Wednesday, March 12, 2008

World's Finest Comics #245 (June-July, 1977)

Continued from Adventure Comics #451: "The Suspects"

The stunning conclusion to the 1970's Martian Manhunter mini-series! Well, Michael Netzer calls it a mini-series. I see three back-up features and a book length. Denny O'Neil continues the story that revitalized the Manhunter from Mars! Well, as an editor, since for some reason he couldn't write this issue's story, not that the same problem didn't stop his cashing a check on the previous installments. 20 more pages of glorious artwork by Mike Nasser and Terry Austin, joined by superstar writer Gerry Conway! Well, on two interconnected spotlight stories for Green Arrow and Black Canary (seemingly pitting them against ManBearPig.) An instant classic too big for one book, so we made it an 80-Page Giant! Well, I'm not sure anyone remembers the actual story so much as Nasser's art, which again isn't seen on the concluding chapter, bounced from Adventure Comics to World's Finest Comics. Also, it only takes up a standard 20 pages, although that is over three times the length of any of the individual back-ups. I'll also note the issue was all new material, instead of the usual Golden Age reprints.

We returned to the action aboard the Thanagarian patrol ship of Hawkman and Hawkgirl...

"You've seen proof of our innocence in the Visiglobe, J'onn J'onzz! Are you convinced now?"
"Yes... Shiera... Hawkman! I've been acting like a madman!"

No doubt, as we were treated to yet another, but this time very necessary, flashback to recent events. As remembered in this edition, J'onn J'onzz was at an indoor ceremony with a host of other Martians, more reminiscent of the Mars seen in the early Silver Age than the near-barbarism characterized by Denny O'Neil stories. Re's Eda, Keeper of the Sacred Martian Symbols, was now a virile, hairless and fully clothed soldier, rather than the balding and mustachioed take from the back-ups. Before R'es Eda could pass along the Sacred Sceptre of State for J'ozz's "inspired leadership," he was again struck by a ray blast from an unknown assassin. "That decent, wise Martian's killer had to be an Earthling!" His mind clouded by grief and rage, J'onzz went AWOL for Earth, prompting military chief N'or Cott to blow him out of the sky over Metropolis. Two poorly motivated fights with Supergirl and the Hawks later, Manhunter had finally come to his senses. This mattered not a wit to N'or Cott, who sent a booby-trapped Superman robot after his former commander.

"Superman" boarded the Hawk's Thanagarian spaceship, though Katar Hol was made suspicious when his craft's sensors detected a "powerful servo-grid" motor nearby. Hawkman hipped the suddenly savvy Manhunter to Cott's ruse with "gibbering" alluding to a Trojan Horse, and after scanning "Superman" with Martian Vision, J'onzz tossed the robot into space, where it exploded. A happy side effect was the temporary disabling of N'or Cott's ship, forcing his landing on Earth. The "unholy fuss" caused by all this brought the attention of the totally legitimate World's Finest duo. Batman deduced there was something rotten on Mars II, and sent J'onn J'onzz and Superman there. "I and the Man of Steel a team? Fantastic!" Yeah, well, Batman later noted, "Old Greenskin is all heart and guts... but he blundered!" Why was N'or Cott so keen to kill, after all? The Dark Knight had Hawkman return him to Earth in pursuit of N'or Cott to investigate, since the Hawks themselves needed to "tend our own garden!"

Having traveled billions of miles through a space warp, the Last Son of Krypton and the Alien Atlas arrived on the tiny surrogate for Mars' former glory. The Martian's city was completely abandoned, with all weapons and military supplies gone as well. The Martian Marvel couldn't fly on Mars II, so Superman had to carry him while following tracks into the desolate "Primitive Zone." The pair found J'onzz's fellows encamped in the desert, preparing to invade the underground city of Baltaz, previously discovered by N'or Cott. More curiously, the Martian forces were being led by a very much living R'es Eda-- the only person N'or Cott had revealed his find to. "I knew conquering it was our colony's one hope of survival! But I knew you, J'onn, would never approve such a conquest... so I devised a grand plan to get rid of you! The Martians would revolt if you were killed... their hero! So before you could accept the Sceptre of State... I had N'or Cott shoot me instead-- Of course, I'd taken a bio-serum to counteract the ray blast's effects..." Manhunter's hotheaded crusade allowed R'es to usurp his position, "And N'or Cott follows so he can eliminate me 'legally'-- as a traitor abandoning my people! Very clever! What a fool I've been--!"

