Bizarro Back Issues: The Martian Manhunter Against Zeus, The Crime King Of Mount Olympus! (1962)
So y’all know about prototype characters, right? Whether by design or accident, you’ll occasionally run into these characters who sort of feel like rough drafts that will later be refined into far more successful and popular versions of the same character.
The most famous, of course, is probably Mr. Zero, whose ice ray and frigid body temperature would later be shifted over to the far more successful form of Mr. Freeze, but there’s also that story about Batman being injured by a hulking supervillain and having to send out an ill-fated replacement, which came out a few years before those same ideas would show up in Knightfall.
Every now and then, though, you’ll find them cropping up in the most unexpected places — and if you read through enough back issues of Detective Comics, you’ll run across a guy who seems an awful lot like a rough draft for Maxie Zeus. The only difference is that instead of fighting Batman, this guy decided that it would be a good idea to try and recruit the Martian Manhunter, who has all of Superman’s powers plus the ability to read your mind and turn invisible. And it works out about as well as you’d think.
It all went down in the amazingly titled “The Crime King of Mount Olympus” in ‘Tec #302, in that time when J’onn J’onzz was in a backup feature that stretched the definition of “Detective” even more than Batman. This particular case comes from Jack Miller and Joe Certa, and like so many superhero adventures, it opens with chariots descending from the heavens to blow up banks with thunderbolts.
Sing, O Muse, of what is basically a regular-ass bank robbery!
So regular, in fact, that while everyone else is mystified by this godly attack, ace detective John Jones (secretly J’onn J’onzz, the Manhunter from Mars!) gets a “hot tip” (secretly telepathy!) that all of the thunderbolts cast down from mighty Zeus’s chariot were just regular grenades, and that the flying chariot itself was just a “motorized craft.” Because, you know, a super-criminal having access to the level of sci-fi technology that you’d need for a flying chariot and a robot pegasus is slightly less worrying than actual gods descending from the heavens to commit armed robbery.
Unfortunately, this knowledge isn’t enough to help the Manhunter stop this original robbery, as he is distracted by his old foe: A chimney.
Still, it’s enough to go on, which gets Jones and his partner, Diane Meade, assigned to the case. And much like when Clark Kent and Lois Lane are “assigned” to a story, their part in the investigation is basically limited to just standing around and waiting for the story to come to them.
Sure enough, the very next day sees another daring Pegasus raid on Middleton, Colorado, and when Diane goes up in the police chopper, she ends up being captured by crooks who can not only recognize her inside the helicopter, but also know her by name.
Fortunately, Diane is clever enough to leave a “trail of breadcrumbs” to lead the Martian Manhunter to her rescue. Unfortunately, because she is a female supporting character and this is a superhero comic from 1962, those “breadcrumbs” are literally a compact, lipstick, and a monogrammed “ladies’ comb.” It probably goes without saying that she will spend the rest of the story standing quietly in a corner wearing a toga while everything else happens around her.
But at least it leads the Manhunter to Zeus’s headquarters, which is located a “distant island” in one of Colorado’s many seas.
Okay, okay, to be fair, I think that placing J’onn’s adventures in Colorado may have been a later invention — the setting is just referred to here as “the city” — but it sure is one of those generic cities that’s adjacent to a body of water large enough to contain an island where a literal castle full of fire spouts was constructed without anyone noticing.
Also, let’s just acknowledge for a moment that there is no way to look at that thing and think, “Ah yes, an exact replica of Mount Olympus.” I feel like maybe King “Not Maxie” Zeus could’ve bought that thing secondhand from a chess-themed supervillain, added a couple of smoke machines, and called it a day.
The best thing about it, though, is that he has a robot Cerberus there (note: Cerberus does not live at Mount Olympus), and in order to make sure we get that it has three heads, the letterer gave it three separate “WOOF”s.
Even though he’s found the villain’s HQ, though, J’onn’s at a disadvantage. King Zeus takes one look at Martian Manhunter — who is green, can fly, and reads minds — decides that he fits the bill as Hercules, and then uses Diane Meade as leverage to force him to act as a criminal strongman on his behalf. And just so there’s no funny business, he sends “Perseus” along with him.
First up — after the story is briefly interrupted by a one-page text piece about all the slang terms cops use for their nightsticks — is the robbery of a Golden Stag statue from the Mythological Museum, which you would think would’ve been King Zeus’s first target. That’s dealt with pretty easily, but the second task raises the difficulty level just a bit:
But, y’know, not so much that it doesn’t happen entirely in the space between two panels.
There is, however, a reason for that. Once the Manhunter gets back to “Mount Olympus,” he tosses up the “Golden Apples,” only to reveal that they are… balloons.
From there, it’s a pretty short road to one of the sweetest sentences that it’s possible to write in the English language:
With that, the story is over, but the fact remains: My man just straight up tricked the would-be king of the gods with balloons. Balloons! Not even special Martian balloons, just balloons that he picked up from, and I quote, “a balloon factory near the government vaults” while he was pretending to tunnel in to steal a bunch of gold. That is a devastatingly humiliating defeat.
No wonder Zeus went quiet for 15 years, dyed his hair, and moved to Gotham City before he tried to commit another crime. At least if Batman beats you, you can still kinda brag about it.