Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Making of "The Martian Manhunter #150"

The Martian Manhunter #150 (Winter 1976)

As the glow of initial pride over "Manhunter From Mars #100" faded, I realized I wanted to do a better job on the next anniversary. When I thought of the 70s, I though of Jack Kirby's "New Gods #1" cover, and had to ape it. I tried harder this time to keep everything plausible. Since I was set on using a photo background of Mars released in 1976, around the time Kirby left DC for Marvel, that got a bit convoluted... but no worse than, say, "Hawkworld" continuity.

I went through a longer debating process on this cover than any other to date, as I had a nice selection of images to choose from... both of Mars and Kirby Manhunter. I also experimented with mix and match, as I was teaching myself how to paste in disparate pieces to form a single image in Microsoft Paint. I decided that I definitely wanted to use the "Face of Mars" picture, which was a landscape, and thus handicapped me in a big way when it came to selling the completed image. I played around with the photo to give the "face" as great a comic-booky definition as possible. I wanted to fill as much space with Kirby art as I could manage without obscuring the "face," so I picked a shot he'd done of Manhunter from 1985's "Super Powers #1" where he really flared that cape out. The inks were by Greg Theakston, by the way. Unfortunately, the picture pushed the UPC box to the wrong side. I soon learned that resizing an image in Paint really louses up the quality, but figured I'd leave the artifacts in this instance, as those 70s photo hybrids always printed a bit wonky anyway.

I loved those bombastic Kirby cover blurbs, and had space to fill, so I stole a big honking number from Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth #1. I believe the banner running along the top was taken from, or at least modelled after, issues of "Secret Society of Super-Villains." DC briefly experimented with Marvel-style corner box figures, so I took one by Dick Dillin off the cover of World's Finest Comics #212. I blew it up, doctored it, and shrank it down for use here and as a permanent sidebar on this web page.

The groovy "Martian Manhunter" text and logo came from an interior page of the same "World's Finest" issue as the Dillin figure, digitally "bleached" and recolored. I'd actually intended on using all the various "Martian Manhunter" logos for fake covers over time, but then remembered that between the eponymous 1988 mini-series and late 90's ongoing series, that might seem redundant. That presented a problem later on, as there really aren't many "Manhunter From Mars" logos floating around, and one of the best is too big to play around with oftimes. I got some of my logo jones out of the way with the history-by-decade buttons on this web page, though.

"The 10-In-1 God of Mars" was directly referenced from House of Mystery #168's "Thantos-- the 3-In-1 Man!" I thought it sounded very Kirby, besides. The "10-In-One" is also intended to reference the ten Sefirot in Kabbalah. A Jewish upbringing influenced much of Kirby's work, but in a medium swimming in Jewish influence, it's easy to miss. Beginning in the late '60s, Kirby really seemed to focus on religion as a running theme-- be it Galactus and his heralds, the Fourth World, the Eternals and so on. It made sense to me that at some point Kirby might have played around with Jewish mysticism. Also, in later stories, Martian society seemed to be pantheistic, with an emphasis on H'ronmeer, but also tied to Neil Gaiman's seven member "Endless" family. I thought it might be interesting to see a Martian Pantheon consisting of the Endless and three native "Gods" that could parallel attributes within the Sephirotic model. I never worked it out in great detail, but thought an allusion in the "Kirby" work might be fun.

The inability of Kirby to reach an audience to sustain his DC titles was true, just as it proved to be on returning to Marvel. However, I'm not familiar enough with his deal at DC to recall if there were any contractual obligations of the manner I used to rope him into my "project." There is a lot of truth in my references to Gerry Conway, but anything related to a relationship with Kirby was totally bogus. Conway did end up working on a number of Kirby revivals after the King left DC, however.

The story's plot should be familiar to anyone who ever read the Biblical "Exodus." If you're gonna steal, might as well go with the classics. I assumed at the time that the Martians had actually settled on the planet Vonn from World's Finest #212, but massive inconsistencies about the planet from 70s and early 80s stories make their continuing to trek likely. Since there were no other inhabitants revealed on "New Mars" until 1977, I understand why they might take carte blanche and rename Vonn, but its just as plausible they discovered a whole other world. Vonn/New Mars really wasn't much of a planet for generating stories, and I can't imagine spending the entire 70s there in an ongoing series, at least if you hew to what was established canonically. If nothing else, let's say they shopped around for a bit, then settled on Vonn as the least awful option.

Getting back to the Kabbalistic elements, I thought the episodic nature of hitting ten planets/aspects/commandments/sefirot/Endless served an additional duty in recalling the structure of old Gardner Fox tales. It gave the Manhunter a mission beyond leading the Martians about: "Tikkun Olam," preparing himself and his people to repair the broken universe. Meanwhile, that scheming Jezebel, Bel Juz, was at it again. In the place of the golden calf was "the young madman Z'vi Z'har." This was a reference to Shabbethai Zevi, the false messiah of the 17th century, and an easy Martian name conversion if ever there was one. The "Z'har?" Zohar. Oy!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Making of "John Jones: Manhunter From Mars #100"

John Jones: Manhunter From Mars #100 (Sept.-Oct. 1968)

Since this is the first birthday week of the Idol-Head of Diabolu, I feel like indulging in a bit of navel-gazing. I always wanted to give more info on the creations of these anniversary editions, but the text pieces always ramble on so long, there isn't room.

In the early going, and at times today, this blog was more of a seat-of-my-pants affair, taking most posts day by day. I hadn't noticed I'd gotten up into the 90s until it dawned on me I should offer something special for the 100th post. Almost immediately after, I realized it would be great to do a mock 100th issue cover-- something that would have picked up as a victory where the strip truly met defeat at the end of its "House of Mystery" run.

Had I more time or given it more thought, I'd have started the 100 after the Detective run's 100th appearance. The thing was though, I didn't feel especially committed to a plausible cover or back story, seeing as I didn't get started until a few days before the job was due. Since I had no intention of announcing the image as a fraud, I figured I'd just throw plentiful "tells" out there, so folks would sooner or later catch the gag.

  • The undersized DC Bullet and over-sized CCA seal were taken directly off the cover of Superman #100.
  • I also tried to replicate the font of the exact date and price of that issue... even though it was published in 1955 at ten cents. The extra-length "John Jones: Manhunter From Mars #100" was supposed to be published in 1968, when it would have been at least 1 1/2 times that.
  • The layout of the anniversary "cover" more closely resembles a 60s annual.
  • Just look at that font! It screams "Microsoft!"
  • You can still see the edges where I painted into the lettering in the logo. The background color was chosen because it matched that of the center image as closely as possible, since my cut & paste skills weren't up to snuff.
  • The "Brand New Starro Adventure" was a panel stolen from the back of the Starro entry from the loose leaf "Who's Who in the DC Universe" #13 (October 1991)

Perhaps to make up for all the gaffs, both intentional and induced by my lack of skill with crude editing equipment, I went full bore on researching the "background" material. The variety of misfortunes that befell the "Manhunter from Mars" editorial and creative staff were all true. While Denny O'Neil and Jim Aparo never worked on Manhunter together, O'Neil did moonlight under an alias, and it would not have been uncommon for stories by the same creator seeing print out of sequence. Dick Giordano did leave DC, though obviously since he never edited Martian Manhunter, there's no connection between him and Mike Nasser's run that I know of.

Mike Sekowsky did end up working on the "Manhunter feature" in 1970, but the one from the year 2070, not the one from Mars. My biggest fib regarded the central cover image. While it's true that Wally Wood kept an extensive "reference" file, that art is actually by Joe Certa. It was straight out of John Jones' first appearance in Detective Comics #225, but reused on the 1961 "Secret Origins #1" special. When a Replica Edition was produced in 1998, the cover was re-inked by Jerry Ordway, who I figured looked enough like Wood to pass. Man, I wish more of those Tower Comics greats had actually been connected to J'onn J'onzz...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Showcase #92 (8/70)

Starker and his young lady friends had a great time in the resort city of Janus on Jupiter, but a wanted poster killed the mood:
100,000 Credits will be paid for the death of Starker, bounty hunter.
The Brotherhood of Space
"Didn't know the Brotherhood has that long a reach! No staying a little longer for you now! That means you've got to go and go now-- before some clown tries to collect-- and I don't want you two in the line of fire!"

Along the way to taking the girls home, Starker set his flyer on auto pilot and relented to their queries as to why he does it.

"--It all started out long ago-- 17 years ago to be exact-- 17 long years of fighting and catching this criminal scum... Hate them, yes, I guess I do. And with good reason-- a reason they gave me themselves! It started when my father, an asteroid miner made his find-- the thing most miners never find--" It was didanium, and a rich enough vein to insure the pair would never want again. It was also plenty enough to kill for, as a pack of claim-jumpers gunned the miner down in front of his son. The boy would have been next, had "Slops" not wanted kitchen help. "You know my rule-- no live witnesses-- but okay-- a kid can't hurt us!"

As Starker's first lesson in the galley, Slops threw him a beating, just to show who's boss. "That's what my life became-- brutality after brutality. Orders yelled at me-- and if I didn't move fast enough-- a boot or a fist reminded me to hurry!" As his fear gave way to hate, Starker began to watch the pirates in their pursuits, learning their various skills while mourning their many victims. Petty tortures, like Slago practicing knife throws with Starker-- William Tell style-- fostered a steely nerve. Starker continued to act the coward while training in secret: surpassing Slago with the blade, incorporating a variety of fighting styles, weight training, and learning every nook and cranny of their spaceship.

After turning eighteen, Starker beat Slops and tossed him out of the kitchen, claiming it as his own. This show of dominance was respected by the pirates, and besides, Starker turned out to be a better cook. After earning their trust for another two years, Starker enacted his master plan. He disabled all the life boats to prevent escape, then set a trap to snare his first pirate. Gaining a blaster, needle gun and a knife, Starker burst in on a card game between three pirates. "Things have changed in the last hour! I've come for you, Sergio-- you were one of the killers of my father-- You others-- I've got no quarrel with you-- so stay out of this!" The other two creeps weren't about to take Starker's advice, so they died with Sergio. "That's number one, Dad!"

