Thursday, June 12, 2008

Detective Comics #322 (December, 1963)

"A long time ago, Professor Arnold Hugo matched his scientific genius against famed Batman-- and lost! But now the criminal mastermind returns to pit his brains and brawn against Martian Manhunter..." Captain Harding briefed Detective Jones on the "mad scientist" reported escaped a week prior. "Yes, Chief! But I'm sure Batman will have him behind bars again before long!" Harding continued, "Unfortunately, it's been ascertained that Hugo left Gotham City! All cities have been alerted to be on the lookout for him!"

As it happened, the master of artificial cranial deformation had set up a new lab in Middletown, the origins of which he explained to a pair of henchmen (possibly also returning from the Gotham engagement, unless he just had a thing for duos.) "But Batman soon taught me that great genius was not enough! That's why I designed this new machine! Once in operation, it will make me as powerful as the Martian Manhunter himself!" You heard that right kids-- Hugo left Gotham specifically to tackle J'onn J'onzz! Talk about a first!

"Silence, fools! I have used up every cent of the money I had cached away-- but need a great deal more to complete the machine! That is why I sent for you! Listen..." That same day, the trio projected a "fantastic drill-ray" from a helicopter through Middletown Bank. Hugo then lowered one of his men with an anti-gravity beam pistol to collect from the vault. Just as he was being pulled back up, John Jones arrived to exclaim, "Great Stars! That can't be anyone else but Professor Arnold Hugo!" Or, put less kindly, "I can see that freakin' melon from all the way down here, even without Martian Vision!" Which he could have used after his transformation, as he flew in pursuit.

"Look Professor! Here comes the Martian Manhunter! We haven't got a chance!" Hugo just laughed as he opened a side door to brandish a special rifle. "That's what you think-- and that is also what the Manhunter thinks! But watch!" Hugo projected "A force bubble-- 10,000 times harder that steel!" The Manhunter was impressed, though mighty Martian muscles managed to liberate him. "But Hugo's maneuver accomplished his purpose-- to make good his getaway!"

Professor Hugo used his ill-gotten gains to complete his project. "Soon I shall be able to stand up to the Manhunter-- and defy him to defeat me!" He even paid off his goons! "...I won't require your services for the final phase! ...I'll call you if I need you again!"

Captain Harding was steaming! "Jones-- I've cancelled all leaves-- and ordered a 24-hour alert! That mastermind is bound to strike again, soon! But where? Where?" A large hospital, where Hugo used a Geiger counter and sleeping gas gun to steal radium. A nurse managed to call the authorities, alerting Manhunter and Zook as the criminal genius was climbing into his jet-car. "Well-- here's something else you can intercept! When it goes off in 30 seconds, this whole area will look like an H-bomb hit it!" As the large crimson Stielhandgranate ticked in the road, Zook went, "EEK! What you do, Manhunter? If you chase Hugo-- then bomb go boom!" J'onzz rocketed into the sky and, a half-minute later, cleared everyone of the thunderous explosion.

The Martian Marvel returned to be greeted by Zook, Captain Harding, and additional officers. "Good work, Manhunter! You saved many lives! ...By the way, we picked up two criminals who worked with Hugo on his first crime! But they refused to tell us where Hugo's hideout-lab is located!" Manhunter explained, "Don't worry, Chief! Zook was close enough to the Professor to get a memory pattern of him! Now he can track him with his amazing antenna 'ears...'"

J'onzz flew Zook to the Professor's secluded hillside lab. Hugo, expecting the Alien Sleuth, pelted him with both rays from his new machine and another force bubble. He even sent poor little Zook ass over teakettle with another ray pistol. Hugo gleefully explained he had just analyzed Manhunter's Martian structure, duplicated his powers, and transmitted them into himself. While Hugo would require several treatments to make the powers permanent, he had no further use for the Manhunter, and disintegrated him with a final weapon. Zook cried, "No, no! Manhunter, no! M-Manhunter! *Sob* My-my dear friend-- Gone forever!" Hugo sneered, "Stop it, you stupid little creature! You're breaking my heart!"

