Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Justice League of America #71 (May, 1969)

While on extended leave of absence, the powerless Diana Prince visited a carnival with her blind mentor, Ching. A commotion was caused by a mysterious figure in a red-violet fedora, jacket and pants-- with the rest of his body cloaked under a scarf, sunglasses and gloves. The figure was wrecking the fire-eater sideshow, and when Prince tried to use judo to stop the berserk man, he swatted her away like a fly. While Ching tried his hand, to similar dismissal, Diana activated her Justice League signal device. Green Arrow and Batman answered the summons, but were also manhandled. "What are we fighting?! He broke GA's steel-net like a strand of spaghetti! And tossed me like a rag doll!" Ollie tried a Dazzle-Arrow, which saw the figure collapse from panic. "N-no... Not fire! Not Fire!!" The heroic pair were surprised at the effectiveness of the phosphorescent arrowhead, until the Caped Crusader uncovered, "The Martian Manhunter?!"

An omnipotent narrator heralded, "J'onn J'onzz has returned from obscurity to plunge the Justice League of America into its most bizarre battle-- and into disastrous defeat!" The Manhunter from Mars' final story of the 1960s, and one of his most important ever was about to unfold. "...And So My World Ends!" by Denny O'Neil, Dick Dillin and Sid Greene!

Shortly, at the Secret Sanctuary, Atom asked "Where've you been all these months, J'onn?" Superman continued, "Why haven't we heard from you?" J'onn J'onzz asserted that the answers to those questions required him to go back all the way to before he made his first trip to Earth. "What you don't know is that on Mars I was a military-science leader-- engaged in fighting a world-wide civil war! I directed the forces of the Desert Dwellers... and my opponent-- Commander Blanx-- led the invading forces of the Pole Dwellers!..." Their conflict revolved around the Blue Flame of Mars, and ended with J'onzz being sent into exile for thirteen years. Most of that time was spent as an accidental visitor on Earth, "until my time of exile was over! Using the Earth-scientist's device, I returned to Mars... and found our once-mighty civilization in charred ruins! I captured one of Blanx's lieutenants and beat the truth from him... the horrible truth... Somehow Blanx had gotten a space-vehicle... and from 50 miles up bombarded the Blue Flame with rays..." An inferno swept the globe "slowly, systematically..."

"For days I tried to stop the flame's relentless progress... but it was worse than hopeless! On Mars, I am but an ordinary being, with no super powers! Finally, in desperation, I directed the building of a gigantic space-craft, using scientific knowledge I gained on Earth! However, I saw that this modern ark would not be finished in time... and with the last iota of energy in the Professor's teleportation device, I returned to Earth... I happened to land at that carnival-- was hastily disguising myself when-- something in my mind snapped! ...Only a fraction of my people survive... and even that tiny number is doomed unless Blanx is stopped! I plead with you to aid me..." Atom readily replied, "Say no more, chum! We're in!"

Atom felt "like a fugitive from Star Trek" in the special space suits Batman already had prepared for the team. "Where man goes, crime follows! And since man is in space, I thought we'd better be prepared to do our stuff in the void!" So they did, as Green Lantern carried most of the team across space with his power ring, until he spied a passing vessel of "the type used around the giant star-sun, Antares!" The craft pelted the Justice League with an incandescent radiation probe, similar to that emitted by a red sun. All of the heroes, especially Superman, were adversely affected. Green Arrow fared the best, having been shielded by Superman, whom he revived and aided in rescuing the rest of the team from a "death-orbit." Superman wasn't sure that the Antares craft's intentions were harmful, as they came from a red sun solar system, and could have merely been investigating goings-on around the Red Planet. While Green Lantern and Superman dealt with the spread of the Blue Flame, the rest were sent to determine what was going on inside the ships from Antares.

