Y’know what the best thing about going to your local comic book store is?
Supporting local business and the families of hard working comic book joes like us? Yes.
Getting to meet fellow comic book fans in a safe supportive environment which prides on a culture of swapping views on a variety of new and interesting comic related topics? Double Yes!
Doing all this while saving a boatload of money on some obscenely great deals that these places often run to attract patrons? Oh Hell Triple Yes!!
Thus begins the tale of how I went to my local comic store, the delightful Phantom of the Attic located on scenic William Penn Highway in the quaint suburb of Pittsburgh known as Monroeville, PA. Before Christmas they were clearing out some of their inventory with some select long boxes of single issues going for 10 cents a piece. Not the whole long box might you, but the single issue. So I took my son, Jakob, there in hopes to let him cherry pick 10 or 20 random comics for a couple bucks. At his age, I feel it’s important to get him exposure to as many different characters as possible so that he can get a sense of what’s out there and what he might ultimately like.
So as I was helping him peruse those boxes for some hidden treasures, I started finding several myself, like a couple issues of Machine Man 2020, which I did a read pile on, and a mid 80s Secret Origins reboot of the origin of the Doom Patrol. It was then that I started seeing issue after issue of this series called “Jemm, Son of Saturn”.
I honestly had never heard of it, but it had Gene Colan art and I’ve always been a sucker for his stuff every since I read his Daredevil. So I started yelling around to the other comic guys to fill me in on this series and how many issues there were, since I had found the first 10. Turns out there was 12, so I was only two issues short. Still though for a price of a Mcchicken plus tax, I nearly got any entire run of a comic book series, not bad for a few minutes of work.
Originally I thought this was some sort of weird “John Byrne”esque reboot of the established DC superhero, Martian Manhunter, ala what they did with Superman during “Man of Steel”. I thought it was crazy though that they would change his skin color from his iconic green to red. However, then I thought it was maybe to match the notion of the “red planet” and let it go as crazier reboot ideas have been thrown out there for bigger characters than Manhunter over the years (Wonder Woman as a Kung Fu Detective for example). Any who, turns out I wasn’t far off.
Jemm was originally conceived to Martian Manhunter’s cousin until someone else at DC wanted to relaunch that character and so author, Greg Potter, decided to spare any continuity messes to just make him from the planet Saturn instead. Turns out it didn’t matter because in the 90s, Jemm’s race was retconned back to being an offshoot of the Martians anyways, thus making the Son of Saturn pretty much a relative in some ways to their other famous alien superhero.
I gotta agree it was the right call just simply because their power sets and general appearance is so similar, that without that retcon Jemm really does look just like a dime store knockoff of the real J’ohnn J’onzz which isn’t really fair to either character.
But enough with the backstory, it’s time to start the review! Although I did buy the first 10 issues of this series, I decided only to cover the first 6 in this article, given that hopefully I’ll be able to track down the remaining 2 issues I’m missing at some comic show in future and be able to write the second half later. Plus, I feel like with this series, if it doesn’t hook you in the first 6, you ain’t gonna stick around for the rest.
After escaping from a political coup that ended a centuries long civil war between the race of red and white skinned Saturnians, the crown prince of the remaining red Saturn people, Jemm, finds himself alone on the planet Earth, trying desperately to evade the remains of the White Saturnians who are obsessed with his imprisonment and/or death while searching for his long long love, Syraa, who fled to the planet years before.
That is until in the back alley slums of New York City, Jemm befriends a small Earth boy named Luther, and the two decide to throw their combined lots in with each other, especially after some unfortunate events claim the life of Luther’s caregiver in his grandfather.
During the course of their misadventures together, we learn more about Jemm’s special place in the Saturnian culture as he’s not only royalty but also possesses the Mark of Jargon, a powerful gemstone that can not only emit psychokinetic energy blasts, but is also supposed to eventually reunite the Red and White Skinned Saturnians through it’s inherent telepathic properties. Plus we learn that a subset of White Saturnians called the Koolers which have the ability to shapeshift are really the ones that want to capture Jemm, and are mainly ruled by the more dominant females of their race.
We also learn about some evil Earthlings led by the mysterious Claudis Tull who have ill intentions for the surviving members of the both races of Saturnians. This includes manipulating Superman through some of his political contacts into fighting Jemm under the pretense of being an evil alien threat. This actually starts Superman on his own quest to find out the truth about the Saturn people and Jemm’s role in their society.
Things I Liked:
This may seem like a cop out, but one of the best issues of this first 6 issue set was issue 4 which contains the battle between Superman and Jemm. This is mainly because it’s Superman, and he’s being drawn in some pretty incredible little fight sequences by a master of the craft in Gene Colan. I probably would have taken Superman fighting a bag full of cow flop if it was drawn by Gene, but the fluid aerial battles between these two particular caped super beings is visually a pretty astonishing treat for the eyes.
In fact, I won’t lie, that it was this issue which first brought my eyes to the series in the first place as I was sifting through that massive stack of comics in the 10 cent box. I’m not even that big of a fan of the Man of Steel anyways, but still to see that cover with Jemm smashing Supes through a brick wall with a single punch was to say it bluntly…dramatic. I’m sure back in the day as well, this was the issue that the editor’s were saying “Yup, if this guest appearance by our biggest of the big guns doesn’t get this series over, then can it. There’s nothing more we can do.”
