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Can J’onn J’onzz redeem himself? – House of Mystery #159

July 6, 2013

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Of all the great characters in Justice League lineup, the one who got the most humiliating treatment during the Silver Age was J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter. Over the years he became one of the most dignified characters in the DC Universe, but back then he took the plot pipe even worse than Aquaman. Not only did he wind up playing constant House of Mystery second fiddle to the infuriating Dial H for Hero adventures of the sockamagee!-spouting Robby Reed. Oh no. He was also saddled with the most embarrassing sidekick in recorded history: Zook. Words fail to capture the full extent of Zook’s small, nude, baby-talking awfulness, and what made him worse was that he more often than not the one bailing poor J’onn out of an overwhelming scrape. J’onn getting turned into a Martian sock puppet by a giant-headed clown? Check! J’onn getting his body switched with that of an average thug and then pummeled? Check!

As if it wasn’t bad enough already that when Mr. J’onzz went to the superhero haberdasher he was blighted with the “Fruit Loops Chippendale” ensemble, you know?  

The good news is that today’s issue of House of Mystery, #159, is mercifully Zook-free in its Manhunter half. (It feels a lot like when your best friend is dating someone you absolutely despise, and for once that loathsome significant other doesn’t tag along on a night out. FREE AT LAST.) But it remains to be seen whether poor J’onn can function on his own, and not get his green ass handed to him from start to finish. And yes, once again the cover makes no mention of the fact that J’onn is part of the doings inside. Not exactly off on the right foot, granted.

Before that, a word about Robby, the front-man star of this House of Mystery era. Or more specifically, one of the Dial-born personas he takes on in his story: the Mighty Moppet. Yes, a baby superhero. With baby bottles strapped to his belt. No, folks, the cover isn’t some bait-and-switch — Mighty Moppet actually appears (Script: Dave Wood, Art: Jim Mooney):

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FYI, the baby bottles do come into play, as sort of his ray gun thingies. I don’t recall if they shoot milk or what. I’d rather not go back and check, if you don’t mind.

On to J’onn.

The story is scripted by Jack Miller, with art by Joe Certa. (I was tempted to list Certa’s somewhat crude art as one of the boat anchors that dragged the Silver Age J’onn down, but I’ve actually come to like it in a way. It kind of has the quality of chainsaw sculpture – transfixingly odd.) His foe in this issue, the great test against whom he’ll be judged in this Remedial Superhero Effectiveness 101 exam, is a detachment of aliens from Pluto. They’re profoundly ugly in a rough-hewn, woodcut sort of way. They sort of look like a cross between Satan and the evil magician from Frosty the Snowman:

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There might be a dash of the Overlords from Childhood’s End in there as well. (And some Anti-Semitism.)

Hey, whaddya know, they’re actually called Devil Men, as we learn when J’onn spots them on TV and becomes the Martian Plutoniandevilmenhunter:

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In typical villain fashion, they explain in toto their presence on Earth: to recover a device/treasure that one of their fellows hid on Earth — a fellow that they betrayed and killed because, well, they’re Devil Men. AND THEY CARE NOTHING FOR THE HUMANS THAT WILL GET IN THEIR WAY. With his previous experience with their kind, J’onn knows he’ll have to intervene to put an end to their evil. So this is his big moment, right? No Zook around, a chance to prove his mettle against wispy pink confirmed bachelor looking dudes. Right? WRONG:

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You’re not off to a good start here, J’onzz.

To his credit, J’onn manages to recover, and when the Devil Men go underground, he goes after them with a trick he must have copied from Dig Dug:

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He catches two of the Devil Men (good), but one gets away (bad). And when he goes after the fugitive, he commits what appears to be one of his most carelessly stupid blunders yet:

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But — HA HA – it’s all part of his plan. J’onn knows that the two freed Devil Men will lead him right to the third. Which they do. The third is assembling a robot(?) which will finally point them to the location of the hidden loot(?). And this is where J’onn finally apprehends them all, right?

Actually, he gets overwhelmed again by the fire weapon and lets them all die by omission:

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POOF indeed.

What grade to we give our poor, beleaguered Martian Manhunter here? Probably, at best, a gentleman’s C. He was bested just as much as he bested, and he really did nothing to save the lives of his opponents (though they, to be fair, were ugly and loathsome). And the hidden loot will probably be uncovered by some unsuspecting kids and kill/maim them like a long-buried land mine. But he didn’t need Zook! Baby steps! Have a Hydrox, J’onn. Not an Oreo this time, just a Hydrox, but a sandwich cookie nonetheless.

If you’re curious to see just how bad J’onn took the story pipe back in his Silver Age days, much of his oeuvre from that time period, including this story, has been collected in a black and white Showcase Presents tome. Buy it and read it — if you dare. (Rated Z for Zook’s nude behind.)

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