Monday, May 16, 2016

HERO OF THE WEEK: MARTIAN MANHUNTER (DC)
Real Name: J'onn J'onnz
First Appearance: Detective Comics #225 (November, 1955)
Fight Club Ranking: #29

Featured Fights:
- vs STONE GOD: Secret Origins #32 (Nov 1988)
- vs WOOD KING: Secret Origins #32 (Nov 1988)
- vs KIDNAPPERS: Secret Origins #35 (1988)
- vs DOOMSDAY: Superman #74 (Dec 1992)
- vs HILL STREET CULT: DC: The New Frontier #2 (Apr 2004)
- vs ULTRAMARINE CORPS: JLA: Classified #3 (Mar 2005)
- vs DESPERO: JLA #118 (Nov 2005)
- vs THE SOCIETY: Final Crisis: Requiem #1 (Sep 2008)
- vs GREEN LANTERN & FLASH: Green Lantern #44 (Sep 2009)

Throughout much of 2016 I've had Martian Manhunter's keyed in as a draft Hero of the Week in response to a strong turn in TV's Supergirl. It's been a matter of when - not if. It's with heavy heart that I finally commit to the publish button in honor of the passing of one of comics last great classic masters: Darwyn Cooke.

Many people are already sharing their favourite stories in honor of Darwyn's life in comics. He can be connected to a lot of characters. His contributions to Catwoman in the early to mid 2000s were a blessing that helped redefine the character to its fullest potential. He's written fantastic stories for DC superheroes, Will Eisner's Spirit, the controversial Beyond Watchmen, and other original creations.

For me, his biggest milestone, and a comic I've come back to many times on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths over the years, is DC: The New Frontier.

A love letter to a bygone era of DC Comics; The New Frontier managed to be unashamedly retro, while at the same time saying something that felt like the future! His characters weren't exactly as they were in the 1940s, 50s, or 60s. The DNA of their modern counterparts was there for anybody willing to look past the surface. Although, why you'd want to look past the surface is beyond me!

Cooke brought a sensibility to his drawings that was reminiscent of DC's popular animation. Characters were classic, streamlined. His designs cast a full illusion of reality, but didn't over complicated a character, or page. It was a no brainer, then, that The New Frontier would be adapted as a direct-to-video DC animated feature. The comic is practically a storyboard -- something Cooke did plenty of for animation, but went above and beyond with on the comic book page.


The New Frontier is about a lot of characters - the formation of the Justice League, no less! Green Lantern can be called the star - The Flash an important player of the same vintage. Wonder Woman had one of her best turns in a  comic for much of the decade, and Superman played off her fantastically. When I first learned of Cooke's death - I had to go back to the boxing fight between Wildcat Grant and a not-so-subtle homage to Muhammad Ali, "Clay". It's an absolute classic! Perhaps the one who I held most dear, though, was Martian Manhunter.

In DC: The New Frontier, Cooke retells the Earthbound origin of the Martian Manhunter. Doctor Erdel is already on the floor when the Martian is summoned to Earth by mistake. Precious moments flit away as he apologizes for his error and frailty. The Martian pays respect, pulling a sheet over the old man. He's alone in an alien world and he's about to learn how afraid and hostile we humans are.

The story of Martian Manhunter discovering human culture has been told before. In The New Frontier, he watches the television intently, shapeshifting into cartoons and comics until he settles on the stone jaw and squint of a hardboiled detective. The format and subject matter echoed a single issue favourite of mine in Secret Origins #35. I paired the story with an episode from The New Frontier back in 2008. The action differed greatly, but they're great compliments to each other, and really tickle me pink. It's hard to adequately put it into words. I've sometimes wondered if Cooke was aware of the '88 origin story. Probably not. I'm sure I'll never know now.

I don't know if Darwyn Cooke had any intention of telling more stories for DC superheroes, but when the company relaunched in 2011, it seemed the opportunity was gone. The New 52 had no room for a knowing, classic infusion with modern sensibilities. It saddened me to lose a lot of great things DC Comics had built up over the years, and it felt like a little Darwyn Cooke was needed now more than ever. Sadly, that won't come. Very fortunately, we have the work that he did do. Fantastic, all of it.

I'm really going to miss the influence Cooke had through his art. A warm, smart, fun, genuine sensibility. A stubborn man and a talent artist. Must-see comics. Fantastic, all of it!

I invite you to celebrate Darwyn Cooke through just a small amount of his work I've enjoyed:


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