Super-Human Detritus of the Thirtieth Century: Review of the Molecular Master, By Johnathan

Ha ha! I have returned, overcoming a month's worth of illness, romance and computer failure to bring you the tale of a plucky little guy by the name of Molecular Master! Here, look at him sitting around in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes No. 201:

Such a good-looking era in Legion art - check out the lovely Infectious Lass and the homely-as-sin Porcupine Pete, as well as those way-cool chairs! I want those chairs, but maybe not in orange.

Molecular master gets to try out third, after Infectious Lass has made Star Boy barf and Porcupine Pete has studded the whole damn place with quills - note their abundant presence above. Which, actually, is kind of gross. I know a few people who would have to leave that room pretty quick-like after they realized that it would be like being in a big pile of toenail clippings or used hair or whatnot.

I don't know how I feel about the Molecular master's power:

That's a pretty old conception of what an atom looks like, MM. I do like the Kirby dots, though.

Also, i think that that might be a carbon atom, which is kind of boring. I just don't know...why does making an atom really big make it all crackly and energy-tastic? are all of my atoms doing that right now? And what does he do with the really big atom, anyway? Split it?

And just why the hell isn't he called the Atom Master, anyway? Gosh darn it, I want scientific accuracy fro my minor Seventies Legion characters! Isn't this the magazine that brought us the Chlorophyll Kid, causing literally dozens of youngsters to know that chlorophyll has something to do with plants? Oh, the shame.

So anyway, Molecular Master makes it through the first portion of the Legion application without anyone bellowing "REJECTED!" at him. Meanwhile, ERG-1 (you know, Wildfire) is roaming the Legion clubhouse in my favourite form, that of a blobby little pink cloud of antimatter. This is his second appearance after seemingly killing himself while saving Colossal Boy a year earlier and he's trying to get back to his uniform so that he can have some limbs again. Sadly, all of the Legion's technology seems designed to make life difficult for blobby pink guys and so:

He tries to possess the one person on the premises who isn't covered in Legion tech. But what horrible secret does the Molecular Master conceal?

By the way, I love the Molecular Master's costume. It's A-1.

No mind! But why?

Dang. That is one creepy android. I appreciate all the work that went into making all of those robotic facial features (check out the massive power supply going into that eyebrow! I'll bet he could make Mr. Spock run and cry with one hydraulically-augmented raising of that little number) but hawk-nosed tube-men with wildly staring eyes might just be a new phobia of mine.

Robot nose! Robot cheeks! Robot Adam's apple! Oh my god, terrifying robot ears!

ERG-1/Wildfire is upset about the other aspect of the Molecular Master's power: the highly poisonous breath. I like that at this point there no longer seems to be the need for someone to shout "There must be kryptonite in the gas!", though I would think that any gas potent enough to have an effect on Superboy might not require such a roundabout method of delivery. Just heave it through the front door in grenade form and he'd kill himself by sucking it up for easy disposal. Super-villains, huh? Always over-thinking.

So: evil android filled with poison gas and after the Legion's very own deus ex machina. Can he be stopped in time?

Oops - guess not.

Ah, the Miracle Machine, as recently featured in Final Crisis (and eventually featured in Matter-Eater Lad's bowel). The Legion really shouldn't be surprised that folks try to kill them for this thing. Perhaps they should at least hide it behind something opaque - you know, give the homicidal maniacs a bit of a challenge.

Don't worry, though. ERGfire has used the Machine to restore himself to his suit (and certainly not to fashion himself as new human body, no sir), thus sparing the Molecular Master the embarrassment of standing there dramatically while that big atom completely failed to do anything to the inertron. Psh. Big atoms...

Undaunted, the Molecular Master tries again! He makes the biggest damn atom ever!

ERG-1 eats the super-atom! The Molecular Master's super-power officially sucks. ERG, on the other hand...

... has the Antimatter Kick! I don't even care that Wildfire never really did any kicking in later years - blasting this one android in the face with his foot makes him just incredibly great.

That's not quite the end of the future's best-dressed android, though. A few years later, in Legion of Super-Heroes No. 281, a bunch of Legionnaires are trapped in the past and run into the little scamp. It's a weird issue: Roy Thomas and Paul Levitz team up to produce a weird script, while Steve Ditko and Bruce Patterson compliment it with some weird art.

That costume still looks good, though. Note that in this second appearance everyone thinks that his name is Molecule Master, which is lame. I won't be a party to such a renaming, damn it.

