Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Origin of the Justice League-- Minus One! (JLofA #144, Part 2, 7/77)

Click to read Part 1

Barry Allen, the Flash, raced from a crowd frightened by Martians in Middletown in search of help. "I've never met Superman-- or any of the other super-heroes around America! My assumption of super-powers has been strictly a local thing! I hope he doesn't give me the brush-off! I know how those big stars can be!" To gain attention, the Flash climbed a spiral on top of the Metro Building and waited for someone to come calling. That turned out to be Superman, Batman and Robin, to whom he explained the situation. "Of course I'll lend a hand, Flash," said Superman. "We'll help, too-- right Batman? Oh, boy... Martians!" Batman scolded, "Calm down, youngster! We'll come, Flash-- but if this is a full-scale invasion, the three of us may not be able to give you enough help! Maybe we should alert some of our other friends-- Aquaman-- Green Arrow--!" Flash passed, wanting to keep a lid on the situation, but a tipster overheard and made a call to television station WGBS.

Back in Middletown, John Jones spotted a group of men crippled by the sight of a welder's blowtorch. "These are Martians who haven't learned to take on Earthmen's attributes together with their outward forms!" Two Pales bolted to stir a crowd, while the third surprised Jones by assuming his face. This was likely Blanx, who explained to "J'onn" his trap. Only Jones would have noticed the "weakened" Martians, and he would have to flee if he didn't want the town to spot two Det. Jones! "If Detective Jones were revealed as a Martian, all of Middletown would turn on me!" The false Jones shot John in the back, then observed him revert to Martian form. The Pales turned invisible, and the remaining "Det. Jones" took the Green Martian into his custody.

Flash and the World's Finest trio were greeted in Middletown by Captain Harding, who was praying they had a clue where his ace detective and the captured Martian had gotten to. Also, Roy Raymond, TV Detective, had followed up on that lead concerning Martians in Middletown. Harding admonished, "Now see here, Raymond! We don't want publicity!" Karen, Raymond's assistant on "Impossible... But True!" defended the rights of the press. Raymond, star of another former Detective Comics back-up strip, broadcast a report that drew a small army of exceptional persons to Middletown. It seemed like the only DC All-Stars not to show were Green Arrow and Speedy, who were on vacation to Starfish Island in Adventure Comics #256 at the time.

Batman had this most super of groups divide into teams and spread out to monitor the globe. Jimmy Olsen, Plastic Man and the Blackhawks chased a red herring that led them to nearly discover Rip Hunter: Time Master and his partner Jeff's secret operation. Lois Lane, Robotman, Congo Bill, Vigilante, and the Challengers of the Unknown nearly foiled Adam Strange's catching a Zeta-Beam back to Rann and his ladylove Alanna. Only the World's Finest trio, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Roy Raymond and Rex the Wonder Dog headed in the right direction. It seems Ferris Aircraft was involved with a satellite launch at Cape Canaveral, and a test pilot on site, Hal Jordan, had been shot from ambush by a ray-gun. Everyone was impressed he was still on his feet to show the lot where the dirty business had gone down.

At the launch pad, Rex scented trouble, so Superman used heat vision to flush the invisible Martians. "Hera help us! It's raining Martians!" Blanx thought to himself, "By Jupiter's Fire!" He then attacked the Man of Steel without mercy. "Great Scott! His power rivals mine!" Commander Blanx taunted, "You seem strong, Blue One-- but I come from another planet, and on Earth I am invincible!" Not so, as the Kryptonian decked him! "That's what they all say! But I'm 'out of this world,' too!" Wonder Woman enjoyed pitting her Amazon strength against aliens, while Flash helped Aquaman with a hydration issue, giving the Sea King power enough to flatten a Martian. Robin noted water-droplets on the rocket took the form of a once "invisible man," so the caped crusaders climbed up to gently release him. "Thank you, my friends! Had you not intervened, I would have been shot into space with this satellite tomorrow-- to my death!" Robin asked, "Gosh! But aren't you a Martian, too!" J'onzz J'onzz confirmed, "I am, lad-- yet not a Martian such as they! And to prove it, I'll tell you the most closely-guarded secret to any Martian-- our one fatal weakness!" One reveal, and heat vision did the rest.

Roy Raymond confirmed of J'onn, "And you say you're a good Martian-- living right here among us?" Superman interjected, "But not for much longer! I admit you helped us-- but I'm flying all of you back to Mars!" J'Onzz argued, "Oh, no, Superman! Take them, if you will, but I wish to remain! Once I would have sold my soul to return home! Now, I see the truth-- the truth I should have seen years ago! The Mars I loved is gone! It is a world of lost causes and dead dreams! Evil triumphed over good there! But here, on Earth, the eternal struggle continues! Here one such as I-- and ones such as yourselves-- can still tip the balance the right way! I love my adopted world! It needs-- a Manhunter from Mars!"

