Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Martian Manhunter

I got the notion this weekend to read all the Martian Manhunter stories in Detective, starting with #225, the comic some feel marks the beginning of the Silver Age. J'onn J'onzz, the Manhunter from Mars first appeared there in the story, "The Strange Experiment of Doctor Erdel!"

Doctor Erdel had been fooling with a "robot brain" (i.e., computer) and had somehow plucked a Martian from the Red planet and deposited him on earth. When the Martian demands to be sent back, the doctor explains that his machine is one way only and that it will take him time to make a sending machine. Then Erdel conveniently drops dead of a heart attack to settle matters.

J'onzz, who mercifully converts to human form and calls himself John Jones scopes out the situation on Earth. The next few panels are full of the perhaps excessive and certainly amusing belief in science that was to typify DC comics for the entire Silver Age.

Looking at a skyscraper, Jones observes: "Unlike on Mars, so many of the denizens here live in a small area that they build their structures into the skies." In Paris, he notes the "Arch of Triumph" and denounces it as, "A monument to victory in war. Mars saw its last war a thousand years ago." "Look at their 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 later comes this bizarre, scientofascistic comment:

It would be nice to say that future stories developed the Great Evolution concept, but in fact this was the sole mention during the long run (102 issues). And many future stories cast doubt on the notion of crime having been eradicated on Mars.

The writing and coloring were pretty haphazard in the first few stories. Although J'onzz's costume was colored in #225 pretty much standard for the character, with red belt and straps, blue cape and boots and black (not blue as later) trunks.

Regardless, the next few issues show some carelessness. In #226 he is shown in the first panel in his costume looking up at Mars in the night sky, wearing a completely green uniform. In #227 his trunks are white (indeed, they look like Fruit of the Loom). Dr Erdel in #225 becomes Dr Urdle in #228. In #232, a dog which saves the Martian Manhunter is introduced. "Jupiter" becomes his pet, and Jones remarks, "We're going to be real pals for a long time." Except that is the last time Jupiter appears.

And apparently there was a Minor Devolution following the Great Evolution, for Martian criminals popped up fairly often: in #231, #236, #273 and others.

Early on, the tendency was to expand the MM's powers to meet each new situation (more on this later). He seemed to have a lot of powers involving his eyes: X-Ray Vision, Telescopic Vision, Space Lightning Vision, Microscopic Vision, and even "Martian Angle" (See-Around-The-Corner) Vision, although I don't quite understand why somebody with X-Ray Vision would need that.

The comic was also extremely repetitious. The Martian Manhunter's principal weakness is fire. In almost every story Jones cringes as somebody lights a cigarette, pipe or cigar. I couldn't help thinking that he would have a much easier time of it in today's virtually smoking-free environment. Another area with repetition was in the use of his powers. For some reason, J'onnz like to race people by burrowing through the ground underneath them--he did this in #260, #274, #278 and elsewhere.

To Be Continued!

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