Thursday, June 5, 2008

Detective Comics #306 (8/62)

A giant bear, and we're talking a couple or three stories here, clawed its way through a bank wall in downtown Middletown. Detective John Jones was in the vicinity, and by chance so was Patrolwoman Diane Meade. "Er-- Alert headquarters on the call box, Diane! I'll try to clear the area so no one gets hurt!" Jones transformed to J'onzz. "Now to get my Martian mitts on that criminal grizzly!" As the bear tried to make its escape with paws full of $1,000 bills*, the Martian Manhunter grabbed it by the leg and twirled it around, raining money across the police-cordoned area. "Why... it was actually a fantastic vehicle-- operated by crooks hidden inside!" This was observed by a bystander, as J'onzz would obviously have seen through the faux-bear before handling it in such a PETA-disapproved manner, right?

As five thieves crawled out of the plush bear belly, our hero collapsed to his knees with a moan. "What's the matter, Manhunter? You-- you look ill!" J'onzz confirmed, "All my strength seems to have drained out of me, Diane! Please-- help me up... I mustn't let anyone see me in this state!" The Alien Sleuth was surprised to find the feeling passed once, removed from Meade, he resumed his human form. It should be noted that at this point in history, any form J'onn J'onzz assumed would allow him to possess the natural abilities and weaknesses of that form, but none of Mars (aside from being able to change to another form.)

Det. Jones and Ofc. Meade reported to Capt. Harding's office, who told the pair about the crooks' silence regarding the crafty genius behind the mechanical bear, as well as mentioning his concern about Manhunter's strange illness. Within days, a mechanical rhino was sighted ramming an armored car. While the Space Sleuth laid it out, weakness again overcame him, and the "rhino" escaped capture. "Diane... I'm as weak as a jellyfish in a barrel of glue... Wait! My Martian Vision is picking up a strange glow, reflected off that cloud!"
"Goodness-- where's it coming from?"
"Directly Northeast! Help me into your car, Diane-- and I'll direct you to where it is!"

On a remote, barren beach, the pair found a large meteorite glowing in the sand. "It's giving off rare solar rays, which contain the same basic elements as fire! They can't hurt Earthlings-- but they have a deadly effect on Martians!" The Marsman tried to drown the flames in water, but the heated rock evaporated his wave. Next he tried to smother it in sand, but the grains exploded on contact. "Yes, it's hopeless... and unless I change back to my Earth guise, I-- I may die! Please... drive me to some woods... and leave me by myself!" Meade thought to herself, "He doesn't want me to learn his secret identity, for my own protection!" Back at headquarters, Captain Harding confirmed, "In short, from now on, every time the Manhunter assumes his Martian identity on Earth, his strength is more and more sapped! Is that what he told you, Diane? Then no matter what the emergency, we mustn't permit the Manhunter to risk his life! From now on, we've got to fight crime without his help!" Worse, a thug had followed Meade and Manhunter out to the beach, and knew of this vulnerability, as well!

A massive artificial elephant made a raid on a rare coin store the very next day, flipping loot with its snout into the pouch of an oversized carbon kangaroo. Manhunter arrived, though the also-present Officer Meade begged him to slip away and return to human form. "But I can't let those crooks get away! Hold this mail sack open, Diane!" Mighty Martian lungs inhaled the coins from out of the pouch and deposited them in the sack. "Now... run, Diane-- because I haven't the strength left even to protect you!" Tense seconds later, J'onzz lay flat on the concrete, gasping and unsure he could revert back to John Jones. "Summoning his last ounce of energy, the alien barely succeeds..." The Detective then reported to Capt. Harding. "Then-- you mean, we'll never see the Martian Manhunter in action again? Then all I can say is... It'll be a black day in town, when that crime king and his animals strike again!"

Twenty-four hours later, that day had arrived, as a man in a ringmaster's garb led a mechanical animal procession right through town. "Ha, ha, I've brought my whole menagerie this time!" A crocodile attacked the museum! Buzzards turned into soaring hand grenades! A gorilla crushed a police car in its palms! Rampage!

John Jones stood grimly in an alleyway. "I-- I must try to stop them... but if I change to J'onn J'onzz again, I-- I'll be doomed! Wait-- that plane! Could it be...?" Manhunter returned, and though Ofc. Meade tugged at his arm and again pleaded him to relent, he swaggered with confidence. "Gracious! He picked that giant rhino right off the ground... with ease! ...And hurled it into the elephant!" The Mighty Martian chucked the gorilla with "a little Ju Jitsu!" The menagerie's master and his minions surrendered. "Take 'em away, Captain Harding!" A broad smile on his face, the reply came, "With pleasure! Sure glad you're your old self, again, Manhunter!" Ofc. Meade still had questions, and so took another drive out to the beach with Manhunter to see the meteorite. "Why-- it burned itself out! But-- how did you know that?" The reflection the Space Sleuth had seen off the cloud, denoting the radiation, was no longer present when the plane passed overhead. "Golly! I can't wait to tell Detective Jones the good news! You know he's been terribly worried about you!" J'onzz squinted and thought to himself, "You're telling me?"

This was the first Silver Age Diane Meade I ever read, and let me tell you, it won't be the last. Besides being an able aid to the Manhunter and a role model for women everywhere, she looked like Kim Novak. Also, this story did an excellent job of wratcheting up the tension, and brought the crazy with that mechanical menagerie. If only the ending hadn't been such a cop-out, this entry amongst the great Martian Manhunter tales would have been less an obligatory nod to J'onn's longest-running creative team than a compulsory gem.

“The Last Days of J’onn J’onzz” was written by Jack Miller and drawn by Joe Certa.

* Yes, there were. Grover Cleveland. Retired from circulation in 1969.

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