Superman acknowledged, "I can understand that!" Flash explained, "But the world won't, J'onn-- the news stories and hysteria generated in finding you-- have made it impossible for any Martian-- good or evil-- to appear now!" Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Superman all agreed that given six months for things to calm down, and with their full support as a club, the Martian Manhunter could be accepted by the public. Batman wished to remain a loner, which didn't work for Flash. "But, Batman-- a league against evil! Our purpose would be to uphold justice against whatever danger threatens it!" Superman also asked that he take this time to think it over, while Raymond did his part by vowing to a press blackout on the affair.

"And so it was decided! All of us swore silence!" The world chalked the Martian invasion to mass hysteria. "It was several months after-- when I lost my ability to use my powers while invisible-- that we had our first official case-- the case we maintained first brought us together! Of course, Robin, Roy, and Hal weren't members-- but a new hero, Green Lantern, was! Still, we've always celebrated the original day! I hope, now, you understand-- because it opened this world for me!"

Green Lantern leaned into Oliver Queen; "Naturally, J'onn didn't know I was Hal Jordan! He left Earth before we revealed our true identities to each other! J'onn only told us his John Jones identity after he abandoned it in 1964!" Green Arrow felt he should be "teed off," but knew "It was a nice thing you did for Ol' J'onn! I'm kinda sorry I missed him when he was on Earth recently! Now lemme outa here! I got somethin' in my eye!"

Ollie may have shed a tear for J'onn, but he knew not of what he spoke. That recent visit he mentioned was when the Manhunter was running loose like a crazy Martian, accusing every hero he saw of murdering Re's Eda. J'onn has always been loving toward Aquaman and gotten nothing but grief in return. Meanwhile, Green Arrow has treated Matian Manhunter like a saint since their first team-up, and he'd have doubtless been battered by the Jade Jackass of the 70's regardless.

Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin, and Frank McLaughlin created one of the most influential DC Comics ever with this tale. While retroactive continuity was nothing new even then, writing such a massive crossover of isolated features into a pre-origin tale filled with cross-referenced minutia, "first meetings," and other rampant revisionism? This was truly the Marvel Age of DC Comics! Speaking of isolation, the lonely, needy orientation of J'onn J'onzz that lead to his Post-Crisis role as widowed "last living Martian" likely started here. So too his defining ties to McCarthyism, and really treating him as a period character in general, a wellspring of quality Martian Manhunter stories from the late 80's on. "American Secrets?" "New Frontier?" They all came from here. Heck, the story even preceded Paul Levitz's using HUAC as an excuse for DC's heroes' vanishing in the 50's by a couple years, with his more famous "The Defeat of the Justice Society!" (Adventure Comics #466, 11-12/79) A truly great work, and as such endlessly copied, but rarely duplicated.



Wayne Allen Sallee said...

By far the best MM story after AMERICAN SECRETS. I agree that the use of all the 50s heroes was a precursor to NEW FRONTIER. At least by keeping it in that era.

Luke said...

I remember reading about this two parter on rob!'s JLA site, but your synopsis here has me somewhat more intrigued. I never gave JLoA much credit for being anything more than a punch-up title until the 80s relaunch. I have had my opinion changed between rob!'s work and yours (with the Detroit League), but these two posts have really made me think about what kind of stories the title worked with in the Bronze Age. The idea of McCarthy-era paranoia regarding the Martian Manhunter, Flash being nervous about approaching Superman, the idea of a media cover-up of the invasion... all things that, honestly, I never would have pegged into a Justice League comic from 1977. I expected "social awareness" from Black Lightning or Green Lantern/Green Arrow, but not JLoA. Very intriguing, especially when compared to the similar era of The Avengers with which I am much more familiar.

Thank you for posting this.

Diabolu Frank said...

Wayne-- I literally read this comic book for the first time last month. I liked it, but I'm too prejudiced by all the stories it influenced for it to be as impactful on me. I will certify that it was objectively the best of the Martian Manhunter stories I've read up to the Bronze Age. Subjectively, wretched as they often were, I prefer a number of Jack Miller scripts. Man, I never thought I'd say such a thing.

Luke, just to clarify, I broke up one oversized and dense comic. The JLA Satellite has a great span of coverage, but without my obsessive-compulsive detail, some of the nuance of a period can be lost. Check out Rob's interviews with Steve Englehart and Len Wein for a better feel for their runs. Given your tastes, I'd skip the Silver Age material. As with most Bronze Age books, there's hits and misses, but the quality can often be gauged by the enthusiasm of a synopsis.