Monday, June 30, 2008

Manhunter from Mars #300 (July, 1989)



"Emperors... Czars... Presidents... ultimately all are mere vultures pecking at the carrion in my wake."

This tricentennial issue picked up from last month's big revelation that not only was VULTURE behind J'Onn J'Onzz's recent trials, but the original Mr. V was none other than Vandal Savage! It seemed "VULTURE," often mistaken for either an acronym or a spy agency, was in fact Vandar Adg's first attempt at a dictatorial government. Realizing that even he could not be in all places at once, the earliest evolution of the immortal Savage selected the most brutal lieutenants available to control what he knew of the world through intimidation. Modern readers may have noted the appearance of members of this Cro-Magnon Mafia in the recent "Final Crisis #1," where they were confronted by Anthro. The name "VULTURE" was simply the closest approximation to his concept the developing Vandar Adg could articulate, and it stuck through the ages.

A couple of years prior to this issue, Vandal Savage regained memories lost to him for some time-- including the nature of VULTURE-- and began rebuilding in Central City (funded by the Velocity-9 drug.) Savage also remembered the international crime operation's still active cells, as well as his ability to wield magic to some degree. Years prior, VULTURE had captured Manhunter's pet/sidekick Zook, and tortured him into revealing the secret mountain location of the Martian Marvel's abandoned hideout. There, they uncovered the Book of Diabolu, and began assembling what pieces of the Idol-Head they could locate.

Savage unleashed the mentally ravaged Zook on Manhunter, a malformed adulteration of the lovable imp Silver Age fans knew and loved. Zook taunted his former friend in a sick recreation of his "baby talk," just the sort of perversion one would expect from the late 80's (especially edited by Andy Helfer.) While J'Onn J'Onzz attempted to address the unhinged Zook as carefully as possible, Savage began reading incantations from the Book of Diabolu over the Idol-Stones, releasing a slew of classic menaces. While the Alien Atlas pinned Zook to a wall with Martian lungpower (hampering flames that were triggering his then-psychosomatic vulnerability,) he was confronted by Mike Mignola's distinctive renditions of the Doom Shadow, the Venomee, and more. However, the terrors originally sealed in the Idol-Head were never intended to work in unison, and began attacking one another. This allowed the Manhunter the opportunity to turn this mess around.



"Vandal Savage-- you have harmed my friends, violated my home, and compromised the integrity of dear Zook's mind. By your own abhorrent actions, you have surrendered the sanctity of your psyche to my will. I am now assuming custody..." Through Savage's eyes and voice, the Sleuth From Outer Space began to read spells from the Book of Diabolu to recapture the monsters within the Idol-Stones. However, poor Zook was absorbed by the Being In The Color Rings before it was re incarcerated. Filled with hurt and rage, the Manhunter had Savage cast one last spell-- sending the immortal menace into an Idol-Stone of his own!

Later, J'Onzz brought the Book of Diabolu to former teammate Zatanna, after ruling out Dr. Fate (in the face of Kent Nelson's departure from his long held role as the dominant sorcerous super-hero.) Zee was apprehensive, but J'Onn was convincing. "I understand you have begun to turn away from the harrowing world we once shared, and I do not wish to trouble you or impede your progress. However, there is a great deal of power locked between the covers of this nefarious tome, and you are one of the very few people I feel I can trust with its stewardship." Zatanna smiled, politely agreed to house the book, and watched the Manhunter from Mars' lonely ascent to parts unknown...

With the over-booked J.M. DeMatteis forced to resign from "Manhunter from Mars" shortly after his Post-Crisis reboot of the character in a separate "Martian Manhunter" mini-series, DC was hard-pressed to find a gifted replacement. Peter Milligan was still fairly new to the company at this point, but I think he acquitted himself nicely by both honoring the dark new direction and the silly past of the Martian Marvel. It was also great to see Mike Mignola work his magic here, if only for four issues. It would have been nice if the book had gotten the 64-page treatment of the Superman and Batman anniversaries, instead of a flimsy standard issue... but if the character were to receive any respect, it just wouldn't be the Manhunter, would it? DC even launched a second "Manhunter" title, completely unrelated, to compete with their own market recognition! DC loves aiming for their feet, and anyway, that title only squeeked by for two years with future "Martian Manhunter" scribe John Ostrander.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Martian Manhunter #24 (11/00)



"And then there was the time during the Justice League International Era when I lost my cookies."

Blue Beetle and Booster Gold snickered as J'Onn J'Onzz left the common area to indulge in some Chocos cookies. Fire asked, "What are you two juvenile delinquents up to?" The pair had stolen J'Onn's cookies, and bought out every store in the area within a mile radius of the New York embassy. "J'Onn is crazy for those Chocos! He had bags of 'em, stuffed all over the embassy! It's like he's addicted!" Fire, Guy, and Ice protested their foolishness, but "No no no! J'Onn wants us to do things like this! We're teaching him to be a regular guy!"

J'Onzz was clearly furious when he quizzed fellow Leaguers about the whereabouts of his snacks, but coming up empty handed, forced a smile. "No big deal. I will just go out and get some more. No problem. It is... okay." Not so, as the Blue and the Gold spied from a store security camera J'Onn's increasing hostility as he failed to purchase any double stuff goodness. The pair were getting a hearty laugh until the Manhunter transformed into a near mindless rampaging hulk, screaming "MARS NEEDS CHOCOS!" Dumbfounded, Booster suspected, "We're going to get yelled at again, aren't we?"

Crowds fled and cars flew as the incredible hophead pleaded, "J'Onn don't want stupid pastry wafers! J'Onn want Chocos! BRING J'ONN COOKIES!" Slowly, the Blue & the Gold approached. "You got cookies, friendz? J'Onn can't find his cookies! *snif*" A penitent Blue Beetle rubbed the Martian's marble, saying "Geez, J'Onn-- we're sorry. Had we known this was going to happen, we'd never have taken them in the first place." An angry red eye popped open. "Whoopsie." The addicted Alien Atlas tried to crush Beetle and Booster, leaping after the pair as they flew from his wrath. "Well, that would be a lot easier to accomplish if I wasn't lugging all this dead weight! You sure you aren't getting fat again?"

Meanwhile, Maxwell Lord was in a meeting with a United Nations official who questioned his stewardship of the U.N.-sanctioned League. Under the circumstances, Max had a mild nosebleed, "Just a slight cerebral hemorrhage I get when exercising mind control on toads like you." Out the broad windows, Beetle could be seen riding Booster's back like a jokey, as the Jade Giant continued his jumping pursuit, screaming "KOOO-KIEEE!!" A shock wave caused the windows to shatter, with everyone at meeting remaining calmly seated. Blood poured from Max's nose, until finally erupting like the hero of a Japanese sex comedy seeing a girl in her panties. The Cookie Monster from Mars was led to the warehouse where all the Chocos were stored, and began mainlining the junk. A terribly agitated Max Lord, undoubtedly in need of a cookie himself after all that blood loss, arrived to find Martian Manhunter covered in crumbs and denial.

Everyone convened at the embassy for an intervention. "Nonsense! I like Chocos, certainly. What is not to like? But one does not really get an addiction to them. They are not a drug." Batman joined in teleconference, refuting with, "Not for humans. But you're a Martian. Your body chemistry is different-- and it reacts to the specific combinations of ingredients and chemicals in the cookie in much the same way that the human body responds to highly addictive drugs. At Max's request, I ran some tests, J'Onn. You're a junkie. A Chocos junkie!" J'Onzz continued his dismissal, until Max left a Choco on his desk in front of the Manhunter. Six panels later, four of them a silent static shot, J'Onn fired his tongue like a frog to snare the cookie. "Okay. Maybe I have a small problem."

