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It’s been a while since we’ve wallowed in a terrible J’onn J’onzz story. ENJOY. – House of Mystery #172

July 30, 2012

J’onn J’onzz, the suspendered Martian Manhunter of the DC Comics hero pantheon, is a character with great inherent dignity. Because of his alien status and his otherworldly natural appearance, he’s stood from his earliest interactions with his peers somewhat aloof from those (mostly) native champions of his adopted world. Always somewhat taciturn, ever the quiet conscience of any assemblage of which he’s a part, he’s earned his place among the greats without flash and sizzle, and in spite of a hyper-goofy costume that would make a Chippendale dancer proud.

Most of us like J’onn. He might not be the life of the party, but he seems like a nice guy. You’d like to have him as a neighbor.

But his hasn’t been a charmed existence. He’s come to this place in the world the hard way. Because, make no mistake, J’onn J’onzz wandered through some unspeakably awful storytelling in his early days, and has been embarrassed on multiple occasions within the confines of his own book. He’s been bested by huge-headed clowns, which, by the comic book logical rules, makes him lower than clowns on any hierarchy. He’s had to take a backseat to the most annoying superhero alter-ego in all of comicdom, a dorky kid (the bespectacled Robby Reed) who spares no opportunity to bleat out the nonsensical “SOCKAMAGEE!”

And then there’s Zook. Oh yes, Zook. The little orange nude guy with antennae and poor grammar. J’onn J’onzz’s comrade in arms. Robin. Kid Flash. Aqualad. ZOOK. J’onn drew the sidekick short straw that day, that’s for damn sure.

J’onn’s pain and suffering is front and center in this random House of Mystery sampling. Before you start to hope that Zook is absent from this issue’s Manhunter story (Script: Jack Miller, Art: Joe Certa), perhaps vacationing wherever it is that Zook’s go to vacation (a nude beach?), know that he’s in this too. While not omnipresent, he plays a crucial (sigh) role in the outcome of poor J’onn’s tribulations. But even J’onn, who has the patience of Job, seems to have grown tired of him by this point:

That’s a superhero version of the “I have to get up early tomorrow” bad date escape hatch.

Boy, is the snakebit Martian Manhunter ever raked over the coals in this one. J’onn tracks his arch-foe quarry, Faceless, to a mountain hideout, and there confronts Ivor Sandez, one of his beefy goons. THIS DOES NOT GO WELL:

Faux-J’onn goes on a rampage of douchebaggery, presaging the dickish deeds (*gasp* extinguishing the Olympic flame) that the evil Kal-El would perform in Superman III:

The Leaning Tower of Pisa escapes unharmed and unstraightened. Meaning that when J’onn gets his powers back he won’t have to knock it back off-kilter and send a poor model vendor off the deep end.

All this bad guy stuff is terrible for the apparently image-conscious J’onn. He’s going to need a hell of a PR firm to dig him out of this Q-rating hole, and with a bank robbery it just keeps getting worse and worse:

Is he more upset that his body is seen robbing a bank or squealing “WHEEEEEE!”? YOU DECIDE.

It’s not all bad, though. Mussolini made the trains run on time, and un-J’onn has some fresh ideas in the Zook department:

YES! YES! LIKE CYBORG SUPERMAN CHOKING SUPERBOY, THE EVIL FAUX-MANHUNTER SPEAKS FOR ALL OF US!

Even when J’onn, trapped in the rather useless form of a big fat lummox, works up the stones to fight back, it’s a rather pathetic display:

Listen: If you’re a superhero and your hyper-strong body is ever switched out with that of a low-level criminal, and you best your old shell with A PACK OF GODDAMN MATCHES, it might not be worth getting your former self back. (Granted, this scenario won’t form a great reservoir of concern for anyone in the reading audience. But still. One to grow on.)

How does it all end? Zook. A Martian meteorite burning with green flame. I don’t even want to get into it. Know only this: I weep for the Martian Manhunter and all the indignities he has endured in his terrestrial crimefighting career.

But that’s not all. What’s that? You want to delve further into the Dial H for Hero cover story (Script: Dick Wood, Art: Frank Springer), with a Native American (Chief Mighty Arrow) on a flying horse fighting what looks to be a fusion of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea giant squid and the giant face-hugger at the end of Prometheus? NO YOU DON’T:

Robby Reed turned into a pendulum. A f—ing pendulum. Or the thing that the pon farred Spock swung at Kirk in “Amok Time.” Or an anchor. Or a shovel. Sockamagee indeed.

A lot of times I end a post reflecting on the good points and bad of the book at hand. Not in this case. (Okay, one small point: Frank Springer’s art is pretty nice.) I’m left simply shaking my head. Should you be a glutton for punishment (like our Martian friend), both halves of this comic have been reprinted in separate Showcase Presents tomes. If you’re brave enough to seek them out, good for you. But be prepared. THE PITS and the Pendulum.

Now, to go all Brian’s Song: I love J’onn J’onzz, and I’d like all of you to love him too. And so tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him.

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