A Tribute to the of

I’m starting to think I’ve got a little bit of a problem. I bought another Super-Pac. How many more until I scratch that itch? After all, I can’t even open them and read the books inside, or maybe I should say I won’t, although I have other methods for enjoying the contents, which I’ll employ again with this edition of the Silver Age Sage, drifting into the Bronze Age.

This time I purchased #B-6, which is interesting, because it contains only two books rather than the usual three. That’s because, unlike the 3-packs where you get “The Very Best in Approved Comics” and “3 BIG CURRENT ISSUES!” (at the generous one penny discount of 59 cents), the top of the poly bag, printed in blue, this time, trumpets, “Bigger & Better” and “32 extra pages” and “2 BIG CURRENT ISSUES!” once again with one red cent off the cover prices for a total of 49 cents. One of the obvious advantages to this Pac is that you can readily see what’s inside. Two 52-page 25-cent books rather than three 20-cent books with a mysterious title sandwiched between the visible covers. Less of a gamble for your hard-earned coin.

So, this one intrigued me because it was a different configuration and, silly as it may sound, because it was a blue logo on the poly bag to go with the red one I already purchased and shared with you, and it was in my price range (I’d sure love to know where these things have been hiding out all these years) and furthermore, I wondered how they got away with showing a little bit of blood on the cover. Wasn’t that prohibited by the Comics Code at the time? That got me to thinking that I’d never actually read the tenets of the infamous code.

I discovered there’s a well-researched and documented book by Amy Kiste Nyberg titled “Seal of Approval,” which is all about it. Unfortunately, it read a lot like a college thesis because, well, that’s basically what it is, expanded into a book. I learned among other things that it got updated and modified at one point before ultimately being scrapped and there are a couple of hair-curling examples of what sometimes happened before it was instituted. I did locate a good summary of the original 1954 code for your viewing pleasure at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund website that will save me some typing.

As you can see, while there are some specific guidelines, a lot of it is subjective and while the blatant gore of some of the old EC comics provided a major catalyst for the implementation of the code, in many cases, the publishers went so far the other direction that, as Russ Heath told me, tongue-in-cheek, you had to be careful how much you showed a guy sweating, because that would be too violent. I’m not that much into the old war books, but couldn’t think of many examples of what you might naturally see in a combat setting regarding wounds and blood, so I assumed that it was verboten. But, this spotlighted World’s Finest issue (#212 with a publication date of June 1972 and backed up in the bag with Tarzan of the Apes #209 and offered up as the “3rd DC Issue” prominently displays a Nick Cardy cover with J’onn J’onnzz, the Martian Manhunter, delivering a haymaker to Superman and some blood shown coming from the corner of Supes’ mouth. The text further delineates, “Not only are you human, Superman—but I’ve made you bleed!” And sure enough, there’s the Comics Code Seal of Approval up on the trade dress. So much for my assumption.

Now, let’s get to business and check out this Denny O’Neil scripted story titled, “…And so my World Begins!” Art for the interior was provided by Dick Dillin pencils and Joe Giella inks with Ben Oda lettering and editorial duties came courtesy of Julie Schwartz along with E. Nelson Bridwell, who, by the way, will be posthumously receiving the Bill Finger award this year at San Diego Comic Con.

Finally, the book contains a couple of Golden Age stories of the Grim Ghost, an old character from the 40s and Air Wave.

The splash page immediately brings to our attention that this is “The Long-Awaited Return of the Martian Manhunter.” Apparently J’onn went on hiatus in Justice League of America #71 (May 1969) when he went in search of survivors of his native Mars and had been scarce ever since. It also turns out that this story is sort of a follow-on to Superman #253 (June 1972), the current issue, when the Man of Steel is trying to unravel the mystery of an alien building that appears and vanishes near Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Of even greater interest is that our hero was certain he’d spotted J’onn inside this will o’ the wisp structure.

So, Kal-El is at the site where it was last spotted when it shimmers into view again. He steps inside to investigate and almost immediately stumbles across his fellow JLA member, but rather than a warm reception, he gets punched by a crazed Martian Manhunter. With no alternative but to fight back, Superman tries to be as gentle as possible, despite their nearly equal super-strength and even takes a page from the Batman’s book, trying to put J’onn in a Judo sleeper hold. Just then the building is rocked by what seems to be an earthquake, shaking our combatants loose from one another, but when it subsides, J’onn cuts loose with a right cross that makes the Man of Tomorrow bleed, much to his surprise.

Just then, J’onn asks if it’s really him and when it is confirmed, he apologizes, explaining that he was certain he was having a nightmare. The Martian elaborates that if Superman wasn’t a nightmare apparition, he might have been one of “them,” the Thythen, who are systematically destroying his people. As they emerge from the building, they suddenly find themselves under a red sun, robbing Superman of his powers. He suggests to J’onn that he start at the beginning and fill him in, noting that the last he knew, the Martians had fled their world following a global war. J’onn confirms the fact and that he went in search of them.

