Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Do You Know The Way To Middletown?

As I've noted many times, I started the precursor to the Idol-Head, "Martian Manhunter: The Rock of the JLA," to fill a void on the internet for J'onn J'onzz fandom information. What I quickly learned, and this continues to be true, is that these sites of mine educate me as much as anyone else.

Back in March, Scipio of The Absorbascon began looking into "Where In The World Is Martian Manhunter?" He asked me about J'Onn's various bases of operation, since his home city went unnamed in Showcase Presents: Martian Manhunter, Vol. 1, and also what I knew about Middleton, CO. Since my Silver Age reading was limited to "Justice League of America" and most of the "House of Mystery" run, I honestly said, "J'onn J'onzz was mobile by that point... Considering the strip's writers had a hard time keeping the character's name and powers straight, I seriously doubt a bothersome detail like a consistent locale was ever a priority. However, since they did make a point of naming various towns during the HoM run, it's possible they identified his base city in the later 'Tec stories."

Applying deductive reasoning, Scipio determined that Martian Manhunter worked Apex City, Florida. I initially embraced the notion, but as I read Scipio's criteria for this theory, it occurred to me that much of it would apply just as easily to an East Texas city like Houston or Galveston. Next I read Detective Comics #232, where it got so cold in John Jones' town he felt the need to give a dog his sweater to stay warm. Now admittedly, there was no sign of snow, and J'onn J'onzz was a recently arrived alien being, but still. I knew I was on to something when I went through my old "Rock of the JLA" files, and found "Commander Steel's Notebook." This was an overview of Silver Age Manhunter stories I'd compiled from posts made by my DC Message Board guru on the matter, Commander Benson, in which he referred to "Middletown," with a "w." Sure enough, when I recently bought Detective Comics#322, the city was repeatedly referred to as such. In fact, they seemed to be making up for lost time, as everything was "Middletown Bank" this and "Downtown Middletown" that. I suspect Mort Weisinger must have made one of his "suggestions" that no one could refuse to prompt such a turnaround.

Now, I'm a fan of compromise, so while we now know John Jones was a detective in Middletown, U.S.A., there's no reason it can't also be "Apex City" in the same sense as New York is "Gotham," Chicago "Chi-Town," and so on. Besides, Manhunter ditched Middletown for the Mediterranean over forty years ago, and Middleton, CO for wherever the Justice League set up shop thereafter. Thing is though, while largely rewriting and vastly expanding my years old synopsis for House of Mystery #168 yesterday, there was such a mass of geographic information provided, I had to follow up on it.

In the Marco Xavier stories, the Manhunter confronts the VULTURE crime syndicate throughout the Mediterranean, with France, Greece, and Turkey directly visited. However, Spain seems to be the nearest country in the Mediterranean to the United States. House of Mystery #168 says Marco Xavier's posh Mediterranean villa was 3,000 miles away from the inner-mountain hideaway where Zook and Manhunter lived together, beginning in Detective Comics #312. The distance from Florida to Spain is about 4,400 miles, a bit too far off the mark. New York to Spain is 3,591 miles, closer but still a bit high. Maine to Spain by plane is 3,275 miles.

Taking this into account and looking at the various towns Manhunter visited in his pursuit of the Diabolu Idol-Head, it seems very likely all those adventures took place in New England coastal towns. It helps explains all those shoreline adventures, fishing boats, woods, and a progressive police department with active woman officers. Blueshark, porbeagle, mako and thresher sharks are all present in New England. It fits.

Gotham City, Professor Arnold Hugo's hometown, is in New Jersey. Hugo served time in Bayville Prison, likely referring to Bayville, NJ. In that same story, a giant Hugo rampaged through Mayville City, and there happens to be a Mayville (sans "City") in Jersey. Hugo once forced Manhunter to rob Centerville Bank. There's a Centreville Bank located in Rhode Island, and Centreville National Bank of Maryland. One of the museums Thantos raided was also in Centerville. In Scipio's defense, Hugo also escaped from Grayton Prison, which directs to Grayton Beach, FL.

Now, Orry Kane from House of Mystery #154 escaped from Elgin Prison, which ties to Scotland in my search. That's possible, as the story was a standalone with no reference to Zook or the U.S., but unlikely. More likely it's Elgin, Illinois, with the same rules applying as in Scotland.

House of Mystery #168 offered up no less than four new towns near Middletown as a means of triangulating where the city is. I fed all five to Google, and it spit out Gerrus Complete Building Maintenance which services such tri-state area cities as Woodsville, Midvale, Centerville, Fair Lawn, and Middletown. Admittedly, it's "Fairlawn" in the comic, but that's mighty good accuracy. The only Midvale Museum I could find was in Utah, and Fairlawn Museum is in Wisconsin, but there's a Centerville Museum in Cape Cod.