In this issue, the Molecular Master no longer has the awesome power of the Big Atom. Instead, he can sort of generically control molecules, causing things to fly around and warp out of shape and so forth. I think at one point that he turns some air into rocks. Surprisingly, this is not an improvement. The absence of the big atoms has made me miss them.

Superboy, by the way, thinks that he's Ultra Boy, who is at this point possibly dead.

Molecular Master still has a robot nose but its not as terrifying. Thanks for showing me that, Superboy. I'll sleep easier tonight!

So it turns out that MM was working for *yawn* the Time Trapper, who really wanted that Miracle Machine, darn it. I can't remember if the thing was still uneaten at this point - if it wasn't what the Time Trapper was after here then I don't have a sweet clue what's going on. Oh, the perils of writing that hooded buffoon into your stories: I will never remember what the hell is up.

Hey, I just noticed - Saturn Girl is giving him the guns!

See? Lousy power.

Flying machine gun-attack is better than jeep-attack, but still.

Eventually, Molecular Master resorts to throwing rocks at the Legionnaires. Snazzy costume or not, that's pretty lame. Also, this version of the Master exploded when too many people attacked him at once. Were I more fond of the original version of the character, I might have concealed the existence of this one but the big atoms and the horrible robot nose and the Time Trapper connection all come together to spell NOT APPROVED.

There we go. Two hundredth post.

High-Tech Tomorrow: Review of the Concentrator, Part 2, by Johnathan

Gah! In an eerily predictable move, I have taken much longer than I intended to get around to writing this second chunk of text. Blame Spore, friends, and blame computer crashings that Spore caused. Oh, and blame my complete lack of self-control.

Without further ado, I present to you: psychological torture, Legion-style!

The first super-teen on the chopping-block is our old friend Sun Boy. Let's watch:

Okay, I can see how this could be nerve-wracking: grim corridors, a dark room, questions. I can't blame Dirk for his anxiety, really. Turning on some Morgna-style light isn't a bad plan, really.

Oops, mirrors! Well, I guess it's time for another plan, right? One that doesn't involve blinding lights? Maybe he could kick out the mirrors in the dark, or light things up just a bit so he can find the speakers, or use his powers in a more focused way and melt through the door? Mirrors wouldn't be much good against those cunning plans, right?

Or just bulling ahead in the least strategic way possible, that's a plan. A really, really dumb plan, but still a plan. The fact that it actually ended up working is some slight validation, but I think that maybe Sun Boy should be confined for life anyway, for his own safety. I guess he didn't talk, though, so there's no quick answer for you fine folks on just what the gosh-darned Concentrator actually is. At least you know how to defeat Sun Boy now: get a room full of heat-proof mirrors.

Bonus lesson: if you injure yourself through stupidity in the line of duty, try to do it in an out-of-the-way place, so everyone assumes that you were being heroic instead of willfully stupid.

Time for the testing of Shrinking Violet!

Now, this was back when our pal Salu was characterized by being very timid and shy and looking concerned all the time (and evidently by wearing a very short skirt, judging by this picture). I... suppose that illusory monsters might be upsetting to such a person, but I have to say that this is pretty weak. That monster? That's not a good monster, folks. I've always liked Shrinking Violet, but her being intimidated by this thing is making me lose some respect for her.

Now these are good freaky-looking monsters. They're only a couple of hours' worth of meticulous line-work away from fitting in in a Basil Wolverton comic - those mucousy lips that the uppermost beast is sporting would be enough to get me talking, if I though they were likely to touch me. Still, Violet knows these things are illusions - this is fairly wimpy behavior.

But I can't stay mad at someone who can make such an awesome horrified face. Man, she is so distressed that it's distressing - I believe that I was unable to find out for certain who drew this issue, but whoever it was sure knew how to draw a horrified woman. They were either highly talented at the drawing table or extraordinarily unlucky in the lists of love, I reckon.

Still, Violet is smarter than Sun Boy: her solution has to be better, right?

"I'll get so small that those monster couldn't find me even if they were real!" Good plan!

Wait, no. No, no, no. Bad plan. Dumb plan. Plan that wouldn't even work today, if CSI is to be believed, or if, say, the Commissioner has invested in a volume knob for his recording device. And even if the plan were workable, I'm going to guess that you have to be smaller than 4 or 5 inches before you're completely inaudible. Confined for life!

Not confined for life? John... confused. John move on now.

Ah, the Legion. A group of friends who stick together through thick and thin, who are perfectly willing to die so that one of their friends might live, and who are willing to turn on one another at the slightest hint of weakness. I mean, really, Superboy.

