Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Misconception of John Jones

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, based on the influence of the male aggressive power fantasy found in pulp magazines imbued with a sense of social justice. They conceived and reconceived their basic idea for years before it was deemed ready for publication, and very soon, outside replication.

The Wonder Man was created by Will Eisner with express instruction to make him as much like Superman as possible. The character made one appearance before being sued out of existence. He was basically Superman, but he was blonde in a red costume whose power source was a ring. Seems to me Green Lantern filled that void, so no great loss. So too did Captain Marvel, as a longer-lived divergent take on the Man of Steel, because he had a distinctly appealing origin and identity from the first.

The Batman was also a deliberate, but in this case in-house approved, attempt to duplicate the success of Superman. Where Siegel and Shuster were a pair of nebbishes getting their jollies vicariously through a being of near godlike power, creator Bob Kane considered himself more of a dapper man about town. His mystery man would not be granted super powers, but instead be a self-made pinnacle of human mental and physical perfection, driven by a hatred of criminals. He would be dark where Superman was light, and in his off hours he would be a dapper man about town, instead of a nebbish.

Martian Manhunter was created by Joe Samachson and Joe Certa to be a telepathic super-hero and the heart and soul of the Justice League of America. Wait, that's not right. The name "Martian Manhunter" wasn't used until the character's third appearance, as the strip was titled "John Jones, Manhunter from Mars." Also, the JLofA wouldn't come into being for another half-decade, about the first time the character would interact with anyone not created for his solo strip. But hey, he was the first super-hero of the Silver Age of Comics, so that must have been what he was the soul of before the Justice League arrived.

Then again, I just stated at least two untruths. You see, the "Manhunter from Mars" first appeared over a year before "John Jones." Roh Kar, First Lawman of Mars, debuted in Batman #78 (Aug.-Sep. 1953) in a story credited to the aforementioned Bob Kane. Although he interacted with Batman and Robin in the story, Roh Kar was a cartoonishly depicted low sci-fi alien cop in pursuit of an escaped crook from his home planet. He wore what amounted to a uniform, and possessed the same abilities as the rest of his race, so how could you really consider the "Manhunter from Mars" a super-hero, much less the first of an heroic age? Like Captain Comet before him, wasn't the Manhunter from Mars just a pulp science-fantasy carryover?

Oops, I did it again. Batman was mostly created by Bill Finger with substantial contributions to his sphere from Jerry Robinson, while Bob Kane's main role was in cutting the deal and swiping liberally from The Shadow and The Black Bat. Also, while contractually obligated to credit the story to Kane, Roh Kar's debut was actually depicted by Edmond Hamilton, Lew Schwartz, and Charlie Paris, all under the editorial direction of Jack Schiff. Between them, the basic look and powers of the alien J'onn J'onzz were established, so shouldn't they be credited as the creators of the character?

Not so fast... Although the backstory of J'onn J'onzz was far-fetched, his adventures were mostly along the same lines as those seen in police shows of the Golden Age of Television. The alien forms partially derived from Lew Schwartz's designs were significantly altered by Joe Certa, not that this is ultimately relevant, since they barely appeared in the first couple years worth of "Manhunter" stories. John Jones was a feature about a plainclothes detective who was enhanced by extraterrestrial powers-- mostly another cop strip, but with a twist. Their Manhunter was a man in a blue suit and white fedora, which might also explain why the duds on his alien form were little more than an afterthought. In that sense, Joe Samachson and Joe Certa can be said to have created the second "Manhunter from Mars" in the same way Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the second "Human Torch." Very similar in some respects, wildly divergent in others.

Again though, to what end? John Jones was created to be a super-cop in a back-up strip divorced from any sort of super-hero universe. By rights, he should have joined Tommy Tommorrow and Roy Raymond in obscurity as the product of a bygone time. However, two other names now can be thrown into the hat as co-creators of the so-called "Martian Manhunter," Mort Weisinger and Julie Schwartz.

John Jones may have never been conceived to be a super-hero, but that is exactly what he became. Famed and feared Superman editor Mort Weisinger had developed the Martian Manhunter concept with Samachson before its publication, but regardless of whether this was before or after Batman #78, it is unlikely there ever would have been a Manhunter from Mars without him. You see, he had more than a slight hand in pushing for the 50's science-fiction adventures of the Batman and Robin, where Schiff had seemed just fine with the "dark knight detective" he had presided over with Whitney Ellsworth years prior. Further, it was Julie Schwartz who ushered in the Silver Age of Super-Hero Comics with the Flash and other revivals. It was this bandwagon onto which Jack Miller and Dave Wood jumped, these being the successors to Samachson for the thirteen years the strip ran after its credited co-creator's paltry 18 pages of work. Perhaps they deserve a co-creator credit as well?

The fact is, John Jones was little more than a footnote in comics until the mid-80's, and you'd be hard-pressed to find any record of who created the character prior to that point. In 1995, Les Daniels credited the script for "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel" to Mort Weisinger in his book "DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes." In 1997, Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs heavily revised their work on 1985's "The Comic Book Heroes: The First History of Modern Comic Books from the Silver Age to the Present." In the second edition, they credited Joe Samachson and Mort Weisinger, wherein in the first J'onn J'onzz wasn't notable enough to be bothered with overmuch. Only in recent years has DC itself begun to credit Samachson and Certa, but can anyone say for for sure to what degree that is accurate? After all, they have a standing policy against crediting editors as creators, even when there's reams of documentations as to their hands-on involvement.

So Martian Manhunter is a super-hero now, but he wasn't conceived as such by person or persons, not to mention degrees, entirely known. In this muddle of creators and concepts, is it any wonder the character has struggled for decades to maintain an audience? Who or what is the Martian Manhunter even supposed to be?

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