Thursday, June 26, 2008

JLA Annual #1 (1997)

"Somewhere in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, a strange visitor from another planet met with a very unfriendly and fatal welcome... when three would-be hunters bagged more bear than they bargained for. The men said that the frightening thing had come from some unknown world to invade and subjugate Earth..." a presumed scout for alien forces routed by Winchesters. These men were clearly heroes, especially Owen Jeffers, a state senator turned gubernatorial candidate. "Beyond innocent, the hunters were judged righteous in their actions... no one doubted them... and no one shed a tear for the passing of an unknown and unwelcome guest..."

"The Justice League wasn't interested when I brought the case to their attention..." and in fact seemed openly hostile. Of the all male members present, only Connor Hawke showed any sympathy. The Green Arrow agreed with J'Onn J'Onzz that something smelled "fishy," prompting unwarranted rebuke from Aquaman. These heroes felt the Manhunter from Mars lacked "perspective," even an all-too-human Kryptonian. J'Onzz noting the irony only seemed to provoke Superman, as Flash and Green Lantern tried to persuade the Martian that he was perhaps crossing a thin blue line. "It was justifiable homicide... if such a term can even be applied to this creature," asserted the Dark Knight Detective. "...I was seeing all too clearly. They were washing their hands and trying to talk me into doing the same. They didn't care, and yet, for reasons I can't explain, I cared too much." Batman suggested J'Onzz discreetly conduct his own unofficial inquiry, to settle his mind.

As "U.N. Investigator" Martin Smith, J'Onzz was immediately stonewalled, harassed, and eventually assaulted by citizens and authorities of the rural town of Hadley in the Cascade Mountains. Smith was unusually surly, looking like Violent Marv in a nice suit. This was surely a reflection of J'Onzz's distaste at the town's exploitation of the killing and disdain for their secretive, xenophobic attitudes. "Why on Earth did I want to be one of these creatures?" Burly Deputy Charlie Congers tried to haul Smith out of town without due cause, and failing that, broke both his hands punching the incognito Martian. Getting into his role as a human tough guy, "Smith" actively encouraged the deputy's self-destructive attack. "Then keep it coming, tough boy! Find my weak spot!" Conspiratorial Sheriff Jenkins refused to take Smith in. "Hadley's a peaceful town-- don't make me force you to play along."

The only person in town willing to talk to Smith was Jeffers' wife Claire, an obvious femme fatale. She swore her husband was too much of a weakling to be involved in any wrongdoing, while simultaneously tempting "Martin" with her charms. J'Onn continued to lose himself in his fixation with being "human" in this situation. "I felt a spreading warmth at her touch. In more ways than I could ever admit, it would be a pleasure to be with her. Despite myself, my pulse was racing. I yearned to open my mind to hers, but of course I knew that would destroy the illusion. I was responding to a woman-- in a way I never had before-- but a man would be crazy not to... I don't know if I believed her about her husband's innocence, but something inside me glowed warmly at the sound of her disdain for him. I was in a place I hadn't been for forty years... Simple human interaction... my transformation was almost perfect... I'd never committed to a role the way I had now" With the flick of a lighter, Claire learned J'Onn's greatest weakness, and he even talked about the death of his wife, something he normally never did. Leaving with a kiss, "Martin" thought, "if this animal passion was the price of humanity, my aching flesh screamed to pay it-- again and again... to do things I hadn't thought of in years."

Later that night, a gang of torch-wielding "small-minded fools" tried to avenge Deputy Conger's crippling humiliation. "You don't gotta do anything, friend... I don't want any trouble. But believe me: I won't run from it... All right, you idiots! COME AND GET IT!!" J'Onzz had sworn to play his manly role to the hilt at the start, including rejoicing in "all-too-human rage," going so far as to consider, "wasn't man given dominion over the lower animals?" Martin Smith beat his way through men and directions to the alien crash site. He knew he should feel guilty, but felt great instead. One of the thugs ran to tell his mistress what Smith had been up to. Claire Jeffers had spied the melee she'd arranged from her parked car, and had no intention of allowing Smith to ruin all she'd worked for.

Wandering in the hills, the Manhunter detected psychic spoor; a wrenching emotional trail that was still incredibly clear after weeks, leaving "dreadful impressions in the ether like discarded snapshots... The alien was dead, murdered... Was it a telepath?" As he approached closer to where the deed was done, the images and sensations coalesced. Tears filled his eyes. "...this was a charnal house... I had never felt such an intimate connection to a death. I despised what I felt, how I felt, but I could not banish the emotions, forget the images... some great, unacknowledged atrocity... forever set me apart from humankind for unearthing it... I stopped caring about fitting in amongst monsters like these... The horror was total, devastating. I was lost and alone on a cold and brutal world... It was too late. I had become one of them. As selfish and obsessive and BLIND as the common thugs around me."

Most of the town had shown up at this place away from the crash site, torches in hand to silence Martin Smith. Claire was behind the cover-up, part of her pushing her spineless husband toward the power she craved. Martin, still holding on to a foolish desire, thought better of Claire Jeffers. "I know what you thought, pig... you thought I'd fall for another loser-- HA! He's afraid of fire-- take him!" The town was murderous in their willingness to suppress the truth, beating the flame-weakened Smith unconscious. They next tied him to a chair and left him to die in a burning boathouse. Owen Jeffers was the last man out, and doused the old ropes on Smith's arms with gasoline. "Look, stranger... they'll burn fast. I wish I could do more, but God help me, I can't..."

J'Onzz, as always, was obsessed with the truth. "I was going to burn-- that was the only truth that should have mattered. But that wasn't what nagged at me like a rotten tooth... my need to belong-- too long denied-- would have me dead before it was denied again... what value was truth in a furnace? What value to the dead?" The fire sapped the ability to maintain the illusion of Martian Smith. "I was not a man. I was a Martian. And I hunted men... A lonely, human fool had died in the blaze. I was a manhunter, an avenger... and I had unfinished business." The Sleuth from Outer Space beat the wood beneath his feet to reach watery salvation. The Martian Manhunter then flew back to town with a proclamation: "The sun that rises soon on Hadley will shine its light on your sins-- the world will know what you are! I will make them know..."

The media arrived to view the hidden bodies of the dead alien's wife and newborn son. Their involvement in an invasion was doubtful. They were simply murdered by drunken cowards, while Claire convinced Owen to use the father's corpse as a trophy and ticket to fame. How she seethed when Owen confessed to J'Onn J'Onzz and the news cameras. "Now we all know the truth. There probably won't be any charges... Your victims are an unknown species--and legal statutes don't apply to non-humans... I'm not sure those statutes apply to me either. I came to uncover the truth and now we all have to live with it. If we can."

After this case, J'Onn questioned his desperate need to fit in with humanity. Brian Augustyn wrote, "...there was one mystery I'd never solve- the fathomless mystery of the human heart. Without this solution, I would forever remain an outsider. For the first time in quite a while... That was fine with me." Art for "Hardboiled Hangover" was provided by Ariel Olivetti, beginning an association with the character that would continue for years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This story with the hardboiled detective, the outsiders observations of the human condition and the inner turmoil sticks with me as the most memorable and probably my favourite Martian Manhunter story ever... Though I do love the old JLI oreos / chocos stories.