Ice believed it was much worse than that, as a simple telepathic scan could have revealed the location of the cookies. "On some level, you know you didn't have the right control. You were afraid of what you might do telepathically if you didn't have control. Isn't that right?" Agreeing, J'Onzz used his shapeshifting ability to expel the addicted cells from his body. "Forcing it away literally took a great deal out of me." The cells retained both mass and semi-sentience, which it used to possess several Leaguers in turn. Ice craved baby seals, Guy wanted to crawl back into the womb, while Fire demanded constant attention and Max wanted everyone to do as he said. "I want Superman to do my errands and Batman to respect me and Wonder Woman to... I want Wonder Woman to... OH HOW I WANT WONDER WOMAN TO!" Beetle and Booster weren't possessed, but they did take notes.

The Martian Manhunter psychically demanded his animated craving to settle down, then obliterated it with Martian Vision. "I now end your pseudo-existence... Booster... Beetle... I suppose I should thank you. You helped me save me from myself... Do not do anything like that again."

Time shifted, and Green Lantern Kyle Rayner was asked the lesson of this story at the JLA Watchtower. "Just say 'no' to cookies? Refined white sugar will kill somebody? What?" The Manhunter explained, "Different things can prove addictive for different people. For some, drugs are the addiction. For others-- sex. For others-- alcohol. Or food. Or TV. Or shopping. It can be anything. For Hal Jordan, as well as others, it became power. The point is-- anything can become addictive behavior. The point is-- be aware of it in yourself." Kyle was impressed by the insight and wandered off, while onlooker Wonder Woman remained. "J'Onn, I was a member of the Justice League back around then and I don't remember anything like that story happening!"

"It does not matter. It was an amusing story and it had a point to make. A good tale is its own justification-- true or not. Got a cookie?"

I could be mistaken, but I do believe this was the first use of the "Chocos" brand in place of "Oreos." No surprise given the nature of their usage here, and the increasing number of clashing conglomerates that force the mention of name brands out of even comic book stories these days.

Back when this number came out, I was part of a group of message board posters who, among I believe many others, hounded writer John Ostrander over the course of this series. Where's J'Onn's JLI friends? "Where's the history? Where's the humor? Where's the Oreos?" This one tall tale seemed intent on addressing as many of those demands as possible in one fell swoop, though it was also part of a "Revelations" series that delved into Manhunter's past. With the constant gripes of my fellows and I, I've often wondered if J'Onn's final observation was meta-textually directed at the lot of us. We would have been just the sort to note that Diana was only a member of JLI for one issue several years before the setting of this story. No matter, as I felt most of Ostrander's stories failed on their own lack of merit, as when he had Ice question why J'Onn didn't just mindrape his teammates over something as trivial as cookies, with no foreknowledge of their involvement in the petty theft.

Anyhow, this was a breath of fresh air in a series I generally hated, even if the story was based on an idea Keith Giffen originated over a decade prior, but was prevented from pursuing. Pencils were by Doug Mahnke, clearly scratching his itch to draw the Hulk, but also confirming his enjoyment of plain ol' J'Onn. Mahnke took on many more opportunities to depict the Martian Manhunter, including the "Requiem" memorial story following his murder in "Final Crisis." A new kid named Pat Gleason inked the issue, and would go on to become a star penciller in his own right, influenced by Mahnke while moving progressively out of his shadow. The intricate cover was by series regular Tom Mandrake, and has proven a fan favorite over the years.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Martian Manhunter in the 2000s



It was the best of times, it was the sometimes-not-okayist of times. Martian Manhunter entered the new millennium with an ongoing solo series and a co-starring role in the wealth of top-selling JLA titles. The "Justice League" series was launched on the Cartoon Network, in which J'onn J'onzz was voiced by Carl Lumbly, and appeared in more episodes than any other character. The sheer volume of licensing featuring J'onzz related to that show would be difficult to catalog, but included another monthly comic book series. The Alien Atlas even began making guest appearances on other cartoons, "StaticShock" and "The Batman" (the latter realized by actor Dorian Harewood.) In the video game "Justice League Heroes," Daniel Riordan assumed the role. Phil Morris portrayed John Jones in a reoccurring role on the popular "Smallville" television series. Miguel Ferrer lent his vocals to the character in the direct-to-dvd animated adaptation of "The New Frontier," a critically acclaimed mini-series by Darwyn Cooke, in which the Martian took a prominent role. Australian actor Hugh Keays-Byrne was cast in a proposed Justice League live action film. The Martian Manhunter was finally responsible for a proper spin-off character, the heroine Miss Martian. Thanks to the DC Direct line of niche merchandising and other licensing, the Martian Manhunter appeared on more "stuff" than ever before, and quite possibly ever again.

Conversely, while Phil Morris aspired to a spin-off series, he only appeared on five episodes of "Smallville." The "Justice League" movie has been placed on indefinite hold. The animated series and its product lines ended. The "Martian Manhunter" comic was cancelled after three years, having found a lukewarm reception and little impact on the character beyond the revelation of his evil brother "Malefic." J'Onn J'Onzz was written out of "JLA," sat out the mega-crossover "Infinite Crisis," and was not invited to join novelist Brad Meltzer's relaunched "Justice League of America." The character was part of a widely distributed $1 anthology special called "Brave New World," intended to introduce a variety of series, from which not a single hit was produced. Among these losers emerged an eight-issue "Martian Manhunter" mini-series by a little known or regarded creative team tasked with a massive reworking of the hero. Respected Mexican illustrator José Ladrönn turned in a sweeping redesigned of the Martian Marvel for the project. The book itself, by A.J. Lieberman and Al Barrionuevo was treated to general disinterest; essentially revisiting the reactionary, antagonistic take of the 70's O'Neil/Nasser short stories.

The new Martian Manhunter was set to join a new super-team, but even the Outsiders would not have him. After several issues had been produced but not released, they were scrapped for a whole new creative team and direction, limiting the Manhunter to a two-issue guest stint. More appearances followed, here and there, but it had been decided Martian Manhunter would serve as the sacrificial lamb of the 2008 mega-crossover "Final Crisis." Murdered with little fanfare by the obscure 70's super-villain Libra, whom J'Onn J'Onzz had himself never met, it seems likely the hero will remain in limbo for at least the rest of the decade. All that fame from the early aughts had made the Manhunter from Mars a major enough character for his first major death in comics to have an impact...

1999
Legends of the DCU: Crisis on Infinite Earths #1

2000
Action Comics #764
Adventures of Superman #578
Aquaman #65-69
Martian Manhunter #24
Secret Files & Origins Guide To The DC Universe 2000 Vol.1, Part 1, Part 2
Sins of Youth Part One: Young Justice, Part Two: JLA Jr.
Superman: Emperor Joker
Superman: The Man of Steel #96
Superman Y2K #1

2001
Adventures of Superman #596
Action Comics #780
Adventures of Superman #596
JLA: Black Baptism #1, #2, #3, #4
JLA: Incarnations #5 (Detroit League Story), (Barry Allen Story) (Tully Reed Story)
JLA: Our Worlds At War
JLA/Haven: Arrival
Our Worlds At War In A Nutshell
Superman: Our Worlds At War Secret Files & Origins #1
Wonder Woman #174, #175
World's Finest: Our World's At War #1

2002
Haven: The Broken City #1
Justice League of America: Secret Origins: Martian Manhunter
Superman #179
Wonder Woman #177

2003
JLA: Scary Monsters #1, #2, #3 #4, #5, #6
JLA/JSA Secret Files & Origins #1 (Lead Story)

2004
Firestorm #4
Firestorm #6
Flash #208-209
Identity Crisis #1
Identity Crisis #2-5
JSA #54

2005
Action Comics #821-824 (1-4/05)
Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #1 (11/05)
Identity Crisis #6,#7
JLA #115A, #115B-116, #117-118, #119

2006
JLA Classified: "The Hypothetical Woman" #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21
JLA Classified: "A Game of Chance" 22,23,24,25
Justice League of America #0


