EP0091: Showcase Presents Martian Manhunter, Volume 2, Superman Action Comics: Booster Shot, Avengers Infinity Classic

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We cover the second half of Martian Manhunter’s solo Silver Age Adventures in Showcase Presents Martian Manhunter, Volume 2.

Superman goes back in time in a buddy team-up with Booster Gold in Superman, Action Comics, Volume 5: Booster Shot.

And Thor and a group of lesser-known heroes team up with the fate of the Marvel Universe at stake in Avengers Infinity Classic

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We take a look at the final series of Martian Manhunter stories from the Silver Age, the final installment of Dan Jurgens recent run on Action Comics, and then we conclude by taking a look at Avengers Infinity Classic, straight ahead.

So, we’re going to start the show out by taking a look at Showcase Presents Martian Manhunter Volume Two. Now a lot of folks do not like Showcase Presents; in fact, if you take a look at either Showcase Presents or Marvel Essential, you’ll have someone complain that comics are all in black and white. And I guess because of those complaints both of those lines have been discontinued, but I personally enjoyed them and what I like is that they often covered characters or stories that did not have reprints elsewhere. One example of this, of course, they printed a whole book of Elongated Man stories, and they can do that because the production costs were less expensive, and it was less expensive for readers to be able to easily access these strips even if they were in black and white.

And I actually really enjoyed the first volume of Martian Manhunters stories – Showcase Presents: Martian Manhunter, Volume One. And it actually is interesting because Martian Manhunter didn’t start out as a superhero. He was introduced prior to the start of the Silver Age of comics and essentially the character was an attempt to combine science fiction with detective stories, and so you had this Martian who comes to Earth through a machine and decides to fight crime, and go undercover as Detective John Jones. And I think you had a pretty good variety of stories focusing on those kind of sci-fi themes and also on the detective work. I think that this became less true as the story went on and Martian Manhunter joined the Justice League, and this led to public revelation of his identity.

And this book starts off with that status quo, collecting first of all Detective Comics 305 to 326, and these are generally just pretty straightforward superhero-fighting-monster type stories with not a whole lot of style to them generally. The big thing that they did do in this book is introduce Zook. Zook is a strange-looking alien who is often described as Manhunter’s pet, though often functions as a sidekick. He has his own power set, including the ability to freeze people; and I don’t think he’s an annoying character but he doesn’t really solve whatever was wrong with the Martian Manhunter strips in Detective Comics, in that there was very little imagination or real strong stories coming out.

They did try to give him his own super villain which is actually a Batman super villain named Professor Hugo, and you actually get a cameo by Batman in the first Professor Hugo story. Professor Hugo was just a big-headed mad scientist, and there are about three or four stories with Professor Hugo in the whole book. And he’s not a particularly memorable character nor did he have a really long history. He made his first appearance in 1962 in the Detective Comics run concluded in 1964. And the way that concluded is that John Jones appeared to die to the world although, of course, the Martian Manhunter lived on. Now the reason why he didn’t try to explain away the apparent death and keep John Jones alive, there don’t really make an attempt to that. I think that is just realized that this whole situation with him as a detective and he had his boss and he had his girlfriend who was a policewoman, the entire situation was really just played out. And so they ended the Detective Comics run and they transferred him over to The House of Mystery. Now as…and that’s where the backup features aired for the rest of his solo run.

And the last Detective Comics story he fights a monster produced by the idle head of Diabolo, and essentially for his first seventeen appearances in House of Mystery from Number 143 to 159 he was fighting this idle head of Diabolo. And it was, as a story essentially he got a monster of the month to fight, and there were some strips that were exceptions, where he would be doing something else. But that was the general through line is that he would be fighting this particular monster, and it kind of works within the idea of the House of Mystery which was a bit of a horror anthology sort of book. And it was OK, and I think a little bit better than what we had in the Detective Comics stories.

So that brings us to the final stage in the Silver Age journey of the Martian Manhunter, and that is that an unnamed security agency asked him to infiltrate an organization known as Vulture and to capture their leader, Mr. V. And as it happens a man named Marco Xavier who is a key informant for Vulture dies apparently, and the Martian Manhunter takes his place and adopts the identity of Marco Xavier as his secret identity; and so tries to work to bring down Vulture, to thwart their plans by finding out about them from the inside, and it is actually a pretty fun story. It’s got a nice 1960s spy vibe.