Warning klaxons sounded as the captain became aware of the carnage via his closed circuit cameras. The hunt was now a two sided affair, though Starker was prepared. He knocked out the lights in the engine room, then waited for investigators. "Cyclops! He's one of the five who killed my father!" Starker dropped down from an overhead pipe and silently choked Cyclops to death between his legs. In the dark, Starker knocked out another pirate, then held his confederates at gunpoint before binding them. "If you're quiet, you may still come out of this alive-- but one sound out of you..."

Phase three of Starker's plan entailed releasing paralyzo-gas into the air-conditioning system, taking down most of the crew. That left only the pair watching Starker's progress with the captain. The trio donned sealed suits and split up after the kid. Slago found him first, but missed with a knife throw. Starker pulled the blade from the wall. "Let me show you how to do it, Slago? You do it like this!" Slumped dead on the floor, Slago made three of the five to be revenged against for a father's death. Dondor made four, as he was dead before he realized he'd missed shooting the agile Starker, whose own aim was true. "Only one more-- the Captain!"

Alone, the Captain thought only of escape the life boats couldn't provide. "I knew I shoulda killed you back there on that rock!" Starker made sure the only way out was through him. The Captain wasn't up to the task, managing only to nick Starker's shoulder before perishing by blaster. "That's the last one, dad... You can rest easy now!"

"Two days later, I herded the rest of the pirates, still groggy from the paralyzo-gas into the nearest space security patrol station... and as the stunned security police gaped in astonishment... 'There's seven D.O.A. still in the ship outside in your airlock.'"

"And that's how I became the richest bounty hunter around, because the rewards on that pirate crew totaled over two million credits. It also brought me to the attention of the Brotherhood of Space-- that and the years after have made me quite a thorn in their side!"

Starker finally dropped off the girls, laying over briefly to spend some time with the father that served him well in his investments. As he departed, he was blessed. "Good luck, Starker, and Godspeed!"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

House of Mystery #170 (10/67)

I've mentioned my old "Martian Manhunter: The Rock of the JLA" site many times, as it was not only the precursor to this blog, but was always intended to be a source for much of its material. Because of the shift in emphasis from covering Manhunter history in broad strokes to issue-by-issue, I really haven't gotten much use out of the old material. Still, many of my old House of Mystery synopsis have formed the basis for new, expanded editions. I've owned the last four issues of HoM for at least eight years now, but for some reason I've never once covered any of them. I suspect this issue was part of the problem, as it is swimming in weak sauce.

"You all know that Marco Xavier is actually the Manhunter from Mars, playing the role of playboy-sportsman for the sole purpose of hunting down Mr. V, leader of the crime syndicate known as VULTURE! So how come the Martian Marvel takes it into his head to reveal his fatal weakness to his most sinister enemy? It's no gag! It really happens in... 'The Martian Double-Cross!'"

Pretty solid premise, right? Not only will Faceless finally know our hero's vulnerability, but "Marco Xavier" is going to tell him! So why does this issue in fact prove to be not only a letdown, but a perfect example of everything that was wrong with this era of Martian Manhunter. Let's take a look...

Manhunter smashed through the wall of a VULTURE unit in Sweden, picked up another defenseless crook, and tossed him into some more hoods. This was great the first few times, if only because of how brutal and undeniably lethal some of those throws were. By this point though, it was just as rote as Superman smashing simple gangsters in the '50s. "Guns bark with futile fury, as..." the audience yawned. "Scratch another VULTURE headquarters!" Exactly, yet another tiny room full of modestly dressed hoods with automatics had been dealt with. These aren't giant SPECTRE island bases filled with lasers and mega-bombs, but single rooms with some odd bits of useless hi-tech pressed against a wall, possibly in strip malls, seated next to a kolache shop.

Suddenly, off in a corner, "Uh-oh... fire! I'd better get these VULTUREs out of here-- before that fire begins to affect me!" So not only do they not have any decent weaponry or a super-computer that does anything besides run "Pong" at this base, but Sweden apparently wasn't enforcing any sort of fire extinguisher ordinance in 1967? It's a small fire-- use your Martian super-breath. Your cavalier boots aren't so different from a fireman's that you can't stamp it out. Throw some of the VULTUREs at the fire to suffocate it, even. We get the fire weakness, but Spider-Man had a weakness to being squashed by tons of machinery. The fun was in seeing him lift it up anyway, not cry and faint at every turn, you big green sissy.

You know how I know you're gay? Because after you turned the VULTUREs over to the Swedish police, you couldn't go back to your "Fortress of Solitude" like that butch Superman. No, you have to once again adjourn to "a plush villa on the Mediterranean," where you "transform" into "Marco Xavier, international playboy." J'onn, a cravat? Really? What planet are you from? Oh, you know what I meant!

Some minutes later, Marco's phone rang, because those VULTURE boys are so chatty! His presence was requested at a pastry shop on the Rue Montville and... "I know where it is! I'll be there!" Yeah, J'onn. We know you know where it is, cream puff. Gay test-- you passed with flying colors!

Once there, a burly smirking chef (you can tell by his enormous chef's hat, also smirking) led "monsieur" through the secret door built into a ten foot tall faux cake. The "notorious playboy" once again spoke with Mr. V via viewscreen, until Faceless hilariously turned to a second monitor, seemingly to watch "home movies" with the physically present crew. Doesn't Mr. V know by now any job he involves Marco Xavier in will end in failure, and doesn't "Xavier" know he'll never get past the viewscreens to the real V? I just fail to understand why the Diabolu Idol-Head is still reviled as a deus ex machina, when VULTURE was if anything more slavish as a formulaic story engine.

Moving on, Mr. V showed "Marco" his "photographic dossier made by hidden cameras of my most formidable enemy-- the Manhunter from Mars... See? See? All of a sudden, the Manhunter became weakened!" This goes on for a whole page, but we all know Manhunter is repeatedly in the presence of fire, pees himself, then recovers. Being the most dunder-headed criminal mastermind of all time, Faceless still asked Marco Xavier to figure out what could possibly be causing Manhunter to lose his powers-- in the face of fire-- always. What could possibly be his weakness? If only Faceless could see past all that fire to see what the problem for the Manhunter is! Move, stupid fire!

"Back at his villa, Marco Xavier resumes his role as a carefree playboy..." Two girls in bikinis massaged his shoulders, a servant coming from off-panel with drinks. "Mmm... Marco baby-- you look so beautiful when you're relaxing," said the redhead with the funny cap. I couldn't see it myself, as Xavier looked as coldly calculating as Claus von Bülow. "If I fail to tell 'Faceless' what the Manhunter's fatal weakness is, he'll probably never summon me again! That would cut off my one and only link with the criminal society I've dedicated myself to smashing! But if I do tell him that my weakness is fire, I'll be risking my effectiveness as Manhunter! How shall I play it?" Xavier's visage was grim, even with a drink in his hand and a blond kissing his cheek. You know, for years I worked under the assumption J'onn J'onzz was asexual with regard to humans, or saw us as so developmentally slight as to be of no interest. That made scenes like this easier to swallow. In the late 90s/early 00s, he became quite the horndog, so now I don't know what to think. Well, I know I think they're tedious, and I'm struggling to write about these last few, but I mean with regard to the sexin'.

More pages were wasted on Marco Xavier pointing out the obvious to Mr. V, complete with panels from two pages earlier redrawn by Joe Certa-- I suppose because xeroxed stats weren't so common then. "Amazing! And there was the evidence-- under my nose all the time!" Xavier thought, "Exactly-- and that's the only reason I decided to tell you... because sooner or later you would have figured it out for yourself!" In order to collect a quarter of a million dollars, Xavier had to supply VULTURE with the whereabouts of Manhunter, after their scientists had time "to create a suitable opponent for someone whose weakness is fire!"

About a month later, Pierre paid Xavier for informing VULTURE that Manhunter would be "attending a week-long party on the estate of his good friend, Baron Du Marchal!" VULTURE had constructed a fifteen foot tall purple robot warrior to loose on Manhunter, with an eternal flame within its chest cavity it could fire through its mouth. I suppose the only thing Martian Manhunter could do now is bring Zook back into the strip to freeze machines like this... or go back to working invisibly... or assume a new identity... or wear some sort of flame retardant suit... or use his many powers to quash the flames himself... or...

The next day, J'onzz apologized to Baron Du Marchal for turning his vast estate into a future battleground. "Think nothing of it, Manhunter... It is a pleasure to be of service to you!" Now, in this panel, Manhunter and Du Marchal are practically on top of one another, staring, oblivious to the mingling partygoers at poolside. A pleasure indeed... until that big purple monster swung to life, knocking down trees and causing a panic. A man in a tree with a TV camera projected these goings on to the voyeuristic delight of Mr. V, who sat alone in his darkened room. "Grab him, my boy... then-- turn on the heat!" His left hand curled around an armrest, his right-- ? Mr. V's head was positioned between the image of the robots thighs... Was that just its seams, or did Faceless just shudder?

"Mustn't let him get his mitts on me!" Manhunter swatted and tripped the robot, though he could already feel the effects of the fire burning within in its breast-- though it wasn't actually exposed or visible or anything. "Getting weaker and weaker..." Oh shut up Manhunter, you big baby! You wimp! Why did I ever start this blog for such a sucky super-hero?

"Next instant, the Alien Ace seems to fall backward... finally with his last ounce of strength..." Manhunter kicked the robot into a river, then froze it with Martian breath. You remember, the robot who's chest had a jet in it, which it never opened? The robot who could shoot fire from its mouth, but never got around to it outside the lab?

"Next day, Marco Xavier gets a much-deserved dressing down..."
"You were wrong, Xavier, about the Manhunter's weakness to fire! But since this is the first time you have failed me, you will escape the usual penalties I inflict for failure! Meanwhile, I shall continue to go after the Manhunter!"
"As I will continue to go after you, Faceless!"