2007
Batman and the Outsiders #1

52
Week Fifty

52/WW III
Part One: A Call To Arms #1
Part Two: The Valiant #1
Part Three: Hell Is For Heroes #1
Part Four: United We Stand #1


2008
Batman and the Outsiders
#2, #3-4

Black Adam: The Dark Age #4

JLA Classified #49


2009
Blackest Night #0, #1, #2, #3
Green Lantern #43, #44


Current as of 6/28/10

Friday, June 27, 2008

Justice League International #8 (12/87)



What we have here is another landmark issue in my personal road to Martian Manhunter fandom. The first Martian Manhunter comic I ever owned was the awful number packaged with his "Super Powers" action figure, which left no impression. My first "real" comic of his was Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, in which I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my favorite toys taking part in action illustrated by George Pérez. Again though, J'Onn J'Onzz did nothing in the book itself that made him exceptional. Finally, I bought a damaged copy of JLI #8 from the cheapie rack at a comic shop in Texas, and read it in the bed of a pick-up truck headed for Nevada. Finally, I had a Martian Manhunter story in which the character did something to make me like him outside the context of an action figure.

The Justice League had just achieved "International" status as a United Nations-sanctioned outfit, and begun setting up embassies across the globe. J'Onn J'Onzz was in charge of the New York branch, which proved to be the poorest example of them all. While moving men worked their way through crowds of onlookers and media, J'Onzz directed their actions. One questioned the Martian as to why there was a crate of "Oreos" among the items being handled. "Captain Marvel introduced me to them. I like them." The mover protested, "But you're from Mars!" J'Onzz explained, "Martians do eat, you know. In fact, we had 'Burger King' and 'McDonald's' long before you had them on Earth."
"You're jokin', right?"
"Joking? Martians don't joke."

The crate of Oreos proved too heavy for mortal movers to heft upstairs to J'Onn's room. "No need-- I'll do it. Do you see what a man is capable of-- when he has his milk and cookies every day?" Martian Strength is of little use, however, if stairs in disrepair give underfoot. The Alien Atlas fell straight through the new hole into the room below, his arms still upright, though his load remained well above him. The movers decided to take a break. "I know where we can get our hands on a ton of Double-Cream 'Oreos.'"

"J'Onn...?"
"Yes, Captain Atom?"
"I couldn't help noticing that you just fell through the ceiling!"
"Oh. Is that what happened?"

Atom was trying to help Mr. Miracle install the security system, so Martian Manhunter excused himself to allow them to continue. J'Onzz's departure instead gave Captain Atom the opportunity to express his concerns about the Manhunter from Mars. "Y'know, I can't figure him out. He seems so cold-- and yet, I can't help feeling that underneath it all he's enjoying some very private joke." Scott Free replied, "The Manhunter's a complicated guy. I've given up trying to understand it. I just relax and enjoy him." Unfortunately for the New God, the Captain then took undesirable initiative that ruined hours of his Miracle work. J'Onn J'Onzz called down through the his hole, "What was that explosion? Are we under attack?"
"In a manner of speaking."

Scott Free stormed out, leaving J'Onzz to discuss the situation with Captain Atom and Mr. Miracle's little friend, Oberon. "Captain Atom aside-- this building is a badly-constructed nightmare! The walls are cardboard... the wiring is faulty... certainly in all of New York, the U.N. could have found--" Oberon tried to calm things down. "J'Onn, J'Onn, J'Onn-- don't get so emotional! It's not like you!" Just then, the power for the building cut out. "I just hope the others are having an easier time than we are. But, of course, they'd have to be."

Later, the quantum-powered bungler managed to raise the lights, prompting Manhunter to commend, "My compliments, Captain Atom-- you've more than atoned for your earlier sin."
"Hey, thanks, J.J. I think."

In a turnabout, Mr. Miracle returned to the New York embassy with a new team aircraft supplied by S.T.A.R. Labs, only to find the roof he landed it on could not support the weight. J'Onzz sighed, "You'll have to excuse me for a moment, Captain."
"Where are you going?"
"I need to find a quiet room in which to practice an ancient Martian meditation technique."
"Oh really? What is it?"
"It's called screaming."
"Oh yeah-- I know that one. Mind if I join you?"
"Not at all."

The League's first international mission came over the wire, sending them to Bonn, Germany. "No rest for the weary..." Mister Miracle was off to prep the new ship, though Martian Manhunter made it clear Blue Beetle would be the pilot for the next week or two. This prompted "juvenile snickering," and when asked by Manhunter to stop he mumbled, "Team leader for two days-- and already he's sounding like Batman!"
"I heard that!"

While J'Onn J'Onzz was technically the straight man for the increasingly humorous new League, his dry wit allowed him some of the best lines and biggest laughs. This issue and the many more I've enjoyed since endeared me to J'Onn J'Onzz and less-than-serious super-heroics. It's a real shame there doesn't seem to be a place for such simple pleasures in the modern DCU.

Back to Justice League International #7 (11/1987)

Forward to Martian Manhunter in the 1980's Index

Thursday, June 26, 2008

JLA Annual #1 (1997)



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

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



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



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



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

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



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

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



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

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

1992 Martian Manhunter: American Secrets House Ad



The second solo Martian Manhunter mini-series arrived in the form of three prestige format issues in 1992. Gerard Jones crafted a paranoid tale of Cold War era intrigue, filtered through J'Onzz's very alien perceptions. It was an odd and challenging piece, overlooked and unrecognized in its time and to this day. It honestly took me a few weeks after reading the story to sort out my feelings about the series. I finally came to the conclusion that American Secrets was one of the most impressive comic scripts I'd ever read, truly capturing an otherworldly feeling throughout the story. The influence of David Lynch (especially "Blue Velvet") was strong here, and indicative of Jones' surrealistic approach for what was left of his time working in mainstream comics. Truth to tell, its cerebral nature and the psychodrama that came with it likely played a part in his being pushed out of the industry.

Lending a period flavor to the book was the art of Eduardo Barreto, by my estimation the best work of his career. The landscape of this world was fully realized in Barreto's illustrations, with the rich inks and colors the quality paper stock allowed for giving the series a sumptuous look. While Barreto's style is often anachronistic when applied to modern stories, here the man evoked an entirely appropriate 50's noir feel.

American Secrets is disputably the greatest story ever told with the Martian Marvel. The tale's sophistication and dark undercurrent could have easily qualified it for Vertigo status, had the title not arrived a bit prior to that line's launch and outside its "Goth" scope. Gerard Jones' setting of late 50's/early 60's America remains fairly unique for modern comics, arriving after the McCarthy period and before the Love Generation had really gotten into gear. This period is underrepresented and fascinating in comic form, though I shed no tears for having missed it first hand.

I will point out out that many have complained about the odd continuity complications over this mini-series. John Jones does buy Oreos a half-century before Captain Marvel introduced him to the product in the pages of Justice League, and the early appearance of the natural Martian form does not jibe with the 1988 mini-series. Personally, I see these as incredibly minor flaws in comparison to the title's graces, mostly explainable by the "No-Prize" minded.

Fans who take issue with J'Onzz excess powers might be pleased to note that only his most common 50's abilities were on display here: enhanced strength, flight, invisibility, and shapeshifting. I'm very fond of intangibility, telepathy and some of the cooler applications of Martian Vision (laser specifically,) but it goes to show you can tell a perfectly grand story without them. Truth to tell, I hardly noticed.