"Gawdamn telepaths. Likely to ... think out alla our secrets. I just don't trust a dame to not broadcast her thoughts all over the place. Hey, wait a minute. Star Boy has hands. Sweet Christmas, what if he accidentally signs the secrets of the Concentrator, or even doodles 'em out? All would be lost!

Guess it's time for some 'accidental' hand-shaking incidents, Clark."

"... although you do have that super-shout power, so be careful not to use that to accidentally reveal our precious secrets. And don't write them on the wall with your heat vision. Or use super-hypnosis to implant them in the Commissioner's subconscious mind.

Also, try to avoid fusing sand into glass with your hands, because you do that a lot, and it's getting kind of old."

Good lord there used to be a lot of kryptonite in the DC Universe. Look at him, he's not even surprised. I wonder if that's what Final Crisis is for - to bring back plentiful kryptonite so that the Superman writers can take it easy for a few years (okay, that was a bit self-indulgent. It's just that though I'm enjoying Final Crisis I can't quite figure out what it's for. The other Crises all fixed something - what's this one doing, other than hopefully ending that particular habit? Ah, ignore me.).

Maybe... maybe it's the Commissioner who's an idiot. This is just kind of a stupid tactic, in that you basically get to ask your question once. Because that much kryptonite would take Superboy out pretty quickly, right? Oh, I know: Beppo the Super-Monkey would show up at the last second and get rid of the green-k with a giant shovel that he made out of a minivan, but the Commissioner doesn't know about the deus ex machina effects of kryptonite. As far as he's concerned, that lever's a death sentence. For anyone without super-speed. Or seven or eight other lever-stopping abilities. Grump grump nerd nerd.

Superboy has absolute faith in his friends! He does not believe that girls can't keep a secret! He has never considered administering a quick heat-vision lobotomy just to be on the safe side!

This review is not continued! It won't be continued soon!

At Long Last, the Highly Anticipated Review of the Human Flame, By Johnathan

Haw haw haw! Time to put all the naysayers to shame! I will review the Human Flame, and not on my deathbed, unless of course it turns out that this chair reclines more and also I end up dying in it.

Dateline: Detective Comics No. 274, December 1959. On the cover, some crazy old dude shoots lightning at Batman - I haven't read the story yet, but I'll bet that he's got some sort of ingenious robbery-related hoax under his belt... yep, turns out. At the back, nestled behind Roy Raymond and Casey the Cop, we find a Martian Manhunter yarn entitled:

Now, this is not a fascinating tale. Nor is it exceptionally ridiculous, Silver Age or not, so no exhaustively broken-down plot for you. Instead, here are the highlights:

1. The Villain:

The Human Flame does not get off to a grand start, frankly. Purple is not a terrific colour for a flame-themed dude, and white is not a fantastic choice for a secondary colour. The goggles are good, but I only forgave Firestorm his puffy sleeves because his head was on fire, so those are out too.

2: The Plot:

Still, after seeing so many super-humans running around with astonishingly complicated facial hair, there's something (retroactively) refreshing about a simple moustache. While Ra's al-Ghul spends his mornings trimming individual chin-hairs and Green Arrow takes an extra half hour before bed to get his beard-curlers just right, ol' Mike there is getting the full night's sleep that he needs in order to plan really effective crime sprees. Though I suppose that if he had no facial hair at all he might have slept just a bit more and been clearheaded enough to consider pulling crimes in a town that wasn't infested with costumed crime-fighters.

The blonde guy is interesting, by the way. I can't decide if he counts at the Flame's partner, as his lone henchman or as a good friend that he brings along to keep him company on crime sprees.

3: Crime!

Let it not be said that the human Flame is a one-trick pony, no sir. In addition to having flame-thrower nipples on his suit, he has special energy-projecting nipples as well (urgh... I just had a disturbing thought: what if the purple on his costume is an attempt to simulate nipple colour? Fond as I am of the things, I find myself staunchly opposed to their use as a costume theme).

Where is all of the power and fuel for these nipples coming from, anyway? Mike's handing out some serious punishment with these things, and sure doesn't look like a wee lad. I suppose that he might have forgotten to eat a few meals whilst focusing on crime-suit construction - maybe he lost enough weight to stuff a propane tank and a 12-volt battery under each armpit? Or maybe he managed to create some ammo-less weaponry that he should have sold to the military for big bux instead of robbing armoured cars?