Oh, would you two just sleep together and be done with it already? You failed yourself, Faceless! Your stupid robot never exposed a single flame! Furthermore, Martian Manhunter failed to prove his cunning, because he never had to figure out a way around those flames! This was all a total cop-out waste of time! You're retarded, the Manhunter's crap, and I'm glad you're both getting cancelled in three issues, you repetitive losers! I hope you die in a fire! Wouldn't that be ironic?!?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Twilight Book II of III (1990)

Prologue: Homer Glint continued to futz about with his seeing-eye cat F'tatatita and reminisce about the expansion of the now immortal human race under the worship of the former Karel Sorensen. He's aided by more text pieces and transitions stolen from Alan Moore.

Tommy Tomorrow: Eventually revealed to be Tommy Parker from the "Space Museum" in an issue of Legion of Super-Heroes.

Space Museum: "An unusual series in that the only recurring characters were the narrator, Howard Parker, and his son Tommy... on every visit to the museum, Tommy picks up an object and his father furnishes him, and us, with the heroic space-faring tale behind it... With plots of unfailing ingenuity, beautiful art, and never a false note, Space Museum may well have been the most consistent product of the Schwartz stable." -Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones in "The Comic Book Heroes"

Knights of the Galaxy: "30th century do-gooders, patterned after King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, were ready at the drop of a hat to hop into their individual spacecraft and rocket off from their base on the planetoid Gala, to right wrongs wherever they may be found... Lyle was the only Knight of the Galaxy who was at all developed as an ongoing character, and thus the only one for whom the reader had anything resembling sympathy..." -Don Markstein's Toonopedia

Tommy Tomorrow: "His partner, who shared their two-man spacecraft (The Ace of Space), was Captain Brent Wood. Tho they had officers' titles, Tommy and Brent spent their days out in the field, pursuing suspects and wearing their Planeteer uniforms..." -Don Markstein's Toonopedia

Knights of the Galaxy: Brent Wood now commanded the Knights of the Galaxy in various wars between worshippers of Karel Sorensen regarding methods by which to worship her, as well as against those who renounce her and the plague of immortality. He's one of the few knights to honor a millennium-long vow of celibacy.

Tommy Tomorrow: "Created by Schiff and Weisinger in 1947 (for their educational Real Fact Comics) as a forum for real scientific speculation, but transformed during the 1950s into a minor backup strip about an interstellar police force called the Planeteers. The stories (mostly by Jack Miller) avoided bug-eyed monsters in favor of little mysteries..." -Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones in "The Comic Book Heroes"

Tommy Tomorrow: Driven completely mad, if he wasn't already, by his immortality and lack of divinity in a universe shared with Karel Sorensen. "The scourge of a hundred planets-- the bogeyman of a hundred more... A man who had wiped all memory of all the other murderous psychopaths of mankind's illustrious history... Maybe Hitler was a monster in his time... Attila... or Nero... or Stalin... Maybe they were all Class-A horrors... but by sheer weight of numbers... by utter, gross immorality... none of them hold a candle to that monster-- period."

Star Hawkins: "From Star and Ilda's association emerged the basis for the strip, the humorous interaction between the two; virtually every story revolved around one of the two protagonists getting him or herself into some wacky jam, from which he or she was eventually bailed out by the other in some mock-heroic feat of physical prowess or cleverness. Star Hawkins was a charming and boisterous entry in the Schwartz stable..." -Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones in "The Comic Book Heroes"

Star Hawkins: "And while Tommy was microwaving Knights of the Galaxy, there were other lunatic heretics to deal with... a job handled with far too much gusto by Star Hawkins... a fellow who never quite adjusted to the idea of animals and machines receiving equal rights under Karel's benign rule..." Axel Starker was shielded from gunfire by his loving robot assistant, allowing his prey to escape. The bounty hunter let loose a litany of verbal abuse. "I should have junked you years ago... Help what-- to screw things up again... You're always sorry-- you've cost me a small fortune in bounty... If I weren't contractually bound to keep you around, I'd melt you myself... Get it through that iron skull-- you're obsolete--"

Manhunter 2070: Starker, never given a first name, was probably the greatest bounty hunter of the year 2070. Orphaned when his miner father was killed by claim jumpers, the young Starker managed to survive as a cook's helper on a pirate ship. Training in secret, Starker finally grew old and skilled enough to turn the tables on the motley crew. From then on, through bounty and wise investment, Starker amassed a sizable fortune. Though he was routinely asked why he continued in the profession, Starker's passion to defend the innocent against piracy kept him going. Starker was aided by Arky, a clunky box robot who arranged his jobs and other tasks.

Manhunter 2070: After a first issue repeatedly referred to as "John Starker," brother of Axel "Star Hawkins" Starker, it's now "Jon Starker." A shame the character was by writer/editor Mike Sekowsky, as if it were a Miller/Schiff feature, forgetting the lead's name might seem like an homage. Anyway, Jon Starker is an alcoholic drifter as in love with sexy Ilda (not to be confused with the original incarnation, whose head looked like a punch bowl) as Ilda was his hateful brother. To make ends meet, he took a job lining suicidal immortals lacking courage up against a back alley wall to shoot them for a nominal fee. "When I heard months later what Jon had been reduced to... I wept for the first time in years... I mean, how many times could he kill himself... and continue to live in torment...?" Why does Starker do it? For the unrequited love of robot booty...

Star Rovers: "The brevity of its career was just as well, for it was far and away the weakest of Schwartz's series... Gardner Fox built the entire series around one plot trick: Three space-faring adventurers experience three almost identical action-packed mysteries, retell them later to each other, and discover a single explanation for all." -Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones in "The Comic Book Heroes"

Star Rovers: With Rick Purvis dead, Homer Glint was nearly always at the side of the deified Karel Sorensen, writing her bible in her temple abode. Confronted by Tommy Tommorow's ex Brenda with the knowledge that the Methuseloids were the servants of another powerful race, and that their souls knew no rest, Karel Sorensen agreed to forsake the immortality of herself and a weary mankind to lay the Methuseloids spirits down.

Star Hawkins: "Like most fictional private eyes, Star had been battered by life, and his well-lined face showed it. He was basically a good guy, but with a cynical attitude brought on by years of crawling around the seamier portions of society... despite the fact that he was very good at detecting, he wasn't all that good at making a living. In fact, he sometimes, during periods of especially bad cash flow, had to pawn essential pieces of equipment just to keep the rent paid... Ilda was just like the average fictional private eye's secretary — tough, smart, good at her job, and amazingly willing to put up with the hardships that come with working for a guy who doesn't always succeed in keeping up with the bills. In her case, that meant frequent incarceration in the pawn shop. But he always redeemed her, and always promised it would never happen again — which, of course, she never believed. It was his equivalent of being late with her paycheck... Star finally (year 2092) got a lucrative case, and even made a permanent connection with the last of the many women in distress he'd encountered over his career, heiress Stella Sterling. Even Ilda got a happy ending, as she hooked up with Stella's bodyguard, an incredibly ancient robot named Automan..." -Don Markstein's Toonopedia

Star Hawkins: Alone, Axel Starker continued to hunt his bounty off-world. Guided by a cat-man, Axel found the bloody corpse of his prey, drained of life by giant humanoid vampire bats. Attacked by same, Axel used his Magnus, which now looked and functioned like a gun rather than last issue's baton. Axel killed all the bats, but faced the cat's condemnation for use of an unlicensed weapon. "You talk this 'hard world' [expletive deleted,] but when it gets down to brass tacks, it's all romance that counts-- You keep your romance-- I'll keep my skin..."

Star Rovers: Karel, Homer, Brent and Brenda were all on one big ship, part of an armada meant to take the "goddess" to the Methuseloids' distant masters to release their immortality. Just as Brenda was in the process of seducing the formerly chaste Brent, Tommy Tomorrow launches an attack. Karel was killed and Brenda wept as Tommy assumed her "divinity." Homer also saved the kitten who would grow to become F'tatatita during his escape.

Twilight: A book in which Howard Chaykin wrote a mediocre science fiction story, then plugged in the names of minor DC science fiction heroes where whatever he'd called these foul-mouthed cretins had been. He couldn't even bother to keep the professions straight.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Legends #1 (11/86)

Darkseid looked down upon the Earth, and saw that it was good. This displeased him, as it should simply be under his thumb. His minion DeSaad showed him images of Earth's most inspiring super-heroes: Martian Manhunter, the Flash, Captain Marvel, Batman, Green Lantern, and Superman. To crush the hearts of mankind, Darkseid sought to destroy their legends.

Brimstone: A flaming giant under the control of Doctor Bedlam that began to terrorize New York.

Firestorm: The Nuclear Man and former member of the Justice League of America called from Pittsburgh to face Brimstone. Took a beating, and realized that he was out of league, so he went to fetch one.

Task Force X: Reformed under Amanda Waller, nicknamed the Wall based on her size and stubbornness. Enlisted Colonel Rick Flag to gather a team of super-villains for her Suicide Squad.

Cosmic Boy: A founding member of the 30th Century's Legion of Super-Heroes, on vacation in his past. The second champion to face Brimstone alone, and though he held up longer than Firestorm, was still the worse for wear.

"Need a helping hand, fella?

"Name's Vibe, Amigo!"
"They call me the Elongated Man!"
"I'm Vixen!"
"J'Onn J'Onzz-- the Martian Manhunter!"
"I answer to Gypsy!"
"My code-name is Steel!"
"And everyone's favorite Nuclear Man makes it an uneven baker's dozen! But, for simplicity's sake, Pinkie-- just call us... Justice League of America"

"Well, you're not exactly the Legion-- but boy, am I glad you're here!!"

The Creators: What's so simple about "Justice League of America?" That's kind of a mouthful, in fact. And how do you say it with a logo in your word balloon, like Firestorm did? Does this mean he's an honorary member of one of the most disreputable super-teams ever? Worse, did he claim it without consent?

Anyhow, here's "Crisis 2," since the other planned sequel never materialized("Crisis of Souls," I think it was to be called. I couldn't find reference to it on the 'net.) Where "Crisis" was relentlessly grim, Len Wein's scripts for "Legends" gave it an old school feel that everything would turn out okay in the end. This was in direct opposition to John Ostrander's plot, which was arguably darker than "Crisis," seeing as how personal and permanent the punishments were here. The art by John Byrne and Karl Kesel contributed to the lightening of the book, as even the villains seem too clean and neat to mean anyone real harm. In other words, Legends has aged very poorly, but is still hard to hate, especially when offering a two page spread of the kids from Detroit.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Detective Comics #235 (9/56)

For those of you interested in this sort of thing, we're covering the fourth straight story in which no Martians are depicted. That streak's gotta break, but for now, this one's strange enough on it's own.