Whether the $4.95 price tag or other elements were off-putting, the series was little read. Capitol City Distribution reported selling 13,750 copies of the first issue, 10,600 of the second, and 9,600 of the third. I don't recall if the series made it to booksellers, but if you double Capitol's numbers to account for Diamond Distribution, the circulation was still depressing. In today's market, those numbers would only be slightly underwhelming, but for 1992 they were tragic.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Vile Menagerie: THE MASTER GARDENER



Alter Ego: Unknown
Occupation: Invader from Mars
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: None
Group Affiliation: The Lizard Men
Base of Operations: Puerto Iberez, Cuba
First Appearance: Martian Manhunter: American Secrets Book 3 (November, 1992)
Eyes: White
Hair: None

History:
"I was the Master Gardener of Mars! But all my knowledge of organisms couldn't stop the spread of the microbes that slaughtered our children! My knowledge kept me alive, age after age, enclosed in my loneliness, haunted by the funeral pyres of my babies. Then the Lizard Men came. Lonely, isolated Lizard Men. I made them think I was their lost Father-God. I used my horticulture to give them new thoughts. To make them my children. But I couldn't bear the dead plains of Mars. I needed a home. I needed a world rich with life. A world I could prune and nurture into harmony. And that world is here!"

The Master Gardener and his shape-shifting Lizard Man came to Earth during World War II, and took advantage of the terror and confusion of the time to infiltrate governments and communications cartels. They grew plants bearing fungus that bonded to the human nervous system, allowing them to control the very words they spoke under threat of spontaneous combustion. Based in Puerto Iberez, Cuba, they exported the plant around the world, infecting much of the human population with their tyranny. They were the real reason the Justice Society of America was forced to retire, and held sway over all media. "Don't they look the other way when they see the truth? Don't they settle for the happy pictures I give them of what life should be? They feel safe so long as there are warriors in the sky to protect them from the evil 'other...' They feel content so long as I feed them a simple picture of the world."

"It was my mission. This planet has become an event nexus, an intersection of cosmic forces that create great beings and attract great beings. It would continue to produce 'heroes' had I not come. In the quest for harmony, great individuals only bring chaos. Rebellion. Conflict. But such heroes can be tamed! They can serve harmony! They can help us keep our children!" Perhaps, until the plot was uncovered around 1959 by J'Onn J'Onzz, the Manhunter from Mars, who turned on his Martian brethren.

The Lizard Men were immune to fire, so they employed advanced flame throwers with impunity against a Martian Manhunter whose weakness they had discovered. They were unaware their "Father-God" shared this vulnerability as they fired upon both beings in a final conflict. The Master Gardener chuckled at his "children's" error, before appearing to collapse into oblivion. Leaderless, the Lizard Man conspiracy fell into disarray, and was subsequently dismantled.

Powers & Weapons:
The Master Gardener presumably possessed all of the powers typical of Natural Martians, including great strength, relative invulnerability, flight, telepathy, invisibility, intangibility, and shape-shifting. As the ersatz deity of the Lizard Man, he had a chameleonic army at his disposal, as well as their saurian "lizard-dogs," which were powerful enough to hinder a full-powered Martian. The Gardener also had access to a fantastic arsenal of alien weapons, and briefly controlled all of the major armies and technology of Earth.

Weaknesses:
The Master Gardener was afflicted with a catastrophic vulnerability to flames related to H'Ronmeer's Curse. He appeared to perish almost immediately to direct exposure.

Distinguishing Features:
The Master Gardener was exceptionally pale for a non-White Martian, calling his race into question.

Quote: "The human... should show me his gratitude... Gratitude that I crossed the starry gulf to bring his competitive, conflict-ridden world together... in perfect peace, serenity, equality, and order. "

Created by Gerard Jones & Eduardo Barreto

Monday, June 23, 2008

Martian Manhunter: American Secrets 3.5 (11/92)



"A long drift down the Colorado River, then flight through the hills of Mexico and a stint as a Cuban sailor across the Gulf. Where I find the strength to keep going I don't know, unless it's the rum and the conga." Making his way to Havana, Jones learned about the American gangsters' stranglehold on Cuba. "I ask questions. Not too direct to bring the lizard-dogs sniffing, but direct enough to get quick answers... There are rebels in the hills, between here and Puerto Iberez... Mr. Gioconda's men are running weapons for the government troops. 'Strange weapons,' I'm told."

Jones met a poet who's book of verse was identical to the one he heard at the start of this all in New York. "The truth is written by many people in many places... Poetry be easy. But it's as near as we can get." The fungus held the poet's tongue, so he spoke cryptically at first of Latin America and "people who crossed a vast gulf, came like gods to colonize, to plant... to shape... Cuba is an island, isolated and alone. So we reach to cross our ninety miles of aloneness. Agriculture and horticulture link Cuba to the world. In her dark interior valleys the horticulture is rich." Jones noted, "You're all islands on this planet." Less one, as the poet reckoned, "And now, I'm afraid I've talked to much. It's time for me to burn for that ancient communion with the night!" His eyes bled, his face bubbled, and then he combusted. Jones fled the scene invisibly.

"I am with you in Cuba, and on the roads of America and the streets of New York. I am with you, and Melvin Keene, and all of you who see the truth but cannot speak it because of that terrible horticulture of your conquerors, that fungus in your brain. I am with every one of you who has been burned alive, and every one who risked that burning by sending coded messages of the truth. The truth of the shape-shifting conquerors who came to Earth during the terror of war, who used that terror to infiltrate governments and communications cartels, to spring the sleep of sameness over this boiling, fertile world. The truth bent into strange new shapes by profiteers and power-handlers, willing to lie down with lizards whether they could see them or not. I am with you, the defenders and the victims of the truth. I am with the murdered, and the frightened and the fooled."

J'Onn J'Onzz was with Perkins Preston, who happened to be playing at the Club Mona Lisa for Mr. Giaconda, who alerted the Master Gardener. Most notably, he was with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who he spurred into a raid on Puerto Iberez against the invading aliens. Perkins Preston was in turn with J'Onn J'Onzz, after learning the aliens had been using his songs to distribute subliminal messages, but he still had reservations. "These folks... they're not communists, are they, Detective Jones?"
"Communists. And what are they? Beings who live through the group-- and not themselves? Is this baseball playing warrior, this self-assigned savior a communist? There are no communists on this world. There were on mine. They're all dead now."

Perkins Preston confronted a lizard horticulturist in his garden of domination with what he had learned. "If you know this much, you must be one of the chosen. And that means I don't dare kill you. What do I do with you? What would the Master Gardener want?" The concern was taken out of the lizard's hands by the Manhunter's own, in the form of a fist. The Martian then assumed the horticulturist's likeness, and led Preston past troops with saurian-dogs. "But I am something they can't see inside. Why? Why have they failed to catch me... even now? Even here?"

The pair walked into the cavernous den of those engaged in "the cultivation of human culture." Strange organic television monitors displayed various aspects of media currently in circulation, their hidden messages made clearer as they overlapped. The concealed Martian tried to use Perkins Preston to access the Master Gardener when his vizier appeared. "The Master Gardener knows of this human, as he knows of everything. You will follow me, horticulturist... along the canal." This river teemed with the organisms that spawn the fungus. "It calls to me, strangely. Like these dark, cool chambers of sentient fungus call to me. Like an echo of my lost life."

The pair were presented to the Master Gardener in his throne room. "The human... He should show me his gratitude... that I crossed the starry gulf to bring his competitive, conflict-ridden world together... in perfect peace, serenity, equality, and order. I've given you Leavitzville! I've given you Skeeter! I've shown you how to keep your children! All I ask in return is that you give me a place to end my lonely wanderings through the stars... a place to call home."

The still incognito J'Onzz responded, "...we undermine their faith in the truth! Our quiz shows reduce truth to bits of entertaining information! We teach them to memorize rather than think!" The Master Gardener responded, "... you know how easy it is to train the masses. The artists are harder. And the heroes. They had to be manipulated. Deals had to be made, with subversives like Keene... But heroes can be tamed! ...And you can serve better than any!" The horticulturist asked, confusedly, "Me?"