4: A Mighty Wind:

"Gosh, Martian Manhunter! Thanks for saving our armored car from those crooks! It sure would have been a shame if they'd managed to steal all of these Faberge eggs and Ming vases! Someday, you'll have to tell us how you ever saved out incredibly fragile cargo from that multi-nippled madman! Welp, we're off to the museum - thanks again!"

Not that being able to blow an armoured car around isn't great. I'm just sayin'.

Here's where the Human Flame gets his big shot:

5: Is this the End?

6. Seriously, is it?

Well! Not only has Mike triumphed, but he's completely vaporized J'onn J'onzz! And similar sarcastic remarks. In all fairness, The Manhunter hasn't been operating openly for long, so Mike might not know about the fact that he can turn invisible. Of course, he could just be an idiot.

7. Landscaping:

Turns out, he's an idiot. But, as this panel illustrates so clearly, he's an idiot that can shoot fire from his many nipples, which at least puts him a special category of idiot along with 60 or 70 percent of his fellow Silver Age villains.

8: Flying Free:

a) That's really cohesive sod.
b) Seems like Mike and friend would have trouble breathing up there.
c) That's a horrible way to get around. The neck cramps alone...

9: Clean Up After Yourself:

You know, I just have to assume that the Manhunter is putting that sod back because (holy crap, look at the huge chin on that policeman!) this comic came out in the early days of the Comics Code. Which is good, because society would have crumbled by now if our super-hero role models hadn't shown proper concern for lawn maintenance.

Now, Mike ends up doing some time for this one, leading me to believe that he had a terrible lawyer (heck, maybe it was the blonde guy). Eight years for foring a weapon that there likely isn't any legislation on (this is the electric nipple I'm talking about) and then getting into a very brief scrap with someone who is demonstrably non-human and therefore not technically covered by the law? Sheesh, for any decent shyster this should have been a piece of cake. Perhaps the DCU wised up early and there are tough super-villain laws on the books as of Mike's trial? Don't know.

One last thought: you know how in a movie or tv show when there's a guy wielding a camcorder or whatever he's frequently characterized as a total dick, like the act of filming constantly, especially in a moment of tragedy, is a sign of a bad human being? Well, upon reading Final Crisis No. 1 I realized this: it's a hundred times worse if you're doing it with a cell phone.

Great Stars! The Human Flame is NOT APPROVED

First Impressions: Review of the Martian Manhunter, By Johnathan

Hallo! J'onn R'eview here, teaming up with the irrepressible Rachelle to bring you some Martian Manhunter tribute action. SPOILERS SPOILERS VERY RECENT SPOILERS (although not terribly spoilery ones, I guess) READ YE NOT THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH IF YE WISH NOT FINAL CRISIS NO 1 SPOILERS. Poor dead Martian - who's going to be the JLA Mom now?

Because it's one of the things I already do, and because Mr. J'onzz never tried out for the Legion (though the time that he hung out with them might just have to get a mention...), I'm going to cover his first appearance, in Detective Comics No. 225.

Here goes:

Good logo, I like the crossed "J"s (as a John, I have opinions about the letter - form is all!) and the fact that they're emphasizing the 'JOHN JONES' over the 'manhunter from mars'.

Introducing... CLARK KENT, a super man!
Introducing... BARRY ALLEN, who is quite fast!
Introducing... HAL JORDAN, a pilot with a ring!

Oh, the humour. Enough laffs, though - on with the show!

Here's the big ol' intro panel from JJ (the MM)'s first story. I include it here for a few reasons. First off, that text piece, I'll bet, probably reveals exactly how the Manhunter came to be. Detective had, by this point, had any number of, uh, detectives, including Slam Bradley (pugilist extraordinaire), Cosmo (racist master of disguise), Pow-Wow Smith (frontier sheriff), Roy Raymond (TV Detective) and Captain Compass (sleuth of the high seas). Someone was given the task of thinking up a new one and figured "Why not make him an alien? He'll fit right in."

Secondly, that's a great title. The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel, indeed.

Finally, see J'onzz over there, with the giant Martian head-halo? That was an effect that cropped up a lot when he was appearing to be a human but using his Martian powers, like an eerier version of Peter Parker's face turning half Spider-Man whenever the spidey-senses kick in. Not sure why, but I like the implication that the Manhunter has a huge cranium.

That's Dr. Erdel, who has, I just noticed, an incredibly cool desk. In fact, His whole lab is pretty bitchin'. My copy of Showcase Presents: Martian Manhunter says that Joe Certa is responsible for the art on this story and I think he did a bang-up job, yessir.