Mr. Daro's circus had been victimized by one theft after another, from payroll to box office to the diamond-studded collar off a lion's neck (both cat and collar a fresh gift from an Indian maharaja.) Private detectives were hired, but failed to uncover the culprit, assuring only that it was an inside job. After Captain Harding and Det. Jones heard all the evidence, John asserted that the only way to flush out the thief was to go "UNDERCOVER, Mr Daro! I used to be a fairly good amateur magician... Supposing you hired me as a performer?" Perhaps realizing after having referred to himself as "J'on J'onzz" that he might not be keeping it real, the stage name of "J'ONZZ THE GREAT" was chosen. You might consider that a bit self-aggrandizing, but remember, "By mere concentration, my powers enable me to grow a goatee in an instant!" That's pretty dang great, isn't it? If that doesn't do it for you, how about when he mentally lifted Togo the pachyderm? "My thought waves are bombarding the animal's body molecules! He'll be weightless in a moment..." I don't even understand what any of that means, but I know in my heart it's greatness personified. That's levitation, Holmes! The power... to move you.

Alternately, J'onzz the Magician sat in a box while real swords were stuck through said box. "By willing myself translucent, I cause the blades to pass through my bodyless form without causing harm!" That word... translucent... I don't think it means what you think it means. Also, walking a "tightrope" of common household thread? Don't the acrobats have a guild or something to prevent that kind of thing? This is a comic book. Unless the artist is given an entire page to draw a foot with one thin line under it, a line's a line, and I'd just be griping about that stupid page with the foot all over it, anyway. This is only a six page strip, and this is page five, so there wouldn't be any room for that sort of... wait a minute! J'onzz has been doing magic tricks the entire time he's supposed to be fighting crime on his adoptive homeworld! What is this? Come on!

Needing to up the stakes for the last page and a half, J'onzz came up with the trick of duplicating anything placed in a special box out of thin air... starting with an ice cream cone. How, you ask? By seeing through the box with x-ray vision, then summoning "all the powers from the void of space." Mind Cream! "It's forming... I'm recreating the particles... Need more atom combinations for the boy's ice-cream cone..." Presto! "Yippee! Now I've got two ice-cream cones!" Uh, kid-- don't eat that. It was literally made from the sweat off his brow, the spit in his eye and the gravel in his gut. Worse, it tastes like Cinnamon Pistachio churned with Skrull cow milk.

Various items from the audience; pipes, mink stoles; were replicated. J'onzz counted rightly on the greed of the thief to attempt the duplication of that diamond-studded collar. Not that he couldn't have totally done it, but it's the principle of the thing. I kid you not, Jojo the Clown was the culprit, and he even made a break for the juggler's torches he'd seen J'onzz the Great flinch at earlier. But see, he did so in the last three panels, with one devoted to exposition. For once, J'onzz just blew the blasted torches out with Martian lungpower. Truly, truly great.

"The World's Greatest Magician" was written by Jack Miller and drawn by Joe Certa. Garish “pop art” coloring by Frank Lee Delano, without any reference. Original colored art can be found here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Martian Manhunter International

Like Superman, the Martian Manhunter is an immigrant American, though he certainly carries more of the homeland in his heart than the Kryptonian possibly could. Sure J'Onn J'Onzz has spent decades with us Yankees, but there aren't many super-heroes I can think of who have turned expatriate as often. Marco Xavier did spend years in the 60's safeguarding the Mediterranean against VULTURE, then spent 1969-1984 off-world. Even when he resides in the U.S., J'Onn's either living in unusual places like New England, Colorado, and Michigan, or frequently travelling abroad. Since 1997, it seems like the Manhunter from Mars has spent the majority of his time anywhere but stateside, with homes in Africa, the Antarctic, and the moon. According to one story, "As an alien with no family and few social ties in the United States, I decided I should do what I could to redress the balance. Now my recognition factor in Africa, Asia and Australia outstrips even Superman himself."

One wonders if these tendencies have endeared the Alien Atlas to readers outside the United States. I've certainly run into a good many foreign fans of our favorite Martian, not the least of which the one running the Martian Manhunter Fotolog. I spent entirely too much time this weekend looking for foreign comics featuring the Martian Marvel, and I figured while I was at it, I might as well start recording the various translations of the Manhunter's name around the world for posterity as a sidebar. I didn't call any attention to this, but our Fotolog man (under yet another alias, "John,") caught it while touring Europe, and decided to help me out. Our pooled information follows. Also worth noting is that most countries retain the English names of characters related to Martian Manhunter (Dr. Erdel, John Jones, Martian names, etc.) I guess all those apostrophes pay off the world over.

"Ajax, o Marciano " is the original name assigned to the Manhunter from Mars in Portuguese-speaking Brazil. The publisher, Ebal, couldn't fit a more faithful translation into the re-lettered dialogue balloons.

"Caçador de Marte" is a more proper translation into Portuguese, roughly "Hunter of Mars." This is the name that has been used by Panini since it began publishing the character's adventures in Brazil. In Portugal, it's just plain "Martian Manhunter." It's nobody's business but the Turks that they do the same, as well as the Dutch.

"Marsianischer Kopfgeldjäger" was the "Martian Headhunter" or "Bounty Hunter of Mars" in Germany. He's simply "Manhunter Vons Mars" and "Martian Manhunter" these days. There's also "Fräulein Marsmensch" in the Teen Titans.

The informal "J'onn J'onzz, Segugio di Marte" (Bloodhound/Sleuth of Mars) has defended Italy in the past, though these days he's just "Martian Manhunter." I wonder if "Gli Altri Tra Noi" or especially my favorite, "Segreti Americani" did any better over there?

The Finnish "Metsästäjä Marsista" is a "Mars Hunter," and a founding member of Oikeuden Puolustajien. If the same hero flew over Norway, excited citizens would shout, "Menneskejegeren fra Mars!"

It doesn't take a "Detective Marciano" to deduce what the Spanish speaking world calls Marco Xavier's alter ego. "Vientosangre" and "Fantasma de Bronce" might take some work, though. I really like "Martian Detective," and wonder if "Bloodwynd" sounds as stupidly disgusting in translation. It just occurred to me that "Bronze Wraith" would have probably been a better name for Dan Jurgens' creation, which is funny, since D. Curtis Johnson never intended his character to have any connection to the Martian Manhunter.

And you know what they call a... a... a Manhunter from Mars in Paris? A Martian Manhunter's a Martian Manhunter, but they call him "le Martian Manhunter." The French also like to call him just J'onn J'onzz, and sometimes "le Limier Martien," another "Bloodhound/Sleuth of Mars."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

British Batman Annual Covers

I've been snooping around for foreign DC Comics editions this weekend, after stumbling upon an incredible piece I'll share later in the week. It's very hard to find images from these books on the internet, I've learned. Martian Manhunter fans like myself are aware that in all the years he resided as a back-up feature in Detective Comics, he never appeared on a single cover. It seems the Dynamic Duo were a tad more generous across the pond, as the "John Jones, Manhunter From Mars" feature was at least referenced, and the hero himself was seen at least once. Atlas Publishing & Distributing Co. Ltd. (London) were responsible for the lot, and I thank them especially for the 1967 Batman Annual. From left to right: 1960, 1962, 1967, 1965 & 1966.

One thing that I've noticed is that, while you would think that publishers would mix and match material at will, there was a tendency to keep all of the U.S. editors' characters together. Here, you can see John Jones sharing space with Congo Bill and Roy Raymond, Jack Schiff characters all. I find it interesting that everyone, including Robin the Boy Wonder, gets mentioned above and beyond the manner in the U.S. editions. Was it that the Brits just favored anthologies, were the individual features more popular there, or perhaps both? Also note that 1967 cover was the only time any hero besides the Caped Crusaders appeared on a Batman Annual cover.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Twilight Book I of III (1990)

Prologue: Blind Homer Glint chased his talking cat F'tatatita around the room. It acted as his "substitute retina," and F'tatatita prancing about was making Homer uneasy. Glint found an old pistol of his, and tripped on a memory...

Star Rovers: Homer Glint was a sarcastic presence, but unfailingly "printed the legend" as a journalist, which kept gods' mouths near his ear. Rick Purvis was a sports star who consistently struck first, and never bothered with any questions after. They were linked through Karel Sorensen, Glint's ex and Purvis' current, another journalist with a camera implanted in her eyes.

Through his association with the Museum of Space, Glint found himself trying to negotiate a peace with rebels in a hostage situation. These would be the eugenically-engineered intelligent simians that once served as a work force, but fought for independence.

Manhunter 2070: John Starker was the head of the strike force meant to raid the camp. He sympathized with Glint and the rebels, but would only allow a fifteen minute dialogue before going in.

Star Rovers: Rick and Karel were among the "hostages," but the latter's gonzo journalism style had made her chummy with Bruno, the rebel leader. Homer arrived to make headway with Bruno, until Rick pulled a gun.

Manhunter 2070: John Starker led his force in after the shots to neutralize the target.

Star Rovers: After everything settled, Rick expressed his displeasure at how Karel had allowed Bruno to touch her "that way." Karel accused him of secretly liking it, so Rick drew a machete and decapitated the captive Bruno. Karel caught it all with her "camera," and Homer spun the murder into a revered act of heroism. Glint hated himself for doing it as much as he hated Purvis in general, but that's just how they both handled themselves.

Tommy Tomorrow and the Planeteers: "If, as the English poet put it, vanity's name is woman-- then psychopathic ego out of control is surely called Tommy Tomorrow. Tomorrow never got over being an orphan-- never knowing whether he was born of woman-- or petri dish... it made him a xenophobic monster, obsessed with eternal life... and I made him a legend in his own time-- a hero of the first inter planetary war..." Tomorrow barely recalled the name of his fellow officer Brent Wood, who was aiding him in his search for the last of the Methuseloids, a race key to immortality.

