Monday, June 30, 2008
Manhunter from Mars #300 (July, 1989)
"Emperors... Czars... Presidents... ultimately all are mere vultures pecking at the carrion in my wake."
This tricentennial issue picked up from last month's big revelation that not only was VULTURE behind J'Onn J'Onzz's recent trials, but the original Mr. V was none other than Vandal Savage! It seemed "VULTURE," often mistaken for either an acronym or a spy agency, was in fact Vandar Adg's first attempt at a dictatorial government. Realizing that even he could not be in all places at once, the earliest evolution of the immortal Savage selected the most brutal lieutenants available to control what he knew of the world through intimidation. Modern readers may have noted the appearance of members of this Cro-Magnon Mafia in the recent "Final Crisis #1," where they were confronted by Anthro. The name "VULTURE" was simply the closest approximation to his concept the developing Vandar Adg could articulate, and it stuck through the ages.
A couple of years prior to this issue, Vandal Savage regained memories lost to him for some time-- including the nature of VULTURE-- and began rebuilding in Central City (funded by the Velocity-9 drug.) Savage also remembered the international crime operation's still active cells, as well as his ability to wield magic to some degree. Years prior, VULTURE had captured Manhunter's pet/sidekick Zook, and tortured him into revealing the secret mountain location of the Martian Marvel's abandoned hideout. There, they uncovered the Book of Diabolu, and began assembling what pieces of the Idol-Head they could locate.
Savage unleashed the mentally ravaged Zook on Manhunter, a malformed adulteration of the lovable imp Silver Age fans knew and loved. Zook taunted his former friend in a sick recreation of his "baby talk," just the sort of perversion one would expect from the late 80's (especially edited by Andy Helfer.) While J'Onn J'Onzz attempted to address the unhinged Zook as carefully as possible, Savage began reading incantations from the Book of Diabolu over the Idol-Stones, releasing a slew of classic menaces. While the Alien Atlas pinned Zook to a wall with Martian lungpower (hampering flames that were triggering his then-psychosomatic vulnerability,) he was confronted by Mike Mignola's distinctive renditions of the Doom Shadow, the Venomee, and more. However, the terrors originally sealed in the Idol-Head were never intended to work in unison, and began attacking one another. This allowed the Manhunter the opportunity to turn this mess around.
"Vandal Savage-- you have harmed my friends, violated my home, and compromised the integrity of dear Zook's mind. By your own abhorrent actions, you have surrendered the sanctity of your psyche to my will. I am now assuming custody..." Through Savage's eyes and voice, the Sleuth From Outer Space began to read spells from the Book of Diabolu to recapture the monsters within the Idol-Stones. However, poor Zook was absorbed by the Being In The Color Rings before it was re incarcerated. Filled with hurt and rage, the Manhunter had Savage cast one last spell-- sending the immortal menace into an Idol-Stone of his own!
Later, J'Onzz brought the Book of Diabolu to former teammate Zatanna, after ruling out Dr. Fate (in the face of Kent Nelson's departure from his long held role as the dominant sorcerous super-hero.) Zee was apprehensive, but J'Onn was convincing. "I understand you have begun to turn away from the harrowing world we once shared, and I do not wish to trouble you or impede your progress. However, there is a great deal of power locked between the covers of this nefarious tome, and you are one of the very few people I feel I can trust with its stewardship." Zatanna smiled, politely agreed to house the book, and watched the Manhunter from Mars' lonely ascent to parts unknown...
With the over-booked J.M. DeMatteis forced to resign from "Manhunter from Mars" shortly after his Post-Crisis reboot of the character in a separate "Martian Manhunter" mini-series, DC was hard-pressed to find a gifted replacement. Peter Milligan was still fairly new to the company at this point, but I think he acquitted himself nicely by both honoring the dark new direction and the silly past of the Martian Marvel. It was also great to see Mike Mignola work his magic here, if only for four issues. It would have been nice if the book had gotten the 64-page treatment of the Superman and Batman anniversaries, instead of a flimsy standard issue... but if the character were to receive any respect, it just wouldn't be the Manhunter, would it? DC even launched a second "Manhunter" title, completely unrelated, to compete with their own market recognition! DC loves aiming for their feet, and anyway, that title only squeeked by for two years with future "Martian Manhunter" scribe John Ostrander.