Perkins had previously proven himself able to see even an invisible Martian Manhunter, and this held true when he become conscious of the fact that the Master Gardener was not what he appeared to be. Before the duo's eyes, it changed into a natural form Martian! "Haven't you wondered why my people have been reluctant to kill you? I was the Master Gardener of Mars!" He explained how he came to power among the Lizard Men, then offered J'Onzz the chance to join him in resurrecting Mars on Earth. "Join me, brother! I don't know how you came across space and time to find yourself here-- but it can't be accident! Destiny brought you! Destiny placed you among Earthlings, so that you could understand their souls better than I! Help me save our new children! From themselves! Help me give birth-- to a Mars regained!"

"I know your pain, brother. But I won't pervert a world to ease it."
"You believe what they believe! Forget what Earth taught you! Remember MARS!"
"Mars is dead."

Attacking the Gardener both with ideology and fists, it wasn't long before J'Onzz attracted lizard guardsmen. Firing their flame projectors, the lizards scored a direct hit against their ruler. "But master...the fire doesn't hurt us!" The Master Gardener chuckled as he fell to an immolation-induced apparent death; "Do you hear that...brother? The fire...doesn't hurt...'us.'" J'Onzz swept the lizard guard off its feet, then ordered their troops to bomb the valley using the Gardener's communications equipment. He then succumbed to another blast of flame.

"I hear through the flames the wailing of my family. Then not that, but a deeper sound. The thunder of bombs. I am lifted and carried away. By the Fire-God, I think, to his Parlor of Red Death. But it's the canal I feel. So cool. So dark. It calls me strangely." J'Onzz was seemingly carried into the safety of the canal by Perkins Preston.

Back in the States, John Jones read a newspaper announcing Preston's death in a plane crash over Cuba. At his side was Charles McNider, who noted, "I suppose we won't be able to discuss the truth behind recent events for a long time. So long as our nervous systems are bearing our little... 'guests'..." Jones promised to finish apprehending the loose bands of directionless Lizard Men, affirming, "...eventually, this world may pour forth its 'great individuals' again." The former Dr. Mid-Nite asked if John was tempted by the Gardener's offer. "I might have been, McNider. Until that moment in the desert. When I was truly alone. And I could finally see the truth. By the time I met him, McNider, he and I were strangers to each other.
You see, he was a Martian. I'm a beatnik."


Back to Part Five

Forward to Review

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Martian Manhunter: American Secrets. Book three. (11/92)



Dr. McNider proceeded to tell Detective Jones that there were no Lizard-Men, and that his group were victims "of the strangest mass hallucinations of our very strange times." McNider and Director Hoover agreed, "that we 'heroes' had somehow sprung from and embodied a spirit of national terror... and summoned up a dark side, in the bodies of our foes, that enabled us to exorcise a nation's terror through bizarre and repetitive combat... And the Director's wisdom was borne out by what happened when we chose to continue after the war. Hysteria. Suddenly Americans were seeing flying saucers. Fearing the breakdown of this magnificent society. Imagining a 'mafia.' Director Hoover is very explicit about that: There is no 'mafia.' Just as there are no 'communist conspiracies' in our government. That's the fear that our enemies want us to suffer." Detective Jones was incredulous. "I just met an agent of the F.B.I. He turned into a lizard... What enemies?" McNider responded, "The Communists."

"But you just said..." noted an increasingly irritated Jones. "That's the point! 'Red Scare' hysteria is a Communist ploy! And demagogues like Senator McCarthy were communist dupes!" Jones sat silently for a moment, staring daggers at the former Dr. Mid-Nite before scowling and leaping from his chair. "This is insane! You come here promising explanations and you talk in circles! Our fears are false, created by the people we fear so we won't fear what we should fear-- which is them? This is hog-wash! You just don't want us to trust what we see!"

"No detective! I just want you to serve the right side. Your government needs you. It needs all the Martians it can get." McNider's enhanced vision could see through J'Onzz's human form, as he claimed the JSA's "retirement" in protest of congressional red-baiting was a cover for their enlistment in the F.B.I., a role they wanted Jones to share. "That was a calculated little blow against the Red Scare. In truth, we've all been serving our country in quiet, invisible ways. The way every good American should. Beating our super-powers into tract homes, as it were. Why, heck, if the government couldn't find a use for powers like ours, they'd probably have to kill us! Ha ha... The F.B.I. is on its way, Jones. If you don't help them, they'll do what they have to do. Do you understand? Well then... ZOPRBETIE!" Jones seized McNider at that, demanding the meaning of his parting word. A little joke phrase old pal Melvin Keene used to toss around, someone that now had to be protected from trouble at times because of "that silly magazine of his."

McNider left, and Detective Jones considered his words. "Lies. But lies so big and ugly that he had to know I'd spot them. 'No mafia.' The kind of lies only a government could try to pull off... I thought I could trick them, negotiate something with them. But their negotiations could make prisoners of us-- slaves of us!" Perkins Preston believed McNider, to which Jones angrily protested, "You believed your A&R man. You believed in Leavitzville. Both nearly got you killed!"

The F.B.I., Whitey Bright in tow, came calling. Perkins Preston let them in over Jones' continued objection. "They won't hurt us, Patty Marie! They're the government." Patty Marie hugged Jones around the waist. Inspector Anole quickly led Preston into the outside hall, promising, "we'll discuss what you can do for your F.B.I." With the entertainer out of sight, the feds circled the resistant pair remaining. The returning Inspector Anole drew his flame pistol, but Jones snatched up Patty Marie and headed for the window. Whitey "Skeeter" Bright lunged for the girl's feet. "I've got plans for this little girl!" They likely did not include his losing his grip and being tossed through the window to his death. The fugitives followed after to make their escape. Inspector Anole declared, "No more subtle gestures."

Edwards Air Force Base scrambled an assault against the flying Martian. J'Onzz took evasive maneuvers, riding alongside a fighter as a means of cover. Another pilot was ordered to fire on his fellow, in order to "hit the target at any cost." The explosion that followed set Patty Marie afire while separating her from "J'Onn J'Onzz. "Help me! Catch me!" she cried. "Fire. Even this far from her, it burns me. Closer it could kill me." Closer he came, cradling the child in his arms as his powers failed him. The pair landed on the desert floor with a heavy thud, lying all too still until the sun rose. J'Onn J'Onzz reverted to his human guise. Patty Marie could no longer do anything at all.

"I have been here before. Somewhere before I've seen children killed and been left alone on a dead world. Seen children devoured on a funeral pyre and learned to fear the flames. Again I'm a speck in the desert. Blood on the snow. With the fiery eye of the world looking down on me. Is there anywhere to run? With all their eyes trained on me? Their eyes see everything. And ours? They see lizards. Is this your 'prize-to-be,' Patty? You might have been better off with the lizards. I'm sorry, Hon. Maybe this is just what comes for the ones like us. The ones who can see... Do we see what the rest don't? Or are the others just happier with their mouths shut?"

Checking the corpse of a downed pilot, John Jones found documents regarding himself and several JSAers. Further, he discovered an extra-terrestrial fungus wrapped along the pilot's nervous system. "Why? So he won't see? Or so he'll catch fire if he tries to talk?" Using the pilot's knife, Jones performed an autopsy on Patty Marie, and found her body to be fungus free. Going over the new and old information, J'Onzz realized where all the clues were pointing. Prize To Be. Beto EZ Rip. Zoprbetie. All letters found in "PTO. Iberez" in Cuba.

