Sunday, November 11, 2007

House of Mystery #152 (July '65)

“Hmm... There was a full moon last night—and the expected evil from the Idol-Head of Diabolu didn’t appear!” Not to worry, as a giant simian statue came to life up on a hilltop the morning after thanks to contact with sunlight, so you figure there might be a connection. Manhunter tried to confront the yellow-furred beast, who taunted, “Be off, puny one! I am the indestructable Iwangis!” However, his first shot to the mammoth's brow occurred simultaneously with an explosion and rock slide. “Great cosmic clouds!” J'onzz used his own body to shield hikers, which gave Iwangis time to beat feet into town. Police fired on the monster, causing more explosions, until Manhunter stopped them. “Hold your fire! Each bullet hitting that creature sets off a blast that might injure other people!” Iwangis earned the name Creature King when he brought a stone lion statue to life. "Great suns! I--I recall a verse from The Diablou Book of Legends--'From stone to indestructible life, to lead a mighty army in strife'!" J'onn grabbed the tiger by the tail, then chucked that kitty. It began reverting back to stone once out of the range of Iwangis' power, but the Creature King arrived to resurrect it. “There--now stay close to me--and I will protect you...” Another batch of cops fired on Iwangis, causing another explosion, which set a pool of gasoline on the road (?!?) afire. A fine Rube Goldbergian means to force readers never to forget J'onzz's greatest weakness...cheesy writing! While Manhunter lay in a ditch recovering, Iwangis hit The Museum of Mythology and Natural History. Stone statues everywhere meant "instant army" to the Creature King.

The monsters started attacking a crowd, but Manhunter had a bitchin' plan for the griffon..."If you're so anxious to become a kamikaze plane, I'll give you a hand--!" The Martian Marvel rode that puppy straight down into the unicorn and minotaur! Too bad Iwangis still had a slew of dinosaurs behind him, with more to come. The creature crew headed out for the next town, giving J'onn time to form a plan. Hitting a metal factory, Manhunter pounded steel to pulp, forming a trojan were-horse statue. J'onzz then used his Martian might to embed sand into the surface of the steel, making the statue appear to be stone. Iwangis tried to bring it to life, but ended up instead held fast by the electro-magnet tied to the figure. I don't know how that worked on flesh either. Anyway, feedback from his own power returned the Creature King to stone, which Manhunter promptly shattered. “...It won’t ever get a chance to renew its ‘life’ with the sun’s rays.” The army also returned to stone, leaving J'onn with the burden of lugging them back where they belong.

While this issue has been credited to the usual Jack Miller and Joe Certa, I have my doubts. The story is only a bit above par, but the art was much stronger here than Certa’s workmanlike norm. A variety of unusual effects were used to realize Iwangis, and the anatomical detail on the Creature King and his legion recalled a refinement of Gil Kane the master himself hadn’t quite reached yet. More shadow was used on Manhunter’s features than ever before, setting a mood incongruous with the rest of the House of Mystery run to date. Taken together, the story became exceptional, but at the least the inking credit seems suspect.


Luke said...

Iwangis. I. Wang. Is. Wow. That is a great monster name.

Beyond that, though, this tale sounds quite neat, and certainly more interesting than J'Onn's earlier stories in Tec, as featured in the Showcase volume. While the concept of a superpowered detective is a good premise, I dunno, the idea of J'Onn investigating and then inevitably battling supernatural foes like Iwangis here sounds like a better setup. And with that most blatant of story generators, the Idol-Head, it's an engine which could be run for quite some time, even if the idea is pretty one note. What do you think, how does J'Onn work better? With realistic surroundings, or fantastical?

Diabolu Frank said...

Luke, I believe you need both aspects to tell a true Manhunter story, because to really capture the spirit of the character, it must be incongruous. J'Onn J'Onzz is theoretically a hard science fiction character, in that you have one fantastic speculative element (extraterrestrial) in the midst of relatable circumstances (plainclothes detective.) Problem being, the premise is at once believable and ridiculous, and complete falls apart in the execution.

Therefore, a Manhunter story is define by the absurd, or at least surreal, manner in which various disparate elements fail to fully gel. You've got to have spandex in the sci-fi, or film noir in the screwball comedy-- the seams have to show. The character is dichotomous-- so too should the stories be atonal. That's why the character works far better with guys like Grant Morrison and Keith Giffen (who overthink their material and can't quite buy into their own line of bull) than a Dan Jurgens or John Ostrander, who play him completely straight. Miller and Wood "got" that where Gardner Fox didn't, which is why his JLofA appearance read like Superman Lite. The problem with all three was the inanities, especially the repetition, in their writing. J'Onn J'Onzz is Mellow Yellow, not Coca-Cola.

That's where the trouble with the Idol-Head of Diabolu comes in-- it's not just deus ex machina, but Smallville-In-The-Box. After a while, you knew exactly what you were getting every time, and had to rely on the charm of Zook or the occasional Prof. Hugo appearance to keep your interest up. I very much prefer the Marco Xavier period, because "Martian Super-Spy" makes it clear you cannot take what you're reading in the slightest way seriously, though it was played very straight. You just have to accept the nonsense and let it wash over you, but you still have a respectable plot with interesting variations to hang everything off of.