Friday, March 27, 2009

Manhunter from Mars #199 (February 1981)

An unnamed Martian soldier was on monitor duty when an urgent message came through from a Rannian space craft approaching Mars II. The pilot was the panicked Adam Strange, desperately seeking J'Onn J'Onzz. It seemed his wife Alanna had been kidnapped, taken by a towering brute with a sloped brow reminiscent of a Martian. Combined with the superhuman strength required to rip apart her father Sardath's lab, Strange thought a criminal from this world may have been responsible.

Just after Adam Strange was given permission to land, a Thanagarian ship was detected on its way to Mars II. A transmission from the craft made by police officer Shayera Hol offered that she was in pursuit of Adam Strange for questioning. Hawkgirl explained that the Absorbascon from her ship had inexplicably teleported away-- while her fellow officer and husband Katar Hol was attached to it! Radiation scans indicated the man and machine had been extracted with a Zeta-Beam, the noted invention of Alanna's scientist father Sardath. When the Martian soldier hesitated to admit Hawkgirl, he was informed that she was just ahead of a full Thanagarian assault squadron.

Hawkgirl touched down at the Spacefort in time to spot Strange and give chase. Shayera noticed a small sphere following her prey, as both parties evaded fire while pleading for the safety of their spouses. Shayera and Adam assumed the other had initiated the gun battle, until a stray blaster shot struck Strange's sphere. As it rolled lifelessly to the ground, the Manhunter from Mars came out of hiding, explaining that it was he who had fired the first shot.

The poor unnamed Martian soldier was being read the riot act by a superior for allowing Adam Strange to land. This was interrupted when Thanagarian squadron commander Yuddha Bechane hailed the Spacefort and demanded Adam Strange and J'Onn J'Onzz be turned over into his authority. Bechane cited the Manhunter from Mars' previous attack against Hawkman as implication that J'Onzz was working in concert with Strange. Unfortunately, no one had heard from the Martian Marvel in weeks. Before a reply could be given, Adam Strange's starship ascended from the surface of Mars, with Hawkgirl's craft close behind, and attempted to make a run through the Thanagarian squadron. Though masterful at evading fire, the Rannian craft took significant damage, and was forced to land just one planet over from Mars II. However, all seemed to be going according to plan, as Hawkgirl's ship had slipped away in the dogfight, while Adam used his jetpack to fly directly toward a small crypt planetside.

Outside the crypt, Adam Strange was met by another sphere; the silhouetted holographic visage of a beetle-browed head barely visible. A voice emanated, suspicious of the loss of the first sphere and demanding a Crystal Key. Adam Strange assured his taskmaster the key was within, and began using his keen scientific mind to solve a series of puzzle traps prohibiting his entry into the crypt. Finally, the last barrier before him, Adam Strange refused to go any further until his wife was returned to him. At that, a mammoth starship the size of a minor metropolis approached the crypt's site. A small shuttle dropped from a bay and sped to Adam's location, until its pilot landed and slowly disembarked. "You presume too much, Rannian. Mongul takes orders from no man."

Adam Strange asked after the safety of his wife and the purpose for this grand scheme. Mongul explained that he was in exile from his home world, and sought a means to return there under his own terms. For this, Mongul needed the key to a fantastic vehicle of legend, last known to be in the possession of the peaceful alien Largas. Intelligence had placed the last Largas in the star-system Cygnus, but in order to narrow his search, Mongul would need resources. The merciless alien first raided the planet Rann, kidnapping Alanna and securing one of her father's Zeta-Beamers. Mongul then zee-beamed an Absorbascon from a remote Thanagarian ship orbiting the planet Earth, inadvertently capturing Hawkman along with it. Mongul next used the Absorbascon to scan a series of planets beginning with Earth, and moving on to inhabited worlds orbiting Cygnus. The Absorbascon pointed to J'Onn J'Onzz knowing the location of the crystal key, but the Manhunter himself had gone missing. Mongul then decided to use Alanna and Hawkman's predicament to help him flush out the Alien Atlas, by directing Strange once Thanagar was aware of the Absorbascon's means of theft.

Adam Strange continued to deny Mongul further aid without seeing Alanna, and was swatted aside with lethal force. The murderous despot bullied his way through the crypt's final defense, only to find the sanctuary empty. Turning back toward what should have been Adam Strange's corpse, Mongul discovered another vanishing act. Lumbering toward his shuttle, Mongul found himself evading fire from his own super-ship. Just managing to dock, Mongul was confronted by Adam and Alanna on their way out. Firing eye beams at Strange, Mongul was shocked by the site of the "Rannian" reverting to his true form of the Manhunter from Mars. "Alanna-- use the jet pack to return to the crypt!" The Alien Atlas and jaundiced juggernaut sparred while Alanna used her husband's pack as recommended. The Martian Manhunter then broke off hostilities to follow, as the pair reached the crypt just in time to catch a Zeta-Beam.