Here's the kicker: Scipio's smoking gun for Florida was the name of Middletown's baseball team, "the Flamingos." You must be asking, what could that possibly have to do with New England? Don Featherstone sculpted the first pink flamingo lawn ornament for a New England Plastics Company, Union Products of Leominster, Mass., which began producing them in 1957. That's a couple of years after the baseball team's first appearance, but I'm sticking with it.

I've long held the pet theory that the Justice League's original base in a cave near Happy Harbor, Rhode Island was an expansion of Manhunter's mountain hideout. Black Canary still operated out of Gotham, the Atom's Ivy Town was just down the way, and Metropolis isn't too far out. Certainly Flash and Green Lantern could cover the distance, while Green Arrow and Hawkman had vessels to carry them to the area. New England seems like the place to be, curious though that may be.


Commander Benson said...

Mr. Delano, my thanks.

I've always wondered what happened to your old Martian Manhunter site and the material I wrote for you. I discovered this site several months ago, for reasons I'll get to in a few paragraphs, but I didn't make the connexion.

Ever since I began writing a regular column on the Silver Age for the Captain Comics web site, I've, from time to time, Googled my name and/or the title of my column, mainly out of curiosity, to see if what I have written has burst beyond the confines of the Captain Comics site. I was doing that to-night, when one hit directed me back to your Idol-Head site here.

And that leads me to one of the things I adore about the Internet--the fact that, sometimes, out of the blue, you come across some bit of needed information.

When I got down to your mention of me in this article, I discovered you had done me a great favour.

More than once I have been asked about the city of operation for the Silver-Age J'onn J'onzz. The answer, of course, is "Middletown". But that's always been a bit dicey for me, because if anyone ever asked me (no-one ever has; they just accept it on the strength of my Silver-Age reputation) for a reference on this, I would have been stuck. Until I read this article.

You see, the reason I know it was Middletown is because I recall a DC letter column from the late '60's in which a reader asked what city had been the Manhunter's home base. I don't even remember which title carried that particular letter col, but I distinctly remember the editor's answer: Middletown. (That editor's response also placed Middletown in one of the mid-Atlantic states.)

It didn't assume the level of a quest, but periodically, I've scanned some of my old Manhunter stories in Detective Comics, to see where the name of Middletown was established. I had never found it. But now, thanks to your research, I know where it is. You have added to my Silver-Age expertise. Much obliged, friend!

Since the Silver Age is long past, I don't have a dog in the fight over where Middletown was located, I kind of skipped over that part of this article, but something else did catch my eye.

You wrote: "I've long held the pet theory that the Justice League's original base in a cave near Happy Harbor, Rhode Island was an expansion of Manhunter's mountain hideout."

I hate to point this out to a fellow who has done me a great favour (actually, two--but again, I'll get to that in a bit), but I addressed the question of the location of the Justice League's original secret sanctuary in one of my Deck Log entries. For the column, I occasionally do a "But I Always Thought . . ." piece about erroneous information believed about the Silver Age charcters. Last December, I did one of these on the Justice League, and here is what I had to say on the location of the Secret Sanctuary:

Myth 4: The JLA’s Original Headquarters, the Secret Sanctuary, was Located Outside of Happy Harbor, Rhode Island.

This was another notion set forth in Amazing World of DC Comics # 14, no doubt because somebody felt the Secret Sanctuary had to be put somewhere. I can even see the thinking here . . . honorary member Snapper Carr had the most limited means of transportation, so in order for him to attend JLA meetings as often as he did, the Secret Sanctuary had to be in a place close to him. If so, this is another case of later writers not knowing the details of the JLA’s Silver-Age continuity.

In his sixty-five Justice League tales, Gardner Fox never specified where the Secret Sanctuary was located, other than it was situated in the tallest peak of a “great mountain range” (JLA # 31). So there is no definitive Silver-Age information that the Sanctuary was near Happy Harbor.

One cannot even make the inference, as the writers of AWODCC # 14 apparently did, that the Justice League deliberately constructed its original headquarters near Happy Harbor to make it easier for Snapper to attend meetings. That’s because the Secret Sanctuary was built before Snapper became an honorary member. (The Brave and the Bold # 28 and JLA # 9)

Moreover, the JLA made it easy for Snapper to reach the Secret Sanctuary, no matter where it was. As revealed in JLA # 12 (Jun., 1962), the members installed an anti-gravity device in Snapper’s hot-rod. Whenever he needed to report to the Secret Sanctuary, Snapper merely had to press a hidden button located in a “secluded spot” on the outskirts of Happy Harbor, and immediately, his jalopy was “whisked across country” to the mountain HQ. This mechanism was shown a few times in the Silver-Age tales.

The specific statement that Snapper and his car was “whisked across country” and the fact that the Secret Sanctuary was located in a great mountain range make it unlikely that the JLA’s meeting place was located in Rhode Island. Nor was there any need for it to be.

