Friday, December 21, 2007

Obscure Character Handbook: John Henry (Silver Age)

Alter Ego: John Wilson
Occupation: Machinist turned Vigilante
Marital Status: Widower
Known Relatives: Lucille (wife, deceased;) Loretta (daughter, deceased)
Group Affiliation: None
Base of Operations: Tennessee
First Appearance: DC: The New Frontier #3 (2004)

John Wilson was a Korean War veteran who fought with distinction, before returning home to take a young bride in Lucille, who then gave birth to their daughter Loretta. Wilson supported his family working at local machine shop in in a Knoxville, Tennessee, until the night of March 17th, 1957. Wilson’s wife and child were killed when members of the Ku Klux Klan, for reasons unknown beyomd the obvious, set his home ablaze. Wilson himself was lynched from a nearby tree and left for dead. Wilson survived, and freeing himself, fled to a cabin where he began formulating a plan for revenge. Forging a pair of oversized sledgehammer’s, Wilson took to wearing a pointed black hood “inspired” by the appearance of Klansman and looking out for their next hate crime against the African-American populace. In stylized garb wearing the noose that failed to end his life on he same night as his family’s, Wilson began a vigilante campaign against violent racists, for which the media dubbed him “John Henry.” Meanwhile, the authorities remained unaware of the connection between Wilson and “Henry,” claiming Wilson himself had murdered his family and fled justice.

For years, “John Henry” continued his personal war against the Klan, appearing frequently and with the typical result being the hospitalization of those he encountered. The crusade caught the public’s attention, leading to an article by famed journalist Vicki Vale and a cover story in Time magazine. His revolutionary fight stoked the hearts of many, including John Jones, the Manhunter from Mars, and a young John Henry Irons, later to be known as Steel. His battle ended in 1959, when a battered “John Henry” staggered to collapse down a back alley while pursued by an angry mob. Falling through a fence, he was found by a young blonde girl who’s back yard he found himself in. As he removed his hood, Wilson pleaded, “Please, child... help me. Hide me.” The girl looked away from Wilson with her blue eyes and shouted for the Klansman, referring to the fallen hero with a pejorative not to be repeated here. Three nights later, the most respected television journalist in America shared John Wilson’s heroic story with the nation, damning the Klan and those who conspired with them as terrorists. He revealed on discovery Wilson was “beaten and humiliated, then hung from a post in town square and burned alive.” Only two photographs of Wilson are known to exist, one of his family in happier times, and the other of the grim vigilante wicked men forced him to become.

Creator Darwyn Cooke explained the origins of the character in the Absolute collection of his work. “Any effort to insinuate the DCU into the real world of the 1950s wouldn’t have been complete without looking at the civil rights issues of the day. The problem was DC catered to white culture, and there were very few black characters to explore this theme.

I finally settled on Steel, and John Henry Irons. Continuity tells us Steel didn’t come along ‘til much later, but I thought that perhaps I could retro-fit a backstory that shows a simpler man in a simpler time donning the mantle of John Henry to fight racism.”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mike Netzer Makes My Blog

I'm pretty sure when this blog posts, that masterpiece above is going to get cut in half. Well, tough nookie. I'm saving my precious for the new year, when I'll rejigger my Martian Manhunter blog, The Idol-Head of Diabolu. If you want more than a sneak preview, you'll have to deal with another damned inter-company crossover, the company you'll keep being Mike Netzer's.

You might now be asking yourself, well, why isn't this on that friggin' blog? For starters, this very occasional extant blog was made for discussing whatever geekery came to mind whenever I felt like, free from self-imposed restrictions at the more kid friendly (pg-13?) Diabolu. Also, it says right there in the crappy old logo "A Blog For J'Onn J'Onzz," where this matter is becoming increasingly about me. Happy me. Happy joy me.

Speaking of me, I was born right around the time Nasser was beginning his career as a really, really good comic book illustrator. Problem being, by the time I was old enough to start reading comics (and I may have started as early as '78,) he was already leaving the industry in favor of spiritual pursuits. My introduction to his work was mostly derived from DC Comics house ads heralding books that didn't make their way to the newsstands I frequented in Texas. I was however a big fan of what I saw, both from Nasser and his influences and contemporaries at Continuity Studios. Neal Adams, Mark Texeira, and Mark Beachum were big parts of my 80's diet. For instance, I bought "Psi-Force" and "Samuree," repeatedly and on purpose. Sadly, I didn't get to experience Nasser's work more fully until the 1990's, both through back issues of his 70's efforts and the much darker turn his style took upon his return to comics as Mike Netzer (psst--I've made not one, but two Huntress animated fan videos-- a favored character he spent time with in this period.) It's never cool to be that late to the party, but I enjoyed the opportunities to play catch up, especially when it came to his brief but highly influential run on my favorite, the Manhunter from Mars.

Now, I have no pretenses about my pissant little country blog. Nothin' much to see. I get about 75-100 loads a day on average, which happens about every 17 seconds on, say,, but I'm happy to have every visitor. I get happier, of course, when a dude as talented and generous as Mike Netzer shows up, says nice things, repeats, and then gives me a gorgeous, professional quality, suitable for framing banner for my blog. It's magnificent, and as I've repeatedly asserted, I'm just not worthy. Oh, and then he blogs about not just my blog, but your very own blogger. I'm both charmed and deeply embarrassed, but under no illusions that this is anything less than a blessing. I've thanked Mr. Netzer profusely and offered to bathe his feet, but I just don't feel its enough. I need to run out and perform random acts of charity in his name or something.