Do you understand now why I love Professor Arnold Hugo so much? It's as though once a year, Jack Miller channelled Mark Millar in order to write this magnificent bastard.

The Professor and Zook were equally surprised to learn Manhunter had just turned invisible and evaded the disintegrator weapon, so that he could take a wack at the contraption that replicated his powers! Head in hand, Hugo moaned, "My-my wonderful machine-- the most brilliant achievement of my genius-- destroyed by one ghastly blow! I--I'll get my revenge-- on the city you have vowed to protect- Middletown! I shall destroy it-- as you destroyed my wonderful machine! Out of my way!" Hugo flew out the window to wreck havoc with his temporary Martian powers. "I'll tear this town to bits-- building by building!" J'onzz followed, and the pair traded punches. "Ha, ha! Your blows feel like powder puffs, Manhunter!" The brawl had distracted Hugo from Zook, who used his thermal powers to light a trash can fire. Manhunter kept his distance while the Professor succumbed to his newly acquired Martian weakness against open flames.

"That's it, Zook-- freeze that fire out before it starts to affect me, too! The effect on Hugo was more powerful, since it was his first exposure..." The Professor awoke disoriented, as Zook noted, "He lose memory, Manhunter!" He had also lost his Martian powers, making it that much easier to turn him over into the custody of a certain Caped Crusader. "I understand you've been looking for this character, Batman?" The Dark Knight Detective agreed, "I certainly have-- and thanks for 'finding' him, Manhunter! Perhaps someday I'll be able to return the favor!"

I suppose a year-and-a-half was a "long time ago" back in the days editors assumed there was a complete reader turnover every four years. That might also explain why writer and artist both lifted two full panels from Professor Hugo's only prior appearance in Detective Comics #306 to explain his origin. Why they bothered with Hugo, of all the potential Batman villains to make off with, I have not a clue. I suppose it could just as easily have been Polka-Dot Man, Brains Beldon, Vulcan, the Super-Circus or, God help him, even the Flame Master. The fact is, Jack Miller never seemed much inclined to use super-villains in his stories, so even Professor Arnold Hugo was bound to get a lot of favorable mail. Combined with the only appearance ever of Batman in the John Jones strip, after nearly a hundred installments in Detective Comics, I'm sure the tale went over big. It's no wonder editor Schiff took the villain with him when the Manhunter from Mars moved to "House of Mystery." Blessedly, he became a reoccurring villain and a caustically entertaining one to boot!

"The Man Who Destroyed J'onn J'onzz" was written by Jack Miller and drawn by Joe Certa.


Luke said...

Professor Hugo rules! He should have killed the Manhunter in Final Crisis!

I posited to you a few weeks back to create your own take on a Martian Manhunter series or feature, and today I am positing this addendum to that statement: Professor Hugo must (must) be the over-arcing archnemesis for the Martian Manhunter. He's like Lex frigging Luthor for crissakes. (Just make him a seperate entity from Prof. Strange and you're good to go.) You could even combine him with VULTURE... this stuff writes itself.

Diabolu Frank said...

The problem with me doing something like your Power Man and Iron Fist post is that I'm still in deep-- honestly, let's call it pathological-- denial about the likelihood of my ever getting to write my ideas for reals. I suspect Scipio has the same disorder, as he always talks about his ideas in the abstract. My "abortive" post appeared, in a truncated manner, because those are paths I've forever abandoned. Phooey on that.

I'm of two minds regarding future use of Professor Arnold Hugo. On the one hand, I prefer to treat him as a 60's "period" character, maybe giving his one glorifying send-off story. On the other hand, he's added so much to his every appearance in Manhunter tales, moreso than Lex Luthor to Superman in terms of relative scale, it would be downright sinful not to employ him further. I mean, every Hugo battle inspired Jack Miller's best work... which, damn it, is not intended as faint praise!

