Friday, October 1, 2010

Mr. V: The Fourth Most Important Martian Manhunter Adversary

Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone's Scale of Evil Rank
8) Non-psychopathic persons with smoldering rage: These people kill when their rage is ignited.

Why Mr. V has been selected for 4th Place:
  • Faceless was the Martian Manhunter’s first true ongoing foe.
J’onn J’onzz had several reoccurring foils in his Silver Age career, but most had only made a couple of appearances before Vulture came to his attention. The Alien Atlas had been on the trail of the Diabolu Idol-Head for some time, which was a curiously mobile but mostly inanimate object. Mr. V was the first actual villain to show up on a regular, even routine basis. If a reader purchased an issue of House of Mystery off the newsstand from 1966-1968, they could reasonably expect one of the stories inside would involve Marco Xavier entangled in a Vulture plot, hoping this would be the case where he would finally capture the elusive Faceless. Mr. V was the first bad guy to truly challenge the Martian Manhunter.
  • Mr. V “created” Marco Xavier.
Whatever the original intention, when Xavier’s car flew off a cliff, it inspired the Manhunter to assume his identity. Following “Marco’s” maneuvers helped Mr. V foil the Manhunter’s campaign against Vulture for months, and contributed to Faceless’ status as one of the longest lasting and most effective adversaries of the Silver Age stories.
  • Mr. V helped popularize the multiple identity aspect of the Manhunter from Mars.
In the earliest stories, J’onn J’onzz not only assumed a human form, but acting as a Martian was the exception to the rule. With the resurgence of super-hero comics, Detective John Jones became more the standard alter ego of the Martian Manhunter, in the typical manner of Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince. Unusually, J’onn J’onzz allowed his civilian identity of nearly a decade to “die,” then took the form of random nameless humans as needed. It wasn’t until J’onzz saw the opportunity to infiltrate Vulture under the guise of Marco Xavier that a new persona of indefinite length was taken on. It took a few decades for the practice to catch on, but operating under false guise became a staple of J’Onn’s method in the 1990s.
  • The Martian Manhunter officially left the Justice League of America because of Vulture.
The popular Post-Crisis myth is that the Martian Manhunter was always a member of the League, at least until he wasn’t, following Infinite Crisis The truth is, the Martian Manhunter was among the first heroes to bail on the team, and stayed away for over a dozen years before becoming a mainstay in the mid-80s. The reasons for this were purely commercial. Martian Manhunter was the JLofA’s substitute for Superman, and was pushed out as the Man of Steel’s presence in the book grew, not to mention all of the other, better selling heroes coming in. However, the Silver Age was the true dawn of continuity, and readers wrote in to ask what had become of J’onn J’onzz. The answer came fairly easily, as the Manhunter’s adventures had shifted from the United States to the Mediterranean, so it was simple enough to say he was on another continent single-handedly thwarting an international crime organization.
  • Mr. V was the first foe the Martian Manhunter hated.
John Jones had been fighting crime for years, but perhaps because most of his targets ended up in the clink within 6-8 pages, the detective never seemed to take it personally. J’onn J’onzz was certainly driven to locate the Idol-Head of Diabolu and stop its releasing monsters into the world every month, but that was more about averting disaster than animosity. Even Professor Arnold Hugo, a nasty man who repeatedly wronged the Alien Atlas, still came off as more of a nuisance than anything. However, for whatever reason, as Marco Xavier the Manhunter positively seethed over Mr. V’s wrongdoing. Stories regularly ended with Xavier squinting furiously, mentally vowing to bring Mr. V to justice, or mocking him with the nickname Faceless.
  • Vulture determined the course of Martian Manhunter’s personality forevermore.
Like most Silver Age DC heroes, the Martian Manhunter had a typically whitebread, Middle American personality. Batman would eventually return to his dark roots, Green Arrow would become a left-wing womanizing social activist, Hawkman an uptight right-winger, and so forth. Martian Manhunter was an early adopter of Bronze Age characterization, swiftly shifting from warm and fuzzy to grimly resolute. Villains would come to bad ends, and J’onn J’onzz would shrug it off as rough justice. The change was directly tied to the drift of the Manhunter from Mars strip from kid-friendly space stories to monster-of-the-month to going after aggressive teenage boys with the crime/spy angle. Vulture initiated the sea change that would define J’onn J’onzz from then on.
  • Vulture made the Martian Manhunter one of the first Silver Age death dealers.
At least since the McCarthy era, it was verboten for super-heroes to take lives. Martian Manhunter was among the few to break that rule in the Silver Age. While J’onn J’onzz never directly killed anyone during this period (depending on whether you count Commander Blanx,) the Manhunter didn’t exactly stand in the way of Vulture operatives blowing themselves up with faulty equipment and the like. Death was commonplace in the Vulture stories, and its specter would hover over Martian Manhunter stories thereafter.
  • Vulture conquered The House of Mystery, and gave Zook the boot.
As mentioned previously, the tone, types of threats and environment of the Martian Manhunter’s strip radically changed with the advent of Vulture. The Idol-Head of Diabolu was permanently destroyed to make room for Vulture, Europe became the backdrop, the secret mountain hideout was abandoned, John Jones gave way to Marco Xavier, the monthly monsters were replaced by Vulture operations, Professor Hugo turned up only once, and alien sidekick Zook appeared sporadically. A few of these elements slipped into the odd story, but the rest of Manhunter from Mars’ run was dictated by Vulture.
  • Mr. V took on the Justice League of America
Only two legitimate Manhunter from Mars strip villains ever appeared in Silver Age Justice League comics. The first was Monty Moran, who was a one-off thieving gadgeteer who turned up as part of a lackluster crime collective in an early JLofA issue. The second was Mr. V, who managed to really fly up the team's nose. J'Onn J'Onzz and Hawkman teamed-up to foil a Vulture heist, while Faceless managed to tap Green Lantern's power battery to wreck havoc. Most importantly, Mr. V got away with it, at least until the Sleuth from Outer Space finally caught up with him. If nothing else, Mr. V was the most effective member of the Vile Menagerie up through the end of the Martian Manhunter's solo strip.
  • Mr. V of Vulture was in the Super Powers Collection-- ish.
Mr. V was one of the two enemies listed in the Martian Manhunter biography on the back of his Super Powers Collection action figure packaging card.
  • Vulture was cool.
Vulture did something for the Manhunter from Mars strip unseen since its early days. Instead of juvenile yarns with contrived plots involving possessed musical instruments and shapeshifting imps, these were sophomoric yarns with contrived plots involving espionage, sudden death, nefarious inventions, bikini babes on foreign beaches, and that ginchy company seal. For any male over the age of nine, the change was refreshing.