Zook disappears for a lot of the strip as he’s undercover and out of the country, although there are some times when Zook reasserts himself. I do have a problem with the ending of this because it makes no sense whatsoever. The Martian Manhunter is a great character but I think can be a big challenge to write for. So this is just not a really good collection of comics. If you like your Silver Age silliness there are a lot better books out there than this. Overall I will give Showcase Presents: Martian Manhunter, Volume Two a rating of Not Classy.

Alright, well now we turn to a more modern comic and this is the latest and final collection of Action Comics’ Superman stories by Dan Jurgens. So, Superman, Action Comics, Volume Five: Booster Shot. And Booster Shot is also the main plot arc that runs for six Issues from 993 to 998, and if you recall from our previous review, the previous volume ended with Superman getting on the cosmic treadmill that belongs to the Flash in the Watchtower and heading back in time. Booster Gold arrive just a second later, realized he’s too late and goes back after Superman. Superman, after the revelation that his father Jor-El survived the destruction of Krypton and became Mr. Oz, wants to go back in time and make sure…find out if that really happened because it is such an earth-shattering revelation.

Booster Gold needs to stop him from doing anything that might change time, and one thing Superman doesn’t think about when going back in time to Krypton is that he doesn’t have any super powers. And there are some things that happen in the course of this that actually lead to the creation of an alternate timeline and worlds that are ruled by General Zod. And so they’ve got to end up trying to correct or fix that. Booster Gold is really a good character in this. When you get a bad writer writing him or someone who just doesn’t understand the character, the character is just entirely greedy; but he’s a bit more complex than that. He’s not just a greedy glory-hound. He has some good points and bad points, and you really do get that brought out in this story.

And the B-plot is interesting as Lois learns that her father is about to be executed for taking part in a black ops operation by a tyrannical regime, with of course since it being a black ops operation, the government denying all knowledge of his options. And so she has to go in and rescue him, and she thinks she can leave Johnathan Kent aka Superboy at home but good luck with that. So she goes behind enemy lines to rescue him. It’s a good plot and I think Dan Jurgens does a good job of making it believable, and it’s brought together at the end of the arc in a really good way.

As someone who wrote in the 1990s, Dan Jurgens is really in love with those six-part arcs. The problem is that sometimes those six-parters are really padded out, but that’s not the case with this one. There’s plenty of action and movement, and there’s nothing here where I think, OK, this is just padded out so that we can get to a six-part story. It’s really well told with some nice twists and I just really liked it.

Then we get a one-shot: it’s Issue 999 and it’s What Would Superman Do? And at this point without spoiling too much from the previous arc, Superman has realized that yes it was true what happened to Jor-El, that he was taken off of Krypton and he became Mr. Oz. And so, he’s kind of coping with how to do things differently, and he’s examining even the idea of the Phantom Zone where Jor-El created this prison in the void of space to keep dangerous criminals forever. And it’s kind of drives them even madder, and he’s trying to deal with that legacy and he actually decides to take someone out of the Phantom Zone and to imprison them and try to rehabilitate them – which is a bit more consistent with Superman’s overall sense of ethics.

There is also a conflict between Lois and her dad. It’s the holidays and she’s-Jonathan is just excited to have his grandfather around, but they get into fights about the things that have kept them estranged for many years, mainly her [uncovering operations that] was illegal that he was involved with that he thought was really important, plus could be dangerous and that you have to be prepared to fight him. And it’s an interesting story and a believable conflict that has an end when Superman arrives and changes back into Clark Kent, and he kind of works to bring them together and he says, “You know, I just kind of let this fester…this disagreement fester for years, and I shouldn’t have done that and I really want to bring peace in that relationship”. And it’s a nice story, and what I like about it is it shows that Superman…I think sometimes characters like Superman and Captain America are looked at as perfect, and I think that what Dan Jurgens captures is that, particularly with Superman, that Superman’s a person. He’s a good guy but he’s by no means perfect. He’s got a great sense of virtue and right and wrong, but he’s working to become better just like everybody else should be. And I really like that idea in this story and it’s just, it’s a nice little story and it’s a good kind of conclusion to the regular Dan Jurgens run on Action Comics.

