Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Martian Manhunter Annual #1 (1998)

"I drive a car in Taiwan. I trap furs in Siberia. I'm a Sri Lankan bartender, a reclusive Japanese businessman... and a shapeshifting superhero from Mars. Of all my human identities, the one I wear the most is this man. John Jones... American private eye. He was my first human disguise and America was my introduction to Earth. They're a sense of home on this alien world. This is the story of how I saved America... touched a little bit of heaven... and got burned."

Karen Smith was introduced as a fellow detective with whom Jones shared an office, but little else, much to her chagrin. "I thought we were going to be more like... partners... if you know what I mean." The unrequited flirtation was interrupted when a teenage girl amnesiac appeared, seeking Jones' help. Alone in Jones' office, the girl thought her name might be Rachel, and wanted her murder solved, which involved individuals out to destroy the nation. Before she could continue, the girl was killed by gunshot wounds without any weapon having been fired, then vanished into a burst of flames. Jones was initially paralyzed by his innate Martian fear of fire, but when he collected himself and looked at the flickering that remained, he saw images of his deceased wife and daughter dancing within. Karen investigated the racket to find a room chilled to the point of breath steaming and a sticky ectoplasm coating a chair the ghost had occupied.

Having forgotten his traffic laws, John Jones car had been towed, so he flew invisibly to a local police precinct to mentally nudge Sgt. Bob Segarini into telling everything the police knew before mind-wiping him about the disclosure. While paying a fine to retrieve his car, Jones called Karen for help in questioning the victim's boyfriend, who had reported Rachel Munro missing six days earlier. There was also a roommate who seemed to be the last known person to have seen Rachel alive. Jones wanted justice for this child that had reminded him of his own daughter. Meanwhile, a balding cop named Dennis Lewis had overheard these conversations, and dropped dime to a mysterious figure who Lewis wanted to help "keep your country strong..."

Jones drove his beloved '87 Chevy Impala along I-49, until two assassins in a Beamer forced it off the road along a steep ridge. "Thanks to my Martian ability to harden my skin to the density of diamond, I was never in any danger... Unless the car caught fire." This time, Jones eagerly peered at the flames, from which an image of Rachel emerged to urge him on. The Martian Manhunter gave chase, and was spotted in the rearview mirror by one of his more nervous would-be killers. "Ah, Jesus! It's a FLYING GUY!! There's a freaking green guy flying at the car!" Chubby rattled passenger Leon was ordered to take the wheel while his more collected partner fired a few negligible rounds at the Alien Atlas before their own ride flew off-road. "I gave those two more of a scare than was necessary to apprehend them-- but they did try to kill me. And they did kill the Impala."

Officer Lewis had dispatched the two cocaine suspects to capture John Jones and escort him back to their club inside an hour's time, so that was the Martian Detective's obvious next stop. That is, if the writer hadn't forgotten he'd set that up, which he totally did. Also, J'Onzz couldn't get a good psychic "look" at Lewis before scrubbing the dealers' short term memories. "Humans rarely keep clear memories of people they don't know. It's amazing how little attention they pay one another." The Sleuth from Outer Space laid a Jedi mind trick to send the pair out of state to confess to the previous year's worth of crimes at the first police station they found.

J'Onzz tried to call off Karen from visiting the boyfriend on her own via cellular, but "Too late. Already here. Don't sweat it, Johnny, I know how to handle myself." Smith got David Henman to turn white as a sheet when she said she'd seen Rachel, and his repeated mentions of her possibly being dead put murder on Smith's mind. Karen threatened to shoot the punk's computer if he didn't stop lying to her, but another man's gun was soon pointed at her. "I am a free American citizen, and this is my home. You come here and threaten my property... You think I didn't know you were coming? You think I don't have friends?"

J'Onn J'Onzz appeared to Rachel's scrawny roommate as an overweight older woman in need of a phone after her purse had been stolen. A memory invasion revealed that Rachel was going away with her boyfriend for a weekend retreat to the mountains as part of his "weirdo" survivalist group, "New Revolution," and had never come back. J'Onzz put the roommate to sleep, then tried to call Karen back, without answer. A somewhat polite African-American man in revolutionary garb self-described as "America's messiah" was regrettably beating her about the face for information on her partner.

John Jones visited Sharpie's Bar, his regular hangout for Oreos and information, both courtesy of the joint's eponymous pal. "New Revolution" was a bunch of ultra-conservative gun nuts with propaganda on every local telephone pole, per Sharpie. Officer Lewis turned up to escort Jones to New Revolution's heavily guarded compound. "I tell you what... if the FBI wants to come knocking tonight, we're not going to be no damn Waco." At a mobile office, Jones found a bruised Karen Smith tied to a chair. "I'm sorry, Jones. I'm not strong... I told them where to look for you." General Washington was staging a revolution, a surgical strike with his forces against the nation's capitol, and wished only to know what information Jones had gathered to be shared with whom. Jones made up a story about working for Rachel's father, biding his time until the Alien Atlas struck out against the militiamen. General Washington had expected "super-powered enforcers" of the "aristocracy," and his preparations included keeping a flamethrower handy.