The Counter Argument:
  • Mr. V was a fat ass in a stupid mask… never mind wearing slacks and a blazer over a t-shirt. Faceless’ greatest crime was against fashion.
  • Faceless and Vulture never posed a legitimate threat to the Martian Manhunter. They were nothing but stupid gadgets and ridiculous schemes, no more effective than the criminal scientists who preceded them.
  • The Vulture stories ruined the Martian Manhunter, forcing him through the same mud most classy heroes have been subjected to since the Bronze Age.
  • A Martian super-spy type? What were they thinking? Not to mention that tool Marco Xavier and his queer David Niven mustache.

What Mr. V  Represents:
Per his original premise, J’onn J’onzz came from a world that had left crime and war behind for centuries. The stories didn’t really bear that out, but what held true was that the Manhunter from Mars was a superior celestial being come to Earth to fight societal ills. Meanwhile, the only thing known about Mr. V is that he was a hostile, scheming criminal. The Martian Manhunter was allowed to fully and completely hate Mr. V because he was literally Faceless. No matter which Mr. V was unmasked, the shmuck under the hood was just another patsy. Faceless was the embodiment of crime, without any character depth or motivation beyond the desire to successfully commit crime and to put down those who would prevent crime. Anyone could become Faceless by drawing a mask down over their identifying features and perpetrating evil against their fellow man for personal gain. Once you’re Faceless, you’re not a desperate person looking for a score, nor a sick individual getting kicks. You’re no one that can be reasoned with, or reached out to. Mr. V was just another name to address a concept to which J’onn J’onzz was fervently opposed: the evil that men do, as personified by the Faceless.

