Thursday, March 31, 2011

Manhunter from Mars Annual #12 (1995)

Patrick Starling's mother was the heiress groomed to take over one of the most profitable corporations known to man, with its fingers in as many pies as there are nations. This was how she met Starling's father, who had been a diplomat, but quit to help bulldoze over obstacles in the corporation's various unscrupulous enterprises across the globe. Patrick's brother grew up to become an engineer, and his sister a world-renowned heart surgeon. Both sides of Patrick's family were stocked with exceptional individuals.

Patrick Starling flunked out of the finest schools in the world, and never expressed any interest in becoming anything. His parents tried to teach him the family business, but Patrick simply, passively, refused to take to it. As his siblings became progressively more accomplished, Patrick remained doggedly disappointing. His one abiding passion was birds, as Patrick longed to finally soar free above all the expectations that hovered over him while earthbound. He did become a very capable amateur pilot, but couldn't be bothered to seek professional certification.

Despite all of this, Patrick Starling was used to the finer things and unlimited access, so when he proved unable to earn means of his own, he was at least clever enough to swindle largely and routinely from his family's corporation. Of course, his family was filled with brilliant minds able to untangle his web of deceit and betrayal. While they were putting the finishing pieces of his plot together, they missed the one where he invited his immediate family for a private plane ride, then intentionally crashed. Patrick Starling escaped relatively unharmed, and made sure that the icy, inhospitable crash site would stall search and rescue efforts long enough to see to his family's demise. Part of Patrick's escape from his clan over the years was routine trips to the great outdoors, and he was physically quite sturdy, so it was understandable that he would be the only one found alive. Still, it was a national tragedy.

Starling manipulated evidence to implicate his parents in all wrongdoing against the corporation, and wanting no further obligations, the board was only too happy to help Patrick divest himself of all company holdings. His family's estate was liquidated and divided amongst extended surviving kin. No one was surprised that Starling dropped completely out of sight once everything was resolved, given the terrible circumstances he'd lived through.

Starling enjoyed his freedom and liquid assets for a number of years, but fortunes dwindle and indulgences grow tiresome with repetition. Starling held fast to his fantasy of being as carefree and self-determined as a bird, simply diving out of the sky to scoop up anything they desired from the lowly things below. Patrick developed a second passion-- studying the old time "super villains" of the 1940s. With his remaining funds, Patrick Starling modified an airplane, scouted and stocked several "secret headquarter" caves to work out of, and briefly partook of a crime spree as "The Falcon." For the first time in his life, Patrick Starling was an overwhelming force, able to take whatever he wanted, without regard for the welfare or machinations of others. Unfortunately for him, the same unseen, suffocating force that had hung over Starling like a Sword of Damocles throughout his life brought his adventure to a swift, seemingly inexplicable end.

Patrick Starling was imprisoned, not just for his crimes as the Falcon, but through the renewed investigation into his past embezzlement and implications of fratricide. During his many years at Grayton Prison, droves of brilliant criminals came and went. Starling's innate intelligence made him a natural in conversations with the likes of Alex Dunster, Professor Proxon, Mr. Moth, Mike Miller, Monty Moran, Mr. Mastermind, and Professor Arnold Hugo. It was deduced that based on the strange occurrences during his apprehension and his targeting of Middletown, the Falcon must have been brought low by J'onn J'onzz, the Manhunter from Mars, during the days when he still operated in secret as a crime buster. Trapped in a situation from which there was no escape, Patrick Starling finally put his mind to use in an exceptional pursuit: devising a means by which he could destroy the Martian Manhunter and take flight as the unstoppable bird of prey he wished himself to become. With the idle minds of mad science at his disposal, a suit of armor was designed which could, conceivably, go talon to tentacle with an Alien Atlas.

Acting as his own attorney, Patrick Starling pursued "discovery" that would shed new light on his case. Evidence planted by escaped "friends" from prison incriminated several members of the corporate board in "framing" his family, "engineering" their deaths, and "strong-arming" the mentally unstable Starling out of the company. The media picked up on his riches-to-rags-to-redemption story, and before long, Starling was out of prison with several settled civil suits netting him hundreds of millions of dollars. Starling had a book of his version of events ghost written, including the persecution of the mentally ill by self-appointed "super-heroes," that made the best-seller lists. Finally, Starling had the means and mobility to complete his revenge.

