Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Manhunter from Mars Annual #2 (1985)
Freddie Freeman’s crutch gave out from under him, and he landed chin first on the sidewalk with a sickening snap. Freddie was completely paralyzed-- unable to move, or even breathe.
Young Mary Bromfield sensed something was amiss in her home, and tried to speak one magical word, but an intense pain in her stomach, chest and throat silenced her.
At the radio news station at which he worked, kid reporter Billy Batson heard reports of heroes like Crime Smasher, Mr. Scarlet and Bulletman falling victim to strange new villains: a woman with cybernetic armor... a dark garbed energy projector… even a red-headed Nazi! Exiting the building for a back alleyway, Billy found Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. lying in the gutter, seemingly lifeless. Billy attempted to call on the mystical enhancement bestowed upon him by the wizard Shazam, but pain wracked his small frame. Struggling through his agony, Billy cried, “Shazam!” In a flash of power… nothing happened. Billy again shouted, and in a flash, he felt more pain than ever. However, his brush with the wisdom of Solomon allowed him to deduce that his calls were not completely without effect. Another shout to Shazam brought with it the nigh invulnerability of Achilles, and as the pain subsided, Captain Marvel became aware of the presence of two villains from Earth-1 nearby: Phobia and Houngan of the Brotherhood of Evil. With the speed of Mercury, the Big Red Cheese crossed the hundred yard distance to his tormentors, but not before he could be intercepted by… Mary Marvel? “Shazam,” called the super-heroine, and a bolt of lightning rendered both champions children. A blast of energy from the third eye of Despero sent the children to involuntary napping, just as it had previously commanded Mary Marvel to do his foul bidding. Her death, as Freddy Freeman's, had been but a fearful illusion.
In their arctic headquarters, the miscreants of multiple Earths gathered, having consolidated their power to capture the heroes of Earth-S. Local criminal mastermind Dr. Sivana was pleased to see his constant foes finally at his mercy, but the party was soon broken up by the Martian Manhunter, the Atom, and Platinum of the Metal Men. These titans from Earth-1 freed the resident defenders and all together put down the various super-crooks. That night, Despero stewed in a cell, awaiting judgment as his heroic captors dealt with a cosmic crisis.
John Jones awoke in his quarters at the Bunker, home to Detroit's own Justice League. No more, as it would turn out, for an armored Dale Gunn had been given orders to escort Jones and any other Leaguers present off the property. The last thing Jones remembered was joining in a battle against the Anti-Monitor, and while this turn was foreseeable given recent troubles, this was not a place John expected to be. Jones called several other Leaguers, and learned they faced similar disorientation. Further, no one could recall what had become of the captive criminals on Earth-S. In fact, no one save Zatanna could recall that there had ever been an Earth-S, and certainly not a multiverse of Earths. Jones was especially concerned about the fate of his long time foe, Despero. Could he have wiped everyone's memories to cover his trail?
Martian Manhunter flew to his secret mountain headquarters to access the robot brain which enabled him to transverse incredible interplanetary distances. It proved a bit too secret, as J’Onzz himself couldn’t find a trace of it. He was already aware that the transmitter machine that once allowed passage between Earths had been wrecked by Red Tornado, along with the rest of the League Satellite. Finally, the Sleuth from Outer Space made his way to the original earthbound headquarters of the Justice League of America. Although it was in disrepair, J’Onzz was able to reach Saranna on the planet Kalanor via the League computer. Saranna was still unhappy to hear from the Manhunter, but on learning that Despero had gone missing, immediately prepared to make the trip to Earth in her dimensional traveler.
In the meantime, J’Onzz considered where the despot would most likely have gone to ground, and ran a computer search for any reports of his reappearance. Negative results led J’Onzz to conclude Despero had returned to Sirkus, his last known base of operations. The villain had previously tried to conquer the planet, had sought refuge there after Jasonar's death, and had betrayed their redemptive faith to again attack J'Onn J'Onzz and the Justice League.
Saranna arrived, and wasn’t made any happier to find the pair would return to the planet where she learned the truth about her father’s death. Still, they proceeded directly to Sirkus, landing upon one of the watery planet’s many platform cities. Without readily apparent activity, J’Onzz and Saranna decided to proceed with discretion, and eventually located citizens of Sirkus-- laboring with Starros on their faces. The Manhunter from Mars found Saranna a hiding place, then chose to investigate further by shapeshifting into the guise of a possessed citizen. However, on approaching a group of Starro-controlled natives, the crowd promptly turned to stare at the intruder with their singular adopted alien eyes.
Martian Manhunter turned invisible, and returned to see Saranna off world before continuing. Jasonar’s daughter was where J’Onzz had left her, waiting with a Starro on her face. The Martian Marvel again vanished in place, but “Saranna” explained that he could not hide from the telepathy broadcast amongst the Starros by Despero. The despot had woken up back on Sirkus, as though the Crisis on Infinite Earths had never happened. Seizing the opportunity, Despero used the planet’s Travel-Beam to capture Starro, and conquer the conqueror using a process he had been developing while serving time on Sirkus. Despero used the Starros to wrest control of the entire population, and could channel his abilities through the drones.
The Manhunter took flight, but was repeatedly struck by eyebeams on his way off the platform, Worse still, Martian Vision detected Flamebirds approaching in the distance to exploit his weakness to fire. The Manhunter plunged off a platform into the waters below, where Starro-manned Eel-Creatures continued the ocular assault. Surrounded, a swarm of detached Starros approached J’Onn J’Onzz with the intention of taking command of his incredible body. However, they passed immaterially through his form, as the weakened but untouchable Martian drifted further into the depths.
