Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Making of "The Martian Manhunter #150"

The Martian Manhunter #150 (Winter 1976)

As the glow of initial pride over "Manhunter From Mars #100" faded, I realized I wanted to do a better job on the next anniversary. When I thought of the 70s, I though of Jack Kirby's "New Gods #1" cover, and had to ape it. I tried harder this time to keep everything plausible. Since I was set on using a photo background of Mars released in 1976, around the time Kirby left DC for Marvel, that got a bit convoluted... but no worse than, say, "Hawkworld" continuity.

I went through a longer debating process on this cover than any other to date, as I had a nice selection of images to choose from... both of Mars and Kirby Manhunter. I also experimented with mix and match, as I was teaching myself how to paste in disparate pieces to form a single image in Microsoft Paint. I decided that I definitely wanted to use the "Face of Mars" picture, which was a landscape, and thus handicapped me in a big way when it came to selling the completed image. I played around with the photo to give the "face" as great a comic-booky definition as possible. I wanted to fill as much space with Kirby art as I could manage without obscuring the "face," so I picked a shot he'd done of Manhunter from 1985's "Super Powers #1" where he really flared that cape out. The inks were by Greg Theakston, by the way. Unfortunately, the picture pushed the UPC box to the wrong side. I soon learned that resizing an image in Paint really louses up the quality, but figured I'd leave the artifacts in this instance, as those 70s photo hybrids always printed a bit wonky anyway.

I loved those bombastic Kirby cover blurbs, and had space to fill, so I stole a big honking number from Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth #1. I believe the banner running along the top was taken from, or at least modelled after, issues of "Secret Society of Super-Villains." DC briefly experimented with Marvel-style corner box figures, so I took one by Dick Dillin off the cover of World's Finest Comics #212. I blew it up, doctored it, and shrank it down for use here and as a permanent sidebar on this web page.

The groovy "Martian Manhunter" text and logo came from an interior page of the same "World's Finest" issue as the Dillin figure, digitally "bleached" and recolored. I'd actually intended on using all the various "Martian Manhunter" logos for fake covers over time, but then remembered that between the eponymous 1988 mini-series and late 90's ongoing series, that might seem redundant. That presented a problem later on, as there really aren't many "Manhunter From Mars" logos floating around, and one of the best is too big to play around with oftimes. I got some of my logo jones out of the way with the history-by-decade buttons on this web page, though.

"The 10-In-1 God of Mars" was directly referenced from House of Mystery #168's "Thantos-- the 3-In-1 Man!" I thought it sounded very Kirby, besides. The "10-In-One" is also intended to reference the ten Sefirot in Kabbalah. A Jewish upbringing influenced much of Kirby's work, but in a medium swimming in Jewish influence, it's easy to miss. Beginning in the late '60s, Kirby really seemed to focus on religion as a running theme-- be it Galactus and his heralds, the Fourth World, the Eternals and so on. It made sense to me that at some point Kirby might have played around with Jewish mysticism. Also, in later stories, Martian society seemed to be pantheistic, with an emphasis on H'ronmeer, but also tied to Neil Gaiman's seven member "Endless" family. I thought it might be interesting to see a Martian Pantheon consisting of the Endless and three native "Gods" that could parallel attributes within the Sephirotic model. I never worked it out in great detail, but thought an allusion in the "Kirby" work might be fun.

The inability of Kirby to reach an audience to sustain his DC titles was true, just as it proved to be on returning to Marvel. However, I'm not familiar enough with his deal at DC to recall if there were any contractual obligations of the manner I used to rope him into my "project." There is a lot of truth in my references to Gerry Conway, but anything related to a relationship with Kirby was totally bogus. Conway did end up working on a number of Kirby revivals after the King left DC, however.

The story's plot should be familiar to anyone who ever read the Biblical "Exodus." If you're gonna steal, might as well go with the classics. I assumed at the time that the Martians had actually settled on the planet Vonn from World's Finest #212, but massive inconsistencies about the planet from 70s and early 80s stories make their continuing to trek likely. Since there were no other inhabitants revealed on "New Mars" until 1977, I understand why they might take carte blanche and rename Vonn, but its just as plausible they discovered a whole other world. Vonn/New Mars really wasn't much of a planet for generating stories, and I can't imagine spending the entire 70s there in an ongoing series, at least if you hew to what was established canonically. If nothing else, let's say they shopped around for a bit, then settled on Vonn as the least awful option.

Getting back to the Kabbalistic elements, I thought the episodic nature of hitting ten planets/aspects/commandments/sefirot/Endless served an additional duty in recalling the structure of old Gardner Fox tales. It gave the Manhunter a mission beyond leading the Martians about: "Tikkun Olam," preparing himself and his people to repair the broken universe. Meanwhile, that scheming Jezebel, Bel Juz, was at it again. In the place of the golden calf was "the young madman Z'vi Z'har." This was a reference to Shabbethai Zevi, the false messiah of the 17th century, and an easy Martian name conversion if ever there was one. The "Z'har?" Zohar. Oy!

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