Star Hawkins: A.K.A. Axel Starker, a cold, hypercritical private investigator only willing to see rules bent when they suited him. This included carrying an illegal, concealed Magnus device to lethally bridge the gap between human ability and the superior strength of robots and other species. This was used in the robot-dominated Mexico to enter a cybernetic brothel in which humans were prohibited, killing a robot and a human, as well as alerting police.

Manhunter 2070: Found in bed with four robot whores by his brother Axel. "I'll be easier on you when you outgrow this disgusting obsession with robot sex..." The pair had to sneak away to escape arrest.

Space Museum: John and Axel Starker cooled off at the memorial for war heroes. A display devoted to "Captain Thomas Tomorrow & Lieutenant John 'Manhunter' Starker, Heroes of the First Alien War" triggered another flashback...

Manhunter 2070: A cease fire was in effect until morning, as the Methuseloid camp had taken prisoners, including Tommorow's wife Brenda. Starker called it a night, and Tommy Tomorrow waited until Starker was out of earshot, then made up a pretext to attack. In the aftermath, "He lost three officers-- including his pregnant wife-- and wiped out the remains of a race that was antique when man was... baying at the moon... but Homer Glint made him out to be a hero on the inter-link-- and it stuck-- What stuck for me were those shots of me with that robot in church... They court-martialed me... and I was a forgotten man in three months..." The same only made Tomorrow more of a public champion, using private contributions to fund his own private militia.

Star Hawkins: Axel Starker didn't care about his brother's self-pity, or for his emotional attachment to a piece of his property. Still Axel needed John to retrieve the stolen/kidnapped Ilda, his robot assistant. "She" was crestfallen when it was fat, loutish and often drunken John Starker negotiating for her release, rather the her beloved owner-- regardless of John's affection and Axel's clear contempt for "her." It probably didn't help John was trying to haggle over Ilda's price with "her" current holder.

Tommy Tomorrow and the Planeteers: Decided to investigate what underhanded business his old comrade John was getting up to in his jurisdiction. Flabbergasted to learn John was in fact bartering with Brenda, Tommy's presumed dead spouse, who gave him such a slap. "Back off buster-- and stay backed... I don't look or feel any older-- but you had me declared legally dead eight years ago--" Though Brenda miscarried, she and her cohort Broome managed to escape the battle in a Methuseloid ship. It took fifteen years to learn to properly operate the craft and navigate it back to known space. In the meantime, they reverted to piracy, and though Broome died five years back, neither had aged a day. "They were right all along about the Methuseloids... but it wasn't some secret formula-- it was eating the little crits." For a price, Brenda gave Tommy "the cross co-ords" of the last Methuseloids they knew of.

Star Rovers: The trio had stumbled upon the Methuseloids first, and became collateral when Tomorrow and Brent Wood launched an unprovoked assault. Rick Purvis was killed in an explosion, which also caused Karel Sorensen's essence to merge with that of many Methuseloids at once. Sorensen ascended to a sort of divinity, which Homer Glint refused to look away from. Through her eyes, worlds watched the rebirth of Sorensen, while Brent Wood was the first person on hand to begin devout worship. Tommy Tomorrow was preoccupied with tearing apart Methuseloids with his bare hands and eating them raw. Though now blind, Homer Glint drew his pistol on Tomorrow to insure there would be no more hostilities. "You're just destined to forever be present at those focal points in history, Tommy... like now, for instance... Simply put-- you're going to live forever-- but Karel got to be God..."

Epilogue: Homer Glint held the pistol again, and considered his many sins. The Methuseloid corpses were used to grant everyone eternal life, with Karel receiving all the credit, as Homer was on hand to write her bible. Glint cursed himself for not having killed Tommy Tomorrow when he had the chance, instead of allowing him eternity to stew in Karel's shadow.

Review: I'm a fan of Howard Chaykin's art and innovations, but I generally can't stand his stories. At one point, Karel explained to Glint, "I dumped you as soon as I saw through that shallow facade you call a personality, Homer," and I like to imagine Chaykin had a similar conversation with one of his own girlfriends. I feel as she does. Chaykin seems to be exactly like his Glint, dispassionately relating stories of cruel, petty, stupid, and vapid individuals without serving any purpose beyond wallowing in their sordid nature. I can't imagine Jack Schiff, a proud social progressive who edited many of the adulterated here, would be anything but repulsed by this series. Schiff hated science fiction anyway, intending his books to educate and entertain children. Then again, I'm not sure who this series was for, beyond Chaykin fans. The characters are completely unrecognizable, yet stand poorly without the tawdry perversion of pre-existing properties. Finally, coincidence runs a bit thick here. How exactly did the Star Rovers find the Methuseloids, I ask you?

Meanwhile, José Luis García-López, Steve Oliff and Ken Bruzenak waste some of their finest effort on an overheated "Heavy Metal" magazine lead story.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Justice League of America #257 (12/86)

Martian Manhunter: Tried to keep Pamela Cross and Adam calm-- one so as not to distract his concentration, the other to stabilize ever-shifting reality that threatened to shatter Pam's mind. "Calm yourself, Pamela. You're beginning to sound... hysterical. Forgive me. That was unnecessarily cold." Dismayed by Gypsy and Zatanna's troubles in Adam's psyche. Detected the presence of Zatanna's father Zatara with her in Adam's being, but continued to declare that "patently im-- possible...?" After demanding the returned Gypsy maintain a constant illusion, she snapped, "Y'know-- sometimes you can be the most hard-hearted--"

"I know. Now concentrate. Please. Don't do it for me, Gypsy. Don't do it for yourself. Do it for Pam. For Zatanna. For Adam." The situation came to its resolution, prompting Manhunter to bemoan, "Being neither a romantic nor a spiritualist-- I remain skeptical. And I remain worried."

Once Manhunter sensed Zee had reached the Godhead, he commanded her to fight, but she would not. He was furious when Zatanna returned to the physical plane. "Damn you woman-- I hope you're happy... Look at Adam... at what you've done... For all intents and purposes-- he no longer exists. Answer me, now-- and honestly, is there some way to reverse this? ...Did Adam hurt you that badly? Are you that hungry for revenge?"

Gypsy: "Dragged down by the demons of [Adam's] subconscious. Devoured by the demons within!" Remembered by Zee once she'd liberated herself. "How simple... to chant an incantation and bring Gypsy to me. But no magic I know can restore her to life! No magic I know can repair the spiritual damage this encounter may have caused her! Why? Why did I insist that she come with me? Was it really because I needed her? Or was it because Gypsy insisted that we help Adam-- despite all the evil he's done-- despite the hell he put me through! Maybe I wanted to put Gypsy's idealism to the test. Well, the test is over now, Zatanna. Are you happy with the results?" Gypsy came around, heard Zee say she was sorry, and was returned to the material plane. Grossed out Pam by being covered in "residual psychic sediment," which dissolved eventually. When Gypsy wondered why Zee was sorry, Manhunter said "I have my suspicions, but it isn't my place to say." Asked J'Onn if he could send her back in. "Even if I could-- I would not... Now please don't distract me, Gypsy." Commanded by Manhunter to cast an illusion of normalcy in Pamela's mind as Adam's condition and Pam's hysterics worsened. When Zatanna returned and Adam lay broken on the floor, Gypsy chastised J'Onn for speaking harshly to the sorceress.

Zatanna: Drug herself out of the morass of Adam's subconscious. "And then, a cold panic spreads out from her chest as she remembers something... someone." Pulled Gypsy loose, as well, and sent her packing. Met her ideal man realized, not dissimilar from Adam's appearance. "He is her desire made flesh. And she wants him." Started making out, until her father's voiced admonished her and made her see Adam's bestial lust given form. More seductive entities entice Zee, but her father's voice compels, "You are my daughter-- you know what to do." Cover her face in a spell of "heartless stone," it seemed. Zee overcame additional challenges until she reached the Godhead, where at her father's suggestion, she gave in rather than fight. The Godhead destroyed Adam's ego, swallowed Zee, and spit her back into reality.

Adam: When Zee fell willingly into the Godhead, "I saw everything... that ever was or will be. And I saw my father. I saw The Father. I saw the plan. I know now. And so does he." Adam saw that everything, even his prior evil, was meant to be in the greater scheme of creation. "The Godhead wanted us, Gypsy. Adam and I have a destiny together. The Godhead did what it had to-- to bring that destiny about." Pamela Cross had suffered a nervous breakdown, but Zee fixed her mind. Adam assured "The full memory will return when her mind is prepared to handle it." Manhunter deadpanned, "How kind of you to allow it." Zee and Adam then disappeared to parts unknown. "I don't like this," said Martian Manhunter. Gypsy replied, "You're always being so negative! Couldn't you feel the love pouring out of them? The joy?"

Steel: "One pizza and two hours later-- at Justice League Headquarters..." Hank had been apprised of these recent events by J'Onn and Gypsy.

Elongated Man: Couldn't understand why Manhunter was so upset while retelling the tale. "Sounds like Zee and Adam came out of that mess in pretty good shape."

Vibe: Called Ralph a "real jerk," thinking Zee might be under mind control. "Y'know-- like a... cosmic moonie!"

Vixen: Figured Zee and Adam just needed time to digest the experience.

Sue Dibney: Stood silently in the background.

Firestorm: Stumbled into the meeting with a warning: "You'd better keep worrying! But not about Zatanna! About the safety of the world-- and a lunatic called... Brimstone!"

The Creators: Those annoying caption boxes encompassing Zatanna and her father's thoughts are back, leading one to suspect DeMatteis may have scripted an earlier issue under a pseudonym. Whether intentional or not, this story allowed Zatanna sideways entry into the "End of the JLofA" arc, as her departure (and Batman's, in the midst of it all) marked the steady dissolution for the team. My understanding is that the dangling Zatanna story was picked up in the 80's Doug Moench Spectre series. It seems the Godhead was a hoax and Adam was killed off, but at least Zatara was finally laid to rest. I've never read the issues in question, myself.

