Wednesday, March 24, 2010

2010 The Martian Manhunter Archives Volume 6 Table of Contents by Tom Hartley

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I would have been all over the previous volumes of The Martian Manhunter Archives for the recolored, remastered artwork on glossy stock. However, I have access to all those old stories, and if you just want to read them, one of the two inexpensive Showcase Presents volumes should scratch the itch. What makes the late addition of a sixth fantasy volume extra special is that the stories proposed to be contained within, as a whole, will likely never be reprinted. To sway talent away from Marvel in the '70s & '80s, DC offered contracts with generous royalties to creators that DC's current management feels eat too much into the profitability of today's collected editions. That's why you will never see the once announced Showcase Presents Who's Who in the DC Universe, and editions like Showcase Presents Suicide Squad only make it to press after contracts are renegotiated to claw back some of those royalties. That translates into no Showcase Presents Martian Manhunter Volume 3, ever, and dim prospects for a color trade paperback this random.

On the other hand, many of these stories will find their way into Showcase Presents Justice League of America and Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents volumes, if they haven't already, and you may find yourself pleased that their impact is diluted by other company. You see, the theoretical Volume 6 contains stories with swell artwork that were significant to the development of the modern Martian Manhunter, but that doesn't make them particularly well written or enjoyable.

1969's Justice League of America #71 featured some of Dick Dillin's best art under epic embellisher Sid Greene, but Denny O'Neil's "...And So My World Ends!" took the scorched Mars route with regard to the Manhunter's people and continuity. All parties but Greene returned three years later for World's Finest Comics #212, in which a weak and gullible J'onn J'onzz was sidelined by Superman from the story of his people's survival, "...And So My World Begins!" It took another three years for the same writer/penciller team to check back with J'Onn, in a throwaway JLofA story in which the Manhunter barely contributes after the set-up. It only took two years for O'Neil to revisit the Manhunter from Mars, and this time J'onzz was unquestionably the star, but of an especially terrible back-up strip. While O'Neil portrayed Manhunter once again as gullible and incompetent (with the added insult of making him irrationally violent,) it took an exceptional artist to save the day.

Mike Nasser designed a new "Manhunter from Mars" logo to go with his debut on the strip in Adventure Comics #449's "Mission: Catch A Killer". Nasser chose to render the character in a manner similar to his earliest appearances, including the very prominent beetle-brow that became his trademark. While the look was twenty years retro, the artist's style was dynamic, complex and decidedly modern. Supergirl may have guest-starred in the following issue's "Return To Destiny", and Hawkman in "The Suspects",  but it was really the draw of Nasser's pages that reignited interest in the largely forgotten Martian Manhunter. Superman and Batman headlined the story's resolution, "Today Mars, Tomorrow... The Universe". Never averse to shooting progress in the foot, this final tale took place in a separate DC title, with an entirely different creative team of old pros. Although writer Bob Haney did his best with the stinker he'd inherited, and Curt Swan's staid art was bolstered by Murphy Anderson's lush inks, the conclusion felt like a throwback after Nasser's intricately delineated offerings. Absent Nasser, further solo development died with cutbacks to DC's line. However, Steve Englehart did join frequent O'Neil collaborator Dick Dillin the same month as the "mini-series" concluded for the greatest Martian Manhunter story to hardly feature J'onn J'onzz, Justice League of America #144's "The Origin of the Justice League-- Minus One!".

These archives are Tom's show, but we've had some discussions in the past about which books should make the cut in his collections. Unsurprisingly, I fought a losing battle in favor of reprinting Arnold Hugo's first appearance in a previous volume, and I really should have argued to get Mr. V's Justice League of America guest appearance in another. However, our debates have never been so contentious as the 1980s reprints in this volume.

After yet another three years and into a new decade, the Manhunter from Mars reappeared in a couple of issues of Justice League of America, in what amounted to a glorified cameo. At least this was an early head-to-head with Despero, and Jim Starlin's rendering of the despot on a cover provides the illustration on this page. Starlin also used the Manhunter  in the first part of a three chapter epic, "The Key That Unlocked Chaos!", in DC Comics Presents #27. These tales served to remind readers that J'onn J'onzz was still around, and Gerry Conway even played with him in a League anniversary issue not collected here, but the real meat was to be found in the trilogy that closes this edition. The Martian Manhunter returned to Earth and relevance with a vengeance in 1984, in Justice League of America #228's "War-- of the World?" The surviving Martians had decided to invade Earth, and the Manhunter was forced to choose sides. Although marred by inconsistent art, the final two chapters revisited old foes, introduced new ones, and led to the restoration of J'Onzz's League membership. The Martian Manhunter would serve in defense of the Earth for the next twenty-four years, appear in two titular mini-series, a special, and three years of a solo series. The groundwork for all of that began here, in this collection of disparate tales from the Bronze Age.

For individual page listings from this Table of Contents, download the PDF here.


LissBirds said...

"That translates into no Showcase Presents Martian Manhunter Volume 3, ever, and dim prospects for a color trade paperback this random."

It's this behind-the-scenes kind of stuff that irks me for a variety of reasons. Without knowing the reasons why issues will never be collected, I always assume it's because the stories weren't profitable or appealing enough...I never think to look at the business end of things. I hadn't thought to consider it was a more mundane reason. And in addition to that, those gaps in reprints deprive comic newbies and casual comic fans who buy only trades and not single issues from fine stories. Grrr.

Tom said...

If there should be a Martian Manhunter renaissance, led by a resurrection and followed by a successful solo series -- hey, it could happen! -- a JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA: WAR OF THE WORLDS color trade would be a possibility. At the standard 192 pages, it could reprint the best two-thirds of my imaginary Archives volume:

JLA #71 (23 pgs)
World's Finest #212 (22 pgs)
Adventure #449-451 (18 pgs)
World's Finest #245 (20 pgs)
JLA #144 (33 pgs)
JLA #228-230 (69 pgs)
Total: 185 pages

(Since covers are considered optional in DC's color trades, the page-counts are only for story pages.)

As for my Archives Vol. 6 story choices, since the book covers a period when Martian Manhunter appearances were rare, I erred on the side of inclusiveness. A notable exception to this rule was JLA #200. At 72-pages, the story would take up too much space. MM's only significant contribution is a 6-page fight with Firestorm which I didn't think should be reprinted out of context.

Anj said...

Be happy there are 6 volumes! Supergirl only has 2.

The Starling DC Comics presents also is the first appearance of Mongul and is part of a 3 part story ending with Superman actually confronting the Specter in Heaven.

BTW, unbelievably great stuff here onver the last couple of weeks! Can't miss reading!