The super armor was put together by various companies based on those prison plans, without any one having knowledge of the whole. Starling decided on the new villainous identity of "The Osprey," as a nod to his past without tipping his hand publicly. In his super suit, Starling trailed J'Onn J'Onzz at various sightings, usually alongside his new team of heroes, the Justice League Task Force. Not happy with those odds, the Osprey lay in wait for the perfect moment to strike at J'Onzz when he was isolated and vulnerable.

The opportunity arrived when the JLTF's headquarters was destroyed by Vandal Savage in retaliation for their involvement in one of his schemes. While J'Onzz left the unit to pursue the immortal villain, his young charges began an investigation of J'Onzz himself, leading them into a distracting conflict with a mysterious figure named Baron Von Mauler. Thus preoccupied, the Osprey shadowed the Martian Manhunter to Greece, far from any other heroes who could lend aid. While the Sleuth from Outer Space operated in his identity as American private investigator John Jones, attracting the attention of counter agents, the Osprey stalked. Finally, with great force and grace but little strategy, the Osprey simply plucked Jones off the ground.

What followed was a fierce battle. Thanks to psychic shielding in his helmet, J'Onzz could not penetrate the mind of his foe. The Osprey's energy wings depolarized the Martian's cells, making it an act of incredible will just to move as a humanoid, much less shape-shift. The warbird's armor afforded him great strength and durability, in the event the Alien Atlas did make contact. Laser Vision reflected right off of it, endangering civilians on the ground, a distraction J'Onzz could ill afford. Trapped in one form, J'Onzz took great bodily punishment from the Osprey's talons. The Martian Marvel thought a change of venue was in order, and forced his foe into the Mediterranean, but the seahawk was fully equipped with an aquatic mode. In a last ditch effort, the Manhunter from Mars went to the other extreme, pushing himself and the Osprey up through the outer reaches of Earth orbit. Starling hadn't bothered to equip flame throwers in his armor, figuring he had the means to create fire and exploit a known Martian weakness if he needed to do so. He had never imagined J'Onzz could tolerate the heat of ripping through the atmosphere at impossible speed, toward the vacuum of space and devastating radiation exposure that would surely kill them both. The Osprey managed to break free from J'Onzz's grip, and the pair plummeted limply back to Earth.

When J'Onn J'Onzz awoke, he was floating off the African coast. It would take a day or so just to return to the United States in his current condition. Using his vision and telepathic powers, the Martian Manhunter was unable to detect a trace of the Osprey.

Patrick Starling sat motionless, blessed to have sunk only to an ocean depth within his armor's tolerance. He wasn't sure how long he could survive trapped in this place, so it was a lucky turn that an automated crane latched onto the armor and hoisted Starling back to the surface. As he dangled in the air, his sensors barely operational, Starling learned that his motion had been tracked from a satellite with great interest since leaving the JLTF's headquarters. Vandal Savage was very curious to know why the Osprey was after the Martian Manhunter, and what he could do to help...

Mark Waid may have left Justice League Task Force abruptly in the hands of Christopher Priest after a brief stint in 1994, but he made sure to return to a dangling plot thread with this annual in the summer of '95. Artist Sal Velluto had been with the JLTF since their beginning, but also used the "Year One" tale of his co-creation the Osprey as a swan song. It's a shame Priest never brought the villain back into his series, but as with his Vandal Savage subplots there and on The Ray, I suppose unheralded cancellation wrecks the best laid plans.


mathematicscore said...

LOVE the "Osprey is the Falcon" twist. Great stuff as always.

Diabolu Frank said...

After sixteen years of foreshadowing, I figured there needed to be some kind of serious reaching back to pay the character off. It doesn't hurt to turn the first proper "super-villain" in the strip into a viable player that makes thematic sense, either.