J’Onn J’Onzz’s Nicknames of the Issue: "Manhunter" -Elongated Man
"Big Green" -Firestorm
"Mr. Green Man From Mars" -Pamela Cross
"J.J." -Gypsy

Most Embarrassing Vibe Quote of the Issue: "'Authentic mystical experience'? Yeah. I had one o' those once-- when I stuck my finger in an electrical socket!"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Showcase #91 (June, 1970)

"2070-- In the short space of one hundred years-- man has conquered space! Planted his colonies on the planets of his own solar system-- and with the invention of the Bridwell Space Drive has reached out to other galaxies... And soon fat-bellied freighters are plying back and forth between our solar system and others-- bringing the riches of other planets and cultures in their holds... But where there are riches-- there are those who covet them-- and soon the lifeless husks of burned out freighters float dead in space... Victims of pirates-- history repeating itself-- but the time is 2070 not 1670... And for every pirate caught by the space patrols or the private security police of the giant mining and freight corporations, a dozen take their place... Soon, as in the old American West, a new breed of free lance bounty hunter springs up, some are successful, and collect the huge rewards offered by the United Federation of Planets and private corporations... Others are not so lucky... or good enough... Their reward is death! But as with the pirates, the lure of wealth overcomes fear and there are always others to fill an empty spot in their ranks-- many others...

Such a man is Starker, Manhunter 2070! This is his story-- and it begins on the Olympus 7, a vacation and pleasure satellite orbiting around Jupiter..."

...and in that future, now even closer to our present, sentence structure is a thing of the past! Oy.

Surrounded by a pair of pretty Vince Colletta-inked ladies, Mike Sekowsky's Starker made a killing-- at the casino! Gathering his winnings, Starker passed his dealer a sizable tip, and credited the rest to his account. Starker needed to settle up, as a signal device on his ring finger had alerted him to pressing business. Hopping into his Jetsons space car, a.k.a. Flyer S-2424, Starker took the call and the job on his way to his luxurious house satellite, also in Jupiter orbit. The girls protested, as Starker had promised to take them to the Jovian Bowl, but "Business before pleasure, honey! ...I know I promised your father I'd chaperone* you on your vacation-- but Arky will take you!"

Arky was Starker's robotic personal assistant, without whom he would likely be lost. Arky detailed the job-- a break out of Deimos Maximum Security Prison by three convicts, involving the deaths of two guards. "Jamal Kry-- Jovian-- Frank Lester-- Earth-Man," and "Slymor-- Planet Donos, Andromedan Galaxy! All three are killers, many times over. Approach with extreme caution!" Starker's young charge asked why, even at 750,000 credits, he needed to take on more work. "You've got more money than you can ever spend!" Starker explained, "Thanks to the way your father has handled my investments... As to why I do it-- If you've ever seen a gutted freighter or a passenger liner... No survivors-- no witnesses! That's part of it-- If you'd ever met these killers or their like at close range as I did-- then you'd understand!"

Arky took out all the guess-work. The three fugitives had stolen a food and fuel delivery freighter and jettisoned the crew. Based on their profiles and other factors, Arky deduced that they would set down on the planet Pheidos, where they could hide out at a pirate stronghold. "I will recommend-- Disinto-Blaster-- Exposi*-Needle Gun-- Electro-Knife-- Rifle-- Cannon-- and Full Space Armor--" Starker was surprised by that last bit. "Sounds like it'll be rough out there! Okay, Arky-- you've always been right before-- Anything else?" Arky explained that the planet Pheidos itself would be a threat, "For it is a killer planet-- and so is everything on it-- mineral, vegetable, animal--" Starker chided, "You're a regular mechanical bundle of cheer, Arky! I'll be careful! And what do you recommend for transportation?" Why, "The TR-40 with the new 10-750 Space Drive-- I'll get it--"

In our modern era of the comic book Übermenschen, it's refreshing to see the hero of our more likely future so utterly dependent on technology for every single thing. I'm surprised Starker didn't have arms come down from the ceiling to dress him. Suited up, Starker returned to say goodbye to the girls, as he would be gone for about a week. The daughter gave the "big boob" a kiss on the cheek for luck. "Don't you know knights in shining armor haven't been in for centuries?"

Three days later, Starker found the wreckage of the freighter on Pheidos. This was a lucky break, as it meant the escapees were on foot until they could reach the stronghold. "Looks peaceful as a grave yard. Arky may have slipped up this time!" Starker mounted his Jet-Rider. "They're somewhere in the jungle-- be easier to spot them from the air-- and less tiring--" Just as he was about to rev his sky cycle, he was beset by creatures and animated plants wishing to end his life! "Godfrey Daniel! Now I know what Arky meant by a killer planet!" Filling his hands with weapons, Starker slashed and blasted the monstrosities away from his body! Everywhere he turned, Starker faced a vile menagerie out for blood! "A poisonous thorn-snake! ...Hairy Harry! These things look like the piranhas on Earth-- but here they have wings! ...Move, feet... Chow call on Pheidos!" Also, Glider-Cuda! Python Vines!

"Meanwhile, in a hidden underground chamber, not too far away-- Three figures stop in the process of arming and refitting themselves from one of the pirate arms and food caches scattered around the planet..." Using an Eye-Spy, they watched our hero fight his way out of one attack after another. "It's Starker... Just about the best of the bloody bounty hunters! Too many a good lad's in jail-- or dead because o' 'im! Nothin' stops 'im-- Not until 'e gets 'is man-- or men!"

A dead "winged-crocodile-like creature" later, Starker finally managed to return to his Jet-Rider and make tracks on Ol' Hoss! Starker tried scanning for heat radiation, but the pirates' own space armor covered that trail, allowing them to lie in ambush. Lester managed to blast the scanner and Jet-Rider out from under Starker, sending him on a crash course near some rocks. The pirates lay on Atmo-Sleds and flew off in pursuit. Using shoulder rockets to enhance his agility, Starker dodged their continued fire. The bounty hunter took cover, only to find a wave of Spider Rocks coming up from behind! "Howling Hounds of Hades! Did I say safe?" Shoulder rockets carried Starker out of reach, but he had to hit the ground running to evade the Atmo-Sleds! "Better find a hidey-hole! Here's one-- but it's already got a tenant--" As Starker blasted its head to pieces, "--Here's your disposess* notice, pal!"

The escapees passed overhead in search of Starker, until Lester finally spotted him, only to have his Atmo-Sled take the same punishment he'd dealt Ol' Hoss! "Never could stand a tattle-tell!" Lester used his downed Atmo-Sled for cover while his sharp-shooting blew the rifle right out of Starker's hand. Temporarily blinded and disarmed, it looked like Manhunter 2070 wouldn't live to 2071! A tear in Lester's space armor proved otherwise...

"ARRR-- No! Cannibal Ants! No!" One of the problems with Sekowsky editing his own script is that there was no one to catch the spelling errors, or point out that he probably meant "flesh-eating ants" instead. "With a terrible shriek, Lester leaps to his feet and tries to race away from his doom... but to no avail-- and a moment later, a near empty suit topples to the ground..."

Starker utilized his shoulder rockets to find a new safe place to plot ambush, but of course, there was no such thing on the surface of this planet. Tiny dragons began to climb Starker's legs, which he smashed with the butt of his handgun. A giant flying dragon-lizard howled its disapproval. "Oh-oh! Momma! And roaring mad about her babies!" In her fury, the saurian swatted Kry and Slymor off their Atmo-Sleds. Low on the only ammo that could potentially pierce its hide, Starker decided on a risky gambit. Manhunter 2070 claimed a sword and Atmo-Sled from a fallen escapee, then charged the dragon, stabbing it through the eye!

"Towing two Atmo-Sleds, one carrying a skeleton-- the other-- two unconscious outlaws-- Starker... fights his way back toward his ship..." He hoped nothing had eaten it, and his prayers answered, blasted off the "Planet of Death!" A few days and a medical inspection of Lester's remains later, Starker was promised his reward was in the bank. The day after, the bounty hunter returned to the company of his lovely lady-friends. "We still have a week, Starker, and you're going to make up for that week you deserted us! Arky's cute-- but-- You're not going away again--"

"Except on business-- if any comes up?"

(* sic)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

House of Mystery #169 (September, 1967)

"At a Grecian spa resort near the Aegean Sea," Marco Xavier was chillin' with a blond, while the rest of the guys were green with envy, figuring Xavier had not a care in the world. "That's what you think, mate! All my mind is on, right now, is the underworld tip I got that VULTURE is planning something big today!" Moments like this make a person see why I keep drawing the "Rock Hudson" parallel, right?

When purple-skinned werecreatures emitting smoke from their mouths showed up to steal the solid gold King's Trophy jockey statue... Do I really have to finish this sentence? "Er...Sounds like trouble, honey! Better take cover..." Even the flexing of "Mighty Martian Muscles" wasn't enough to phase these beasts, and yes, of course they spat fire too! In a keen Ditkoesque heavily-shaded panel, Manhunter decided he'd had enough of his fire weakness, and became a werewhateverhyenathingee. The three other 10-foot beasts actually filed into a getaway car and split, leaving Were-J'onn for the police. Worse, Manhunter was somehow stuck in this form, and on the run. "Great stars! The police I myself tipped off-- and in this form, I can get killed!"

"In an underground unit of VULTURE," we learned the beasts were men transformed (and could be reverted back to normal) by a Transfer-Ray. Mr. V's top scientists spent ten years building the invention. Manhunter had far less time to find it, as he snuck down back streets. One lovely woman spotted the former Martian, but her fellow dismissed her with "Nonsense! Everyone in this town keeps seeing them around!"

Marco Xavier had attended the horse race where the monsters struck based on his underworld tip, and that same source had indicated another job at the Bendel Museum that night. Manhunter caught up with the trio there, heisting another statue, but remained in hiding. Rather than confront the threesome, Manhunter sucker-punched and replaced one of them. This time, the monsters escaped in a roomy shipping truck, instead of a sedan.

Led straight to the HQ, Manhunter discovered the truth about the creatures, and prepared to take his turn under the Transfer-Ray. "That must be a pretty complex ray-- to be able to stop me from changing myself!" Too bad Noskers, the thug Manhunter replaced, arrived to expose him. "I'll change your face, you phony-- but not the way you expected!"