As Flamebirds surveyed from the sky, citizens patrolled the surface on platforms or jetboats, and Eel-Creatures searched the seas, Martian Manhunter was forced to evade an entire planet. Soon, vibrations were detected in the deep, and Eel-Creatures investigated. The Martian Marvel could barely be seen underwater, pounding at a rocky formation. As the Starros approached, they froze and went into seizures. J’Onn J’Onzz was polluting the waters with calcium oxide, naturally occurring on this world, and poisonous to the manipulative creatures. Soon, the Alien Atlas lifted up a great deposit of the substance out of the sea, and as Flamebirds dove to attack, they were greeted by mighty Martian Breath filling the skies with lime. His body covered in the immunizing compound, the Manhunter from Mars wielded his telepathy to track the Starros back to their source. Soon, Martian muscles coated in contaminant pounded the primary Starro into submission.
Once the Alien Atlas had quelled one threat, another arose, as Despero blasted the platform with his remodeled super-ship. This time, it was Manhunter’s turn to launch a ranged attack, zapping the super-ship’s weapons systems with Laser Vision. Despero targeted the Martian Manhunter in a kamikaze dive bomb, directing his entire craft toward destroying his foe. As J’Onzz vanished in the craft's wake, a laser beam struck the super-ship, and the sky filled with flames and debris. Despero cheered from the seat of the Cosmic Cannon, having remotely controlled the super-ship to lure Martian Manhunter into a trap!
"Curse you Despero," Governor Kwim broadcast into Despero's mind. "You nearly killed Director Ergon during your escape, and you should have known better than to return to a planet of telepaths!" Kwim, Ergon, and other Sirkians were armed with psychic augmenters, having familiarized themselves with Despero during his last extended stay on their world. The Sirkian defenders managed to cause the despot some pain, but they proved a momentary distraction, as Despero mowed them down with the power of his third eye. Despero cheered himself in final victory!
"Don't you ever grow tired of this game," queried Martian Manhunter, directly within Despero's mind. "The suffering you cause, just to gratify your slithering ego? Someone will always rise up to stop you, and because you're nothing but a slimy cheat, you'll always lose." The grim form of the Manhunter from Mars materialized within the room. Despero learned that Director Ergon had made telepathic contact with J'Onn J'Onzz as soon as she was released from Starro, and knowing his ultimate weapon would be the Cosmic Cannon, the pair plotted out a trap all their own. Ergon had discretely followed Despero's thoughts, and instructed the Manhunter on when to turn invisible before the villain could ever fire on the super-ship. Despero protested that it would be child's play to simply take control of the Manhunter's mind, but with the Alien Atlas consciously resisting, he could do no such thing. In the end, it came down to the simultaneous release of Despero's third eye and Martian Vision, with the Manhunter proving the more resilient combatant.
Despero, his power electronically neutralized, was surrounded by his many victims. From Saranna to the Sirkians to the Manhunter himself, there was no more compassion, only steely resolve. Despero was deposited back on the prison planet of Takron-Galtos, and there would be no more Brainiacs to teleport him to freedom. Once and for all, the Manhunter from Mars had proven himself against Despero, and the despot could spend the rest of his imprisoned life considering his failings. In his dank cell, Despero thought that he would be willing to suffer anything to prove his innate superiority, if given the chance...
Dan Jurgens broke into comics as the artist on The Warlord in 1982, but like most talents in the industry, he hoped for full creative control someday. Editor Len Wein brought Jurgens on board for a couple of fill-in issues on some Batman titles, which impressed everyone. Jurgens had also had the chance to chat with that book's writer, Gerry Conway, and the subject of Jurgens' scripting ambitions came up. Conway knew that Wein was out of inventory material for Manhunter from Mars, and at his suggestion, Jurgens pitched Wein. Len Wein was receptive, and commissioned a two part story from Jurgens, on the stipulation that Jurgens would draw his own plot, and that if the script proved unsatisfactory, Conway would doctor it. All parties agreed, and Jurgens began work after a brief wait to finish the 1984 Warlord annual. Jurgens turned in his two 17 page lead features, Len Wein was fine with the script as it was, and filed the material in his inventory cabinet.
Incoming editor Andy Helfer inherited the material, and decided to repurpose it as an annual. However, there was a good deal of pressure on editorial to brand their books with the Crisis on Infinite Earths banner to boost sales, so a means would be found to have the year old Jurgens material take advantage of the zeitgeist. By that point, Jurgens was still drawing Warlord, as well as the Sun Devils mini-series for Gerry Conway. Conway fell behind on scripting the book, and after a fill-in by Paul Kupperberg, he agreed to allow penciller Dan Jurgens his first published writing credit. Jurgens supplied dialogue on two issues, and took over the plotting for the final three. In addition, Jurgens was taking on Legion of Super-Heroes and various cover work, leaving him very little time to revisit his old fill-in story. Helfer took elements from the script for Crisis on Infinite Earths #10, plotted out connective material to the Jurgens work, and asked Jurgens to provide layouts and, if possible, a script for the 14 page difference. Meanwhile, Helfer assigned Manhunter from Mars series inker Bruce Patterson to heavily embellish the original pencils, so that Patterson's style would lend consistency to the new pages, whoever happened to draw them. Jurgens was accommodating, and although the 1985 Manhunter from Mars annual was the last one out of the gate for that year, it looked and read like it was intended to tie into the big company crossover the whole time.