Lastly, the other reason I have to thank you is that, a few times, I've done a Deck Log article on the Manhunter, and it's always murder to find any of Joe Certa's Manhunter artwork--at least, anything besides JJ's first appearance in Detective Comics # 225. But one of my first searches for appropriate art for my column led me to your Idol-Head site, and thanks to your work, I've been able to attach appropriate art to my columns. Again, much obliged, friend.

By the way, damn nice site you hve here.

Commander R. A. Benson

Diabolu Frank said...

Great to hear from you, Commander!

Your email address was actually among those I still had on file from the "Rock" days, and I sent an email about the initial "Idol-Head" opening to all the others, but not you. I wanted to wait until the page had "made something of itself," and I knew I'd eventually rerun "Commander Steel's Notebook," so it was perpetually on my "to do" list. Done and done and glad for it.

As you can see, I finally embraced the Silver Age roots of the character, though some stories receive regard and others passionate ridicle here.

I've stumbled on your message board posts many times at various sites, but never found a Benson-specific page or menu besides the one I used here. I'll dig around so I can direct link, but if you've got one to offer up, I'm all ears.

I'd much rather be proven wrong and learn from it than spread misinformation. I'll either edit in your corrections or just make a new post on the matter.

Let me know if you need a specific Certa reference scanned. Back when I had my shop, I sold several of my older HoM issues, but I still have much of the run. If there's a non-cover scan on an issue in the directory, I've still got it. Let me know, and help yourself to whatever I post as needed.

I'm actually working on biographies for MM creators right now. I'm fine with big dogs like Schiff and Weisinger, but expect lesser knowns like Joe Certa to be trouble once I get there. I feel your pain.

Once again, it's always great to hear from you, and as ever, I bow to your knowledge. Things like pre-80's letter columns and Amazing World of DC Comics are still arcana to me...

Commander Benson said...

Well, you certainly have put together quite an impressive site here. As I mentioned, I discovered it while looking for some art to go along with one of my column articles about J'onn J'onzz. Then, I stayed to read quite a bit of it. Naturally, I had no interest in the post-Crisis stuff, but I found the rest of it--and particularly the Silver-Age material enjoyable. It's always fun to read somebody else's take on the same stories.

I appreciate your offer to scan whatever art I might need for a future Manhunter article--but it will probably be a while before I head that way, again. So far, I've done two--one addressing the question of why J'onn J'onzz didn't return to Mars, in light of the fact that he had quite a few resources to do so; and the other on the death of John Jones. That latter one I really could have taken advantage of your offer. I so badly wanted to be able to post the couple of panels in which Jones throws himself in the path of the glowing, devouring cloud to save the youngster on the go-cart. But there was nothing like that I could find already on line.

If you're interested, you can find my Deck Log column by going to the home page of the Captain Comics site (www.captaincomics.us) and then click on the "All columns" link on the left-side menu. That will take you to the list of all the columnists for the site, and you will easily find "Commander Benson's Deck Log".

Earlier this year, I picked up the Martian Manhunter Showcase volume--that filled in the gaps of the Detective Comics Manhunter stories that I did not have. As I mentioned in the articles I cited above, the first couple of years of the series was far more John Jones, detective, than it was J'onn J'onzz, super-hero. In those days, he might appear only in two or three panels in his Martian form--and sometimes not at all. The focus then was on how Detective Jones solved his cases. With the unending stream of super-powers Jack Schiff and Jack Miller gave him, it was a little like "Godzilla Versus Bambi", but they had their own charm. If Schiff and Miller had limited Jones's powers to a less indomitable list of traits in the beginning--thereby giving the bad guys an actual chance of beating the Martian sleuth--it would have been very entertaining, indeed.

I'm glad you've got this site going well. It's a good one.

Commander Benson

Diabolu Frank said...

Well, I do love many of the Silver Age stories (especially those featuring Professor Hugo, Zook, or Mr. V,) but my preference still runs toward the later scripts by Gerard Jones, Mark Waid, J.M. DeMatteis, and Grant Morrison. Different strokes, I suppose.

Sadly, I still don't own the death of John Jones. My hope is that we'll see another Showcase edition within the year. If not, I'll start hunting after low grade issues of Detective. Like yourself, I could do without the Batman stories. Having so much of the run collected in the first Showcase makes me itch to complete it, though.

I'll be linking to the "Deck Log" shortly. I'll poke around Captain Comics as you suggested.

I've definately left the camp that support ramping up the Manhunter's powers in favor of those wishing them to be downplayed. The whole point of the fire weakness was to show that no matter how seemingly superior the Martian may be, a match could more than level the playing field. The best Manhunter stories aren't about how strong he is, but his vulnerabilities and struggle against overwhelming odds. If that aspect had been handled better in the Silver Age, or ever actually, I think the character would have a larger fan base. As ever, he straddles the fence between power fantasy and more nuanced storytelling, never quite satisfying anyone.

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?