DC Comics History
DC Comics History: Martian Manhunter (1964 - 1967: The New Look)
By Deejay Dayton
January 5, 2020 - 14:24




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Things looked promising for the Martian Manhunter at the start of the period 1964 – 1967: the New Look. He was bumped up from the interior of Detective Comics, becoming the cover feature for House of Mystery. Sadly, by that time most of the spark, and the supporting cast, had left his series, and J’onn J’onzz was engaged in a long running battle against the Idol Head of Diabolu. Within a few months he had been relegated to the interior pages of the book, and by the end of the period had taken on an entirely new identity, becoming a James Bond-style adventurer battling a vast criminal conspiracy, Vulture.

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The Martian Manhunter’s strip began as a cover feature in House of Mystery 143. The creative team of Jack Miller and Joe Certa remained in place, but so did the Idol Head of Diabolu. To refresh, J'onn J'onzz has taken upon himself to deal with the creatures released from the indestructible Idol Head each month when the Moon was full.  He had killed off his John Jones identity, becoming the Martian Manhunter full time, and the only supporting character left was his colour shifting alien sidekick, Zook. While it was great that the Martian Manhunter finally had a cover series going, most of these Idol Head stories really suck, and this one is no exception.

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The Idol Head releases a globby creature with the ability to turn anything it touches giant-sized.  This happens to a farmer, and Zook, and finally a tiny wizard named Malador.  The Martian Manhunter uses the giant sized Zook to shrink Malador, and then Zook and the farmer also return to normal size.  This counts as a victory, and J'onn waits around for the next full Moon, and the next creature to be released from the Idol Head.

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House of Mystery 147 contained a story that is no better than many of the other Idol Head of Diabolu tale, but it visually more interesting.  Or at least, more bizarre. This time around the Idol Head releases a force that turns musical instruments evil.  What makes musical instruments evil?  When they are all playing different melodies, which causes people and even buildings to go mad and crumble and such. The music creates a sonic barrier that neither Zook nor the Martian Manhunter are able to penetrate. Eventually J'onn J'onzz defeats the instruments by playing instruments himself.  Well, he and Zook.  They play louder than the evil instruments, drowning them out, until they simply shatter to pieces.

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House of Mystery 153 brings back Professor Arnold Hugo, who had debuted as a Batman villain, but moved over to fight the Martian Manhunter during his run in Detective Comics.  Learning that his old foe is out and about, and it still being a couple of weeks before the next full Moon, J'onn J'onzz has his first adventure here that does not involve the Idol Head of Diabolu.  It also does not include Zook, but the alien sidekick had been left out of a couple of other stories in the past few months. Arnold Hugo finds a cave with three giant cavemen, frozen in the ice.  He just happens to have a machine that transfers their giant-ness to him.  The Martian Manhunter is not able to defeat Hugo in his giant form, so it must endow the villain with amazing strength as well. The giants get free, and the Martian Manhunter lures them to Hugo, where they all get into a fight.  Hugo invents a machine to shrink the cavemen, and then the Martian Manhunter grabs it and uses it on Hugo himself. Not a great story, but at least it's not an Idol Head story. 

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Zook was shunted to the side as the series progressed, but did get a significant role in House of Mystery 156.  Zook reads in the Book of Diabolu that the giant cobra that emerges from the Idol Head can only be defeated by an alien, but that the alien will disappear. Kind of forgetting about the Martian Manhunter's powers of invisibility and shape changing, either of which could easily explain the prophecy, Zook is sure that the Martian Manhunter will die facing the cobra.  The prophecy gets fulfilled by J'onn's shape changing powers.  Yawn.

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Arnold Hugo returned in House of Mystery 157. Hugo escapes from prison and builds a mind control machine that will even work on the telepathic Martian Manhunter.  But rather than using it for wealth or world conquest, he is content to force the Martian Manhunter to perform humiliating acts at a circus.  Hugo himself dresses up as a clown there, not even the ringmaster. It's Zook who is the real hero of this dismal little tale, seeking out and destroying the mind control machine. 

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House of Mystery 158 sees the end of the reign of the Idol Head of Diabolu, and  delves into the origin of the weird device. The Martian Manhunter and Zook are dealing with the latest manifestation to emerge from the Idol Head when the Manhunter gets pulled into it. It basically takes him backwards through time, and J'onn finds himself in ancient Babylon, which is being menaced by the evil wizard Diabolu.  Diabolu creates a monster to kill the Babylonians, which J'onn winds up in battle with.  Diabolu is dying as this goes on, and as he perishes he seals the monster into the head. But back in the present, when the monster emerges from the Idol Head, it proves to actually be the Martian Manhunter.  For reasons that are not really clear, he is now able to destroy the Idol Head once and for all.  There is a tease to the readers, asking if they would like to see the Idol Head again.  Fortunately, most readers were not that masochistic.