Superman protested, "Wait! Baltaz? I have heard of it... A legendary city of peaceful, highly civilized beings... not corrupt and evil??" Re's replied, "Yes, I had to feed the other Martians that lie so they'd eagerly follow me to conquer the city..." J'onn J'onzz cursed, "You rotten schemer, R'es! You're leading our people into evil! We have no right to invade the city!" Re's snorted, "Would you rather they sweat and starve in our colony... with no future?" J'onzz tried to confront his people outside with the truth, but the combination of their own wants and the incredulity of recent events turned them hostile. The soldiers attacked our heroes with their swords, prompting the Martian Miracle Man to declare, "You forget... I can be bruised-- but not cut-- by Martian steel." As Manhunter had a blade of his own, it can be assumed this was true for all Martians, their steel effective only against other beings. Otherwise, it would mean that Manhunter had powers not inherent in other Martians, and a willingness to turn a potentially lethal weapon against fellows he'd just expressed horror at having to combat at all.

While he was "just not as super" on this planet, the Man of Steel still soundly walloped the Martian troops. They then turn their ray blasters on Manhunter. "ENOUGH, YOU MARTIAN MURDERERS!" Superman cradled J'onn in his arms and flew him to safety. Maybe J'onzz did have powers beyond those of normal Martians, after all?

Back on Earth, it took the Caped Crusader two days to follow N'or Cott's slowing tracks from his desert landing. Despite the Martian's still superior strength, the Darknight Detective managed to take him by force. Cott's green flesh was mottled with large pink spots, and he was visibly ill. "Yes... Earthling... I'm dying... The results of my own greed and lust for power--! When I alone... entered the city of Baltaz... on Mars II... marveling at its wonders..." N'or Cott revealed that after he murdered a citizen of Baltaz to keep his arrival in the city secret, he was told by his victim the "very air shall avenge my death." Martians are severely allergic to it, causing their cells to slowly die. "I realized it... after my Superman robot failed to kill J'onn J'onzz...! Now all the Martians... including J'onn are in mortal danger!" Batman couldn't reach Superman because the space warp stopped all radio transmission, so the pair made their way to an old mine in search of material to repair Cott's ship.

While his friend recovered on Mars II, the Strange Visitor from Another Planet met with Baltaz's Council. The azure-skinned race spent their wealth on their people, rather than weapons, because they were guaranteed protection by the Old One 4,000 years ago in their holy text, the Tablet of Tal. Actually reading it was no longer an option, written as it was in a dead language, though Superman could! As in their previous team-up, Manhunter mostly stood by while Superman used his might to reach the Old One, a Baltazian of advanced years who would activate a gyrometer to destroy his people before they should be conquered. Surprisingly, when the Man of Steel smashed the Old One's crystal palace, he seemed to have inadvertently killed the Old One (referred to by Manhunter in the past tense as he lay unmoving amidst rubble.)

As R'es Eda's force marched toward Baltaz, their path was blocked by the arriving ship of Batman and N'or Cott. "R'es Eda! As its rightful commander, I order the army to halt!" N'or Cott's wretched visage and final words convicted R'es Eda and swayed the Martian army from its path toward certain doom. "Yes... I die, comrades! But hear my last words... R'es Eda is a traitor... He plotted to kill J'onn J'onzz, our true leader!" Restored as leader of his people, J'onn J'onzz declared, "Haven't you heard enough? Seize R'es Eda? I order it!"

Later, back at the Spacefort, J'onn J'onzz congratulated Superman and, "with you and Batman helping, we Martians have learned a powerful lesson! Revenge... violence... aggression... all become the enemies of whoever uses them!"

Writer Bob Haney then concurred, "Amen to that, old greenskin! Goodby to the Martian Manhunter for now..." from this adventure, and from print for most of the next seven years. Haney handled this finale in a far more appealing fashion than Denny O'Neil could have mustered. You can judge from the length of this synopsis how much more plot Haney had to contribute. Haney had been a DC standby throughout the Silver Age, joined here by the artist that defined Superman for a good quarter century, Curt Swan. As inked by Murphy Anderson, this crew kicked it old school in direct contrast to the shorts that preceded it. I've never really warmed to Swan, but Anderson's Lou Fine-influenced inks make the work very palatable. His Hawks were, of course, especially tasty. One or both men had a problem with drawing J'onn J'onzz with gloves like the other Martians, but thankfully Jerry Serpe colored over the errors. All this action was under a cover by Neal Adams, just to turn the screw that much harder on fans expecting Nasser goodness.


Luke said...

This is an interesting turn of events considering the dunder-headed build up over the previous installments. In a sense it is appropriate that Bob Haney would write something with so much plot in twenty pages, since that seemed to be one of his hallmarks. But it's still a bit unsatisfying to me to see the Martian Manhunter, the guy who's name is on the splash page, playing second banana to Superman. Sure, if you need Big Blue to pull a power trick or save J'Onn from the other Martians, okay, that makes sense. But having your title character play bystander? Nah, that doesn't jive. Of course, that's about par for the course with the Manhunter.

Frank Lee Delano said...

That's just it: The three back-ups didn't lead to a novel length Martian Manhunter adventure... They only set up a Superman adventure, in a Superman comic. Perhaps Plan A was to whet the appetite for a Manhunter ongoing, but I'd have to check the dates for proximity to the ex/implosion. I know an MM series was planned, but I'm not confident this was meant to be it.