Back to Part Four

Forward to Part Six

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Martian Manhunter in the 1990s



The 1990's were J'Onn J'Onzz's finest years. He entered the decade a star in the Justice League International line of books, drawn by a number of future idols; including Adam Hughes, Bart Sears, and Mike McKone; who influenced the artistic interpretation of the character. During a brief hiatus, he starred in a second solo mini-series, this time in the prestige format. Unbeknownst to readers, and to some degree the Martian himself, J'Onn J'Onzz almost immediately rejoined the League in the guise of the new African-American hero Bloodwynd. Combining the influences of the magical spirit of a slave with the diabolical entity Rott, "Bloodwynd" served the Manhunter's role for about a year and a half, most notably during the arrival of Doomsday and the mourning that followed Superman's seeming death.

Once Martian Manhunter was freed of Bloodwynd, he became the primary star of a new series featuring rotating line-ups of super-heroes for "Mission: Impossible" type assignments called "Justice League Task Force." The only other regular member for the book's first year was former Detroit teammate-turned-surrogate-daughter Gypsy, the first ongoing supporting player for J'Onn since Zook. The book continued to place the Martian Manhunter in the lead role, but shifted focus to a stable line-up of young heroes under his training. Among them was a newly heroic Despero, who had developed into Manhunter's primary nemesis in the 90's, and would inevitably return to that role. In the meantime, the "Task Force" series ran three years.

J'Onzz continued to take part in crossovers, was given more solo stories, a special,
and co-starred in mini-series. As portrayed by David Ogden Stiers, Martian Manhunter finally made the leap to live-action in a failed Justice League pilot film for CBS.

Toward the end of the decade, Grant Morrison and Howard Porter were enlisted for roughly the fifth Justice League relaunch within less than fifteen years. Feeling that the League hadn't fully benefitted from the presence of their famed founding members in decades, "JLA" was launched with the Magnificent Seven originals to massive critical and commercial approval. Even in such rarified circles, J'Onn J'Onzz was often treated as either the team's leader or one-third of the triumvirate guiding the League, alongside Batman and Superman. Suddenly, the Martian Manhunter was everywhere: guest appearances, spin-offs, mini-series, action figures, posters-- countless comic books and pieces of merchandise. At the tail-end of the decade and just a few years after the launch of "JLA," the Martian Manhunter was granted his first eponymous ongoing series ever, by the acclaimed "Spectre," "Grimjack," and "Firestorm" team of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. Quite simply, on virtually every level, J'Onn J'Onzz was at his career peak-- a lifetime high.

1991
JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA
#37, #38, #39 #40, #42

1991
Justice League America #51

1992
JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA
#61, #62, #63, #64, Annual #6
Justice League Quarterly #8
Justice League Spectacular #1

Martian Manhunter: American Secrets #1, #2, #3, Review

1993
Justice League America Kellogg's Cinnamon Mini Buns Mini-Comic
Justice League Quarterly #11
Justice League Task Force #7
Showcase '93 #10

1994
Damage #7
Justice League Task Force #8

1995
Darkstars #30
Showcase '95 #9

1996
Green Lantern #81
JUSTICE LEAGUE: A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHTMARE
#1, #2, #3, Review

Martian Manhunter Special #1
Showcase '96 #9

1997
Detective Comics #714-715

JLA
#1, #2, #3, #4, Annual #1
JLA Secret Files and Origins #1: "A Day In The Life: Martian Manhunter", "Star-Seed"

Starman #28


1998
Aquaman Secret Files & Origins #1

CHASE
#1, #2-3, #6

JLA Annual #2
Martian Manhunter #0
Superman: The Doomsday Wars #1-3

1999
DCU Villains Secret Files & Origins #1: "Malefic"
Legends of the DCU: Crisis on Infinite Earths #1

Updated 4/22/11

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Day In The Life (JLA SF&O #1, 9/97)



Aquaman dismissed Martian Manhunter, who had offered to take his turn on monitor duty. With no further chores available at the Watchtower, J'Onn J'Onzz left. "I opt for a swift patrol of Earth's Southern Hemisphere. First stop is a twister in Peru. Time Magazine said 90% of the world's population is watched by less than 5% of the world's superhuman community. Most of the poorer, underdeveloped countries have no one to look out for them at all. 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."

Speaking of the latter continent, the Manhunter helped police capture Doctor Dreamtime there. The villain had planted psychic grenades throughout Sydney in protest of a Japanese conglomerate mining sacred aboriginal land for uranium deposits. J'Onzz then returned to Z'Onn Z'Orr, an ancient Martian City in the Antarctic. Unearthed by the Hyperclan, it now served as his base of operations. "Here I can wander the empty streets of the past and rediscover my lost heritage or tinker with the Martian technology they left behind." J'Onzz encoded a mineral with shapeshifting Martian DNA to serve as an alternative power source for the Japanese. "They accept my offer and promise to leave the aboriginals alone for the time being."

"Later, I decide to relax in one of my many secret identities; complex alter egos I invented to learn how it feels to be human on my adopted world. Each imbued with his or her own habits, tastes, and circles of friends, they must surely be considered works of art in their own right. Two hours every week I'm New York City private detective John Jones, movie buff with a peptic ulcer and an allergy to household cats." As Jones, he determined that a "multiple homicide" was rather a collection of corpses dug up to illegally sell to medical school students. "An hour later and I'm an immigrant driving a Metropolis cab under the name Johann Johnson. The purpose of my exercise in multiple human identities is to examine how ordinary people react in various different circumstances. Pretense is an alien concept when you come from a telepathic culture, but mixing with humans means I'm getting better every day."

"An hour from now, I'm on monitor duty in the Watchtower. Regular sleep is difficult because my body still feels tuned to the Martian day. I pray for peace, White Martian music scratching quietly in the background. God tells me He'll do what he can."

Based on how often this short story was referenced by "JLA" fans, many new to the DC Universe in general and J'Onn J'Onzz in particular, this might as well have been called "The Legend of Martian Manhunter." Mark Millar wrote the tale, although most of the ideas presented were developed by Grant Morrison. The feeling was that the character wasn't as popular as he could be because he lacked many of the classic super-hero trappings: a Batmobile; secret identity; his own Fortress of Solitude. All these hooks were introduced in and around this story, caught fans attention, and were systematically destroyed in the John Ostrander ongoing series that spun out of them. Speaking of Millar, this was long before he was a hot commodity in comics. Considering he wrote additional Manhunter material for this issue, appearances in "Aztek" and elsewhere, as well as having him co-star in the Zauriel mini-series, it wouldn't have been much of a stretch to have seen him script the Martian Manhunter series if asked. Ah, what could have been.

Don Hillsman, who had previously inked J'Onn J'Onzz for an issue of "Damage," provided rare but impressive full art here. When "JLA" became a hit title, a Hillsman image from a faux Manhunter interview in this issue became ubiquitous in magazines and on the internet for years after. To this day, about every third bio page for the character still features the same illustration.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Martian Manhunter: American Secrets 2.5 (10/92)



Jones and company made the long trip across country to Nevada. On a night drive, Preston asked, "Are they after us, sir?"
"Yes."
"Then what do we do?"
"We learn who they are. And we go after them."
"Sir?"
"Mm."
"What are you, sir."
"Don't ask me that. Just drive."

In a Vegas hotel room, child actor Whitey Bright, nationally famous star of the hit series "It Must Be Skeeter," talked up a couple of working girls while smoking and boozing. Watching an episode of his show, the boy noted "We shot this baby in three days, dolls. No thanks to (co-star) Hubert. What a bender he was on!" The broadcast was interrupted by a special bulletin. "The F.B.I. requests all citizens be on the lookout for the murderer of a Leavitzville insurance agent. He has been identified as Denver Detective John Jones, and he appears to be holding as hostages Hillbilly singer Perkins Preston and child actress Patty Marie."

Arriving at a casino lobby, the Martian arranged a meeting with Mr. Gioconda by posing as Preston's manager, an elderly southern fried colonel. "The Colonel" claimed to want Perkins to perform for the mobster's patrons, but Preston quietly protested, "With all these drunken old people here, sir? I'll never sing in a place like this."
"Without cooperation, young man, you may not live to wrestle with that dilemma!"

