Saturday, May 8, 2010

Professor Arnold Hugo: The Ninth Most Important Martian Manhunter Adversary

Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone's Scale of Evil Rank
7) Highly narcissistic, not distinctly psychopathic people with a psychotic core who kill people close to them (jealousy an underlying motive)

Why Professor Arnold Hugo has been selected for 9th Place:
  • Hugo was the first popular Martian Manhunter villain.

The Martian Manhunter was introduced in Detective Comics #225, amidst the firestorm of controversy whipped up by Dr. Fredric Wertham over a perceived link between comic books and juvenile delinquency. In a move toward self-censorship, the distinctly ghoulish Batman rogues gallery was largely banished from covers and most comics throughout the 1950s. The comics instead embraced a rather juvenile take on science-fiction, characterized by tame monsters-of-the-month and alien visitations. Favorites like Catwoman and Two-Face vanished until the '60s, but the Batman series had the furious pencil of Dick Sprang to fall back on, plus irregular Joker appearances and the introduction of Mr. Freeze in 1959. Detective Comics fared poorly, with outdated artists and a greater emphasis on giant rampaging beasts. Lesser lights like the Terrible Trio, Dr. Double X and Calendar Man debuted in 1958, but it didn't exactly blaze the path of a super-villain revival.

Editor Jack Schiff shepherding an underwhelming Batman line in the dire 1950s was one thing, but following the late decade super-hero revival spearheaded by Julie Schwartz, things needed to change fast. In Schiff's final years, Joker appearances in Batman spiked, and Detective Comics began trying out new villains in rapid succession, beginning with Professor Arnold Hugo in 1962. Aside from Cat-Man, who was an instant smash, none stuck... except Prof. Hugo. In the days of newsstand distribution, there was a massive lag between the production and reception of comic book stories. Cat-Man's three cover appearances in just over a year's time are telling, because he returned a month after sales receipts from his debut would have been tabulated. It took Prof. Hugo a year-and-a-half to resurface, but the mere fact that he did means something. Hugo was the first "freakish" Batman foe introduced in a long time, so there might have been reservations about repeat cover appearances, and probably no sales boost like Cat-Man likely delivered, but his revival pretty much guarantees the fan mail must have been extremely positive. Someone like the Flame Master might have made more sense as a Martian Manhunter threat, but what Schiff was looking for was sales, and a positive response to Hugo had to offer hope.

Martian Manhunter had fought a number of super-scientists and criminals with advanced technology, but none made enough of an impression to return as individuals of note. Besides an especially snide personality, it seems like having a visual hook was the main thing to set Prof. Hugo apart. A genius with a head shaped like a lightbulb is pretty inspired, but not as much as having him then use clown make-up as a disguise in one episode.

  • Hugo was the Manhunter's first "stolen" foe, and link to the greater DC Universe.

Detective Comics #322 saw the return of Prof. Hugo... in the back-up strip. "The Man Who Destroyed J'onn J'onzz" was the first Manhunter from Mars strip to name the hero's stomping grounds as Middletown, where previously one might have assumed that John Jones was, like Batman, located in Gotham City. The story established the heroes shared a continuity through a cameo by the Dark Knight, while also setting up Martian Manhunter as a separate property. If Schiff was already looking for a parachute before being shown the door, as Julie Schwartz would hold his job in another five issues, that would seem a prudent move. Scwartz cleaned house upon arrival, restoring classic rogues and introducing new adversaries. Cat-Man, so closely tied to Batman, could not be allowed exit from the franchise, even as he fell into disuse. Professor Arnold Hugo, having proven himself both of interest and available, jumped ship with Martian Manhunter in his cover-featured new title, House of Mystery.

  • Prof. Hugo was the Manhunter's first successful reoccurring foe, and the only one to appear in all three of his major Silver Age periods.

