Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Detective Comics #225 (November, 1955)

"You've seen all sorts of detectives in action-- F.B.I. agents, private eyes, treasury men. But here-- for the first time anywhere-- is the most unusual of them all... a sleuth 'from out of this world!' Yes-- straight from Mars comes a man who patrols the streets of Earth on a quest to wage war against crime..."
One night in his observatory-lab, the world-famous scientist Professor Mark Erdel completed his greatest invention. "I've built the robot brain of the century! With this invention, I can explore the cosmos-- probe other dimensions! Now-- to test it!" Erdel wasn't sure into what depths of space, time or reality his probe would reach, so it was a stroke of luck that it merely plucked an alien being from the next planet over in the solar system, rather than call Cthulu or some such. The scantily clad towering green male who had been teleported to the lab declared "I read your mind well, Earthman-- and I understand your every thought and word!" While happy that the doctor's invention worked, being a scientist himself on his own world, J'onn J'onzz was in a bit of a rush to return home.

"I am sorry! To do that, I must change the thinking plot of the brain!" Since accurately recalibrating the machine could take some time, weeks or even years, J'onzz decided to shapeshift through his "chameleon-like powers" into a human form. “You meant no harm, I realize that! But I must adapt myself to this planet until I can return to mine-- so that my appearance won’t frighten others! This is easily done!” It was all too much for Dr. Erdel's weak heart. On his deathbed, J'onzz was still promising a curative Xymo serum in exchange for a return trip, but it was no use. “I am really sorry, J’onn J’onzz! I am dying... and I am the only man on Earth who can operate the robot brain! I--I have made a prisoner of you here on Earth... Farewell... Forgive me...”

“The Earth scientist is dead! Truly, as he said, I am a prisoner here on Earth... Millions of miles away--my people are working on project 'Star-Ride'...a rocket ship that will carry them to other worlds! Until that day-- the day they reach Earth-- I am bound to stay here, disguised as an Earthman. How many years will it take-- How many centuries? Until that day-- the day of my release from Earth-- I am doomed to be just another Earthman! But meanwhile, I shall explore my new planet home...” The first stop was a visit to the seashore, to deal with the curse of humanity. “GOLD-- the greatest bartering material on Earth! By my concentration of mind over matter, I am able to extract the gold particles from Earthian seas, thus! This should suffice for now!”

J'Onzz decided to make the best of his stranded status by taking in the sights in a literal globe-trotting exploratory trip on foot. In France, he commented at the Arch of Triumph, “Mars saw it's last war a thousand years ago!") His observations continued on skyscrapers (“Unlike on Mars, so many of the denizens here live in a small area that they build their structures into the skies;”) cars ("...ancient-wheeled vehicles! Hundreds of them, crawling along the same streets where people walk! In another century or two, this will all be changed;”); and most importantly, crime: "Earth is far behind Mars in many ways--but that is natural, since it's a younger planet! But this evil they have--called crime... Mars once had crime--centuries ago! Until the Great Evolution, we had wicked men who preyed on the good. But our enlightened science made all crime obsolete! There seems to be much crime here-- so perhaps, while I am stranded on Earth, I can help the Earthians by fighting this crime! Yes--I think I shall do that!"

J'onn J'onzz became John Jones: Police Detective by just walking into a precinct house, and as an afterthought, the lighting of a desk attendant’s cigarette introduced the final key element that defined the Silver Age Manhunter. “FIRE! The enemy of all Martians! I can do many things that Earthmen can’t do--- but I am vulnerable to FLAME! It is my one weakness!” Much later, John Jones was introduced to his superior officer, Lt. Saunders, at the office of the Chief of Detectives. Lighting another cigarette, Saunders affirmed, " All right, Mr. John Jones--- you’re qualified to become a detective! You’ll be on the force tomorrow!” In his private thoughts, Saunders considered, "I've got a very interesting case for him to go on right away! I'm wondering just how this rookie will make out?" Fairly well, I'd say.

"The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel" was written by Joe Samachson and drawn by Joe Certa. This first story established J'onzz's telepathy, invisibility and intangibility powers, as well as his aversion to fire. His annoying bristling at cigarette smoke was present, but at least he became a cop through semi-proper channels. Post-Crisis, he just used telepathy to cash in on the popular "memory implant” meme. It's worth noting that the costumed alien J'onn J'onzz only appeared in six panels, while the rest of the book was filled with a scientist and an introspective rookie policeman. This was clearly no super-hero story, but the start of a series of science fiction tales that were married to crime stories beginning with the next installment...


LissBirds said...

Nice to see the origin story popping up here.

J'onn's such a product of the 50's...sometimes it's nice to see the source material every now and then.

Diabolu Frank said...

I covered this story in some of my earliest posts, but it was strung out over two parts with an excessive amount of editorial material. I decided to streamline it (added details, additional art, etcetera) and then scan some of the original reference articles to form separate posts. A related Mark Waid essay should go up on Friday or early next week.

LissBirds said...

I think it's a great idea to revisit the origin story--especially if it makes more fans aware of it. I was just debating whether I should re-read Showcase Presents recently and now I feel more inclined to give it a go. I had already forgotten about the telepathy being in the first story and the bit about the gold. (Never dawned on me before, but I wonder if Walter Tevis was inspired by this story when he wrote The Man Who Fell to Earth, which also has a stranded alien selling gold to humans in the first few pages, too.)

I'm out of the loop, but is the Silver Age getting a bit more popular these days? Isn't Batman going all retro-chic with a digital comic set in the 60's? Wouldn't it be great if DC could extend that idea out to other heroes? If Bruce Wayne can rock 60's grooviness, J'onn J'onzz can be a little 50's noirish. I think DC could really capitalize on creating some period pieces for quite a few characters.

Diabolu Frank said...

DC Comics has no interest in diversifying their super-hero comics. They want Mortal Kombat in capes 24/7. The only reason Batman '66 exists is because Warner Brothers finally untangle some of the long knotted TV show rights and told DC "go do this." I hate to be so negative, but I'm not even going to start down a road to hope again. Personally, I think Geoff Johns is saving Martian Manhunter for himself sometime down the road, after he's got all of his Justice League business wrapped up. That would explain why J'Onn J'Onzz has remained on the shelf so long, and if that's correct, trust that we'll get a dark, violent, Se7en with aliens.

will_in_chicago said...

Frank, thanks for sharing this. I am not sure where DC is heading, but I would hope that J'Onn will be around and not abused in the DCnU.