Materializing on another planet, Alanna was warmly greeted by the loving embrace of the real Adam Strange. J'Onn J'Onzz meanwhile gave Hawkgirl the exact coordinates where Hawkman and the Absorbascon were soon to rematerialize once their exposure to zeta radiation wore off. The Manhunter had pulled the relevant information from Mongul's ship's computers, a vessel J'Onzz had been tracking since it first entered the Cygnus system weeks earlier. The Manhunter began a sting operation, shadowing Mongul's path, and contacting Adam Strange with a plan after the strike on Rann. Hawkgirl was brought into the fold on Mars II, as she piloted her ship to where she was informed Warworld had been hidden, the key to which having been entrusted to Adam. As Hawkgirl sped for Earth, the Manhunter activated Warworld, and made his way back to Mars II.

Living in poverty and nearly defenseless against aggressive forces, the Martians were fearful when Yuddha Bechane threatened an air strike if at least one of his suspects was not produced soon. Clearly not careful about what he wished for, Bechane was stunned as Warworld approached. Although Bechane blustered over the absence of Katar and Shayera Hol, he found discretion the better part of valor, and fell back toward the outer reaches of Cygnus. Mongul, having regained control of his vessel, shuddered at the thought of being targeted by his own prize, and went into hiding.

J'Onn J'Onzz suffered from a dizzy spell as he disengaged from Warworld's psychic piloting interface. The Manhunter allowed the reunited Hawkman and Hawkwoman access to the artificial planet, so that they could ferry Adam and Alanna back to Rann. Along the way, Strange was asked to drop off the Crystal Key at the crypt of the last Larga. The Martian Manhunter had found another hiding spot for the terrifying satellite, and awaited the zeta radiation in his body wearing off. This would return the Sleuth from Outer Space to the crypt himself, where he would have to begin devising new defenses from Mongul and any others seeking to possess Warworld.

Julie "B.O." Schwartz always encouraged his writers to "Be Original." That was the appeal of the idea for a bifurcated team-up story in DC Comics Presents; Superman and Hawkgirl on one side, Martian Manhunter and Adam Strange on the other. In the second chapter, Superman would face Martian Manhunter, leading them to call in their previous co-stars for a group adventure. The art would be provided by hot Italian newcomer Luigi Bugia, sure to be the next Neal Adams. However, Bugia's pages came in too slowly, and seasoned editor Schwartz immediately assigned freelancer Jim Starlin the second issue to pick up the slack. Seven beautiful pages later, Bugia vanished off the face of the Earth. Realizing that with some slight reorganizing, Starlin's second chapter could stand on its own, Len Wein's continuing story began mise en scène. Because of this, Adam Strange and Hawkgirl were dropped from the tale, replaced by appearances from Supergirl and the Spectre in a massively altered plot.

It just so happened Len Wein had assumed editorship of the Manhunter From Mars from Ross Andru. Once the lame duck creative team of Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, & Trevor von Eeden finished out their term on the title, Wein began burning through inventory stories set on Mars II, intent on taking the book in a new direction. With Schwartz's consent, Wein rewrote his original DC Comics Presents plot into a "prequel" in J'Onn J'Onzz's title. Of course, this also painted him into a bit of a corner for the next issue, but for now he had a super Jim Starlin cover, with interiors by the great Steve Ditko (and yes, of course Mongul looked appropriately contorted!)


Luke said...

That Starlin cover is really the best bit of the entire issue, in my opinion. It's a little too ungainly in its twisting and turning, and massaging this into a new story only works so well. Still, at least it was interesting, and I'll never complain about a Hawkgirl guest spot...

The idea of Starlin doing a Martian Manhunter feature is intriguing. If DC hadn't killed him, maybe he could pop up in Strange Adventures or it's sequel. Hell, agter Blackest Night, he might just!

Diabolu Frank said...

I mourn to some degree Starlin not getting to use Martian Manhunter recently, but word of mouth hasn't been great anyway.

Rafa Rivas said...

Wow, my regular reading is so screwed up. I can't concentrate without the cartoon pics anymore.

I liked the concept, but I'm confused about the chronology. I supose it's meant to happen 3 months after Mongul's debut. Somehow I thought it was a prequel of sorts.

Diabolu Frank said...

I'm going to have to write 1-3 additional posts just to explain how difficult this three parter was to write. There's a reason it took me over three years to finish this beast. You have my sympathies for trying to read it, and any confusion comes down to my own failings.

For the record, #199 is indeed a prequel to the DC Comics Presents serial. #200 starts after the serial, then flashes back to before & during it, before picking up again after it. #201 starts partway through #200, then continues beyond it. I reckon I need a flow chart.

