Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Manhunter from Mars Annual #1 (1984)



In New Mother City, members of the All-Martian Council were present for the harvest celebration. F'rnz F'rdd, Keeper of the Sacred Scepter of State, gave a speech mourning the memory of the Great Canals of Old Mars. F'rdd acknowledged the incredible difficulties his fellow survivors faced in finding water enough on their adoptive planet for adequate crop irrigation. F'rnz F'rdd then congratulated the present diplomats, including the very persuasive Bel Juz, in negotiating a treaty with the Baltaz Ruling Council to acquire their water reserves. He also honored the scientists, including H'ari D'omn, whose tireless efforts enabled them to devise means of purifying said water of deadly allergens. Most especially, F'rdd recalled J'onn J'onzz, who was essential on both fronts, and in fact was presently absent due to duties in Baltaz...

Members of the Baltaz Council questioned J'onn J'onzz as to why, with all the concessions their people had made to their immigrant neighbors, Martian marauders were still stealing food and other supplies. J'onn J'onzz was in a new containment suit for his visit to the underground city, to protect him from the deadly allergens in its air, which had already begun to avenge the transgressions. The bodies of two young Martian men were found seated in a discrete location, their mottled flesh betraying the fact that this had not been their first exposure to the atmosphere of Baltaz, though surely their last. While this had been an ongoing concern with regard to relations between J'onzz's people and their benefactors, the Martian Detective had a new worry-- he did not recognize either criminal.

Following the destruction of Mars due to the terrible greed of Commander Blanx and his "Pole Dwellers," the Green Martian "Desert Dweller" population had dwindled to the point where anonymity was nearly impossible. Further, the dearth of natural resources had forced the surviving Martians to beat their ray-guns and personal vehicles into the proverbial plowshares. How had these two unknown young men traveled unaided hundreds of miles through the Primitive Zone to reach this place?

Festivities continued in New Mother City, as party goers began mingling amongst themselves. Bel Juz was, as usual, the belle of the ball. Though facing numerous allegations brought about by J'onn J'onzz, including complicity in the The Thythen occupation, Juz was still juggling the attention of males right and left. While flirty with most, she dismissed the scientist H'ari D'omn with an abrupt hiss, while a fellow diplomat complimented Bel's new hair color. Hunter Commander J'en , present to represent the Soldiers of the Red Brotherhood, chimed in, "It's funny actually-- My mother always taught me blond hair was how a Green male could identify a concubine in a crowd like this." With a smirk, Bel Juz replied, "Well dear, if your mother had taught you a bit more about concubinage, perhaps J'onn J'onzz would not have allowed you to run off with that dirty militia in the caves." It took a good many of those Green males to tear the women apart.

Back on the surface, J'onn J'onzz had begun circling the area around the underground city of Baltaz, searching for signs of traffic in the sand. He detected a trace, and trailed it to a mound a few miles from the city. Brushing at the rise, he uncovered a shallow grave with another Desert Dweller male, this one stripped bare.

The harvest celebration was rocked by a sudden explosion, too close to the All-Martian Council for comfort. As the leadership were guided to safety elsewhere, F'rnz F'rdd refused to follow their lead until he'd made sure the many injured around him received medical attention.

J'onn J'onzz had climbed onto his all-terrain vehicle, a rare luxury item, and continued along the general route he'd determined the dead Martians would have taken. In the distance, he spied one figure hovering over another; the ambulatory then bolted. J'onzz called for the male to stop, but he would not, nor would he relinquish a burdensome satchel. With his vehicle, J'onzz easily cut off the scavenger, then warily approached him. Unlike the corpe they'd both run past, this fellow seemed unaffected by exposure to the air of Baltaz. Further recognition dawned on J'onzz as he drew closer. "You... I know you-- from Earth! You're the first Martian countryman I encountered during my exile there! You're the Magician-Thief!"

F'rnz F'rdd and his wife were heroically tending to casualties, when he suddenly found he had trouble breathing. Looking down, he saw an arrow shaft protruding from his throat. His wife raced toward him, only to be stopped short by a sword thrust through her belly. A heavily concealed nomad withdrew his blade, allowing husband and wife to be briefly reunited before their mutual passing.

"You of all people have to understand, J'onzz. Suddenly finding yourself on Earth, with all those incredible powers... the exhilaration of their use?"
"I lived on Earth for decades without the slightest inclination toward theft or conquest. You are who you are, regardless of super-powers. And who you are is a crook who, mysteriously, has found himself with yet another malfunctioning Guard Belt-- which I expect should have kept you in orbit around this world for some time yet."

Ironically, this method of imprisonment had actually saved much of the Martian criminal community from the global catastrophe that followed Commander Blanx's unleashing of the Blue Flame of Mars. Desperate for numbers, the Desert Dwellers had recalled all their Guard Belts and carried their more misbegotten members to safety on a new home planet, Vonn. Though most of these Martians had been incorporated into their new society on the so-called Mars II, many were dismissed as irredeemable and placed back into orbit. This all took place before the Martians were briefly conquered by the Thythen, and before the Martian Manhunter rejoined his people.

The Countryman refused to reveal his true name, in hopes records of his exact crimes may have been lost-- and of perhaps seeing his sentence commuted by aiding J'onzz. The Countryman was hardly the only escapee who'd touched down on Mars II months back, and he had in fact exploited the stupidity of marauders who had been sent on their suicide missions to Baltaz by crimelords in the region. Speaking of which: "So, now the grave robber has decided to conspire with the Manhunter from Mars! I should have dealt with you both long ago! Vengeance belongs to Vulkor!" The pair looked about, as a swarm of pygmy Martians tightened their circle, surrounding the duo.

