Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Eat all the fruit and throw away the rind

I'm guessing you too may have been as baffled as I was on my original discovery of J'onn J'onnz vs. Fruit (see last night's post). What's the story, Martian Glory? What is going on there that delicious altho' humungous citrus fruit are being targeted by everyone's second favorite Martian (after Uncle Martin, of course):

When you ponder the puzzle of why one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe is fighting fruit, the first thing you have to realize is that it was The Age of the Go-Go Checks:

Cover of House of Mystery #167 (June 1967), pencils and inks by Jim Mooney

Yep! J'onn J'onnz, Manhunter from Barsoom Mars, doesn't even get cover billing on House of Mystery #167, playing second fiddle backup story to Robbie Reed, who I think we would all like to sockamagee right in the face. But flip through two-thirds of a kid playing around with a telephone dial to become the hero who could be you (no, it couldn't) and we finally get to the prime cut of this Silver Age Sirloin, the Green Guy himself, Martian Manhunter!

Splash page from House of Mystery #167 (June 1967), script by Jack Miller, pencils and inks by Joe Certa

After that lousy pun, in the next panel J'onn turns towards the camera, smirks, puts on sunglasses, and then the theme song begins to play loudly over the opening credits. Yes, it's CSI: Mars!

Grace, space, race
Everything they've seen you have seen,
Everywhere they've been you have been,
Everything they've done you have been and done already

(That's my pitch for a new Martian Manhunter series. Call me, Jim Lee! I gotta million of 'em!)

Now, on the next page...

Hey! That's cheating! We've already seen this! It's the equivalent of watching Mythbusters when they spend ten minutes recapping what happened before that last commercial break for Cash Cab Man vs. American Carkiller Odyssey Kings Gone Wild. Frenchie even stutters the same! What we don't get here is MM's interior dialogue about Mister V and Marco Xavier and whether he remembered to set his VHS recorder to tape Lost in Space that evening.

Well, let's clear up those mysteries right now. Mister V is a master criminal as well as a man without a face

No, no, no! Man without a face. Eh, just call him Ernst Starvos Blobface. But who is Marco Xavier? Who is Marco Xavier?

He's an international playboy who has inherited the traditional Xavier family's withered legs! You can just tell, can't you, by that cheesy continental mustache and his tiny, tiny shorts that he's an oily(er) version of Tony Stark, right? What's more, he's not only a gigolo who romances our wholesome hometown gals, takes them away from their life of squalor to live in his life of squalor...but he's also an international criminal working for V.U.L.T.U.R.E.*, a megacriminal empire on the same level as SMERSH, SPECTRA, KAOS, THRUSH, AIM, CAW, HIVE, QUANTUM, ULTIMATUM, ISBN, and FDIC. Boo! Hiss! Your brother Charles would be ashamed of you, Marco!

Ah, but all is well! Hands, paws, or hooves up everyone who already knew or guessed that Marco Xavier is actually yet another civilian identity of the amazing spectacular sensational Martian Manhunter! (That is, he's a martian who hunts men, not a man who hunts martians.)

Under cover of the night

Now cut that out!

Under cover of the night, J'onn finds out that VULTURE plans to hijack a gold bullion shipment using a tank disguised as a parade float! Ah, that explains the Fruit Tank, then!

It must have been International Fruit Days in whatever provincial small town it is that this dastardly deed is about to take place in. (Des Moines?) Because a freakin' tank covered with giant fruit won't attract any suspicion at all.

Well, you have to admit their plan has a certain a-peel.

But wait a minute, let's get out the old Bully solar-powered calculator and the Inter-ma-net and do a little research. VULTURE plans to hijack 50 million dollars worth of gold bullion. (Heh...he said bullion.) According to online sources (and we know they are always correct, the price of gold in 1967 was about $35 a troy ounce. What are these Troy Ounces, and why are they so special? Are they anything like Troy Donahues or Donna Troys? But I digress.

Your standard movie-prop gold bar (see: Goldfinger) consists of 400 troy ounces to a bar. That's about 27.4 pounds. That means a grown man can probably shift two, three, maybe four at a time. In 1967 with a price of $35 per t.o., that's about 3570 bricks. Twenty-five thousand pounds. And, even with a couple carts from Home Depot, that's a lot of shifting big heavy bricks when instead you could be out instead stealing those delicious golden Hostess Twinkies. (Yes, there's a big delight in every bite of Hostess Cupcakes, Fruit Pies, and Twinkies.) I'm not even certain they could get 25,000 pounds of gold on two prop planes.

It's a general and frequent error: underestimating the manpower and time to shift gold bars made by a lot of fiction (see again: Goldfinger—the novel, not the movie, which, in the parlance of TV Tropes, "cleverly subverts this trope." A movie involving gold bar theft that does the mechanics of the theft correctly is the underrated 1976 TV film Sherlock Holmes in New York. It's one of my favorite Holmes movies not despite but because of its unusual stunt casting; Roger Moore as Holmes and Patrick Macnee (channeling the unfortunately dimbulb portrayal by Nigel Bruce) as Doctor Watson. And freakin' John Huston as Moriarty. It oughta be on DVD, and that it isn't is a crime itself.

The rest of the story concerns J'onn trying to stop the tank by dropping trees in its way and digging pits for it to fall in, all to avoid exposing his dual identity as Marco X. He is also clearly fighting them on Earth-Seussical, which allows him to remain concealed from VULTURE behind the blooming Truffula trees.

Let's focus on one particular phrase spoke by the Martian Manhunter, shall we? For those of us used to the modern-day solmen and stilted speech of J'onn, it's hard to remember that he once used phrases like "vulture varmits" [sic]. I presume he meant "varmints." Which is a phrase he picked up during his fight with Yosemite Sam in the classic Superman vs. Bugs Bunny.

After a while the Manhunter gets bored with just watching from the sidelines and punches the tank, simultaneously capturing some VULTURE goons and making grape juice. Another evil plot stopped by the Martian Manhunter! Who, when we come to think about it, could have done this about half an hour before, thus saving us valuable pages space that could have been spent on the fabulous international escapades of Marco Xavier, man-about-town.

Also in this issue: Superman tells you to take the day off and go ride the Crazy Crystals.

"Tomorrow!" And I put that in quotes because we all know what happen when I promise something "tomorrow"—more Martian Manhunter Madness as our Chlorophylled Champion does an impersonation. Who's he impersonating? I'm not sure yet, but you're going to have to hand it to him!

*Very Unpleasant Larceny, Theft, and Unlawfully Repulsive Exploits.


Michael Jones said...

Now we know where "Kelly's Heroes" got the idea for their heist! Come to think of it, Telly Savalas would make a Magnificent Martian Manhunter.

-- MrJM said...


You are cuckoo-bananas -- and I love ya for it.

-- MrJM

timber-munki said...

With regards to V.U.L.T.U.R.E., what are lawfully repulsive exploits?