Monday, February 4, 2008
House of Mystery #161 (9/66)
In yet another clear indication that the status quo was to be forever altered, rather than acting out of some unnamed or non-recurring American town, the Manhunter was instead active in two identified foreign locales-- the first being the Taurus Mountains in Turkey. Manhunter was there following a tip about two missing scientists, but when it didn’t pan out, he was off on the trail of Marie Foucher-- “a pretty French chick whom the late Marco Xavier dated from time to time, according to his files!” Why yes, that was a J’Onn J’Onzz thought balloon, proving what a hep cat he was on the current derogatory terms for women. Mrrr-rowr-- behave!
“Shortly, near a rented cottage fronting the Gulf of Adalia, the Martian Marvel transforms to his new identity... Marco Xavier, internationally famous playboy and mystery man of the jet set!” Xavier literally gasped in surprise on running straight into Marie. “Marco-- mon amour! How handsome you look! How terribly I have missed you! How desperately I need you! ... You weel help me, mon cher?!” What the—is the true secret origin of the mutant Gambit that he was the spawn of a Martian and Lady Marmalade here? But hey, false identity aside, this was the most attention “Marco” had been given since Mars, which might explain why he allowed Foucher to lure him back to the Taurus Mountains to spring a trap. Abba Sulkar and his ambiguously “butch” servant duo had no intention of allowing Xavier to ever leave their secret lair. Xavier hoped to play along in order to learn more about the missing scientists and “the Faceless Mr. V,” but a special ray transferred the entirety of his mind onto a reel-to-reel tape, leaving him a vegetable!
“I trust you are pleased with my mind-duplicator, Mr. V!” Sulkar bellowed to a video monitor of his master, “Besides the two scientists, I also have Marco Xavier.” The leader of the nefarious organization VULTURE was not, in fact, a happy camper. “WHAT?? FOOL!! Do you not realize that Xavier has collaborated with VULTURE many times-- and that we trust him?” Mr. V demanded Xavier’s tape be set aside for his exclusive viewing, but Sulkar was not to be trusted. “A pudgy finger presses a button,” and Sulkar learns that Xavier is in truth the Manhunter from Mars! As Abba Sulkar raced to find his disintegrator weapon, another figure acted under cover and in whispers... “Queeckly! Follow me... but do not utter a single word or make the tiniest sound!” Ah, a faux pas, Madame Foucher, as it should have read “ze tiniest sound” to really sell the frogginess. “Shhh! I’m not only returning your mind to you, Marco--- but erasing the tape, so that Sulkar does not have a duplicate copy of it! I will do the same to these scientists!”
Xavier broke away from Marie to transform into Manhunter, allowing Sulkar time to get the drop on Foucher and the scientists. “Screaming aloud his vengeance, Sulkar presses the trigger...” to no effect against Manhunter’s emerald pecs! The man-servants Shtarker and Grosse fare no better, beyond the impact of one being tossed across the room into Sulkar! “Manhunter! Sulkar’s weapon went off! Sacre bleu! Sulkar accidentally turned his weapon on himself!” Still not sure this is no longer the gentle green giant of old? “Tough, but that’s what happens to nasty villains who play with disintegrator weapons!” The scientists were returned and the secret headquarters was sealed off, allowing Marie and Marco some time alone that evening on Xavier’s “moon-drenched terrace.” Faucher explained, “I was a double agent! My real chief is the head of the French Secret Service!” Both parties were disappointed at not having gotten closer to Mr. V, but perhaps they allowed themselves some... consolation...
As I bounce between rereading these Marco Xavier stories and his earliest Detective John Jones scripts, I’m really coming to appreciate Joe Certa’s incredible range of style and story-telling techniques. Had I not known otherwise, I would not think both works were by the same artist, as I’ve questioned on this blog a time or two. Certa was extremely open to new approaches to his art, without ever actually aping anyone, and he deserves more credit than he’s received (not unlike—you know...) I’ve only read one or two of the original Jack Miller scripts, and I might eventually admit I’ve been too hard on him. Not yet, but maybe...