Sunday, September 28, 2008

House of Mystery #160 (7/66)

Alright, let's play the numbers game right quick: House of Mystery began reporting circulation numbers in 1959, averaging 208,000 copies a month. The title peaked the following year at 225,000; plummeting to 175,000 as super-heroes began to dominate the scene. The inclusion of the J'onn J'onzz feature had helped lift the title to 196,677 copies circulated on average per month, with the issue nearest to the 1965 filing date selling 209,720 copies. Admittedly, the book had dipped to an average of 183,934 over the course of the run of Manhunter from Mars. Still, it seemed like throwing the baby out with the bathwater to drop him from covers and surrender the lead feature to newcomer Dial H For Hero. The issue nearest to filing date '66 was at 197,220 after all. Meanwhile, the "H" experiment was such a disaster, average paid circulation sank to 158,500 and the format of the magazine was changed entirely.

Now, in my opinion, the "Mystery" and Joe Certa "Manhunter" covers were far superior to Jim Mooney's initial "H" offerings, which were often composed of four small segmented illustrations that, as a group, are difficult to distinguish from one another. Perhaps returning to a single, more eye-appealing image on covers helped the book climb back to 173,600. Alternately, it could have been the presence of Marco Xavier...

"It's new! It's different! The fantastic crime-fighting career of the Manhunter from Mars takes a sensational turn, as the Alien Ace pits brains and brawn against the most sinister criminal organization on Earth... Read the amazing story behind... 'Manhunter's New Secret Identity.'"

"In the vault-like headquarters of a special secret department, Manhunter listens grimly to a startling revelation..."

This organization had contacted Manhunter with the goal of dealing with VULTURE, a world-wide criminal organization on which virtually no information was known. In fact, the VULTURE insignia shown to Manhunter by the mysterious Mr. Steele was never seen in the series again, indicating even that slight fact was either outdated or flat incorrect. "It's a tough assignment, Manhunter-- but we're counting on you to crack the organization!" The only lead Mr. Steele had to offer was Marco Xavier, "the internationally famous playboy," who had been "linked with some underworld characters!" Manhunter promised, "I'll do my best, Mr. Steele!"

Manhunter flew across the Atlantic and disguised himself as an old beggar in front of Marco Xavier's home. "High iron gates shield the villa... from intruders." Xavier eventually exited, telling a servant, "Jeffers-- I'm taking the Jag out for a spin! I'll be back in a few hours, in case anyone calls!" Manhunter followed from the air, though minutes later, Xavier drove his Jaguar off a cliff! "Yes... Not even Manhunter's blinding speed, as he hurtles earthward, can save the doomed man..." Manhunter assumed Xavier died instantaneously, with the explosion that followed leaving little of him to find. Fearing he'd lost his only "hot line" to VULTURE, Manhunter contrived to take Marco Xavier's place, assuming his form while hanging from a branch. French police soon "rescued Xavier," who experienced trauma from the incident. "Pretty ingenious of me-- putting on that loss-of-memory-act-- to cover up any slips I might make!" Manhunter swiftly memorized "every word found in the late mystery man's letters and papers!"

Before long, "Xavier" was visited by Senor Mendez, who wanted Xavier "to discover for me which one of his ships Apollo Magnus is using very soon to transport a large gold shipment!" Advanced $10,000, which "Xavier" would donate to charity, Manhunter first invisibly followed Senor Mendez to a VULTURE base hidden under a small souvenir booth. A teleconference was taking place, and Manhunter spied on a large viewing screen, "That insignia on that faceless criminal! So VULTURE is behind this little caper!" Manhunter learned the gathered criminals were part of Section T2, who this masked villain described as having "the worst record of our organization!" This "Mr. V" was pleased Section T2 had enlisted Marco Xavier's help, "A very stubborn man... a lone wolfer! He refuses to join us-- but he is dependable!" Manhunter considered busting the present goons, but decided it best to feed them information to get closer to "Faceless and the heart of VULTURE!"

"Marco Xavier" attended a party thrown by Apollo Magnus, who was glad to see he was well enough to attend. So were the dames: "Mais, oui! Ze girls would be broken-hearted if you stayed away, Marco love!" The brown-haired girl was brushed aside by a redhead. "Stop making eyes at Marco, Marie! It is me he truly loves! ...Remember those moonlit nights on Apollo's yacht, my darling?" Assuaging some of the questions regarding his sexual preference, the faux Marco thought, ""I-- er-- wish I did--!" Marco used the reference to the yacht as an opportunity to to pry information from Mr. Magnus. Tugging his bowtie, Apollo confided "I promised the yacht to another friend, who is taking it out at dawn, Saturday!" Manhunter determined it was there that Magnus was transporting his gold, and informed Senor Mendez.

Manhunter maintained a sharp vigil over Magnus' ship on Saturday, his Martian Vision spotting a bandit sub nearby. Mendez was aboard, and ordered a torpedo fired on Magnus' yacht, despite Manhunter's presence. The Martian Marvel figured, "I could let that torpedo explode against my chest-- but even the blast might affect the yacht! So-- I'd better mount this iron fish, and--" yes, lose whatever heterosexual points I awarded him last paragraph. Manhunter straddled the bright red phallic object in an ambiguously gay fashion and rode it back toward the sub! Mendez cried "Caramba!" However, the Alien Atlas chose not to wantonly execute the criminals. "Now that I've scared them out of a year's growth-- I'll send the torpedo to the sea's floor, where it will explode harmlessly!" Manhunter plucked out the submarine and carried it to a small island nearby, where he ripped it open. Inside were the same four Section T2 members from the teleconference.

"All right, talk! Who is Faceless? Where's his headquarters?"
"We do not know, Manhunter! Each section is kept separate! Only Mr. 'V' himself contacts us secretly!"

Manhunter gave Section T2 a story to cover for his new alter ego, "Because, if I hope to smash VULTURE, I'm afraid I'll have to go on masquerading as Marco Xavier for some time to come!"

"Do you like the Martian Manhunter's new secret identity, readers? Then watch for his next spectacular adventure!"

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