Monday, January 7, 2008

Introducing--JOHN JONES Manhunter From Mars (Detective Comics #225, 11/55, part 1)

"Inspired by public taste, editor Jack Schiff had tried a lawman from Mars in BATMAN #78. The green-skinned hero solved his case and went home, but the idea resurfaced two years later, in 1955."-Robert Greenberger

The book was the November cover dated Detective Comics #225, in which a second and considerably more enduring Martian investigator first appeared as a back-up feature in Batman's comic. While his creation is credited by DC Comics editorial to writer Joe Samachson and artist Joe Certa, the specifics of his birth and parentage were not well documented. Samachson initially developed the character with infamous editor Mort Weisinger, best known for heralding the creation of Superboy, girl, dog, cat, horse, and just about every other conceivable variation on the type. His input may have led to the overabundance of powers heaped upon the alien, in true Superman family fashion. The Manhunter was probably seen as an opportunity to cash in on the then-growing enthusiasm for science fiction. Why he was saddled with the then-moribund trappings of a super-hero, we'll never know.

According to the book "DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes" by Les Daniels, he was "suspiciously similar" to Superman, "and he was a hit." As then Detective Comics editor Jack Schiff put it, "We used to get a lot of mail on that." Samachson’s stay with the strip was a brief three outings, immediately succeeded by Dave Wood. Ultimately, Jack Miller has been credited as the writer of the majority of the Manhunter's Silver Age solo adventures. About the illustration, writer and editor Mark Waid said in Secret Origins #35, "...while no records currently exist [circa 1988] naming the writer(s) of J'onn's long-running first series, the artist, Joe Certa, managed something unheard of in today's comics series-he stayed with the feature from the first-for a remarkable 13-year run."

In Manhunter's original origin, "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel" (an odd title, considering the "doctor" is called Professor Mark Erdel in the story), the world-famous scientist's "robot brain" searched through space and plucked a certain alien from off the planet Mars and into this observatory-lab. "I read your mind well, Earthman--And I understand your every thought and word!" While happy that the doctor's invention worked, being a scientist himself on his own world, J'onn J'onzz was in a bit of a rush to return home. Since recalibrating the machine could take years, J'onzz decided to shapeshift through his "chameleon-like powers" into a human form. “You meant no harm, I realize that! But I must adapt myself to this planet until I can return to mine-- so that my appearance won’t frighten others! This is easily done!” All this was too much for Dr. Erdel's weak heart. On his deathbed, J'onzz was still promising a curative Xymo serum in exchange for a return trip, but it was no use. “I am really sorry, J’onn J’onzz! I am dying... and I am the only man on Earth who can operate the robot brain! I--I have made a prisoner of you here on Earth... Farewell... Forgive me...”

"The Earth scientist is dead! Truly, as he said, I am a prisoner here on Earth... Millions of miles away--my people are working on project 'Star-Ride'...a rocket ship that will carry them to other worlds! Until that day-- the day they reach Earth-- I am bound to stay here, disguised as an Earthman. How many years will it take-- How many centuries?"

Follow link to Detective Comics #225, Part Two: "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel"


Luke said...

With the exception of Green Arrow, by the Silver Age all the "old guard" of DC heroes had such solid concepts that it is little surprise me to that they have endured. Martian Manhunter fits this bill to a "T," even if he (and his compatriot Aquaman) have never had the best of luck in holding down an ongoing series. A detective from another planet stranded on Earth? Sounds like a major motion picture (starring Will Smith, Megan Fox, and some unknown newcomer as the star) to me!

Diabolu Frank said...

I agree that J'onn J'onzz has a fantastic origin, but part of what's great about the character is there are fantastic variations on the origin. With Batman, people get excited about some minor visual tweak, like Martha's falling pearls. The basics of Superman's origin story really haven't changed since they were conceived, beyond the shape of his spacecraft.

With J'Onn J'Onzz, you've got numerous distinct origins (as will be highlighted this week) that have a common through line, but diverge in very imaginative and entertaining ways. Since it hasn't been enshrined into Americana, you have a great deal of room for play. Many artists love J'Onn J'Onzz because they've never had to hue to a rigid style guide in their interpretation of his form, and I think writers appreciate the same in their work on the character.

I'll also add that I think most of DC's major characters already worked fairly well in the Golden Age; Aquaman, Atom, and GA being notable exceptions. I do agree though that the Silver Age reinterpretations were almost entirely an improvement, most so well considered they remain entirely viable today as originally reconcieved, with any series alteration.