Thursday, February 7, 2008
Martian Manhunter Special #1 (1996)
This book was produced by writer Paul Kupperberg, penciller Mike Collins, and four inkers. It also featured ten pages of pin-ups, of which only one depicts the Manhunter, and in a group shot no less! Everything about this comic, down to the vague setting, fairly screams "inventory story." Each chapter even featured a recap, as though it were intended to be serialized. The creators were regular contributors to Justice League Quarterly, so I believe this material may have just been repurposed when that series was cancelled. All in all, an inauspicious outing, though much can be read from it in hindsight.
As revealed in expository bricks surrounding the first page, J'Onn J'Onzz just up and decided to fly to the planet Naftali in search of an ancient wandering holy man named K'rkzar. He hoped the traveler had perhaps run across other surviving Martians, and just happened to arrive just as K'rkzar was planning to announce the all-encompassing religion he has formulated over centuries spent in seclusion. Holy war was brewing, drawing the attention of the Darkstar Chaser Bron to quiet things down. After J'Onzz helped Bron stop bloodshed when one religious sect attacked another, the Darkstar was authorize by his Controllers to deputize the Martian in this matter. Together, they tracked down one of K'rkzar's priests, Bruaka, the only being who knew the holy man’s whereabouts. The trio was soon joined by other, humanoid deputies sent by Naftali law enforcement to protect Bruaka from armies of assassins. They included Trypper, a brunette who could open time/space warps; Shadowdance, another female who could manipulate darkness; and Ambush, a male who could decipher the workings of weapons and other machinery at a touch. The group took to outer space in their ship to search for K'rkzar, but were hounded by attacking vessels and the powerhouse called “The Prophet.” MM held off that dogma-spouting superman while his fellows appeared to make their escape, until their turned kamakazi on a pursuing battleship. "You're a killer who does the bidding of beings who cloak their evil and political manipulation under a blanket of false righteousness. You would have killed the people on that ship without a second thought--so keep your hypocrisy to yourself, Prophet...And pray whatever divine being does exist chooses to show mercy for your life and deeds."
J'Onn's comrades turned up alive, having piloted the ship to its explosive end by remote control. The alien detective figured out that Bruaka had been using the group under his command to act as a decoy, drawing the enemy away from K'rkzar, who was still playing possum on Naftali. Removing the guise of a simple derelict, the holy man gave a simple speech about how everyone should feel good and love one another. Big revelation there. J'Onzz flew off without ever asking the priest about his fellow Martians, nodding about the candy-coated truth in N'aftali's "message."
As you may have noted from my synopsis, the story is a mind-numbingly dull 48-page exercise along the lines of, well, any other 48 pages ever written by Kupperberg. Collins’ art is as consistent, and approximates the banality of the script, as best as possible with all the additional hands. Just in case you managed to keep your eyes open through, Lee Loughridge provides so few color variations within a muddy, limited pallet that at times its like reading a yellowed copy of a black and white comic. This “effort” should be a source of pride for no one. On the other hand, the Prophet was created as a Superman caliber potential nemesis with an interesting hook. The religious leader Paral is fairly well designed, for what amounts to a reptilian take of the Lord High Papal. This first Martian Manhunter Special featured a much reprinted cover by Howard Porter in the style he would soon employ on the Morrison “JLA” relaunch. Finally, J’Onn J’Onzz just happened to go off in search of missing Martians just before a whole mess of them turned up in the aforementioned and extremely well received Morrison/Porter “JLA.” Is there a hidden connection here to that series? I’ll have to reread “New World Order” to find out, though probably not, but I need some justification for having read this tripe more than once...