The Colonel was more concerned with meeting the management than booking Perkins, so he had his charges shuffled off to separate rooms. He claimed the "abduction" of his talent was part of a publicity stunt he'd engineered, until things got out of hand with John Jones. He also slipped mentions of Cuba and the jukebox business, which grabbed Mr. G's attention firmly.

In her room, Patty Marie was visited by Whitey "Skeeter" Bright, who let himself in with his own key. Still smoking, Whitey pressed himself ever closer to the crying girl. "They call Skeeter a 'message show.' They don't know the half of it. I sell big messages on that show, baby. Stick with me, and maybe I'll let you in on a few. Or maybe you got a few secret messages of your own, huh, Sad-Eyes? What makes another child-star shed such big, juicy tears?" Whitey's hand rested on Patty Marie's prepubescent thigh, as he kept leaning in closer. "Who'd ever want to hurt a sweet little thing like you?"

"My mother! And my uncles! All the uncles she brings home! She lets them hurt me! She always let them hurt me!" Whitey's hand crept ever higher, under the child's skirt, another creep with a perverse agenda. "Tell Uncle Whitey what the bad men did to you... Come on. We've all got secrets. The world runs on secrets. Tell me yours and I'll tell you mine. Come on honey... tell me everything those terrible uncles did to you."

In his own room, Perkins Preston read, with occasional difficulty, some of Keene's comics. In an adventure of the Justice Society of America, Perkins was surprised to find the team battling "Lizard Men."

Exiting his meeting, "the Colonel" was confronted by Inspector Anole of the F.B.I in the hotel hallway. At first he seemed to be enlisting the Colonel's help investigating the "subversive" Gioconda, until his features began to take on a decidedly reptilian appearance. "... nobody's what they seem to be these days. Before the war, you knew the lefties. You knew the thugs. Then it all changed. Gangsters pose as businessmen. Commies work in the state department. Homosexuals pass for school teachers. And that client of yours. Perkins Preston. He has a white man's face but a Negro's soul. Just to seduce our American girls into popping open their little coin-purses. You just can't tell about anybody anymore." Anole knew the Colonel was green in his own heart, and wanted to enlist his services to keep up the "land of the free." That is, "Free for those who are advanced enough to appreciate it."

At that moment, Patty Marie burst out of her room into the hall, crying for Officer Jones to "Make him stop!" Whitey Bright strolled out after, affecting innocence and claiming he was only doing his duty as a "Junior G-Man," plying the poor girl for information. Inspector Anole congratulated the fresh-faced youth as they strolled off together, leaving Jones alone with his shaken charge. "He... he changed, Officer Jones!"
"Yeah. Who hasn't?"

Back in Perkins' room, Patty and Jones learned about the four-color Lizard-Men with crops that controlled racketeers minds. "This is what we need, Sir! Heroes-- like Flash and Green Lantern and Doctor--" John Jones cut him off with, "It'd be nice, if they were real." Perkins assured Jones they were, pointing out the indicia of the comics informing, "Published by arrangement with the Justice Society of America. Melvin Keene, licensing representative." With another item tying Keene to the conspiracy, Jones begins looking for other common bonds. The "Beto E-Z Rip" candy wrapper, "Prize-To-Be," and other clues all contained the same combination of letters, but what did they spell? Before Jones could come to an answer, yet another visitor darkened the refugees' door. "Forgive me, Detective. An inclination to cheap suspense comes naturally to my sort after a while. I'm Charles McNider. Physician, retired. But they used to call me Dr. Midnight!"

Back to Part Three

Forward to Part Five

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Justice League Quarterly #11 (Summer, 1993)



"From the casebook of John Jones... Early spring, 1963. Wilmington, Alabama... My first time in this region of the United States and it seems as charming as it's reputation would have it." J'Onzz flew over the smoky remains of a burnt building on the way to visit a hospitalized friend. "I met Spencer Lee when he worked as a newspaperman for a couple of years in Denver...Used to hang around the police station, badgering me for story leads... Now he's... a local TV newsman." Jones was grateful to Lee, who had suffered a mild heart attack, for uncovering a city hall development scandal a few years prior. "There's a new administration now. The police department is finally getting cooperation." As the pair chatted, a six-year-old black girl with severe burns over eighty percent of her body was wheeled through to the intensive care unit. Lee flagged down his officer buddy, Randy Turner, to learn the details. Mary Lou Wilson was caught in a fire within a "colored church." Jones broke out into a cold sweat, traumatized by the thought. Lee was frustrated at being stuck in bed, unable to pursue a story. He conned John into investigating for him until his release.



Jones recoiled at the heat from the remains of the First Baptist Church. "This place burned quick and it burned completely. Arson is a good bet. But who would burn down the house of a human god? Wouldn't it be sacrilege to destroy a dwelling of worship?" Jones met Reverend Delroy (who was apprehensive about dealing with the white detective) and Mark Hampton (who ran a new voter registration booth within the church for the black community.) Jones walked away after speaking with the men, thinking, "A place of worship profaned. People afraid to vote. What kind of place is this?"

Jones was later picked up and frisked by police, then turned over to an FBI agent and Police Chief Oxford Banner for questioning. He learned that there was no investigation being made on the cause of the church fire, and acquired a morsel of a lead about an "ol' commie lady, Miz Branham." Visiting her, he learned how she lost her job and her husband the last time she stood up to the town. Mrs. Branham wasn't interested in seconds. Jones reported back to Spencer Lee, but was fed a story about the black community burning their own church to garner support. Jones wanted real answers, and he got them through a telepathic probe of little Mary Lou's memories. J'Onzz burned with her-- within her mind-- watching three white men escape the church before he fell unconscious.



There were too many dead ends, so the Martian became a brother from another planet to continue his investigation. As Bill Smith, he spoke with the Wilson family, who themselves were discussing what to do with Rev. Delroy and Mark Hampton. A call came in informing them that Mary Lou had died, followed by Chief Banner arriving to warn them against protesting. "Lissen here. The child's dead an' you can't bring her back. We just don' want anybody gettin' all screwed up too tight to think. Y'all just keep your emotions for the funeral and offa the street... Look, boy, you get out of hand and what happened to the little girl will only be the start of it."

Meeting with Spencer Lee at the television station WWII, Jones learned his old friend was more exited about his feed going national than people getting hurt in the upcoming protest march. At the site itself, Mrs. Branham informed Jones that Lee was 'in the loop,' knowingly broadcasting the FBI's cover-up story about the protesters burning the church. Furious, Jones grabbed Spencer by the collar, lifting Lee over his head, then plopping him back to the ground. "Who are you? Do I even know you? What kind of evil, deceitful thing are you?" J'Onzz ducked out, turning back into Bill Smith to join the protest. "...and I walk with them. The billy clubs rain down. The dogs tear and rend. I let myself feel it. If I didn't, what would be the point? With each blow... the memories come back... Her memories..."



J'Onzz 'remembered' Officer Randy Turner's attack on the girl, as he watched the policeman batter protesters bloody at the march. The brutality convinced Spencer Lee to broadcast the truth on national television... about how Mary Lou died, the police's reaction to a non-violent gathering, the Ku Klux Klan's stranglehold on the South, and government corruption.