Although Monty Moran and the Diabolu Idol-Head had follow-up encounters with the Alien Atlas prior to Hugo, one was fleeting and the other met its final end within two years. Both fared better than the majority of bad guys to turn up in the Manhunter from Mars strip, which couldn't turn out one decent repeat in eight years. Professor Hugo joined the cast at the tail end of the "John Jones" period, when the Sleuth from Outer Space was still a police officer in Middletown, in a story featuring Captain Harding. Hugo returned twice during the "Idol-Head" years, when Manhunter and Zook traveled the United States in search of a "Pandora's Box," fighting the monsters which would regularly emerge from it. Hugo's final canonical appearance was during the "Marco Xavier" period, when Manhunter assumed the identity of an international playboy and spy against the criminal organization Vulture. All in all, Professor Arnold Hugo spent four years as the Manhunter from Mars' longest-lived Silver Age adversary.

The Counter Argument:
  • Professor Arnold Hugo is a Batman villain whose only Bronze Age appearance was in a Batman Encyclopedia, where his name was misspelled. His modern age revival was relegated to Johnny DC (where he briefly battled two entirely different super-heroes.)
  • Professor Arnold Hugo has no powers, isn't especially brilliant by comic book standards, and contributes nothing Modern Age readers would embrace.
  • Professor Arnold Hugo looks ridiculous, and is difficult to draw proportionate to other characters. Aside from the big head, he's just another jerk in a suit.

What Professor Arnold Hugo Represents:
Debuted in Detective Comics, exiled to House of Mystery, abandoned at the tail end of the Silver Age, and engaged in a constant battle for recognition and respect. Prof. Hugo is the embodiment of fan frustration with the Manhunter from Mars' handling and reception, and allowed to get nastier about it than Martian Manhunter ever would. Where J'Onn J'Onzz is a selfless, dignified champion of a great society living in harmony, Hugo is an ironically small-minded egotist only interested in personal fame and fortune. Hugo demands acknowledgment for his scientific accomplishments, and would like nothing better than for the entire world to kiss his feet. Wounding his enormous ego promises a severe reaction, potentially lethal if Hugo had any real follow through. While Hugo talks big, he doesn't seem to have the stomach for cold-blooded murder, though he has no regard for innocents in his path. Like the Martian, Hugo seems distant from all of mankind. Unlike the Martian, Hugo seems to prefer it that way, alienating rather than being alienated. Because of his modest goals and human foibles, as well as his ultimate harmlessness, Hugo contrasts against J'Onzz in ways none of his grander villains can.

If Manhunter is an idealized socialist, Hugo is the screwball libertarian. Where most of academia is left-leaning and aloof, Hugo's the quiet guy in the teachers lounge who passionately supports free market economics, extortion via radiation poisoning and invisible flying robots.

  • Professor Arnold Hugo is to the Martian Manhunter as the Riddler is to Batman
While undeniably a morally ambiguous sort, these are villains who can't quite pull off evil, and the darker the story, the worse they fit. There was a time Riddler was possessed by a demon and involved in sacrificing babies. Now he's a flamboyant private investigator and sometimes Batman ally, though usually falling on the naughty side of anti-hero. Professor Hugo looks like Peter Pumpkinhead in an Italian suit. He should be played accordingly.

  • Professor Arnold Hugo is to the Martian Manhunter as the Monarch is to Dr. Venture
No matter Hugo's fantastic claims and seeming willingness to do great evil, he's ultimately quite silly and inept. This explains why, unlike most every one of his other prominent foes, Martian Manhunter always seems more bemused with Hugo than anything. It's like Prof. Hugo imagines himself an arch-enemy and a major player, while J'Onn J'Onzz mostly regards him as a nuisance to be periodically corralled.

  • Professor Arnold Hugo is to the Martian Manhunter as Batroc the Leaper is to Captain America
Batroc can hold his own in battle with the Human Fighting Machine... the Sentinel of Liberty... the guy who trained half the Marvel Universe in how to fight. Batroc also has a profoundly silly mustache and French accent. When Batroc fights the Punisher, he kicks Frank Castle's butt, because to do less would be to diminish the Living Legend of World War II. When Batroc fights Captain America, he brings friends, and its still serio-comic at best. A revival of Professor Arnold Hugo should play along similar lines, with the Wizard of 1,000 Menaces as an entertaining nuisance, but never as a chump. Dude fought the Martian Miracle Man on the regular. Best respect.