1) Mongul steals a zeta-beamer and kidnaps Alanna from Rann.
2) Mongul uses zeta-beams to steal an Absorbascon from Hawkman, inadvertently kidnapping him.
3) Mongul tries to use the absorbascon to learn the location of the Crystal Key, but failing that, extorts help from Adam Strange to locate Martian Manhunter.
4) J'Onn J'Onzz, wise to Mongul, poses as Adam Strange to rescue Alanna. Strange and Hawkgirl sneak off with the Crystal Key to Warworld.
5) Adam uses a zeta-beamer to bring J'Onn and Alanna to Warworld, which J'Onzz uses to run off Mongul and the Thanagarian forces.
6) Hawkgirl rescues Hawkman and the absorbascon after the zeta-beam wears off.
7) J'Onn "hides" Warworld, then he an Alanna return to the crypt when their zeta-beams wear off. Adam picks up Alanna and returns to Rann.
8) Mongul uses Superman to steal the Crystal Key.
9) Mongul uses J'en to bait a trap for J'Onn J'Onzz, then telepathically learns the location of Warworld. Uses zeta-beamer to teleport to Warworld from ship.
10) J'Onn left in Cube-Trap on Mongul's ship while Superman and Supergirl destroy Warworld.
11) Unconscious Mongul returned to his ship when zeta-beams wear off. Robots took him to nearest world with adequate skill to save Mongul's life, Mars II.
12) J'Onn J'Onzz reclaims telekinesis and telepathy through meditation in the Cube-Trap. Frees himself, and reprograms Mongul's ship.
13) Manhunter makes show of attacking Mongul on Mars II, where he lacks powers, then teleports them both back to the crypt, where he has normal powers.
14) The still weak Mongul uses zeta-beamer to escape and fight another day, eventually targeting Throneworld.

God, my brain hurts, I'm not sure that's how it works, and it's my own damned fault.

Rafa Rivas said...

Nope, I still need the picks. I think I should read this story again and then move on to the rest; including the official stuff.

It's still impressive that you managed to complete 3 stories. I've never gotten past premises or teasers. Of murder mysteries: Egghead is splitting loot with his henchmen. (Something is wrong with his face, he looks more like Kelsey Grammer than Egghead). One of his henchmen's points a gun at Egghead's huge forehead in disagreement about the miserable part he got. Egghead mocks him and ends up with a hole between his eyes. Somebody yells "Cut". We get a broader shot of the scene, revealing that it's a Hollywood set... but there's still a dead body. After the title, in the next scene, as they arrive to the set, Ralph and Sue reveal in their conversation that the incident took place during the filming of "the Elongated Man", a campy, half hour TV show about the mysteries of the ductile detective (a mix between West's Batman and the Dick van Dyke Show) and that the killer didn't know he was holding a real gun.

I think it sounds cool, it even has a Venture Bros. air, which I like; however, I can't get past that. I have to figure who changed the gun, why, how, who can be suspects and their motives, etc. Plust a twist, and some themes. I have all the characters in the dance room, but they just don't dance.

Diabolu Frank said...

You mean like the prop master who turns out to have once been an inventor busted by the Elongated Man for a string of robberies? Or the disgruntled host of the cheesy cartoon show "Johnny Rubber" who hates having competition with actual powers? Or the producer who pre-sold the show to every nation under the sun at a heavy discount, then pocketed the money for himself?

Rafa Rivas said...

Ahh, but you're missing something elemental, my dear Frank. The victim is not Ralph, but the Kelsey Grammer look-alike actor portraying his archenemy (in my fanfic Egghead is going to be his arch). So the prop guy's feud would be against him. Maybe the real Egghead did it himself. Maybe someone wants to incriminate him. Maybe a producer hated the show but couldn't get out. Maybe the actor screwed with a number of people. Or maybe it could be a Columbo of sorts, with Ralph knowing the culprit since the beginning.

Diabolu Frank said...

Exactly. Ralph's investigation turns up all these guys who potentially have an axe to grind with Elongated Man instead of Kelsey Grammer, and can't figure out why they would kill the Egghead actor. Then the prop master turns up dead. The producer hired him specifically to be the fall guy to cover up his arranging the death of Grammer, who was blackmailing him after uncovering the embezzling scheme.

Rafa Rivas said...

So... Ralph would expect the Kelsey guy to be hated and instead he would find out that it's him that Hollywood people hate -- Love it!! hahaha. Finding out that people don't know him is classic Ralph, but finding out that people hate him would be a hoot! Maybe Egghead would go investigte himself to clean his name, so that he can laugh out loud and annoy Ralph after finding out that he's the infamous one in California.

Diabolu Frank said...

Hope that got the juices flowing. I always figured that was the creative part of an editor's job-- bouncing ideas off the wall with a writer to get him excited about the work...