Tuesday, October 2, 2007

House of Mystery #145 (Sept.'64)

"In the sealed mountain cave that serves as the hideaway for J'onn J'onzz, the Martian's other dimensional pet, Zook, paces the floor with impatience... 'What keep Manhunter? ...I -- I go out and see if he coming!'" Zook elongated its body to exit the cave through a "mailbox slot,"where it was noticed by a sailor who asked if this was J'Onn J'Onzz's secret hideout. Turns out this was really just the Manhunter in disguise, teasing his little friend. "You away long time! Where you be?" I'd rather not get all Frederick Wertham about his reply, "Wandering about the docks, Zook-- as a sailor!" Innocently enough, he was just checking incoming ships in hopes one might have picked up the Idol-Head.

A perfect example of Diabolu strangeness can be found in "Secret of the Purple People," in which three pointy headed creatures flew around turning folks into animals with their touch. A cargo ship's seaman had found the Idol-Head bobbing in the ocean, and the beasties escaped out a porthole as he slept. Hearing of this menace over an unidentified, vaguely Mid-Eastern country, Manhunter checked on the monsters via The Book of Diabolu. "Yes, here it is, Zook--They're known as Venomee--Strange people with amazing powers! And the legend about them says...'The form they want, they dread the most, until the magic brew is drained!'" Exiting the "hideaway" he shared with Zook through intangibility, Manhunter flew intercontinental to stop the creatures, but was turned into a pink fish at their touch! Again, I will not invoke Freudian theory here. Temporarily unable to revert back to normal, MM defended Zook and himself from an attack by a swordfish. More subtext, I wonder? You've got to admit though, there aren't many comics daring enough to devote two pages to battling fish, and it was actually pretty cool. Sometimes a swordfish is just a swordfish.

A restored Manhunter swatted the swordfish ("On your way, my finny foe!") but was soon trapped by the Venomee in a shrinking energy cage. Failing to pass through the bars as a bird, the Martian wasn't freed until Zook used his heat powers to burn the cage (and yet, no hot wings.) "I save you, Man-Hunter!" J'Onn affirmed, "You sure did, Zook! Thanks a million!" Zook employed his antennae to track the beasties to the former location of the Temple of Bir Adar, where the *sigh* "magical brew" was to be "drained." J'onzz deduced their intentions: The Venomee had previously stolen sacred roses from the Ancient Gardens of Ahasha, and a vial of "sacred essence" from the Temple of Katum. They were now seeking the final ingredient to the magic brew.

"...Martian eyes--like super-powerful lenses--absorb the mighty rays of the sun..." By focusing the sunlight on a field being approached by the Venomee, he melted the dirt into a giant quicksand pit (?!?) As J'onzz tried to recover the ingredient ahead of the Venomee, the violet vandals escaped to turn the tables. "I want my revenge on that strange being! After him!" The Venomee were a regional legend tied into sacred beliefs, prompting the government to move Bir Adar to a remote location for their own safety, which J'Onzz now had to reach. Manhunter disguised himself as a human with Zook hiding under his robe(...,) and overheard one Venomee say, "It almost seems as if he were able to perform what we seek to do, without losing everything!" This final clue sealed their doom, as Manhunter shapeshifted into a Venomee ( thus taking on their powers), and transformed the buggers into humans. "Yes--it was no wonder they dreaded human form before they drank the brew--For it meant they would vanish forever. J'onzz retained the Venomee form long enough to turn their victims back to normal, though it frightened poor Zook.

Two quick points-- One, the Venomee, curiously enough, longed for an existence of hiding anonymously among ordinary human beings when not using their abilities. This was a fate later to be inflicted on the White Martian invaders by J'Onn J'Onzz in the first arc of Grant Morrison's JLA series. Two, in this issue, as with to my knowledge all others, Zook refers to J'Onzz exclusively as "Manhunter." The kidding in this synopsis aside, I prefer that simple handle to "Martian Manhunter," and think it's a shame DC always insists on having one or more other Manhunters" running around to undermine the most famous and regularly published bearer of that name. To my recollection, DC's never had a series under that name to outlast J'Onn's self-titled three year run anyway, so what's the point?

Credits: Jack Miller & Joe Certa


Stephen Johnson said...

I bought the HOM #145 as an 11 year old in Penn Station, NY headed on a train trip to South Carolina. I must have read it 50 times on the trip, but lost it when I headed back home.

Thanks for the memories

Diabolu Frank said...

Glad you dug it. I must admit (as was readily apparent on the old site's synopis and the rewrites to come) that I felt somewhat disdainful toward the Diabolu stories in general. This is why most of them will feature cropped cover images I stole from the internet and light rewrites: I sold the stinkers off years ago! However, this story was so much fun, I had to keep it, and the "collage" of interior pages here proves it!