Monday, September 29, 2008

House of Mystery #173 (3-4/68)

This is it! After months of vaguely homoerotic cat and mouse games between Mr. V and Marco Xavier, the final encounter commences! Both men will stand naked before one another-- all their secrets revealed! Prepare for the last solo Martian Manhunter story for nine years: "SO YOU'RE FACELESS!"

In an underground VULTURE unit, "Marco Xavier" was once again in teleconference with Mr. V, who offered a one million dollar fee for, "...This! The ultimate weapon!" Developed by the Carré Company, the futuristic pistol would surely be attainable by an old friend of Pierre Carré himself! "With that weapon, Xavier, I can at last realize my life-long ambition to control the world!" The faux Marco thought to himself, "*Whew* That's all the world needs right now!"

Xavier did indeed exploit his friendship with Carré to see the "ultimate weapon," switching out the real thing for a model he'd brought with him. Xavier then turned the pistol over to VULTURE members, whom he followed by air as Manhunter. "That's it... Keep going-- straight to Faceless! This time, it's got to work-- It's just got to..." Boy, it's sure a good thing I placed that line in an acceptable context, huh? It's not like J'onn J'onzz sounded like an over dramatic schoolgirl with a crush, right? Manhunter followed the car to a "broken-down farm shed," but was rendered powerless by a grass fire caused by a discarded cigarette butt. "I'm so weak right now, I couldn't fight a bunny in a fixed fight!"

"By the time the hapless alien recovers his strength..." the VULTURE goons were long gone. "I really gummed up things this time-- putting the most powerful weapon on Earth in the hands of the most evil man on Earth!" Well now, I think that's a tad bit of an overstatement, seeing as Mr. V was more like a precursor to Dr. Claw. Marco Xavier hoped to recover the gun when his payment came due, but was instead pursued by French police. "Do not let him escape! Ze whole world hangs in ze balance!" Xavier rounded a corner, then transformed into a gray house cat. "Okay-- this gambit saved Marco Xavier from being arrested, but unless I keep my identity as Marco, VULTURE will never be able to contact me." The cat hilariously swatted its head with its paw. "...That means-- I can't contact FACELESS!!"

Wearing a black and white fedora recalling the earliest Detective John Jones stories and slinking through exotic streets recalling early Dr. Strange, Marco Xavier hoped VULTURE would find him before the authorities did. No such luck, as Xavier grasped a pole overhead to evade one French officer's leap, then swung his feet forward to kick two more in their faces. Xavier fled, with the police in hot pursuit, but ran straight into a pair of VULTURE agents with a car waiting. "Well, well, well-- will wonders never cease?" One explained, "Mr. V never forgets his friends, as well as his enemies, Mr. Xavier!"

Xavier was escorted to a boat and taken to a minuscule island he had overlooked in previous searches for VULTURE bases. An elevator hidden in a tree trunk would take Xavier underground, "With more pleasure than I can say! And I'm not kidding!" Xavier would finally meet Mr. V in person, whose face no one had ever seen. Xavier thought, "You soon will, buddy-- Just stick around!"

"A moment later-- the confrontation..."
"Well, Mr. V..."
"Well, Marco Xavier-- or should I say... MARTIAN MANHUNTER?"
"WHAT??! Y-you knew--?"
"Yes, I knew-- all the time! But fair is fair, Manhunter-- and you deserve to know my identity as well! Go on-- tear off the mask!"
"MARCO XAVIER! B-but this is impossible! You died!"
"Not quite! The so-called 'gendarme' who pronounced me dead was actually one of my own men, Manhunter! I permitted your masquerade to continue, in order to lure you into the perfect trap!"

Ingenious! Xavier pretended to be dead this whole time, insuring Manhunter would never suspect who Faceless truly was, and fed him pawns until he could determine Manhunter's weakness! Except, Xavier just sat behind a desk and invited an Alien Atlas to rip the mask off his face? How perfect a trap could it be if Xavier was at risk of leaving his neck a bloody stump? Plus, look at how slack Mr. V's uniform hangs off Xavier's lithe frame? He isn't even wearing a fat suit? How could this possibly be the true Faceless? Wait-- the cornerstone of Xavier's "perfect trap" was to draw a blowtorch from under his desk? Wha-aat?

Manhunter thought, "Great suns! Not only is my career as Marco Xavier finished... and also my value as a crime-fighter on Earth... but worst of all-- MY VERY LIFE!"
"HA-HA! And now, while there still remains a breath of life in you, I shall test the ultimate weapon-- on my favorite target-- you!"
"F-fool! Wait! The weapon-- it isn't perfected yet!"

"But, insane with power, Marco Xavier fires... And instantly..."
As he laughed madly, the weapon backfired, causing a massive explosion!

"Amidst the wreckage stands a sole figure..."
"Ironic-- my life was saved by the very weapon Marco Xavier hoped would enable him to control the world!"

So ended Martian Manhunter's thirteen year run of solo adventures, as he would appear only sporadically for the next fifteen years. Was Marco Xavier actually dead this time? Was he really Mr. V/Faceless? What became of VULTURE? Zook? Questions largely unanswered to this very day, forty years hence! Will we ever know the truth?

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