Luckily though at least for me, this single issue did elevate the series to a certain degree as I really did like the following issue as well, although that might have had more to do with them ditching the Earth based slum stories (which I’ll talk about in a moment) for outer space which seemed more in tune with the character of Jemm. However regardless, Superman did exactly what he was supposed to do in that story which was to get Jemm over as a credible super being with enough power to hang within the DC Universe. And it’s true, as Jemm seems much more capable as a real hero after that battle than he ever did in the first couple of issues. It was really the shot in the ass this book needed! It’s a shame that it took 4 issues in to finally do it, but hey, at least it eventually did happen.
Things I Didn’t Like:
Jemm going slumming. Plain and simple.
Although I understand writers and their need sometimes to talk about the poorest and most disenfranchised people of the world, to their need to give voice to those that have none, in a story about ancient aliens from Saturn and fantastical galactic conflicts, I have grave doubts about the decision to include entire issues about sewer funerals and gangs of winos. Especially when that plays a huge part of the first 2 issues when you are just trying to engage your audience and get them hooked on a premise.
At times, it reminded me a lot of another late 70s early 80s series about a young boy and an incredible super being guardian that spends a ton of time talking about urban decay and deplorable housing conditions, Steve Gerber’s Omega, the Unknown.The only difference was that with that series, I was willing to put up with it because it was Steve Gerber and I wanted to see where that story went. No offense to Greg Potter, but his name doesn’t hold the same cache that Gerber’s does with me so the moment I saw poor homeless Luther getting rolled by a bunch of bums for trying to share their dumpster fire, I mentally checked out to a certain degree.
I don’t know if they are playing homage to the classic Billy Batson/Shazam relationship in that Billy was originally a street orphan or its a play on Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land or if tales of homelessness just make for good drama for these writers, but I just find it depressing. And truely last thing I want while reading comics is to be depressed.
I think the most interesting part of my reading of this comic series was the discovery that this somewhat obscure character of Jemm, actually isn’t as obscure as I originally thought. I mean, he’s not like the Green Lantern or even Hourman, but he does have a decent place in some stories.
This included appearing as a member of Lex Luthor’s Injustice Gang during the Grant Morrison JLA run (he was brainwashed at the time), joining forces against the Hawkmen during the Rannians war against Thanagar, and a pretty intense Martain Manhunter story called “Rings of Saturn” which sees political assassination, arranged marriage, and Shakespearan tragdey as J’ohnn tries to help broker peace between the Red and White Saturnians.
And although it was probably at the point when the toy series started drifting into the niche characters, he did get his own figure in Mattel’s “DC Universe Classics” line in 2010. I gotta say I do love that toy. There is something striking about that dark red and light blue color scheme with the golden accents. To say it bluntly, it just works. Sort of a color negative version of Marvel’s Vision. I might pick up that figure some day if I can find him cheap just so he can fight ol’ Victor Shade in a battle of stoic stares!
Finally, Jemm even appears in an episode of the uber popular Arrowverse series’ on the CW. Of course, he’s a straight up villain in the episode, but it’s no different than his first unnamed appearance in Detective Comics #314.
The appearance happens in the Supergirl episode “Human For a Day,” menacingly portrayed by Charles Halford. Jemm is one of several alien escapees of Fort Rozz, and the leader of a group called the Faceless Hunters, who rule from Saturn in this universe.
Jemm’s powers are pretty spot on from the comics include super strength, telepathy, psychokinetic blasts, and invulnerability. He’s also made out to be an enemy of the Martain Manhunter who ends up killing him at the end of the episode. Still though, it’s not every DC character that gets a shot at being a character on these shows, so I consider his appearance to be a feather in his cap.
Maybe it’s a product of it’s time, in terms of delivering somewhat self contained narratives, but I really felt at moments, that this series was over the place. Well, scratch that. To say that exactly would mean there was no cohesive continuing story at all, which is just not true. There were overarching plot lines such as the war between the Red and White colored Saturn people, the evil machinations of this mysterious human power broker named Claudius Tull, and of course the genuine friendship between Jemm and the Earth boy, Luther.
But from the death of Luther’s granddad, to running around in the sewers with a gang of bums and street hooligans, to the brief fight with Superman, to the escape from the alien ship, this book never stays in one place or with one set of characters long enough for you to really care about any of them. Really the only constants are Jemm and Luther, and the rest are just a wash of random people that pop in and out, and somehow we are supposed to care.
Like there’s a guy that lost his wife via collateral damage from an attack by the robots set to collect Jemm for the White Saturnians. He ends up having a vendetta against Jemm because he blames all aliens everywhere for this wife’s death. This seems like it’s an interesting enough story line, right? But other than a couple pages of exposition and the guy getting hold of this alien killing machine gun which he uses to mainly shoot Superman, not Jemm, his story is not really explored at all.
And there are tons of these little lost ideas throughout. A Oliver Twist like Fagan who wants Luther to join his pack of street urchin pickpockets? Male Sex slaves on board the White Saturnians command ship? Hell, the fight with Supes alone! I feel like if this was rewritten in today’s trade paperback style, we would have at least had a couple issues on any number of these ideas, but instead they just flutter around like leaves in the wind.
Still though, I am glad I read it. Jemm did have a pretty decent origin story and the overall mythology ain’t that bad. Plus the White Saturnian Females are pretty interesting as the villains of the piece and issue 5 aboard their command ship is a particularly good single issue.
As I said at the beginning of this review, I will eventually track down the final 2 issues so I can see what happens in the second half of the story. Trust me, I wouldn’t be doing that, folks, unless there was something at least half worthwhile in this series. I mean, unlike the 80s cartoon, this Jemm might not be truly outrageous, but it was at least worth the price of a double cheeseburger.
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: B-