"Heat Wave" was written by Pat McGreal & Dave Rawson, featuring art by Dave Cockrum & Peter Gross. It is exactly the kind of story I like to see use J'Onn J'Onzz, but not exactly a fine example of it. What we have here is a story about racism where the actual black characters are pushed to the periphery in favor of an ineffectual quasi-white protagonist addressing thoroughly evil white racist caricatures. It's one thing if a hero with shapeshifting powers chooses to "feel the pain" of the Negro. It's quite another when an invulnerable Alien Atlas with laser vision watches children set upon by dogs while impersonating a relatively powerless bystander. Do something, Mr. Sympathetic Liberal Guilt Green Man! I'm sure the Australian writers' were moved by their viewing of Mississippi Burning, but between their cluelessness and Cockrum turning in some of his worst comic art ever, this "important" story is something of a travesty.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Origin of the Justice League-- Minus One! (JLofA #144, Part 2, 7/77)



Click to read Part 1

Barry Allen, the Flash, raced from a crowd frightened by Martians in Middletown in search of help. "I've never met Superman-- or any of the other super-heroes around America! My assumption of super-powers has been strictly a local thing! I hope he doesn't give me the brush-off! I know how those big stars can be!" To gain attention, the Flash climbed a spiral on top of the Metro Building and waited for someone to come calling. That turned out to be Superman, Batman and Robin, to whom he explained the situation. "Of course I'll lend a hand, Flash," said Superman. "We'll help, too-- right Batman? Oh, boy... Martians!" Batman scolded, "Calm down, youngster! We'll come, Flash-- but if this is a full-scale invasion, the three of us may not be able to give you enough help! Maybe we should alert some of our other friends-- Aquaman-- Green Arrow--!" Flash passed, wanting to keep a lid on the situation, but a tipster overheard and made a call to television station WGBS.

Back in Middletown, John Jones spotted a group of men crippled by the sight of a welder's blowtorch. "These are Martians who haven't learned to take on Earthmen's attributes together with their outward forms!" Two Pales bolted to stir a crowd, while the third surprised Jones by assuming his face. This was likely Blanx, who explained to "J'onn" his trap. Only Jones would have noticed the "weakened" Martians, and he would have to flee if he didn't want the town to spot two Det. Jones! "If Detective Jones were revealed as a Martian, all of Middletown would turn on me!" The false Jones shot John in the back, then observed him revert to Martian form. The Pales turned invisible, and the remaining "Det. Jones" took the Green Martian into his custody.

Flash and the World's Finest trio were greeted in Middletown by Captain Harding, who was praying they had a clue where his ace detective and the captured Martian had gotten to. Also, Roy Raymond, TV Detective, had followed up on that lead concerning Martians in Middletown. Harding admonished, "Now see here, Raymond! We don't want publicity!" Karen, Raymond's assistant on "Impossible... But True!" defended the rights of the press. Raymond, star of another former Detective Comics back-up strip, broadcast a report that drew a small army of exceptional persons to Middletown. It seemed like the only DC All-Stars not to show were Green Arrow and Speedy, who were on vacation to Starfish Island in Adventure Comics #256 at the time.

Batman had this most super of groups divide into teams and spread out to monitor the globe. Jimmy Olsen, Plastic Man and the Blackhawks chased a red herring that led them to nearly discover Rip Hunter: Time Master and his partner Jeff's secret operation. Lois Lane, Robotman, Congo Bill, Vigilante, and the Challengers of the Unknown nearly foiled Adam Strange's catching a Zeta-Beam back to Rann and his ladylove Alanna. Only the World's Finest trio, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Roy Raymond and Rex the Wonder Dog headed in the right direction. It seems Ferris Aircraft was involved with a satellite launch at Cape Canaveral, and a test pilot on site, Hal Jordan, had been shot from ambush by a ray-gun. Everyone was impressed he was still on his feet to show the lot where the dirty business had gone down.

At the launch pad, Rex scented trouble, so Superman used heat vision to flush the invisible Martians. "Hera help us! It's raining Martians!" Blanx thought to himself, "By Jupiter's Fire!" He then attacked the Man of Steel without mercy. "Great Scott! His power rivals mine!" Commander Blanx taunted, "You seem strong, Blue One-- but I come from another planet, and on Earth I am invincible!" Not so, as the Kryptonian decked him! "That's what they all say! But I'm 'out of this world,' too!" Wonder Woman enjoyed pitting her Amazon strength against aliens, while Flash helped Aquaman with a hydration issue, giving the Sea King power enough to flatten a Martian. Robin noted water-droplets on the rocket took the form of a once "invisible man," so the caped crusaders climbed up to gently release him. "Thank you, my friends! Had you not intervened, I would have been shot into space with this satellite tomorrow-- to my death!" Robin asked, "Gosh! But aren't you a Martian, too!" J'onzz J'onzz confirmed, "I am, lad-- yet not a Martian such as they! And to prove it, I'll tell you the most closely-guarded secret to any Martian-- our one fatal weakness!" One reveal, and heat vision did the rest.

Roy Raymond confirmed of J'onn, "And you say you're a good Martian-- living right here among us?" Superman interjected, "But not for much longer! I admit you helped us-- but I'm flying all of you back to Mars!" J'Onzz argued, "Oh, no, Superman! Take them, if you will, but I wish to remain! Once I would have sold my soul to return home! Now, I see the truth-- the truth I should have seen years ago! The Mars I loved is gone! It is a world of lost causes and dead dreams! Evil triumphed over good there! But here, on Earth, the eternal struggle continues! Here one such as I-- and ones such as yourselves-- can still tip the balance the right way! I love my adopted world! It needs-- a Manhunter from Mars!"

Superman acknowledged, "I can understand that!" Flash explained, "But the world won't, J'onn-- the news stories and hysteria generated in finding you-- have made it impossible for any Martian-- good or evil-- to appear now!" Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Superman all agreed that given six months for things to calm down, and with their full support as a club, the Martian Manhunter could be accepted by the public. Batman wished to remain a loner, which didn't work for Flash. "But, Batman-- a league against evil! Our purpose would be to uphold justice against whatever danger threatens it!" Superman also asked that he take this time to think it over, while Raymond did his part by vowing to a press blackout on the affair.

"And so it was decided! All of us swore silence!" The world chalked the Martian invasion to mass hysteria. "It was several months after-- when I lost my ability to use my powers while invisible-- that we had our first official case-- the case we maintained first brought us together! Of course, Robin, Roy, and Hal weren't members-- but a new hero, Green Lantern, was! Still, we've always celebrated the original day! I hope, now, you understand-- because it opened this world for me!"

Green Lantern leaned into Oliver Queen; "Naturally, J'onn didn't know I was Hal Jordan! He left Earth before we revealed our true identities to each other! J'onn only told us his John Jones identity after he abandoned it in 1964!" Green Arrow felt he should be "teed off," but knew "It was a nice thing you did for Ol' J'onn! I'm kinda sorry I missed him when he was on Earth recently! Now lemme outa here! I got somethin' in my eye!"

Ollie may have shed a tear for J'onn, but he knew not of what he spoke. That recent visit he mentioned was when the Manhunter was running loose like a crazy Martian, accusing every hero he saw of murdering Re's Eda. J'onn has always been loving toward Aquaman and gotten nothing but grief in return. Meanwhile, Green Arrow has treated Matian Manhunter like a saint since their first team-up, and he'd have doubtless been battered by the Jade Jackass of the 70's regardless.

Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin, and Frank McLaughlin created one of the most influential DC Comics ever with this tale. While retroactive continuity was nothing new even then, writing such a massive crossover of isolated features into a pre-origin tale filled with cross-referenced minutia, "first meetings," and other rampant revisionism? This was truly the Marvel Age of DC Comics! Speaking of isolation, the lonely, needy orientation of J'onn J'onzz that lead to his Post-Crisis role as widowed "last living Martian" likely started here. So too his defining ties to McCarthyism, and really treating him as a period character in general, a wellspring of quality Martian Manhunter stories from the late 80's on. "American Secrets?" "New Frontier?" They all came from here. Heck, the story even preceded Paul Levitz's using HUAC as an excuse for DC's heroes' vanishing in the 50's by a couple years, with his more famous "The Defeat of the Justice Society!" (Adventure Comics #466, 11-12/79) A truly great work, and as such endlessly copied, but rarely duplicated.


RETURN TO PART ONE!