Thursday, August 28, 2008

House of Mystery #170 (10/67)

I've mentioned my old "Martian Manhunter: The Rock of the JLA" site many times, as it was not only the precursor to this blog, but was always intended to be a source for much of its material. Because of the shift in emphasis from covering Manhunter history in broad strokes to issue-by-issue, I really haven't gotten much use out of the old material. Still, many of my old House of Mystery synopsis have formed the basis for new, expanded editions. I've owned the last four issues of HoM for at least eight years now, but for some reason I've never once covered any of them. I suspect this issue was part of the problem, as it is swimming in weak sauce.

"You all know that Marco Xavier is actually the Manhunter from Mars, playing the role of playboy-sportsman for the sole purpose of hunting down Mr. V, leader of the crime syndicate known as VULTURE! So how come the Martian Marvel takes it into his head to reveal his fatal weakness to his most sinister enemy? It's no gag! It really happens in... 'The Martian Double-Cross!'"

Pretty solid premise, right? Not only will Faceless finally know our hero's vulnerability, but "Marco Xavier" is going to tell him! So why does this issue in fact prove to be not only a letdown, but a perfect example of everything that was wrong with this era of Martian Manhunter. Let's take a look...

Manhunter smashed through the wall of a VULTURE unit in Sweden, picked up another defenseless crook, and tossed him into some more hoods. This was great the first few times, if only because of how brutal and undeniably lethal some of those throws were. By this point though, it was just as rote as Superman smashing simple gangsters in the '50s. "Guns bark with futile fury, as..." the audience yawned. "Scratch another VULTURE headquarters!" Exactly, yet another tiny room full of modestly dressed hoods with automatics had been dealt with. These aren't giant SPECTRE island bases filled with lasers and mega-bombs, but single rooms with some odd bits of useless hi-tech pressed against a wall, possibly in strip malls, seated next to a kolache shop.

Suddenly, off in a corner, "Uh-oh... fire! I'd better get these VULTUREs out of here-- before that fire begins to affect me!" So not only do they not have any decent weaponry or a super-computer that does anything besides run "Pong" at this base, but Sweden apparently wasn't enforcing any sort of fire extinguisher ordinance in 1967? It's a small fire-- use your Martian super-breath. Your cavalier boots aren't so different from a fireman's that you can't stamp it out. Throw some of the VULTUREs at the fire to suffocate it, even. We get the fire weakness, but Spider-Man had a weakness to being squashed by tons of machinery. The fun was in seeing him lift it up anyway, not cry and faint at every turn, you big green sissy.

You know how I know you're gay? Because after you turned the VULTUREs over to the Swedish police, you couldn't go back to your "Fortress of Solitude" like that butch Superman. No, you have to once again adjourn to "a plush villa on the Mediterranean," where you "transform" into "Marco Xavier, international playboy." J'onn, a cravat? Really? What planet are you from? Oh, you know what I meant!

Some minutes later, Marco's phone rang, because those VULTURE boys are so chatty! His presence was requested at a pastry shop on the Rue Montville and... "I know where it is! I'll be there!" Yeah, J'onn. We know you know where it is, cream puff. Gay test-- you passed with flying colors!

Once there, a burly smirking chef (you can tell by his enormous chef's hat, also smirking) led "monsieur" through the secret door built into a ten foot tall faux cake. The "notorious playboy" once again spoke with Mr. V via viewscreen, until Faceless hilariously turned to a second monitor, seemingly to watch "home movies" with the physically present crew. Doesn't Mr. V know by now any job he involves Marco Xavier in will end in failure, and doesn't "Xavier" know he'll never get past the viewscreens to the real V? I just fail to understand why the Diabolu Idol-Head is still reviled as a deus ex machina, when VULTURE was if anything more slavish as a formulaic story engine.

Moving on, Mr. V showed "Marco" his "photographic dossier made by hidden cameras of my most formidable enemy-- the Manhunter from Mars... See? See? All of a sudden, the Manhunter became weakened!" This goes on for a whole page, but we all know Manhunter is repeatedly in the presence of fire, pees himself, then recovers. Being the most dunder-headed criminal mastermind of all time, Faceless still asked Marco Xavier to figure out what could possibly be causing Manhunter to lose his powers-- in the face of fire-- always. What could possibly be his weakness? If only Faceless could see past all that fire to see what the problem for the Manhunter is! Move, stupid fire!

