about harsh justice lately. It's probably the subject that's kept me from becoming completely derailed, because it's a vaguely interesting subject. We talked about Wonder Woman and then Hawkman and Black Adam, but specifically amongst the royals of the DC Universe there was one more name mentioned -- Aquaman!
I fully realise that so-called "harsh justice" teeters dangerously toward the same kinds of watered down, poorly justified gimmicks of anger and grim and grit that have led many characters down an unsavory path. I fully realise Aquaman is one of those, who enjoyed brief recognition for a revamp dependent on poor grooming, the loss of a hand, and the loss of innocence.
I'd like to think that the saving grace of my suggestions is that there's a vaguely intellectual reasoning, providing some sort of foundation to the ideas. A motivating question about the differences of culture, beliefs, and justice.
For me, these two characters [Aquaman, Martian Manhunter] are a perfect litmus test. When I think of Martian Manhunter, I think of a character deeply driven for common justice, working both close to the streets on a human level, but also through subversive methods, by way of his powers which give him scope to deal with alien threats, too. I kinda see the character the same way Darwyn Cooke looks at him in New Frontier, forever impressed upon by a story in Secret Origins #35, that depicts J'onn J'onnz' early days as a detective in a similar fashion.
I think of Martian Manhunter as an unrelenting force for justice by the book, with exceptions where circumstances dictate. On the other hand, I'm more likely to adopt that more contemporary consideration of Aquaman.
Aquaman is a character who seems to have simply failed to maintain his relevance. In a world where the greatest dangers emerge from humanity itself, it's hard to find a place for a man so far removed from it. A man traditionally more concerned with the rising threat of tri-colour sea monsters and oil spills.
Without an insane agreement to keep the character constantly in-print, like Wonder Woman; Aquaman falls by the wayside, by the bayside. He needs a reason to exist, especially in those uncomfortable situations where he finds himself thrust into the so-called "big seven" of the Justice League, impotent and awkwardly ineffective until the villain takes a dip in the ocean.
In ironic juxtaposition to the Martian Manhunter, we've already talked about the potential to give Aquaman importance as a perspective alien and harsh to other members of the League. Like Wonder Woman, Aquaman's references are Roman and Greek, built on the epic tradition of Atlantis and the warrior code.
He has an opportunity to be a character aware of more than just the territory of the United States of America, opening the League up to it's oft overlooked International jurisdictions. Perhaps as Black Adam was in Black Reign, or Wonder Woman against the corrupted tyranny of Maxwell Lord; Aquaman could be a proactive force, using his immunities and broad world reference to bring justice to communities and nations that might not otherwise see it.
This might put the character(s) at odds with the likes of Martian Manhunter, who believe in due process, but without the injected personal insanities seen in Black Adam's downward spiral, that only makes for interesting and dynamic friction in the superhero community. It also arguably serves as an investment in the certainty of a character lost to a crisis of identity and characterization.
It need not be event driven blanket stories like Amazons Attack, involving the vast kingdoms characters like these represent. The point here is about the attitudes and directions of the characters, who have exhibited these sensibilities at one time or another, but who have not been courageously thrust into the world of moral ambiguity.
The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 4
[Chris Batista's clean, crisp, well inked artwork is a joy to behold, but this story feels all too run of the mill for a big-name double feature like Allan Heinberg and Geoff Johns. The benefit of hindsight shows just how little it has meant in the developing world of the Justice League post-Identity Crisis. Fun, but disappointing.]