He’d bid farewell to the Justice League and piloted a ship equipped with Ionized Anti-matter detectors to track the fuel source of his fellow Martian travelers. It led him to a space warp that flung his ship to a distant galaxy and the world they’re now on. He found a handful of his people, attached to helmets and wiring, unconscious and hung like meat on racks and somehow connected to huge android war machines. J’onn was then discovered and pursued by an alien. He took refuge in the vanishing building and escaped as it faded from sight. He also found and translated the writing on a large tablet, revealing the world is called Vonn and that its inhabitants fled the Thythen invaders, the same who threatened Mars and that the people of Vonn successfully “broadcast” their entire civilization to another solar system. The only remnant is the building that transits between locations, a museum of ancient weaponry, caught in the same space warp. The tablet further explains that the Thythem are warmongers who use the life-force of living beings to charge their android machines.

That is the horrible fate of J’onn’s fellow Martians and he is determined to attempt a rescue after sunset. Superman pledges his help, despite his loss of powers and they begin to lay plans, even though the Manhunter’s abilities are somewhat diminished as well on Vonn’s atmosphere.

The duo scout around and discover the Thythem ship and decide to pilot it and use a Trojan Horse strategy. Before they can proceed, however, a green-skinned woman appears and J’onn recognizes her as Bel Juz from Mars. She says she managed to escape the Thythem. They hatch a plan to follow her escape route to try and perform their rescue. J’onn comments that he feels “tangle-footed” but Bel says he was agile enough to fight Superman.

Once Bel shows them her tunnel escape route, Superman insists that J’onn wait behind in a ditch and instructs Bel Juz to go ahead of him into the tunnel. The Kryptonian’s thoughts reveal that he smells a trap. Taking advantage of the loss of Martian invulnerability on Vonn, Superman puts the sleeper hold on Bel, but her instinct of fight or flight kicks in, literally, as she takes flight, with Superman holding on, accusing her of leading her fellow Martians into the clutches of the Thythem and attempting to do the same with he and J’onn, pointing out that she couldn’t have known of their battle if she’d just escaped. The Man of Steel’s theory is confirmed when they fly by a Thythem who had lain in wait.

She finally loses consciousness and they land, hard, with Superman thinking to himself that he feels as if he’d gone 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali. (Love those topical references!) He then boards the ship and flies to where he left the Martian Manhunter and tells his ally that he’ll create a distraction so be prepared to enter the alien camp.

“Diversion” is a bit of an understatement, as Superman crashes the ship directly into a large domed building. J’onn takes flight, convinced that his friend has sacrificed his very life. He swiftly frees his fellow Martians as the Thythem emerge from the destroyed building. They order the war machines to attack the Martians and “…grind them to dust!” Unfortunately for them, the machines turn on their makers and annihilate them. A confused Martian Manhunter asks his comrades what just happened and they explain that the Thythem’s fatal error was not understanding that the very consciousness of the Martians was in the machines, so they were able to manipulate them to destroy their oppressors. Now the machines will be used to rebuild rather than destroy.

Just then Bel shows up, and feigns relief that J’onn is well. Meanwhile, a suited figure emerges from the wreckage of the ship. It seems Superman located a fire and shock-proof suit to enable him to survive. Now he has to alert his teammate about Bel’s treachery, but is confronted with another Thythem. Superman flees to the museum with the Thythem in hot pursuit. The alien soon has our hero in a death grip, but the familiar quaking occurs, transporting the building back to Earth and the yellow sun restores the Man of Tomorrow to full power, which he uses to dispatch his malevolent opponent, destroying the building in the process. Superman muses that it’s a happy ending for him and hopefully a happy beginning for J’onn and his fellow Martians, wrapping up this galactic tale of adventure. I do wonder if J’onn was able to learn of Bel Juz’s duplicity, but that was probably a thread that was pursued in another book as J’onn began to be reintegrated into continuity.

I found it interesting that this issue was toward the tail-end of what I presume was an experiment to shake up the World’s Finest title. For decades, clear back to 1941, the series has basically been a team-up avenue for Superman and Batman, though the early issues merely had them together on the cover, often with Robin, rather than an actual crossover adventure inside the anthologies. But beginning with issue #198, (November, 1970) Batman was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Superman began teaming with other heroes like the Flash and Green Lantern, among others. It must not have flown, though, because very soon, with issue #215, (December 1972/January 1973), the Dark Knight was back and there he stayed until the final issue (#323) in January of 1986.

It’s kind of sad that this venerable and long-running series isn’t available any longer. I’ve enjoyed many a fine hour in its pages over the years and am happy to have another example, even though it’s sealed up in a poly bag, but it remains a fond memory of my younger days, seeing these good ol’ Super Pacs in the spinner rack.

The webmaster and I hope your longer, warmer days are off to a great start. Thanks for taking some of your valuable time here at the Silver Lantern, where we continue to strive to bring you a blast from the distant past of carefree Silver Age fun.

If you have feedback of any kind, don’t be bashful. Just use that trusty keyboard and reach out. I’m continually monitoring my e-mail at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you the middle of June with another review and meanwhile…

Long live the Silver Age!

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