"Back at his villa, Marco Xavier resumes his role as a carefree playboy..." Two girls in bikinis massaged his shoulders, a servant coming from off-panel with drinks. "Mmm... Marco baby-- you look so beautiful when you're relaxing," said the redhead with the funny cap. I couldn't see it myself, as Xavier looked as coldly calculating as Claus von Bülow. "If I fail to tell 'Faceless' what the Manhunter's fatal weakness is, he'll probably never summon me again! That would cut off my one and only link with the criminal society I've dedicated myself to smashing! But if I do tell him that my weakness is fire, I'll be risking my effectiveness as Manhunter! How shall I play it?" Xavier's visage was grim, even with a drink in his hand and a blond kissing his cheek. You know, for years I worked under the assumption J'onn J'onzz was asexual with regard to humans, or saw us as so developmentally slight as to be of no interest. That made scenes like this easier to swallow. In the late 90s/early 00s, he became quite the horndog, so now I don't know what to think. Well, I know I think they're tedious, and I'm struggling to write about these last few, but I mean with regard to the sexin'.

More pages were wasted on Marco Xavier pointing out the obvious to Mr. V, complete with panels from two pages earlier redrawn by Joe Certa-- I suppose because xeroxed stats weren't so common then. "Amazing! And there was the evidence-- under my nose all the time!" Xavier thought, "Exactly-- and that's the only reason I decided to tell you... because sooner or later you would have figured it out for yourself!" In order to collect a quarter of a million dollars, Xavier had to supply VULTURE with the whereabouts of Manhunter, after their scientists had time "to create a suitable opponent for someone whose weakness is fire!"

About a month later, Pierre paid Xavier for informing VULTURE that Manhunter would be "attending a week-long party on the estate of his good friend, Baron Du Marchal!" VULTURE had constructed a fifteen foot tall purple robot warrior to loose on Manhunter, with an eternal flame within its chest cavity it could fire through its mouth. I suppose the only thing Martian Manhunter could do now is bring Zook back into the strip to freeze machines like this... or go back to working invisibly... or assume a new identity... or wear some sort of flame retardant suit... or use his many powers to quash the flames himself... or...

The next day, J'onzz apologized to Baron Du Marchal for turning his vast estate into a future battleground. "Think nothing of it, Manhunter... It is a pleasure to be of service to you!" Now, in this panel, Manhunter and Du Marchal are practically on top of one another, staring, oblivious to the mingling partygoers at poolside. A pleasure indeed... until that big purple monster swung to life, knocking down trees and causing a panic. A man in a tree with a TV camera projected these goings on to the voyeuristic delight of Mr. V, who sat alone in his darkened room. "Grab him, my boy... then-- turn on the heat!" His left hand curled around an armrest, his right-- ? Mr. V's head was positioned between the image of the robots thighs... Was that just its seams, or did Faceless just shudder?

"Mustn't let him get his mitts on me!" Manhunter swatted and tripped the robot, though he could already feel the effects of the fire burning within in its breast-- though it wasn't actually exposed or visible or anything. "Getting weaker and weaker..." Oh shut up Manhunter, you big baby! You wimp! Why did I ever start this blog for such a sucky super-hero?

"Next instant, the Alien Ace seems to fall backward... finally with his last ounce of strength..." Manhunter kicked the robot into a river, then froze it with Martian breath. You remember, the robot who's chest had a jet in it, which it never opened? The robot who could shoot fire from its mouth, but never got around to it outside the lab?

"Next day, Marco Xavier gets a much-deserved dressing down..."
"You were wrong, Xavier, about the Manhunter's weakness to fire! But since this is the first time you have failed me, you will escape the usual penalties I inflict for failure! Meanwhile, I shall continue to go after the Manhunter!"
"As I will continue to go after you, Faceless!"

Oh, would you two just sleep together and be done with it already? You failed yourself, Faceless! Your stupid robot never exposed a single flame! Furthermore, Martian Manhunter failed to prove his cunning, because he never had to figure out a way around those flames! This was all a total cop-out waste of time! You're retarded, the Manhunter's crap, and I'm glad you're both getting cancelled in three issues, you repetitive losers! I hope you die in a fire! Wouldn't that be ironic?!?

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