Bel Juz enters a domicile, approaching a male sobbing at a desk, his face obscured by his hands. "H'ari?" Turning slightly, the man was revealed to be the scientist H'ari D'omn. "How could I have done this? How could we, Bel?" The seductress continued her approach. "You have to be strong for me, H'ari. We're in this together. There were only supposed to be a few Canal Raiders set down to help us. We couldn't have foreseen the entire Guard Belt system failing, and we don't deserve the punishment that would come from anyone finding out." H'ari D'omn cried, "I can't live with this guilt, Bel. I helped build the Tor robot. It was weight enough on my conscience when that went awry, but this?" Bel Juz began to stroke H'ari's thin hair. "We could be facing genocide! We have to find J'onn J'onzz and tell him everything! Maybe he and his Justice League friends could--"

A blaster tore through H'ari D'omn's head at close range, before Bel clasped it in his lifeless hand. "Oh, J'onn J'onzz, you are such a blessing and curse... You were the only Martian gullible enough to have shielded me time and again, but also the only detective brilliant enough to uncover the breadth of my many treasons. I cannot bear to live under the threat you pose to me, but my every effort to rid this miserable world of you blows back into my hair."

J'onn J'onn plead at his former foe, who was watching the proceedings from a ridge: "Vulkor, listen to reason! If your Guard Belt has failed, there's no telling how many worse criminals are on the loose! Help us, for the sake of yourself and your people!"
"What do I care about your Mars, Manhunter? I hope it all burns down!"
J'onn J'onzz believed that between the two of them, there was a chance against Vulkor's vertically challenged henchmen. However, just as the Manhunter had begun trading blows, his Countryman made a break for the ATV.

Manhunter began to drown under the numbers, as Vulkor looked on joyously from his perch. With a swift kick, the Alien Atlas cut out an opening. Grabbing a Martian midget by the belt, he launched the little guy at Vulkor, knocking him down off the ridge. A portion of the gang split off to tend to their leader, and Manhunter went to work on the rest. "You may have been nearly my equal with Earth-powers, but here? You don't quite measure up!" The Manhunter opened up room enough to make his own break, and dove for Vulkor. Lifting the villain off his feet in a headlock, Manhunter threatened to snap Vulkor's neck if his men followed.

The Countryman was still trying to rewire the anti-theft device on the all-terrain vehicle when J'onn J'onzz and Vulkor approached. He looked up, and surveying the situation, offered, "There's some rope to tie Vulkor up in my bag."
"Is there enough for the both of you?"

Bel Juz made her way through the chaos, as Desert Dwellers fled the dusky streets for the relative safety of their homes. Invaders wielded crude, often medieval weaponry with deadly effectiveness. Bel observed that they had insured no defense forces could reach New Mother City's advanced weapons cache, likely a prize the invaders intended for themselves. She cursed having left her own blaster in H'ari's hand, and considered going back for it, when she took a decidedly wrong turn.
"Well... long time no see..."
"B'rett?!?"

J'onn J'onzz navigated his vehicle beneath the night sky, thinking only of reporting his findings, when he spotted another body lying ahead in the distance. He decided to stop, and investigate with stealth on foot. Drawing closer, he realized the frame was too lean to be a male, as it suddenly whipped around to sweep his legs out from under him. J'onzz's attacker lunged at him, and the pair wrestled on the ground for a moment before realizing one another's identities. Hunter Commander J'en had escaped the city, and hoped to head off the Manhunter on his way back from Baltaz, as the plains would have given up his presence immediately to the invaders. Even from this point, J'en could spy J'onn's course from miles out, and prepare a trap, should the vehicle have ended up piloted by another party. What invaders, J'onn asked? "Pole Dwellers, J'onn-- surely led by Commander Blanx." The former couple walked to the ATV, where Manhunter's captives were already working on their bonds. J'onzz explained that they needn't bother, as he couldn't in good conscience leave them in a state where they were unable to defend themselves.

At J'en's suggestion, the ATV was hidden, and the quartet made their way to the caves housing the Soldiers of the Red Brotherhood. J'en bristled as J'onn scoffed at the mention of their founder, the Marshal. Genetically engineered to serve as a super soldier and military leader during the Manhunter's exile, J'onzz had watched the Marshal grow to adulthood as a simplistic thug. J'onn wondered aloud how an intelligent woman like J'en could have fallen in with his pack of zealots, then watched as she pulled further away from him.

At the caves, the Marshal greeted the Manhunter respectfully, but protested when J'onzz observed the Brotherhood had neither the men nor firepower to mount a counter-assault against the Pole Dwellers. The Manhunter knew time was of the essence, for if Blanx gained access to the weapons cache, he would become unstoppable.
"You mean the weapons your tiresome political wrangling has kept out of the hands of our magnificent Brotherhood?"
"Yes... those exactly."

The only option J'onzz could see was to try to enlist Re's Eda and his splinter group, who had disappeared into the Primitive Zone months prior. The Manhunter had suspected they were involved in the raids on Baltaz, but couldn't connect the two. His Countryman confirmed the suspicion, that R'es Eda had been using escapees to perform the raids, and offered to lead J'onzz to their camp at Crystal Mountain. The Marshal agreed to refuel the ATV for another trip, but only under the condition that he join the Manhunter on it. Vulkor submitted the services of his own men, his presence filling the four person capacity of the ATV. J'en was left with her Brotherhood as the men set off.

TO BE CONTINUED...

2 comments:

Luke said...

Wow. What's the Stan Lee-like way to put this? An Epic For Our Time!

Frank Lee Delano said...

Just so long as it doesn't read like an endless stream of Stan's Soapboxes, I'm happy. :)