Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Adventure Comics #449 (January-February, 1977)

1977 should have been the year the Manhunter from Mars finally blew up. “Star Wars” was right around the corner, popularizing all things science-fantasy. DC was fighting for dominance of the newsstand by force of numbers, allowing for the greenlight of a new J’onn J’onzz’s strip. The character would not just retain, but augment the merciless edge he’d been given in the Marco Xavier stories, and also see his more alien look from the earliest Manhunter tales restored. Denny O’Neil, one of the most popular writers in the industry, was on tap. A slew of guest stars had been approved. So too was Terry Austin, one of the only inkers in history to become a superstar. In the wake of Neal Adams, revolutionary new coloring and printing processes were available to the strip. Finally, rising star penciller Mike Nasser would take full advantage of the opportunities Adams had opened up, with dynamic coloring, stylish realism combined with new wave flourishes, and even his own lettering. The new Manhunter from Mars feature looked set to take advantage of the type of perfect storm that led to the comic book boom of the 1990’s. Sadly, the feature truly was a precursor to Image Comics-- a very pretty book for which hardly any pages were produced, those that were featured cringe-inducing scripts for a nonsensical story that had to be completed by entirely different hands, and it even preceded an horrendous publishing collapse to boot!

The plot, such as it was, revolved around the Manhunter avenging the assassination of one of his dearest friends. You know, the kind never before seen, and gunned down on the very first page. J’onn J’onzz was about to be re-appointed leader of Mars II, the planet colonized by the survivors of a holocaust on J’onn’s homeworld, for a second term by popular vote. The victim, Re's Eda, claimed to see his killer, and with his dying breath bypassed identifying the culprit beyond the cryptic “Sol.” Manhunter flew into a deeply illogical fury. “He’s dead! This decent, wise Martian is gone forever! But I have a clue to his killer’s identity ---- His last word was Sol---- and that’s the Earthlings’ word for their sun! Therefore, I believe the murderer is an Earthman! And more---- the only Earth people who know where we are—and who are capable of traveling to this world are my former colleagues in the Justice League!” Yes, that’s right, the absolute flimsiest pretext for a series of meet-and-fight misunderstandings with other super-heroes had finally seen print. With that sort of flawless deductive reasoning, it’s no wonder J’onn J’onzz was ousted from Detective Comics!

The Manhunter was so fixated on reaching Earth to avenge Re's Eda, he fought through the Martian peace officers present, who tried to stop him from reaching The Spacefort. "That's my destination-- the two spacecraft left intact for emergencies after we stripped the rest-- Hated to ruin such fine ships, but we needed the raw materials for the colony..." Commander of the Martian Army N'or Cott led a chase, but not before J'onzz beat up the guard of one of the spacecraft. J'onzz then stole the guard's blaster, laid down cover fire against the sword-wielding police he'd battered earlier, and made off into space.

N'or Cott branded J'onzz a traitor for abandoning his people in shortsighted pursuit of vengeance, only to then abandon his people in a shortsighted pursuit of J’onn J’onzz. So much for those emergency vessels being available, eh? Both parties made their way to Earth. "Thus it began-- a chase with the Martian Manhunter as both the hunter and the hunted-- for, though he does not know it, he too is being pursued!"

Argh! Rampant inanity make brain hurt! And somehow, it only gets worse! But it was so darn nice looking! Nasser’s layouts were fantastic, and even more than the brow, I loved his cape effects! The way that it draped over Manhunter’s shoulders or swirled with motion looks stunning. The work in general recalled period efforts from no lesser lights than Walt Simonson, Marshall Rogers, and George Pérez! You can see how thirty years on, the feature is still looked on kindly, in much the same way Robert Kirkman still adores Sleepwalker and Youngblood. I suppose its ultimately no less terribly written than most DC Silver Age fare—just much more violent and strung out over multiple parts...

Continued in Adventure Comics #450: "Return To Destiny"


Michael Netzer said...

And how about the idea that Hawkwoman goes out of JL headquarters to bring Hawkman back, from space, while holding her breath so she can survive the no air conditions.

When Neal saw me working on this at the studio, he called Denny imploring him to change it because holding one's breath doesn't help them not to explode in space because of lack of air pressure. Denny cordially declined.

Needless to say, I was too young and new to wage such editorial crusades on the work I did. I became caught in the middle of a historic conflict between Neal and Denny, that goes back to when Neal changed his ending to the Speedy heroin story.

You're right though, these stories must be seen in the context of their time where such inanity was perfectly normal and very few people seemed to notice.

Diabolu Frank said...

I'm relieved to hear you say that, as I fretted somewhat over posting a negative story review. I do believe I'll repurpose your comments for the third installment. Hee-hee!