Manhunter from Mars #125 (February 1973)

Reed Crandall had left Manhunter from Mars to work on Warren Publishing's black and white horror and war magazines, before leaving the field altogether in 1974. Writer Len Brown had himself exited for greener pastures. John Giunta had done a bit of work on the title, but passed on in 1970. By 1971, in a declining industry, editor Mike Sekowsky took on the extra workload of writing and drawing the bi-monthly adventures of J'onn J'onzz. This proved a smart move, as Sekowsky was relieved of his editorial duties at DC later that year, but the incoming Murray Boltinoff allowed him to continue on as a freelancer. With sales less than stellar, Sekowsky had planned to dump the Alien Atlas from the series, just as he'd ditched the "John Jones" portion of the title. He would instead shift the backdrop to the year 2070, and feature the bounty hunter Starker in the Manhunter role. Boltinoff was skeptical of the move, and insisted J'onn J'onzz remain in the title, leaving the three Starker stories Sekowsky had prepared to be printed in the anthology series Showcase. There would be yet another Manhunter before 1973 was out, this one a 1940s revival by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonsion, featured in Detective Comics.

Anyhow, our concern here is with J'onn J'onzz, who under Sekowsky became a more rough and tumble character, not unlike his own Starker. However, long time fans constantly wrote in requesting the Manhunter from Mars face off against established super-villains. Sekowsky probably figured he could use the good will, and brought back a baddie he'd designed for the very first issue of Justice League of America, Despero.

The exiled survivors of Mars had been breaking their backs for months, trying to make a go of it on their newly adopted world, Vonn. The planet was far from hospitable, which left time for frustrated idleness. Some youths spotted a flash in the sky. Science (and now agricultural) leader J'onn J'onzz was alerted, as the elders recognized the flash as a spaceship making entry into the atmosphere. J'onzz and a security force followed the ship to its landing, where out stepped Jasonar, an other dimensional scientist from the world Kalanor. Jasonar explained that he and his daughter Saranna had been performing experiments on a space station in this solar system. Along with them was Despero, a mutant with psychic powers who had repeatedly battled the Justice League of America. Jasonar steadfastly believed that rehabilitation was possible, but after Despero's second attempted to conquer Kalanor, its populace refused to allow the villain to remain on their world. It fell to Jasonar to guide Despero to redemption, as he and his daughter surgically removed Despero's third eye, the source of his power, and insured it did not regenerate from his skull.

Unbeknownst to the pair, Despero had used his own scientific genius to maintain his severed eye in a small secreted fish tank, until it had developed sufficiently to be reattached. Despero attacked Saranna, leaving her in a sealed time release air lock, and extorting Jasonar's assistance in his surgery. Once it proved a success, Despero exited the station in a spacecraft with Saranna in tow, forcing Jasonar's continued silence about Despero's recovery to Kalanorian authorities. Jasonar discovered in the nick of time that he'd been left on a space station set to self destruct. Jasonar escaped in a spare starcraft, but with limited fuel and few resources, compliments of Despero. He was relieved that providence had led him to Vonn, and a former ally in J'onn J'onzz.

Shame then, that the Martian authorites demanded Jasonar's immediate departure. Life on Vonn was only just bearable, and they lacked more than the most basic sustenance. This left them too lethargic to power their only defensive weaponry, the robo-chargers they had inherited from their former masters, the Thythen. The Martian Council was unwilling to risk the safety of their people for the benefit of any one man, no matter his straits. Further, they would not bring down the wrath of his pursuer by offering any aid whatsoever. J'onn J'onzz reluctantly agreed with their decision, and saw Jasonar's ship off. Imagine the Martians' surprise, when J'onzz didn't return.

Despero had picked up the trail of Jasonar's craft, and forced it to land almost as soon as it had risen. Setting down roughly in the desert, the Martian Marvel made his way to cover before Despero could follow. On Vonn, J'onzz was a bit stronger than a human, and could engage in limited flight, but had no other super-powers. Although Despero wasn't fully recovered from his surgery, he could still easily track J'onzz through the desert, and offer up a series of stinging bolts of energy from his third eye. Despero demanded to know Jasonar's whereabouts, but at a distance, could not force the Manhunter to reveal the location through his telepathy. Still, keeping his confidence was a struggle for J'onzz.  Using his wits, the Manhunter managed to lead Despero on a false trail, then doubled back to free Saranna. Unfortunately, Despero had her under his mental thrall since his surgery, and had forced her to set the space station's self destruct. Further, she had been armed, and fired a paralyzing ray at the Alien Atlas. Finally in Despero's clutches, the Manhunter was powerless against the villain's mental prowess in close quarters. Through cold sweat, J'onn J'onzz revealed that he had left Jasonar behind at the Martian camp, in order that he may construct a weapon from parts of a robo-charger.

Just then, a shot rang out from the distance, striking Despero square on the brow. With little time to lose, Jasonar had followed J'onzz's plan to the letter, sneaking off to construct an energy rifle while the Martians were unsettled by their leader's unannounced departure. A penitent Saranna tended to J'onzz's injuries, as the unconscious Despero was dragged back to his stolen spaceship, and the party lifted off.

The Manhunter from Mars expressed his disappointment in his people, who had used the "greater good" as an excuse for cowardice. It was increasingly apparent that Vonn could never sustain the Martian survivors, no matter how hard they tried to till its soil. J'onzz wondered which they were more afraid of-- confronting a villain like Despero, or the uncertainty of continuing their quest for a new home planet. Jasonar offered Kalinor to J'onn J'onzz alone, but the Martian Manhunter could never abandon his people in their time of need, as they were willing to do to Jasonar and Saranna. Pleased that J'onzz had refused his tempting offer, Jasonar instead committed his keen mind to helping the Martians, whether in finding a way to bring Vonn to life, or to continue their exodus amongst the stars...

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