Who isn't ranked because of Professor Arnold Hugo:
  • Monty Moran: The Getaway King / Getaway Mastermind: The first reoccurring Martian Manhunter foe, who debuted in 1958 and turned up again in a 1961 JLofA story. However, his second go around didn't showcase much of a personal investment between hero and foil, plus no one has cared enough about Moran to do anything else with him in almost fifty years.
  • Doctor Trap: If you were going to try to do a "grim n' gritty" update of Prof. Hugo who commits violent murders and compensates for his deformation and lack of powers through science, you would end up with Dr. Larry Trapp. Also, every third villain created in the Modern Era, so don't bother.

In Closing:
I adore Professor Arnold Hugo, so much so that I'd rather see him left along than mishandled. That said, Hugo is a delightfully snarky heel who plays very well off J'Onn J'Onzz, and could work today as a reluctant ally against greater threats, or an outright villain in stories more concerned with entertainment than the continued decline of psychology in Western civilization. Professor Hugo is easily the most quotable Martian Manhunter adversary, and has personality enough not to work wet.


will_in_chicago said...

I think that Doctor Hugo could work well as a man so self centered that he does not even think about the long range consequence of his actions. This would be another contrast to J'Onn, who as a Martian may try to think about events centuries into the future.

A pairing between the Libertarian Hugo and the Democratic Socialist Martian Manhunter could be amusing -- especially when J'Onn points out how well Hugo's ideas have worked in the past.

Diabolu Frank said...


Tom said...

I agree that Hugo works best as a cornball. I don't need a more serious, modern comics version. The best place for him is in DC's cartoony kids comics. Has the Brave and the Bold animated series done a Batman/Martian Manhunter team-up yet? I know there's going to be one in the comic, but I don't know about the TV show. Hugo would be the perfect villain for such a team-up.

Diabolu Frank said...

I prefer my Hugo and tad meaner than Johnny DC will allow. He's fairly straining against the Comic Code in those '60s stories, but it's all attitude. You don't have to be a sicko to be a bad ass. Little-to-no killing, certainly no women or children, but a Penguin level of menace would be perfectly acceptable. He's like Frank Sinatra with a mad-on. He's no Don Corleone or Tony Montana, but jack with him at your peril, because he'll come back vicious.

I haven't heard anything about an animated Martian Manhunter appearance. B:TB&TB seems to focus on underrepresented characters, where Martian Manhunter is comparatively overexposed in animation thanks to his Justice League connection. You're totally right about Professor Arnold Hugo being a perfect candidate for the show, though. All the wackier Jack Schiff period stuff is right in their wheelhouse. Man, now you've got me anxious, because that could totally happen.

mathematicscore said...

The Johnny DC free comic book day was a short version of what I assume the comic will be. I hope you're prepared for Commander Malefak.

Diabolu Frank said...

Are you serious? I didn't pick that one up.

LissBirds said...

He's serious. And emphasis on the "Commander" part.

And there's a little Samachson/Certa Easter Egg in there, too, if you squint. It made me very happy.

Diabolu Frank said...

Ugh. Well, I guess he'll be Blanx in all but name/complexion, so there's that. Malefic's trademarks (piercings, torture, rape) wouldn't fly at Johnny DC. Hopefully, the full length version I ordered will have some extras...

LissBirds said...

He's Blanx in complexion, too. He's pretty much Blanx with a name change. I rather liked seeing "Blanx" show up somewhere, and somewhat faithful to the original when it comes to motive. It'll be interesting to see what you think about him.

Diabolu Frank said...

Oh, I'm definitely interested. I very much prefer a gestalt than getting stuck with plain Malefic, though you'd think "Blanx" would read better in a younger skewing book.

LissBirds said...