The Justice League of America found themselves under hostile fire, this time from multiple vessels of the Antares type. In the most bizarre but incredibly intricate depiction of Flash's vibrating powers I've ever seen, the hero passed intangibly into one of the craft. Similarly, the Atom shrunk small enough to pass through the matter comprising the ship's hull, and the pair laid a beating on the Pole Dwellers manning the craft. Atom opened the airlock to allow his other teammates entry, and the group worked their way through the ship, level by level, rounding up the crew. Funnily enough, of all people, only Hawkman wasn't shown to be in indelicate physical contact with a pale-skinned Martian. Soon, only the panicked Commander Blanx remained, as he piloted an escape craft back toward Mars. It could well have been a suicidal play, had not Superman and Green Lantern finally managed to remove the Blue Flame from the planet's atmosphere.

"My foe shall not escape--" the Manhunter from Mars vowed. "J'onn, wait for us--" said Batman. "No! I am grateful for your help... but I must meet Blanx alone! Do what I am sworn to do!" Green Arrow assured, "We understand... Good luck!" Manhunter followed Blanx in an away vessel. "Blanx has taken refuge in the Cultural Museum! Destiny has arranged for us to meet in a place originally dedicated to celebrating the civilization he wantonly destroyed!"

Inside the wrecked building, "Show yourself, coward!"
"Your taunts are wasted, J'onzz! I am above them!"
"No! You are afraid to silence me!"
"Commander Blanx has never known fear!"
The Martian Manhunter evaded a trident thrown at him from behind, then took it in hand.
"Does a courageous man strike from hiding? Why did you commit the most unforgivable of crimes...? What twisted reason did you have for murdering your people... ruining your home?"

"You shall be answered... and then you shall join the others in death! Look around you... this museum... dedicated to the glories of Mars! Glories... bah! These pictures, these statues-- these are glorious? No! They are things of weaklings! Once, we were mighty and spirited... Once, we treasured the implements of war! Now our weapons are put in dark corners, to rust-- as the spear I hold is rusted... When representatives of a distant star-system offered to buy Mars for its mineral wealth, I agreed... but according to their code, I could sell only if I were the last living Martian! With the aliens' help, I set about erasing life-- life that had grown weak! And I succeeded! We two are the last..."
"Soon, there shall be but one! Defend yourself...!"

Upon a staircase, the remaining Martians pushed and swiped at one another with their tridents. The staff of Manhunter's was shattered, and J'onzz was knocked backward into a large globe by another swing. As Blanx moved in for the kill, the Manhunter tossed the globe like a medicine ball, the impact pushing the Commander off the stairs. Blanx fell from an indeterminate height, then lay unmoving on the ground, the globe shattered across his body.

J'onn J'onzz fell to one knee, sobbing in dispair. "We were so close! After untold hundreds of centuries, we were about to find maturity... outgrow senseless strife... become all we might have been! And one individual, sick with the need for violence, deprived us of our destiny! And so my world ends!"

The Justice League encircled their tormented friend. The Last Son of Krypton confided, "J'onn... I know there's nothing I can say... to console you! But a few of your people did escape... in the space-craft you started..." Batman continued, "You're more than welcome to return with us! You have a home on Earth..." Green Lantern warned, "The survivors could be anywhere in the galaxy..." Still, the Manhunter from Mars, a tear in his eye, climbed back aboard the ship that delivered him to Blanx. "Wherever they are, I'll find them... bring them back! Back to rebuild, to begin again... Now... to the aliens' ship-- and then to the stars! Farewell, Justice League!" Superman blessed him with "Farewell, J'onn... and godspeed!"

On the one hand, this is a highly problematic story in terms of not only continuity, but internal logic. On the other hand, it served as the basis for J'onn's characterization for the rest of his life. Before, the Manhunter was something of a good-natured dilettante crimefighter with a happy home waiting for him whenever he overcame a few obstacles and reservations on his part. From here on, he was the tragic survivor of a mostly dead race divided by civil war, with all his native loved ones wiped out in one fell swoop, who could never go home again.

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