Weakened, J'Onn J'Onzz took boots and rifle butts to the head while General Washington demanded answers. "Where are the rest of your tyrant Justice League buddies? huh? You think we're going to all roll over and play dead while you just waltz in here from another planet and help take us over?!? You came here alone?!? You fool, I'm an army!!!" The Manhunter from Mars knew General Washington would enjoy cracking his ribs and taking his life slowly while he lay helpless. His last thoughts might have been "At least I would soon see my wife and child again," which was perhaps true, as flaming figures bearing their likenesses singed David Henman. "The flames disappeared with an unnatural quickness. Another moment and he would have burned up. It's what saved that man's life. It's also what saved mine."

General Washington fired an impotent pistol at the Martian Marvel. "You can't stop me! I'm an American hero!" The Manhunter squeezed the gun out of his hand and tossed Washington through a desk. "No. You are a thug with delusions of grandeur..." Ripping all the fine details of the militia from its General's mind, an invisible Martian strategically contained it without any threat of loss of life. Telepathy caused the army to see its individual troopers' worst fears, from prehistoric beasts to saxophone playing presidents. It was all over but the crying inside ten minutes. Still, Karen Smith was not amused. "Keep away from me, alien... How long have you been laughing at me, you cold bastard? I had feelings for you." J'Onzz offered Karen a mind wipe to make everything better, but she refused because duh. "Don't you dare touch me. I'm having a damn cigarette, and I frankly don't care if you don't like it..." Her match burst into a flame that embodied two figures. "My beloved wife...? My daughter...? It is you! It's really you, isn't it?" They didn't know how it was possible, and it took great finite energy to manifest, but "there's many hundreds of spirits awakened where we are. Many more... coming back to life... so many ghosts..."

Rachel Munro appeared to congratulate and thank Mr. Jones, then disappeared to finally rest. J'Onzz kin had to leave, too. "Don't go. Please. I want to touch you... hold you... I don't care what you're made of... you are my family." Despite their warnings, J'Onzz's loved ones briefly accepted his pained embrace before vanishing. "My hands were blistering and seething. It would take days for them to properly heal, even with my Martian powers. But it would heal. It was worth the pain. Since the day I lost them, I've burned to feel their touch again." An affected Karen Smith looked on as the tearful J'Onn J'Onzz knelt in a circle of burnt grass.

"Heart's Afire" was by Ty Templeton and Ariel Olivetti. Besides being part of DC's 1998 selection of themed JLA annuals ("Ghosts," all with covers by Bernie Wrightson,) the book was also significant for its role in a unique publishing plan. The first ever Martian Manhunter Annual was released before the first issue of the series it was meant to serve as the annual to, but did arrive a couple of weeks after a #0 issue and a few weeks before a #1,000,000 issue. Typically, despite four major jumping-on points for the new series within a span of weeks, the book only lasted three years and one additional annual.

The story reads like a pitch project, reintroducing the Morrison/Millar JLA take of a morphing international hero with a host of identities before settling on John Jones and his newly conceived supporting cast. I hate the rampant, unnecessary brain rape on display here, which survived into the Ostrander/Mandrake series long after Karen Smith bit the dust. The stakes were also underwhelming, but I did like the humor Templeton brought to the dialogue, which was sorely missed in the continuing series. The next time you feel the urge to make another Oreo joke, let's maybe give a nod to the beloved Impala that "vibrated like a chihuahua with a head cold" instead. Olivetti, who did a lot of Martian Manhunter drawing around this time, was off his game here. It looked like he was inked by some old school hack into a semblance of a lesser '60s European strip. Finally, it was too weird that all evidence pointed to Jones' office being in Louisiana of all places, as I-49 is an intrastate that starts in Lafayette, and the story had him headed north toward Shreveport. I side trip to Bon Temps would have been more exciting, although it might also have required a move to the Vertigo imprint.

Join the Spooktacular Samhain Celebration at this coven of blogs!


  1. "Bough Breaks" @ Batman: Gotham Knights Online
  2. "Haunts" @ The Flash: Speed Force
  3. "Dead Calm" @ The Aquaman Shrine
  4. "The Distance Gone" @ Diana Prince is the New Wonder Woman
  5. "Ghosts' - The Corpse Corps!" @ Green Lantern: Corps Conjecture
  6. "The Death Sentence" @ Superman: Great Krypton!
  7. "Heart's Afire" @ Martian Manhunter: The Idol-Head of Diabolu
  8. "Life Itself" @ The Captain's JLA Homepage



will_in_chicago said...

This story had some good elements, such as J'Onn mourning his family, but playing with peoples minds so casually seems wrong for J'Onn in this era. (In the new 52, J'Onn has erased a few minds but largely to protect the secrecy of Stormwatch or his yet unrevealed larger mission.)

Chad Bokelman said...

"This is the story of how I saved America... touched a little bit of heaven... and got burned."

It's stuff like this that makes me keep a peripheral eye on the Martian Manhunter in all things. One of my FAVORITE movies of all time is Humphrey Bogart's 'The Maltese Falcon'. Every now and then I'll read a line that J'onn says in a sort of Sam Spade voice and it just fits. I keep waiting for an AMAZING Sam Spade take on the Manhunter with amazing art and I just never get it.

Speaking of art, I was NOT impressed with the very bland art in this issue. Lacking detail in SO many places!

But thanks for playing along with the blog cross over Frank! You're welcome back anytime!

Diabolu Frank said...

I've been so backed up and worn out, I still haven't finished reading all the blogs in the crossover. I suspect you're playing catch up your own self though, so I don't feel so bad. They were big 'ol entries, they were!

If you haven't read "American Secrets," it may well be the book you've been looking for on the Hammett front...