Now that I finally have ten minutes to myself I can take a break and read through this...oh, and I think Hugo would rank himself an 11 on the Scale of Evil, not a piddly 7.

I didn't know Calendar Man was that old, but now that I think about it, he reeks Silver Age.

"Where J'Onn J'Onzz is a selfless, dignified champion of a great society living in harmony, Hugo is an ironically small-minded egotist only interested in personal fame and fortune." See, now this is why I think J'onn needs a human foe to "attack" who he is at the core. That's why Hugo stands out to me as a good candidate for arch-nemesis, because Hugo takes it personally, even if he isn't evil enough. The intent is there even if the execution isn't. But the Martian Manhunter needs a human villain--the parallels to Superman be damned--to counter the "threat" of "Martianness" and what it stands for, even if it's a socio-political bent like you pointed out. And if not Hugo, then somebody not alien needs to come along and challenge him. And I don't mean the Human Flame because that's not a real challenge.

"Wounding his enormous ego promises a severe reaction, potentially lethal if Hugo had any real follow through." He reminds me a bit of Sinestro in regards to ego. Kinda sorta. Only less successful.

"If Manhunter is an idealized socialist, Hugo is the screwball libertarian." Ah-ha. I knew there was a reason I liked the guy. If academia had more Prof. Hugo's I'd have ten advanced degrees by now.

Diabolu Frank said...

Liss, I don't think Calender Man appeared again until the fan-pros of the '70s went nostalgic and resurrected him. Wein? Englehart? Whoever it was, I figure Calender Man was a throwback even then, and isn't he a serial killer or something now?

I'm kinda feeling M.C. on the Human Flame front. Play Mike Miller as more of a knee-jerk blue collar reactionary, give him some like-minded help (whom he could outfit.) You don't get Lex Luthor, but instead J. Jonah Jameson with his Scorpion/Spider-Slayer/etc. I respect Scipio's Vile Tarot, but DC's rogues model can be insular and repetative, so I'm inclined to reach out to Marvel parallels for J'Onn. Spider-Man's rogues are strong, and Miller can be tweaked into a solid fit.

I think you're right that Hugo would grade himself an 11, but actions speaker louder than words. I actually reevaluated Hugo after revisiting his first appearance, because he initially only got a 2 based on his characterization in JJ--TMfM. I'd forgotten that he almost killed Batman, Robin, and most life on Earth. He still only manages a 7 because he went about it so very slowsly, somebody would have dealt with both problems eventually Look at that last panel with the gas gun. True psychos don't use sleeping gas. It's unmanly.

You'll have to explain the libertarian comment. I don't follow.

LissBirds said...

I don't know...Human Flame is so one-dimensional, and his motivation for hating the Martian Manhunter is so hollow, IMHO. I rather like the scheming mastermind who takes everything personally and can never best his hero, rather than a regular guy who justs wants to say he killed a hero. I'm not saying there isn't room for both Hugo and The Human Flame, I'm just saying Hugo is a weightier adversary. I really love the interplay between an egotist and a selfless soul, which I never picked up on until I read your post. Add in the fact that Hugo's ego doesn't match his accomplishments and it makes things even better.

"Look at that last panel with the gas gun. True psychos don't use sleeping gas. It's unmanly." Bwahaha. I suppose so.

"You'll have to explain the libertarian comment. I don't follow." The more I work with teenagers, the more I'm trending towards the right/conservatism/you-kids-have-it-too-easy-back-in-my-day, etc. I took a political quiz recently and it came up "libertarian," which stunned me. I think in ten years I'll be a fascist. But I'll be a really FUN fascist. I'm already on the path to subversive educator. And if there were more people like me who were professors, I wouldn't have dropped out of grad school. Hope that explains it! :)

Luke said...

Hugo would make for a good head of VULTURE or something similar (pun intended) assuming that VULTURE became a little more like AIM. He'd be able to leverage his brilliance and bring manpower against the Manhunter, so that his schemes might take a few issues to fail rather than a few pages.

Prof. Hugo is like Dr. Psycho done right. I think that pretty much says it all.