The pair of purple monsters fought it out, but the head scientist was fed up with the rough-housing. When both combatants were in place, he hit them with the ray, little realizing one would stand revealed as the Manhunter! The Martian Marvel smashed the Transfer-Ray before it could transform him again, then bragged to Mr. V (via satellite) that he would keep on tearing through VULTURE "until I bag you!"

"The Manhunter Monster!" was by Jack Miller & Joe Certa.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why does Starker do it?

Risk his life time after time, hunting down criminals? He doesn't have to-- what drives him?

Starker appeared in five issues of "Showcase," most written and drawn in 1970 by Mike Sekowsky. "Big Mike" had drawn the Martian Manhunter for the first five years of his "Justice League of America" membership. Sekowsky was working on Wonder Woman while producing try-out series for Showcase in its last days. Starker was one such effort-- a bounty hunter of the future, clearly modelled on then-popular movie toughs like Lee Marvin and James Coburn. The tales were rough and tumble, with a potent origin story sandwiched right in the middle of the run. Starker starred in three issues, plus a short preview and an out-of-continuity appearance in Showcase #100.

"Manhunter 2070" ran during a time when Martian Manhunter had just lost his solo series, and then left the Justice League of America in search of other Martian survivors in outer space. Had the book taken off, who knows what would have become of the Martian Manhunter? However, Starker took his shot while J'onn J'onzz was stuck in limbo, failed, and then joined him there. It seems appropriate then that he should reappear at a time when the Idol-Head of Diabolu is in a sort of limbo.

We just ran post #350 the other day, and are a couple weeks away from our first anniversary. I had planned to switch out the "Memorial" banner for something more festive, but haven't even considered a new theme. Several of our features are winding down, specifically the "House of Mystery" and "Detroit" era coverage, but they'll continue for a bit past the anniversary. Seeing as I have a gap in the schedule, why not give Starker one more chance to make a first impression?

Two more, actually. "Manhunter 2070" will run at least once a week for the next three in the "1970's" slot. Meanwhile, we'll also be filling the "1990's" slot with "Twilight," a mini-series featuring a revision of Starker so divergent as to constitute a totally different character. This was a "mature readers" take on science-fiction also-rans that appeared in books edited by guys like Julie Schwartz and Jack Schiff, who combined guided the Martian Manhunter's team and solo adventures throughout the Silver Age. It's something like playing Six Degrees of John Jones, but hopefully folks will enjoy the digression...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Manhunters Around The World

"Manhunters Around The World" was a strip edited by Jack Schiff that began running in July 1949's "Star Spangled Comics #94," alongside Tomahawk, Captain Compass, and solo Robin features. "Manhunters" was just a banner used to cover unrelated police stories that ran for a couple of years. Most of the strips were drawn by Curt Swan, before he found fame as a definitive Superman artist. In those days, Swan was part of Schiff's crew, doing work on strips like "Boy Commandos," "Tommy Tomorrow" and "Gangbusters." Leonard Starr drew most of the "Manhunters" Swan missed, and he produced the art on the series that replaced it, Dr. 13, "The Ghost-Breaker." The "Manhunters" briefly moved to "World's Finest" before being dropped entirely.

Now, my interest kicks in when Jack Schiff edited his first Showcase edition. Just a year after the launch of the "Manhunter from Mars" feature in "Detective Comics," that series' editor, as well as chief writer Jack Miller, decided to attempt a revival of "Manhunters Around The World" in Showcase #5. Talk about a vote of no confidence! Admittedly, this was the issue directly following the debut of the new Flash and the start of the Silver Age of Super-Heroes, but couldn't they have come up with another title?

Schiff followed the "Manhunters" with such properties as the "Challengers of the Unknown," "Space Ranger" and "Time Master." Julius Schwartz returned to the Flash in "Showcase," then launched "Adam Strange," "Green Lantern," and "the Atom." Even Robert Kanigher hopped onto the super-hero bandwagon with his "Metal Men." At least Schiff finally offered up "Aquaman," but no love went to the "Manhunter from Mars." Even J'onn J'onzz's appearances in "The Brave and the Bold" were under other editors.

This wasn't just a problem I have with Schiff, but DC Comics in general. Despite the "Martian Manhunter" being a noteworthy hero for decades, the company insists on watering down his "brand" by handing the "Manhunter" moniker to every Tom, Dick and Harry that comes down the pike. Sure, J'onn J'onzz was hardly the first "Manhunter," but none have been more successful for DC Comics, and virtually all of them have been treated with more care and respect than the Alien Atlas.

To explore this vein, the Idol-Head will occasionally take a look at the adventure of all these other DC Manhunters, and since I had to call it something, why not "Manhunters Around The World?" Truth is, I could have just as easily gone with "Manhunters Around The Universe," as DC has been so disloyal to the Martian Manhunter as to have extended the name to the furthest reaches of space and time. Still, the title is there, Schiff edited it, and we'll roll with it in our continued look at why Martian Manhunter has pretty much always been treated as expendable.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

fotolog highlights for july/aug/sep 2007

Not long after starting this blog, I received a message from a fellow under the alias "Zoiber," a Spanish "Detective Marciano" fan. Zoiber seems intent on collecting every Martian Manhunter image on the internet, and he was hoping it was okay with me if he started taking mine. I explained my belief that no one has the right to withhold a scan of a copyrighted image, so of course any of mine he cared for were fair game. Of course, a link is always nice, and bandwidth theft is just that, but you figure that goes without saying.

So anyway, Zoiber's been running an online catalog of these images since the start of 2007, and it just might be a bit of a task to get through them all, though I'm sure the process would be rewarding. I began covering highlights for jan/feb 2007, mar/apr 2007, and may/june 2007 so I figure it's about time I picked up where I left off...

Lego JLU Mini Javelin Toy
Martian Manhunter figure from same
Martian Manhunter/The Darkness imp
Animated J'onn J'onzz Original Art
The Infamous Children's Costume
Animated Character Sheet
Dramatic Photo of Super Powers Figure
Miss Martian as White Martian
Roh Kar in Color! Score! Pages 3-4, Pages 5-6 Pages 7-8, Pages 9-10
Scans of the Superman/Batman story with "Zook"

Friday, August 15, 2008

Manhunter from Mars #350 (September, 1993)

Pity Dan Vado. The Slave Labor Graphics publisher must have been terribly excited when, based on the strength of his work on "The Griffin," he was invited to take over the writing of a mid-line DC title. Further, it would be picking up from events spinning out of the "Breakdowns" crossover in the Justice League titles. A shame that part of the package was the need for a"big idea" that would boost sales.

The decision had already been made that at the end of "Breakdowns," the Manhunter from Mars would leave the Justice League for the "first time," at least according to Post-Crisis DC continuity. The next question was, of course, now what? The first thought was to revisit the 70's by sending J'Onzz into space, but science fiction was dead by 1993. Besides Mongul, who'd been reclaimed by the Superman group, most of J'Onzz's alien foes were lost to reboots. Doctor Light, Mr. Moth and The Falcon were laughable. The Conjurer, Professor Proxon and Malador were played out. The General, Monty Moran, Professor Hugo and his "sons" had long since been killed off, while VULTURE had been destroyed. It was much too soon to bring back Professor Ivo, Despero or Vandal Savage.

The difficulty wasn't just with the villains, but Manhunter himself. So much time had been spent turning him into an increasingly passive, introspective character, he was plainly out of step with the grim and gritty 90's. Without any remaining supporting cast members outside fellow Justice Leaguers to mangle, how could Manhunter be motivated to become a cynical, take-no-prisoners tough guy after all those namby-pamby years? Vince Giarrano had the idea for a new costume that more closely resembled Simonson's Paul Kirk redesign. Steven Grant chimed in with a new secret identity. Now that the Mark Shaw series had been cancelled, maybe the book and character should just be called "Manhunter?" A new arch nemesis? Comics by committee.

It was finally decided the Martian Manhunter as we knew him should "disappear" for a while, and just as mysteriously return a changed being. Dan Jurgens had the idea to introduce a new character into his more action-oriented take on the Justice League along the lines of where Manhunter was intended to end up. This "Bloodwynd" would then be revealed to be Manhunter, and he had an epic story in mind about how this came to be, with a wicked new foe in tow. Now, the trick was in keeping the secret until the big reveal (a problem he had on his earlier "Armageddon 2001" project.) Obviously, Bloodwynd couldn't appear in "Manhunter from Mars," but hey, that was Vado's problem.

The obvious solution was to tell stories set in J'Onn J'Onzz's now wide open past-- so obvious, Gerard Jones and Ed Barreto already had a mini-series along those lines ready for publication. A new Martian in the role would have been another way to go, but editorial was adamant about J'Onzz remaining the last living one of those. Someone suggested giving the book over to the adventures of L-Ron/Despero or Gypsy for a time, which may have contributed to their use a bit later on, but not just yet. Someone else suggested reviving Zook, and was laughed out of the room. Finally, Jurgens came up with the notion of Manhunter existing in a hellish dimension within what he coined the "Blood Gem," while Bloodwynd would be a separate intellect making use of Manhunter's abandoned body and powers. Trapped in such a place at reduced power, it only makes sense he'd end up more than a bit irritable. None of this was Vado's idea, but that was the book he'd be writing.

As an added bonus, "Manhunter from Mars" couldn't seem to hold an artist for more than a couple issues at a time, with the fierce competition for talent in the boom years. Nick Napolitano, Audwynn Jermaine Newman, Steve Carr and Ken Hooper combined produced only seven issues worth of pencils. Vado soldiered on, and was even given writing chores on "Justice League America" upon Jurgens' departure, but only after the Bloodwynd debacle had been resolved. Luke Ross here and, later, a young Mike Oeming, managed to finish out Vado's run (without too much help) before moving on to other projects.

The response to Bloodwynd and several costume changes was not the best, but traditionalists were happy to see the Alien Atlas punching people again. A familiar Martian Manhunter would headline the launch of "Justice League Task Force," another new Augustyn edited series. Augustyn had also hoped to retain the services of Rags Morales from the recently cancelled "Black Condor" series to stabilize the art on "Manhunter from Mars," but found he'd already committed to Valiant's "Turok: Dinosaur Hunter." Just another pinch hitter and missed opportunity. It wasn't until after "Zero Hour," and in the face of a rapidly shrinking industry, that any artist would deign to remain for an extended run.