Then we get Action Comics Special Number One which is The Last Will and Testament of Lex Luthor. And essentially a plane Lois is flying on is hit with a missile and Superman’s able to save it…save her in time and the missile contains a mix of human and alien technology and Superman first of all sends John away, says “Go and stay with Kara,” because not only does this plane go down but Lois gets a message calling her ‘Mrs. Superman’. And so Superman goes and confronts Lex who is really resentful. At one point Lex had proclaimed himself the new Superman and seen the need for him and had added a S-shield to his battle suit, and he’d removed that – I think just getting tired of Superman continuing to suspect him of stuff. And then Superman is able to locate the actual perpetrator and the perpetrator is able to challenge him, but Lex arrives because this person is apparently pretending to be him, and he’s like “Whatever is done in my name, good or bad, I better be the one doing it!” And then it’s revealed who the villain is and it’s a really interesting surprise. I won’t spoil it but I think it was a very cleverly written story.

So, I really enjoyed every part of this book, and I think that this was just a great finish for Dan Jurgens run on Action Comics. And Jurgens, of course, was really key in getting us this new status quo with Superman as he wrote the Lois & Clark mini-series where the post-Crisis Superman had arrived on our Earth and was kind of working underground while the New-52 Superman was doing his thing. And so he established that particular continuity set up, and then wrote the Action Comics run. And it’s been a good run with some stories better than the others but this is just a really strong finish to it. So, I will give Superman, Action Comics, Volume Five: Booster Shot a rating of Very Classy.

Next up is Avengers Infinity Classic. This is a four-Issue mini-series written by Roger Stern, and essentially Quasar who is a cosmic hero receives a distress call and finds a colony destroyed, and he ends up calling for the Avengers to help but he gets a really mixed crew. He gets Thor, he get Photon, he get Tigra, he gets the Titan known as Star Fox, and he get Moon Dragon. And this is a crew of, other than Thor, really lesser known characters, but what I like about it is that Stern does a great job writing these characters, and so you feel like you could go on with a lot of these characters for quite a while. None of them are annoying, they seem to relate to each other and to be real people.

I particularly like what they do with Monica Rambeau who is an interesting character in that she was Captain Marvel for awhile though the name didn’t stick, and she was leader of the Avengers. And she’s a good leader with some pretty solid instincts and she bumps, knocks heads together with Thor a bit because Thor is just…has this sense of arrogance and just being like, “We got to go and fight”, and that’s just his entire thing in this, is just this conflict between Thor and Photon that comes out throughout this. You also have some really good art for some of the big cosmic concepts in here, because essentially what they’re dealing with in terms of the cause of the planetary destruction is a race known as The Infinites.

And I think the Infinites, the story is…because it is really trying to deal with some really big, high concept stuff in terms of the cosmic world of Marvel, because the Infinities are not really people that they can effectively fight, which is a bit of a challenge for an Avengers team. And in order to solve this they end up needing to bring Eternity into the equation. An Eternity, of course, is the anthropomorphic embodiment of the universe. So, this is not a story for everybody, but I think it is actually a really impressive work just because of the art, and again, the really strong writing of Roger Stern as he shows he’s able to take some lesser known characters and really flesh them out and make them feel like they belong in a big Avengers team. So, I’ll give this book a rating of Somewhat Classy.

So, to review: Showcase Present: Martian Manhunter Volume Two, not really a whole lot to that one and that’s why we give it a rating of Not Classy. Meanwhile, Superman, Action Comics Volume Five: Booster Shot gets a rating of Very Classy as Dan Jurgens finishes his Action Comics run on a high note. And we give Avengers Infinity Classic a rating of Somewhat Classy. The story is a bit challenging to grasp and not your typical superhero story, but it does feature a pretty…some good writing around the characters, and also just some great art.

Alright, well that’s all for now. If you do have a comment email it to me classycomicsguy@gmail.com; rate and review the podcast on iTunes, but from Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.

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