I mean, look at Doc Erdel! That is one skillfully rendered potty old science-man.

And this is one of several panels that I threw into this review purely for aesthetic reasons. If I had a really good scan of this I might be tempted to have it blown up into a poster. It's pure fantastic. The colours! The sound effects! One of my favourite panels ever.

Enter the Manhunter! Arms akimbo, he stands ready for adventure! I wonder, did he have some warning that he was about to be teleported somewhere where he could make a great entrance, or was Mars going through a 'dramatic body language' fad? If so then J'onn is lucky - he could just as well have been ostentatiously thinking with one foot upon a low wall and his appearance on Earth might have been marred by him toppling sideways as soon as he materialized.

Martian Manhunter is HUGE! His head is HUGE! And he looks inappropriately amused by the fact that he has been teleported to another planet.

This story was mostly about introducing the character of J'onn J'onzz, so stuff like this happened a lot. Doc Erdel is suitably impressed, I think, by the fact that all Martians can make themselves look like a young Ronald Reagan.

Poor Dr. Erdel. The Martian Manhunter didn't have one of those giant, tragic origins like Superman or Batman, but it always struck a chord with me. Erdel dies while realizing his dream, while J'onzz is trapped on Earth - a very sad little origin scene, with nary an exploding planet or murdered parent to be seen, just a little old man with a tenuous grasp of where his heart is located.

See? Touching! Though I half suspect that that whole 'Xymo Serum' thing is a scam, just in case Erdel was holding out on sending the Manhunter home. Clever, cold-hearted Martian bastard.


I need a minute to myself...

Okay, I'm back.

Ah, the classic John Jones look., back in the days when he was a detective first and a Martian second. As I've blogged before, I really wish that someone would take the opportunity to write him as a super-detective again, rather than constantly increasing his level of alien-ness and alien-ation. His being an alien that had adopted humanity was always a lot more endearing to me than Superman's equivalent gesture, given that J'onn did so as an adult. Come on, DC! J'onn J'onzz as the immigrant done good! You know it could be cool!

As Rachelle has been pointing out in her posts, The Martian Manhunter used to have a whole lot more powers than he does now. Good thing he got all of that gold before that happened, hey?

Post gold-harvesting, J'onn decides to take a trip around the world, looking at Earth stuff while thinking about how much cooler the stuff on Mars is. Here, I will pointedly refrain from comparing this to the manner in which North Americans tour the rest of the globe.

At the end of the tour, he absent-mindedly wanders out into traffic, while thinking about traffic. This incredibly focussed forgetfulness has got to be another one of those since-discarded powers.

Luckily, he had intangibility on his side (still does, too!)! This is the other panel that I threw in for purely aesthetic reasons, by the way. Between the angle, the colours and the reaction, it looks super-nice. There's not even a caption on there - possibly the captioneer thought it was as nice as I do and didn't want to clutter it up.

I'm not sure if this younger planet = more primitive inhabitants thing was cultural or if it was just a DC Comics theory, but I remember seeing it quite a few times in Silver Age comics, like Batman would end up on a planet and there would be dinosaurs everywhere and he'd assume that the place was geologically younger than Earth. I wish I knew a scientific historian so I could ask 'em about it.

After his powers have been established, J'onn spends a page or so thinking about how much crime "Earthians" (fantastic) have to put up with and deciding to help out with cleaning it all up. The origin story is nearly complete!

There we go, a weakness! Everything required for a super-character is now present: origin, costume, secret identity, motivation, powers, weakness. And all in six pages - highly efficient!

You know, life must have been considerably rougher for Mr. J'onzz back when everyone and their dog smoked. Could he be covertly influencing anti-smoking regulation? Probably.

I need to meet a police historian, too. Could you really just walk into a police station and sign up to be a detective? That's great!

Well, there's a somewhat rambling review for you. Personally, I really enjoyed the Manhunter's origin tale. It was compact and well told and looked real pretty. J'onzz, you're


Plus, I just realized exactly why The Martian Manhunter isn't dead: he was killed in a Grant Morrison yarn, and Morrison continuity is frequently more cohesive than the DC continuity that it lives in. So, since Martian Manhunter No. 1,000,000 laid out a future history that did not include J'onzz being a mouldering corpse in the far future, it's likely that he'll be back (and better dressed) by the end of Final Crisis. That's what I'm telling myself, anyway.