...and yeah, he missed the Showcase edition and wasn't "ironic" enough, so friggin' Human Torch "killed" J'onn J'onzz. If I wasn't confident of lethal comeuppance, I'd feel more regret about the slight.

One more thing... I adore Professor Hugo-- but Despero is the nemesis. Take that Malefic business to the curb...

Luke said...

You could keep with the period scheme and have Hugo simply be really frigging old. And maybe have robot doubles or what have you.

And I can see your point about denial. The opportunity for such things are rare but not impossible (didn't Gail Simone essentially do that?), and the deep affection guys like you and Scipio have for your favorites is obvious from the get-go. The Martian Manhunter is a character who deserves a lot better (along, as always, with Aquaman), and honestly, the writings of one dude on the Internet hold as much merit as someone like Grant Morrison or Geoff Johns or whomever, since no one seems to know what to do with him anyway. (I liked Infinite Crisis and generally am a fan of Johns, but he basically stuck J'Onn over to the side because he had no other place for him.) So I can understand playing things close to your chest.

Despero as J'Onn's other number works well. The whole dueling alien-atlas thing, trading earth-shaking fists back and forth before inevitably ending in a duel of minds or something. In this post-Johns world, you could even have Prof. Hugo working with VULTURE but secretly taking orders from Despero. It's crazy go nuts!

Diabolu Frank said...

Sss... I don't know about blogging-to-comics transitions. Blogging requires basic print communication skills. It's very egalitarian, though bloggers who don't "speak" well will only get so far (outside of MySpace.)

What worked for Gail Simone was that her column consisted of short satirical stories. She not only proved a capacity for common creative writing and the far trickier humorous writing, but much of the humor was derived from deconstructing other people's style. It's all about levels.

That's also Scipio's edge, as he's accomplished much the same as Simone. His only problem is the combination of visibility and no demonstration (that I've seen) of formal approach. He posts theory, plot notions, and story analysis, but hasn't submitted any completed scripts.

My blog is far less reliable a view of any creative talents on my part. Most of what I do is essentially Cliff's Notes. I take a printed story, convert it into an often too-detailed synopsis with some editorializing, and incorporate some of the better captions and dialogue. I may have interest and affection, but there's no talent for anything on display here besides research.

Truth to tell, my primary motivation for both the old "Rock" site and this blog is to provide a resource for readers and writers to better understand, appreciate and represent the character. The old site failed to help improve the crumby Ostrander series, and its absence failed to influence anyone that followed.

I'd hoped the "Idol-Head" would be more helpful, and it certainly is better trafficked, but it arrived too late to save J'Onn J'Onzz. Now its a cup of wine poured for Elijah.

As for Professor Hugo, I referenced part of my idea for him in the "Manhunter From Mars #250" post last month... "Professor Arnold Hugo returned, but had been greatly advanced in age... and resembled one of those creepy apple head dolls."

I've never even considered connecting Despero to Hugo. One is the dictionary definition of "nemesis," while the other is a foil. Love both (Hugo more, actually,) but two different leagues.

Finally, I in no way blame Geoff Johns for the InfiniteC sidelining. "Crisis of Conscience" was his goodbye to the old J'Onn, teaming him with his best superfriend (after Batman) against his worst enemy (Despero.) He sidestepped all the "Identity Crisis" who-ha, leaving J'Onn's integrity intact until Lieberman could ruin everything.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you saw the live-action Underdog movie, but Peter Dinklage's Simon Bar Sinister bears a striking resemblance to Professor Arnold Hugo....

Diabolu Frank said...

I've had a man-crush on Dinklage since "The Station Agent," so that would be alright with me. Was "Underdog" any good?

The thing is, Hugo is actually an average-sized man who's proportions look out of whack because of his melonhead. You'll notice in the picture above, hunched over, he's still about the same size as J'onn. At times he was drawn a bit short, but other times rather long and lanky. It's hard to tell.