  • Mr. V is to the Martian Manhunter as Lex Luthor is to Superman or Dr. Cyber is to Wonder Woman

Faceless may be a mere human, but through technology and a criminal organization, he still managed to vex one of the most powerful super-heroes on Earth over a long term. Plus, Mr. V offered the only prototypical archenemy type of the Martian Manhunter's rogues gallery. Faceless would plot and curse his foe when defeated, Martian Manhunter was frustrated and hateful right back-- repeat every two months out of three. Super-villain formula at its most familiar.

  • Vulture is to Martian Manhunter as Intergang is to Superman
There may be isolated gadgets that give our super-hero problems, but ultimately, it's a scaled up mob of the types of goons street level heroes fight all the time.

Who isn't ranked because of Mr. V:
  • The Clanetary System/Swarm: In one of the great many possible DC futures, featured in a couple of issues of Martian Manhunter, the Alien Atlas was fated to battle these guys for several boring centuries. Pull the other one.
  • Director Bones: Borrowing from Chase was one of Ostrander’s better ideas, as Mr. Bones’ passive-aggressive machinations saw him reveal all of J’Onn J’Onzz’s known identities to the world, including the ones Manhunter had used to infiltrate the D.E.O. Still, Mr. V was around first, had more long-term impact, and was created for Manhunter from Mars instead of Infinity, Inc.
  • Gorilla Grodd: The Super-Gorilla has replaced Dr. Light as the default villain paired against J’Onn J’Onzz in Justice League-related throwdowns. However, those instances are both sporadic and of recent vintage, plus Grodd is technically a Flash villain. Still, I love the contrast between two telepaths on opposite ends of the evolutionary spectrum.
  • Vandal Savage: The immortal manipulator is a general Golden Age villain, with only Green Lantern and the Flash having strong claims for solo ownership. Again, Savage mostly fought J’Onn in the ‘90s, and usually as part of an offensive against Leagues.
  • Vulkor, the Capsule Master: Sure he’s a Martian gang leader, but one ineffectual appearance doesn’t cut it.

In Closing:
Mr. V needs a Post-Crisis revamp. The look may be ridiculous, but the concept is sound, and there are too few relevant original Martian Manhunter villains to leave any lying fallow. Vulture was a motivating concern for several years in the Silver Age, and their presence permanently affected how readers and writers approached J’onn J’onzz. Further, DC keeps pitting the Alien Atlas against similar crime lord/nefarious types that are either created whole or taken from outside sources, when there’s already a Faceless “owned” by the franchise worthy of further development.


mathematicscore said...

At first I was like "What?" but then I was like "Yeah!"

Diabolu Frank said...

I figure I have a lot of explaining to do when it comes to anyone preceding Despero besides the obvious two. I'm already working on #3, and it'll be a doozy (both the selection and the rationale.)

Anonymous said...

I cant wait for the one the only...Malefic

will_in_chicago said...

I think that the comparisons are apt, but the outfit for Mr. V was awful. I think that Mr. V did have an impact as it changed the direction of J'Onn's development.

Thanks for all that you do.

Diabolu Frank said...

Anonymous, the question would be, do you want Malefic sooner, or a little bit later? :)

Thank you, Will. There doesn't seem to be a lot of passion for or against Mr. V, myself included, but I figure the case for his objective importance needed to be stated.

Tom Hartley said...

Criswell predicts:

3.) The Marshal

2.) Commander Blanx

1.) Malefic

Diabolu Frank said...

Very good choices, Tom. Time will tell, but as I said previously, I'm most looking forward to #3. That's my last chance to surprise anybody, aside from which specific places the final two will occupy.

Tom Hartley said...

3.) Bel Juz