Speaking of "Zero Hour," Steven Grant and Vince Giarrano did end up launching a new book called "Manhunter" with Armageddon 2001's Archie Goodwin, but it was completely unrelated, and only ran about a year. Go figure.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Justice League of America #256 (11/86)

Sue Dibney: Nope

Steel: Uh-uh.

Vibe: Forget it.

Elongated Man: Sorry.

Vixen: Wrong number.

Batman: What, you thought this was a team book? Batman isn't even on this team anymore! Get outta here!

Martian Manhunter: The apartment Detective John Jones was left in became a tinderbox. Reverted to Martian Manhunter form, saw visions of H'ronmeer. Embraced death-- but instead found he'd accepted a mystical invitation to Zatanna's presence. Also in the room was teen runaway Pamela Cross, who observed, "He's green." Her guide Gypsy explained, "He's from Mars, that's all." Manhunter recognized Zatanna's mind "cried out to the depths of our minds... nightmare to nightmare." Gently restored her consciousness telepathically. Had favor returned when he became lost in Adam's mind. Guilted Zatanna with this speech: "Gypsy, please-- I understand your concern... but you must let Zatanna come to this decision herself. She has been with the League far longer than you. She knows full well what we stand for. She'll make the right decision. Zatara's daughter could do no less." Served as a psychic anchor to reality for Zee and Gypsy.

Gypsy: Apologized to Pamela Cross for coming down on her so much she was asked to stop. "Enough, already! For cryin' out loud, you thought I was part of the plot that set up your pal, John Jones." Stopped to give money to an elderly homeless woman, who forcibly grasped her hands and stared at her. "Eyes that run deep with future days; that neither mock nor plead, but simply say: I am you, child. I am what you will be... what you will collapse into. I am loneliness and heartbreak. I am time. I
am Gypsy." The heroine rejected this foretelling, but could not effect the woman with her illusion powers. Gypsy saw a vision of the derelict with demonic features and broke free. Then, a trash can fire erupted into a firestorm, as she and Pamela Cross were transported to a hospital room. Pled Zatanna to aid Adam: "The League's supposed to help people... no matter who they are! No matter what they've done!" Went with Zee into Adam's psyche, because "Your ability to cast illusions... is indicative of a very vibrant... and resilient... mind! Few people alive could make this journey and remain sane." Gypsy asked, "And... I can?" Zee responded, "Let's hope so."

Adam: Driven mad by his absorption of the Homo Magi gene pattern, began altering reality. M.C. Escher, giant props, Dante's Inferno, infinite space and more psychedelic trips were represented. Sweating and unsteady, Adam begged for the Leaguers' help. "Creation... is so vast! And, I-- I'm so very, very small. So small... So very, very small..." Gypsy ignored Zee's warning and comforted the fool. Martian Manhunter followed with a mind probe, to which Zee whined, "Why won't anyone believe me?" J'Onzz was cast through nebulous space, "lonely beyond words," and learned Adam's ego had been sundered when he "touched the force that molded the universe! We touched the Godhead! ...Everything is so magnificent... full of wonder... and terror! But... we cannot feel the way we once felt... We cannot see the way we once saw! So vast... Give us back our self..."

Zatanna: Found writhing on the checkerboard floor, where she was cradled and revived by J'Onn J'Onzz. Reflexively flung the Martian against a wall for his trouble. Believed the ghost of her father Zatara brought the two Leaguers to help, but Manhunter doubted, saying "You are understandably confused by your ordeal." Had to force the Manhunter to break his maddening psychic connection to Adam. Zee acknowledged that touching the Godhead is the ultimate goal of mystics, but without preparation, they'd end up like Adam. Zee argued with Manhunter against helping Adam, to serve as both punishment for his crimes against her and foreshadowing of the revelations of her conduct years before in "Identity Crisis." Took Gypsy with her into Adam's very being, where they were drowned in a psychic abyss.

The Creators: Zatanna playing a pivotal role in the action? You know Gerry Conway's gone now! J. M. DeMatteis revels in his trademark transcendental mumbo-jumbo, but it works perfectly for this story, as a solution for the corner others had written him into. Worth noting that as soon as J. Marc made the scene, he invented a god for J'Onn and expanded his "screen time" considerably. The love was there from the very beginning. Bob Smith proved a poor replacement for the embellishments of Bill Wray. Luke McDonnell's pencils were revealed as too loose for this type of book, though the effects on display in this issue were very nice.

J’Onn J’Onzz’s Nicknames of the Issue: "John Jones" -Pamela Cross
"J.J." -Gypsy, Zatanna

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Do You Know The Way To Middletown?

As I've noted many times, I started the precursor to the Idol-Head, "Martian Manhunter: The Rock of the JLA," to fill a void on the internet for J'onn J'onzz fandom information. What I quickly learned, and this continues to be true, is that these sites of mine educate me as much as anyone else.

Back in March, Scipio of The Absorbascon began looking into "Where In The World Is Martian Manhunter?" He asked me about J'Onn's various bases of operation, since his home city went unnamed in Showcase Presents: Martian Manhunter, Vol. 1, and also what I knew about Middleton, CO. Since my Silver Age reading was limited to "Justice League of America" and most of the "House of Mystery" run, I honestly said, "J'onn J'onzz was mobile by that point... Considering the strip's writers had a hard time keeping the character's name and powers straight, I seriously doubt a bothersome detail like a consistent locale was ever a priority. However, since they did make a point of naming various towns during the HoM run, it's possible they identified his base city in the later 'Tec stories."

Applying deductive reasoning, Scipio determined that Martian Manhunter worked Apex City, Florida. I initially embraced the notion, but as I read Scipio's criteria for this theory, it occurred to me that much of it would apply just as easily to an East Texas city like Houston or Galveston. Next I read Detective Comics #232, where it got so cold in John Jones' town he felt the need to give a dog his sweater to stay warm. Now admittedly, there was no sign of snow, and J'onn J'onzz was a recently arrived alien being, but still. I knew I was on to something when I went through my old "Rock of the JLA" files, and found "Commander Steel's Notebook." This was an overview of Silver Age Manhunter stories I'd compiled from posts made by my DC Message Board guru on the matter, Commander Benson, in which he referred to "Middletown," with a "w." Sure enough, when I recently bought Detective Comics#322, the city was repeatedly referred to as such. In fact, they seemed to be making up for lost time, as everything was "Middletown Bank" this and "Downtown Middletown" that. I suspect Mort Weisinger must have made one of his "suggestions" that no one could refuse to prompt such a turnaround.

Now, I'm a fan of compromise, so while we now know John Jones was a detective in Middletown, U.S.A., there's no reason it can't also be "Apex City" in the same sense as New York is "Gotham," Chicago "Chi-Town," and so on. Besides, Manhunter ditched Middletown for the Mediterranean over forty years ago, and Middleton, CO for wherever the Justice League set up shop thereafter. Thing is though, while largely rewriting and vastly expanding my years old synopsis for House of Mystery #168 yesterday, there was such a mass of geographic information provided, I had to follow up on it.

In the Marco Xavier stories, the Manhunter confronts the VULTURE crime syndicate throughout the Mediterranean, with France, Greece, and Turkey directly visited. However, Spain seems to be the nearest country in the Mediterranean to the United States. House of Mystery #168 says Marco Xavier's posh Mediterranean villa was 3,000 miles away from the inner-mountain hideaway where Zook and Manhunter lived together, beginning in Detective Comics #312. The distance from Florida to Spain is about 4,400 miles, a bit too far off the mark. New York to Spain is 3,591 miles, closer but still a bit high. Maine to Spain by plane is 3,275 miles.

Taking this into account and looking at the various towns Manhunter visited in his pursuit of the Diabolu Idol-Head, it seems very likely all those adventures took place in New England coastal towns. It helps explains all those shoreline adventures, fishing boats, woods, and a progressive police department with active woman officers. Blueshark, porbeagle, mako and thresher sharks are all present in New England. It fits.

Gotham City, Professor Arnold Hugo's hometown, is in New Jersey. Hugo served time in Bayville Prison, likely referring to Bayville, NJ. In that same story, a giant Hugo rampaged through Mayville City, and there happens to be a Mayville (sans "City") in Jersey. Hugo once forced Manhunter to rob Centerville Bank. There's a Centreville Bank located in Rhode Island, and Centreville National Bank of Maryland. One of the museums Thantos raided was also in Centerville. In Scipio's defense, Hugo also escaped from Grayton Prison, which directs to Grayton Beach, FL.

Now, Orry Kane from House of Mystery #154 escaped from Elgin Prison, which ties to Scotland in my search. That's possible, as the story was a standalone with no reference to Zook or the U.S., but unlikely. More likely it's Elgin, Illinois, with the same rules applying as in Scotland.

House of Mystery #168 offered up no less than four new towns near Middletown as a means of triangulating where the city is. I fed all five to Google, and it spit out Gerrus Complete Building Maintenance which services such tri-state area cities as Woodsville, Midvale, Centerville, Fair Lawn, and Middletown. Admittedly, it's "Fairlawn" in the comic, but that's mighty good accuracy. The only Midvale Museum I could find was in Utah, and Fairlawn Museum is in Wisconsin, but there's a Centerville Museum in Cape Cod.

Here's the kicker: Scipio's smoking gun for Florida was the name of Middletown's baseball team, "the Flamingos." You must be asking, what could that possibly have to do with New England? Don Featherstone sculpted the first pink flamingo lawn ornament for a New England Plastics Company, Union Products of Leominster, Mass., which began producing them in 1957. That's a couple of years after the baseball team's first appearance, but I'm sticking with it.

I've long held the pet theory that the Justice League's original base in a cave near Happy Harbor, Rhode Island was an expansion of Manhunter's mountain hideout. Black Canary still operated out of Gotham, the Atom's Ivy Town was just down the way, and Metropolis isn't too far out. Certainly Flash and Green Lantern could cover the distance, while Green Arrow and Hawkman had vessels to carry them to the area. New England seems like the place to be, curious though that may be.