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.