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Detective Comics 273
"The Unmasking of J'onn J'onzz!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND November 1959 (National/DC Comics, edited by Jack Schiff)

I'm going to review this whole book, at least briefly, but the main item of interest is one of the backup stories, a milestone in the career of a character who is currently having a revival of popularity. The "John Jones, Manhunter from Mars" story is "The Unmasking of J'onn J'onzz!" The art is clearly by Joe Certa, artist of all the original 'TEC and HOUSE OF MYSTERY JJ stories (anyone know if he's still with us?) and others on this list have reported that Jack Miller wrote nearly all the original JJ stories, so I'll assume he wrote this one.

For four years before this story, the Martian Manhunter performed his super-feats only secretly and invisibly, hiding his existence as a Martian and often allowing his human alter ego John Jones, detective, to take credit for capturing crooks. This story brought that phase to an end.

The splash panel shows Jones, in human guise, and a crowd of people watching astonished as a Martian uses super-breath to blow cars up in the air. The new Martian looks basically identical to J'onn, except for having yellow skin instead of green, and purple trunks, boots and cape. As the story begins, a "runaway missile" is spotted descending over the city and landing in a park.

"Look! A being from outer space! Is he friendly-- or dangerous?" onlookers exclaim. The answer comes as the visitor produces a Martian ray gun and vaporizes a statue. "Ha, ha! Look at them flee! With my Martian powers, I'll become the most powerful man on Earth!" He "begins his reign of crime" at a bank; "This seems to be a place where Earth people store their money! I might as well start here!" He enters the bank vault-- "Walking through solid objects is only ONE of my Martian talents!"-- and defies the guns of the bank guards. "Come to think of it, who needs money? I can take ANYTHING I WANT from you helpless Earthlings!" "Our bullets can't stop him! Call the police!"

Police Chief Harding calls in his "ace detective," John Jones, in response to "hundreds of calls about an ALIEN ON EARTH! What do you make of it?" "'s possible, Capt. Harding! I'll look into it at once!"

He thinks to himself, "I wonder what the Chief would say if he knew that I"M an alien-- a MARTIAN IN DISGUISE! Still, I doubt there's actually ANOTHER spaceman on Earth!" (Never mind that guy from Krypton who hangs out over in Metropolis...)

Jones soon catches the new Martian "using super-breath to blow a path through

the heavy traffic" and realizes, "Great suns-- it's true! There IS another Martian on Earth! But how did he get here?" Even more puzzling, as the Martian Malefactor warns the Earthling crowds to flee, is "Why doesn't he just make himself invisible, as any Martian can do?"

The Martian flees at super-speed into an abandoned warehouse, but Jones' "Martian eyesight" spots him, and Jones assumes his true J'onn J'onzz form in order to confront him. "Thundering meteors!", the Malefactor says. "ANOTHER MARTIAN! How did YOU get here?" "Suppose you first tell me who you are and how YOU got here?" "My name is B'rett! I-- er-- had to leave Mars in a hurry-- so I hid myself in an experimental missile that accidentally overshot its mark and landed on Earth!" "A CRIMINAL, eh? Well, I'm returning you to your missile!" (Hmmm... didn't the John Jones origin story, back in 1955, have JJ say or at least imply that crime was extinct back on Mars?)

B'rett produces a "Martian ray gun" -- "Great stars! I may be invulnerable to Earth weapons-- but that gadget can finish me off for good!" J'onn evades B'rett's attack by becoming invisible. But B'rett produces another weapon; "A pellet of FORMULA Z6-- the chemical given to Martian criminals to rob them of their super-powers while invisible! No wonder you never vanish!" "And from now on, YOU will never be able to use your Martian powers while invisible, either!" B'rett flees while J'onn is recovering from the aftereffects of the formula. Later, an invisible but de-powered J'onn observes some Earth police moving in on B'rett, who has recharged his ray gun at his missile. "They don't realize they're no match for that ray gun! And..and I can't use my powers to save them...unless I become visible-- and give away my presence on Earth! Yet-- I have no choice!"

J'onn becomes visible, leading the cops to exclaim, "OH,NO-- now there are TWO of them!" "Yes-- but have no fear of me!" J'onn replies. "I am on Earth to FIGHT crime!" B'rett threatens J'onn and the cops with his ray gun, but J'onn spots "a man burning a pile of leaves, miles away!" With his super-breath (I'm not sure why this was the writers' favorite Martian super-power) J'onn blows the leaves into a circle around B'rett. "Fire-- the one Martian weakness! I'm losing all my strength!" "Now's your chance, officers! Grab him! I don't dare come any closer to that fire!" (Here B'rett and J'onn both blurt out the secret weakness which J'onn goes to great lengths to hide in later stories. Good thing the cops on the scene never blabbed.)

J'onn gets the U.S. military to launch B'rett's missile, with him aboard, into an orbit around Mars "so the Martians will then be able to send up a ship and bring it down." (Gee, I didn't know we had the capability in 1959 to send any kind of ship to Mars... and since the original premise of the JJ strip was that J'onn was just passing time on Earth by fighting crime until he could get back to Mars himself, why didn't he ride along?) Police Chief Harding shakes hands with the Martian Manhunter, who seems to have been accepted by the authorities and the public very quickly; "Would I love to have YOU on my force!" "I will always be available for emergencies...(thinking) though I'll have to keep my Earth identity a secret-- even from the Chief here!" Later, the chief tells John Jones, "Until today, you were the top detective in town, but from now on you'll have to take second place to the MANHUNTER FROM MARS!" "Perhaps, sir-- but I've a feeling he and I will get along just fine together!"

Just a few months later, the Martian Manhunter joined with other publicly known superheroes to form the JLA, in BRAVE & BOLD #28 (Feb-Mar 1960). It's been suggested that he went public in this DETECTIVE story specifically so that he could participate in the JLA. Or maybe 'TEC editor Jack Schiff just decided that with costumed heroes becoming more popular, JJ should function as one of them rather than as a gimmicky plainclothes sleuth. Anyway, as I've commented before, I'm not sure the change was good for the strip; his secret modus operandi at least gave JJ a distinction from other heroes and an extra story hook, and as a public hero he was not much more than a bush-league Superman.