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There were big changes in the Martian Manhunter series with House of Mystery 160.  Zook is nowhere in sight as the Martian Manhunter gets called in by a secret government bureau, and asked to help them against an international criminal organization, Vulture.  The one lead they have on the group is a millionaire playboy, Marco Xavier. The Martian Manhunter starts following Xavier, but the guy goes over a cliff in his car.  Thinking quickly, the Martian Manhunter changes his form, and impersonates Xavier, adopting his identity in order to infiltrate Vulture. He goes to a meeting of the group, and sees, on a screen, their leader, Faceless.  This is an appropriate name, because the guy seems to have no facial features.  Xavier is given the job to pass on information about a planned gold robbery. This neatly allows him to give the criminals the information, and then show up as the Martian Manhunter to stop them from completing the job.  It's the Martian Manhunter as James Bond, essentially, and he would continue with the Marco Xavier identity, pursuing Vulture, for the remainder of his run in this book.

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The Martian Manhunter has both Vulture and evil aliens to deal with in House of Mystery 163. Faceless announces the development of a new weapon a captive ray, which creates a force field bubble, and which he plans to hand over to every member of Vulture, once enough are made.  But the Martian Manhunter has already encountered the evil Mercurians, and their disintegrator ray.  As Marco Xavier, he informs Faceless about the aliens.  He hopes to pit the two against each other, and get both of the weapons. And that's pretty much what happens.  The Vulture operatives do use the captive ray on him, but by turning invisible he makes them think he escaped, and they turn the ray off.  Staying invisible, he simply grabs both guns, and crushes them.  Defeated, the aliens fly off, and the Martian Manhunter rounds up the Vulture members who were on this mission.

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Issue 164 provides one of the more entertaining Martian Manhunter stories from the Marco Xavier period in this issue. Faceless commands Marco Xavier to take part in a plan to kill the Martian Manhunter, and gives him a special weapon to pass on to a Vulture agent.  Testing it, the Manhunter discovers that it is a flamethrower, which would, indeed, be able to kill him. Keeping up his Marco Xavier identity is clearly of utmost importance to the Manhunter.  He could easily just not give the guy the weapon, and stop being Marco Xavier.  But instead he does as Faceless ordered, and then has to do some quick thinking, and rapid body changing, in order to avoid being killed. What makes this story really work is the conclusion.  Faceless tells Xavier that he was given the wrong weapon.  He was meant to have a new, super-destructive ray, but instead was given a simple flamethrower.  So Xavier winds up not getting any blame for the failure of the mission, and the Martian Manhunter is reassured that Faceless does not actually know about his weakness to fire.

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Professor Arnold Hugo makes his final appearance in House of Mystery 165. He breaks out of prison again, and manages to steal a shipment of uranium, and douse the Martian Manhunter with it, rendering him radioactive. J'onn J'onzz discovers that the radiation vanishes when he becomes Marco Xavier.  Not wanting to poison everyone he comes into contact with, he decides to capture Hugo in his Xavier identity, and does a good job of luring the villain in. As Xavier he pretends to work with Hugo on a plot to kidnap a millionaire, but as things pan out, Hugo inadvertently winds up curing the Manhunter of the radiation effect.  Not a good outing for this guy at all.  And though Hugo swears that one day he will kill the Martian Manhunter, I think he wound up spending the rest of his days in prison, and dying there.

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In House of Mystery 166 the Martian Manhunter comes back to the United States, after so many Marco Xavier adventures in Europe. Faceless enlists Marco Xavier in bringing a new device that can turn people into invulnerable giants to Vulture's operatives in the United States. Zook sees on the news that the Martian Manhunter is back, and goes to try to help him.  But J'onn J'onzz's big plan is to root out the Vulture operatives, not to take down the guy that has been turned into a giant.  Zook's "help" messes up the Manhunter's plans.  Even so, J'onn does manage to find their base, and destroy the machine. As annoying as Zook is in this story, the very last panel touches me, with a feeling of sincerity in their friendship.

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The Martian Manhunter also teamed up with the Flash in Brave and the Bold 56. The two heroes eaach head to a World's Fair, and encounter an android not unlike Amazo.  It possesses the powers of the different members of the Justice League, although unlike Amazo it looks like combinations of the members whose powers it is using.  The android was constructed on the planet Argon at the order of its queen, Tatania.  But an accident in lab turned it evil. The android is now using his powers on Earth, stealing various devices to turn a time capsule at the fair into a giant bomb.  The heroes find themselves outclassed by the creature, but the Martian Manhunter follows its trail back to Argon, and learns the origin of the android. Carter Hall cameos, but it is Hawkgirl who is the important guest. 

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Flash and the Martian Manhunter use their signalling devices to contact Carter, which implies that he is already a member of the League.  They then enlist Shayera in impersonating Queen Tatania. As Tatania, Hawkgirl tries to convince the android to give up on the whole bomb making thing and just go back to Argon.  The android figures out that Hawkgirl is not Tatania, but just in time the real queen shows up.  At her orders, the android destroys itself.


The Martian Manhunter continues in the next period, 1967 – 1970: It’s a Happening!

Martian Manhunter: House of Mystery 143 – 168 (June 1964 – July 1967)

Brave and the Bold 56 (Oct/Nov 64)

Next up – Challengers of the Unknown!


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