Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Martian Manhunter: American Secrets. Book two. (10/92)

Upon arrival, the runaways took in the sight of the suburban "heaven." Preston informed John, "The comic book man told me all about Leavitzville. This is where he wants to come--after the reckoning... He used to come out here to visit with his old boss-- the 'Nuts' man!" Intruding on this revelation was the Anderson family, a nuclear bunch complete with both parents, a child of each gender, and a loyal pet dog. "Can we give you folks a hand?" The teenage daughter was already swooning over Perkins Preston, and Mom recognized Patty Marie. "Whatever brings you here so late at night?"

Jones bought himself a few minutes to come up with an excuse for his group's late night arrival into the Anderson home, involving a well-known mobster. "These extortion gangs threaten popular personalities to bleed the producers. I was about to move Perkins and Patty to a safe-house in the Rockies when someone tried to hit them...You heard of a man called Mr. Gioconda?"
"He's one of those Las Vegas gangsters, isn't he?" Jones was pleased to glean that bit of information, then asked about their suburban habitat, while Mrs. Anderson blathered the equivalent of product endorsements in the background (predating "The Truman Show.") Mr. Anderson affirmed, "People of all types, all backgrounds, and all creeds are welcome in Leavitzville. As long as they fit in."

Meanwhile, Sissy shared her secret stash of "Pink Passion" lipstick with Patty Marie. Sissy whispered, "Is your mom strict about things, too?" Patty replied, "She tried to give me to the lizards. Usually she only hurts me when she's drunk, or when one of my uncles is over and I interrupt them. But this time all I did was say the wrong thing on television. A man called me on the telephone and said I should say the words 'Prize-To-Be' on the program. And I said them...and she whipped me with the hose and said she was going to give me to the-- to the-- NO! NO! NO!"

Jones arrived to console Patty Marie. "Your mother's made milk shakes, Sissy. Wipe the Pink Passion off your mouth and join her." In the next room, Buddy showed off his collection of movie monster magazines. A hungry Preston was more interested in the kid's candy. "Have all you want. It tastes crummy. That weird Mr. Keene gives it out to all the kids. It's made from sugar-beets...Bleccchhh!" Perkins read the wrapper, "Beto," then mentioned black friends back home in Mississippi who share-cropped the sugar-beets. "Colored people? You've seen colored people? What are they like?"

Jones slept on the couch. "That night I dream strange dreams. Dreams of my other self. Misty dreams of Mars, and great airships over Earthly cities. Of little girls and their prizes, and boys and their candy. Dreams of endless grids. Straight rows of lights, or houses, of humanity, stretching endlessly away." The next morning, Jones perused the morning newspaper, noting the suicide death of singer Eddie Lowe. "Prize-To-Be... The tumblers roll through my brain but can't click into place. Eddie Lowe fights with Phil Jerry about jukebox orders from Mr. Gioconda. From Cuba. Las Vegas. The Big Question. And a parody..."

Jones decided to investigate further, by invisibly trekking to the home of the former employer of the proselytizing lizard-obsessed artist, Mr. Keene. Jazz music blared from his home, while Jones noted a sign above his door reading "POETRIE B E-Z --KOMMEDIE B HARD". A pudgy, goateed, bespectacled man answered the door, and was surprised to be questioned by a Denver police officer. On his floor was an unpublished art board from "Nuts" depicting child personality "Skeeter" as a murderous alien invader. "There was a murder on 'The Big Question.' 'Nuts' magazine satirized that...Your parody used the category 'horticulture' the day of the murder." Keene, an obvious analog for Bill Gaines, joked around Jones' questions before settling into a confessional funk. "Once I was serious. About science-fiction stories, crime stories. They took me to a senate committee for such serious. They dragged me through the mud. They cut off my head. Their pink-tinted head-shrinkers called me a capitalist pimp... and their flag-flying preachers called me a Red. They wanted me quiet. And they got it."
"Who? Who wanted you quiet, Keene?"
"My neighbors, maybe..."

Suddenly, a dragon-hound burst through the door, attacking the Manhunter. Mr. Anderson pulled up in his station wagon shortly after, walking up to Keene's door with briefcase in hand. Just as J'Onzz snapped the beast's neck, Anderson whipped out a hi-tech handgun, firing streams of flame at the Martian. Perkins and Patty thankfully arrived in their pink Cadillac, saving Jones by running Anderson down. "Oh my Lord! I killed him!" Keene consoled, "It's okay, kid. He wasn't human anyway... Insurance salesman." Keene fetched some fresh clothes for the singed John Jones, and a batch of All-Star Comics for Patty Marie. The girl protested, "But I don't read comic books! They're not educational." Keene retorted, "That's what you think."

A panicked Perkins Preston shouted, "Detective Jones? Sir? They're coming, sir. Station Wagons!" Loading up the Caddie, Jones reverted to Manhunter form, and flew away with the car. Keene looked on. "I didn't think there were any of your kind left."

Back to Part Two

Forward to Part Four

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