Monday, April 1, 2013

The Manhunter From Mars #105 (Sept.-Oct. 1969)

Outgoing House of Mystery editor George Kashdan had been hammering out projected talent and schedules for the launch issues of the spin-off John Jones: Manhunter From Mars book without the strip's departing longtime creative team of Jack Miller and Joe Certa when he himself left National. The book had been intended to come out with a May cover date, but the editorial reshuffling pushed it back four months and into the lap of Dick Giordano, who was nonetheless held accountable for correcting the snafu with all haste. A fresh new direction was hammered out with fellow Charlton Comics alumni Dennis O' Neil, but Denny was already struggling with Justice League of America scripts, and couldn't commit to another ongoing series so far outside his comfort zone as a writer. Jim Aparo was a candidate on art, but Giordano prioritized his need for a new illustrator on Aquaman. Four earthbound, uninspired fill-in issues followed before the series's true launch with #105. During this period, Mike Sekowsky introduced Giordano to Len Brown, who had mostly left comics after a brief dalliance when he helped establish the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, but was convinced to give the medium one more go. Golden Age veteran John Giunta, also late of Tower Comics, was offered the Manhunter art reins after drawing a short story for Giordano in Strange Adventures (which appeared a month later in #215.)

After John Jones was first announced, the new generation of older, hipper, and better informed readers began writing in with suggestions. The Manhunter From Mars strip had never been very attached to its own continuity, but suddenly requests were coming in for reappearances of characters, especially villains, from the old stories. May of 1969's Justice League of America #71 served as a stealth promotion for the new direction, seeing J'onn J'onzz into outer space adventures while searching for his fellow survivors of the destruction of Mars. The Manhunter's reputation preceded him to the stars, and the threat of a revered super-hero nosing around innumerable worlds did not sit well with the interstellar criminal underground. Possibly inspired by the recent short-lived Secret Six series by E. Nelson Bridwell and Frank Springer, a team of agents were gathered together by a mysterious benefactor for a mission-- to kill J'onn J'onzz before he could bring justice to the spaceways!

The agents were chosen based on their each having previous, ill-fortuned experiences with J'onn J'onzz that would enable them to topple him as a group when they could not as individuals. Further, the agents represented one world each, and to preserve their anonymity in the event that the Justice League or other avengers looked into the assassination, the agents were identified amongst one another only by their planet of origin.

The Mercurian, The Martian, The Jovian, The Saturnian, and The Plutonian ambushed J'onn J'onzz outside his spacecraft, and appeared to disintegrate him with brutal efficiency. As it turned out, the Manhunter had anticipated the plot against him after his discovery that Earth's international criminal organization Vulture's scope was much grander than previously believed. Extending throughout the solar system from its current base on Earth, the Manhunter had realized Faceless had outlived Marco Xavier, assuming he was ever truly Mister V in the first place. A prior attack had led to his silly disguise in Justice League of America #71, and he predicted others once he left the protection of Earth. The Alien Atlas stealthily tracked and captured each of the five main "Cosmic Criminals" for his attempted murder, but Faceless remained on Earth to mastermind more schemes.

Reader response was positive, though there was some nitpicking over the Vulture retcon and Faceless not being "The Earthling." Most seemed to like the Martian Manhunter getting to take elements of his rogues gallery with him after departing Earth, and variations on the "Cosmic Criminals" persisted, though not typically under that name. One pedantic fan letter pointed out that the creators had missed out on the opportunity to use a Venusian of the type seen in Detective Comics #278, despite their having been proven fake by story's end. Regardless, this inspired demand to represent every known planet. The gang's ranks inevitably swelled to include all of the (then) nine planets and the sun itself to form what we now know as the Solar Syndicate, Martian Manhunter's outsized equivalent to the Sinister Six.
Script: Len Brown
Art: John Giunta
Price: $0.15 USD
Pages: 36
Indicia frequency: bi-monthly
Indicia Publisher: National Periodical Publications, Inc.
Brand: Superman DC National Comics
Editing: Dick Giordano


will_in_chicago said...

Very good one!! I wish that there was someway to actually get this. Now, if I had a dimensional portal....

LissBirds said...

I love it when an editorial team listens to its fans....! Now that's a stretch!!