Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Justice League of America #144 (July, 1977)

Green Arrow, having spent some time reading through old League journals on their satellite, allowed his detective mind to activate his knee-jerk reactionism. It seemed that the date the League was said to have formed was seven months prior to Hal Jordan's having become Green Lantern, much less his starting to work with other heroes. Ollie felt like he'd been lied to, and let Hal have it, but the also present Superman stepped up. "Okay, Arrow! You've caught us red-handed-- and I, for one, am just as glad the secret's out." Superman led the pair to a viewing room on the League Satellite, where Ollie watched a video recorded by J'Onn J'Onzz before he left the team. "As you listen, please understand why we had to hide the truth! It wasn't you we feared-- it was the times!"

J'Onzz related the story of his arrival on Earth in 1955, with much of the dialogue and layouts taken directly from Detective Comics #225. "Soon, I found employment as a police detective-- but even sooner, I learned how correct I had been to hide my true identity!" Vice-President Nixon was pushing bomb shelters. The Red Scare was in full effect. Campaigns against juvenile delinquency focused on scapegoats like comic books. People had begun seeing, and fearing, UFOs. "Everywhere I went, I heard words of fear and bravado-- as if this country I had appeared in were under attack! And yet no attack ever came! I saw only prosperity-- and paranoia! It was quite curious! Naturally, therefore, I used what knowledge I possessed to attempt repairs on the Robot-Brain! Dr. Erdel had been a genius, however, and my efforts wrought no effect for several years!"

"But on the night of February 11, 1959--" a news report announced Superman's defeat of Lex Luthor (as related in Action Comics #249.) "Yes, and I saved Middletown from the Martian weapons that somehow fell to Earth, and nearly died in the process! But no one knows it, because of my vow to hide from the humans! I've accomplished much good here-- all of it invisibly! I am not a slave to my ego, but I have a normal Martian pride! Perhaps, with my record, it is time to announce myself!"

Just then, J'onzz's arch-enemy Commander Blanx appeared with a squad of Pale Martians in Jones' home! "You should not be surprised, J'onn! Did you not find our trial offerings-- the Martian weapons!" Blanx had been responsible for J'onzz being sent into exile on his native Mars before Dr. Erdel's Robot-Brain dragged him to Earth. As a result of J'onzz's work on the device, its probe-ray had begun appearing near his place of exile, and had been detected by Blanx. The Commander sent the capsule of weapons as a trial teleportation before he and his men allowed themselves to pay J'onzz a visit. "I cursed my blunder, but held the Commander's eyes! He had wanted to kill me in our previous encounter! Only my popularity with my people saved me-- but my people were far away now!"

Jones backed away from the Pales toward his lab. "You are a cool one, J'onn! I'll sleep better when you're gone!" Jones reached for a sink with valves marked as air, water, and fire, and set off a blaze. "The flames weaken me, though not quite so much in my Earth form! And I was prepared for them! Blanx and his men will be helpless, while I escape!" Jones waited a half hour for the Pales to exit his lab as he had, but none came. Jones cut the main gas supply, to find the Robot-Brain melted to slag and his fellow Martians presumably having returned home before it was rendered useless. "...after this reminder of what I left behind, my homesickness is completely cured! It is just as well!"

The next morning, an unusually svelte Captain Harding announced pale-skinned aliens were running riot on the south side of town-- they had just teleported to safety elsewhere in Middletown! "Blanx and his men will stop at nothing-- they've proved that on Mars! They want me to come to them-- and I must oblige!" Jones reverted to Martian form and turned invisible, but one of Blanx's men detected his heartbeat. J'onzz began throwing fists, while Blanx drew a pistol. "You've had your way with the backward humans, J'onn-- but you're as vulnerable as any Martian to this Microwave Pistol!" The beam pained J'onzz, but he retained his strength and beat the stuffing out of Blanx. Just then, a voice demanded J'onzz should freeze in place!

"Standing amidst the rubble was a human in scarlet-and-gold! I'd seen some newspaper photos from Central City, but I knew little about the Flash... My initial reaction was instinctive!" J'onzz turned invisible, but Flash moved across the room with speed enough to cover every square inch until he reached the Martian's jaw! It was a trick he'd learned in Flash #106 a week prior, when faced with the Mirror Master. Set on his butt, J'onzz tried a different approach. "Yes, here I am, friend-- and I am your friend! It is the pale-skinned Martians who have done the damage here! I sought to stop them! If you fight for justice, I am on your s--"

A woman's scream pierced the air from an overlooking apartment window, as tenants were horrified to spy these invading aliens. One went so far as to take aim with a rifle, which Flash raced up the side of the building to slap from his hand. As J'onn J'onzz vanished after the fleeing Pale Martians, Flash chastised, "You fool! You frightened him... and now he's gone-- along with the ones he said were his enemies! With their powers, how can I track them? Why didn't you let him finish what he was saying?" The crowd just dismissed all Martians as alien invaders, and even started to question whether Flash was one, too! "I had to get away from there! Those people are scared-- in an ugly mood-- and since I'll never reveal my true identity as a police scientist, they might well have turned on me!"

John Jones and the disguised Pale Martians separately observed Flash spend hours tracking aliens he could not perceive in his midst, as an hysterical crowd began to form around Middletown City Hall. Captain Harding tried to quiet their fears and accusations, but having failed, turned to the Flash. Barry Allen likened the mess to Orson Welles' infamous broadcast of "War of the Worlds," then invoked the unimpeachable name of Superman to mollify the crowd. Shame he didn't actually know the Man of Steel...

Barry Allen, the Flash, raced from a crowd frightened by Martians in Middletown to search for 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 seemed 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 that he was still on his feet and able 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 out the invisible Pales. "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 the Flash helped Aquaman with a hydration issue, giving the Sea King power enough to flatten a Martian.

Robin noticed 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!" With that reveal, Superman's revisiting 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 up 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 madmartian, 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, November/December, 1979) A truly great work, and as such endlessly copied, but never duplicated.

1 comment:

Diabolu Frank said...

Comments from the first posting of this material here.