I've got to say too, look at that image. Why isn't this guy turning down as many offers as George Perez? More pointedly, why isn't he turning down work that should never even be offered to some of the wretched excuses for "artists" getting paid premiums these days for their shoddily rendered, rubbery, anatomically-incorrect abominations? I'm looking at you, Joe Quesada & Dan Didio! How alike you are in your ageism and currying the favor of the lowest common denominator of commercial "taste." Give Mike Netzer your money! I demand it! If I can get such lovingly crafted works as Mike Netzer's new logo handed to me out of the clear blue sky, imagine what can happen when I apply my overpowering force of will to your chromium-wrapped little minds! Imagine! IMAGINE!!!

Yeah, that didn't work out for John Lennon, so my odds aren't so great. As previously mentioned, I dream big. In general, I mean. In the specific, it's just common sense to have Mike Netzer draw a cover for you, as it is guaranteed to move more units than any comic on the stands would be capable of otherwise. Bets don't come safer.

One last note, doesn't J'Onn J'Onzz look great there. See, "Nasser" drew Manhunter at a time of transition, when he he went from a nigh-cuddly alien visitor to a brutal dispenser of extra-terrestrial justice (plus some really unnecessary hero-on-hero-violence.) While the peace-hungering spiritualist Mike Netzer was coming into being, J'Onn J'Onzz experienced a similar shift under the gentle guidance of write J.M. DeMatteis in the 80's. Recently, misguidedly, DC has returned Manhunter to the role of punchy killjoy. Wouldn't it be awesome, not to mention cathartic, to see DeMatteis & Netzer return J'Onn J'Onzz to his 80's highs as an introspective, humor-enhanced hero with the emphasis returned his brow over that tumor/tubor sticking out his fool head today?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Defending "John Henry" in "New Frontier"

The write-up for Darwyn Cooke's DC: The New Frontier I had wrapped for future presentation on my Martian Manhunter blog ran into eight pages. It stands to reason I might be a tad burnt out, and the copy of the Absolute Edition I had was about due back at the library after a renewal or two. I like to keep good reference handy though, so I figured if I'd just scan a quality image or two of the new character Cooke had created for the series, a vigilante John Henry, and just copy someone else's biographical information off the 'net. Color me surprised when the character only got passing mentions on Wikipedia, so I started surfing for alternatives. Not only didn't that pan out, but I ran across a number of slight or asinine reviews of the mini-series, the least of which authored by Erick Stragand for> I quote:

"The only forced and awkward element of the series is "John Henry". A masked civil rights superhero, who caves in the skulls of idiotic Ku Klux Klan dolts with sledgehammers. He's not really essential to the overall story, and it seems he was tossed in just to make sure the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's was touched upon. We see that he eventually inspires a young John Henry Irons....and, in turn, Shaquille O'Neal to star in the movie "Steel". The "John Henry" plot operates on its own and isn't essential to the big picture. Seems weird, when everything else becomes connected. It's like it was sandwiched in to meet the "Multicultural Requirement"." Like creator Darwyn Cooke, Stragand seems to have a problem with applying his punctuation after quotation marks, but unlike Cooke, Stragand is an ignorant slut. Allow me to elaborate...

1) Stragand answers his own criticism. Despite other backhanded references against "muliculturalism" on his blog, explaining that there were in fact heroic persons of color in existence with inn the confines of the DC Universe prior to Black Lightning really is reason enough for the inclusion of "John Henry," despite his protestations.

2) The entire story revolves around the consequences of oppression and the need for diversity. The government is suppressing super-heroes. The witch hunters are promoting the Red Scare. A peaceful alien visitor is hunted and captured, while an attempt is made to send weapons of mass destruction against his planet out of sheer paranoia. Politically, idiologically, spiritually and even physically, exceptional and common people are unable to realize their potentional because of fear and irrational hatred. Y'think maybe racism belongs in their somewhere? Especially in the whitewashed halls of DC Comics in the Silver Age?

3) Like Joe Friday and Superman, John Henry was an icon who's career John Jones follows in the development of his feelings toward Earth heroes and his presentation of himself. The murder of John Henry sent Jones into a spiral of despair which, combined with Flash's persecution and his increasing awareness of the hostility surrounding him, motivated the Martian's decision to finally leave Earth. It wasn't until Jones was presented with a new idol, King Faraday, that he regain the faith in humanity Henry's death had cost him.

4) John Henry also served as the forebear to the third heroic age, since most of the second generation youngsters we think of as part of that wave were either reworked Golden Age characters (Robin) or active participants in the Silver Age (Wonder Girl.) Only John Henry's heir, Steel, represents the ages that followed.

5) 31 pages spent on the Losers prelude. 11 page boxing match for Ted "Wildcat" Grant. 19 pages on a fairly run of the mill Flash tale. If anything, the 16 pages related to John Henry (5 of which were posthumous)could have used a bit more space.

6) Since I've already called attention to your lack of reading comprehension, I'd like to close by also assailing your taste. I found Cooke's threading of the sole new super-hero within the New Frontier tapestry to be executed with a sure hand. The character's design was dynamic but appropriate, mirroring Golden and Silver Age characters like the Black Hood and Hangman. While I respected his homage to prior works, one did get the feeling of been there-done that at times. That considered, the appearance of new concepts like John Henry and the Manhunter/Faraday friendship invigorated my reading of the material.

6.1) In other words, John Henry was Kool-Moo-Dee. Back off for' I draw back the pimp hand. I'll get around to posting that biography when I finish writing it. Stuff like this does tend to distract a body...


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