Manhunter from Mars #175 (February, 1979)

On Mars II, J'onn J'onzz was visited by a clearly distressed Saranna. She had lost contact with her father Jasonar, who had left her on Kalanor to take on Despero as his full responsibility and laboratory assistant. The pair had been working together in isolation on a distant satellite, though Saranna and Manhunter could reach it through her dimensional traveler. Since Kalanorian authorities had long since washed their hands of Despero and his benefactor, J'onn J'onzz was Saranna's best hope for protection and investigative aid. The Manhunter from Mars agreed, and the pair were off.

Aboard the satellite, they found Jasonar's body lying on an interior floor. He had been battered, but his exact cause of death wasn't readily apparent. Saranna cursed the mutant freak who had committed this heinous act. J'onzz began to check the satellite's logs, and discovered Despero had fled the scene in a spaceship altered by Jasonar and J'onzz to include Martian technology. The Manhunter could follow Despero's trail of ionized anti-matter, his ship's fuel source. J'onzz also loaded Jasonar's body and personal log into the dimensional traveler, for study on the way to Despero's present location, the nearby planet Sirkus.

From the logs, J'onzz learned that Despero had actually blossomed as Jasonar's sole associate in his studies. Much of the former despot's aggressive tendencies had subsided, and he showed a seemingly genuine appreciation for their work. Still, Jasonar wouldn't dare risk Saranna's life in Despero's presence again, and regularly subjected himself to a recreation of the radiation from the dimensional traveler that immunized a person against Despero's mental powers. Saranna shook her head in disgust at Despero's taking advantage of Jasonar's altruistic gullibility, knowing full well the monster had been plotting her father's demise the whole time.

On Sirkus, the Manhunter was pleased to find he had super powers near those he enjoyed on Earth, and that the Sirkian Governor Kwim was perfectly willing to offer any aid in tracking down the bandit gone to ground on her world. It wasn't long before Despero was found, although Saranna was shocked to discover his powerful third eye, the presumed murder weapon, was still rendered inactive. In fact, Despero was only lightly armed, and the Alien Atlas made short work of his offensive.

Saranna cursed at the hideous Despero for his lethal duplicity, to which Despero hurtfully protested that it was in fact Jasonar who had tried to kill him! Despero had only defended himself, and knocked Jasonar unconscious. Panicked, Despero took the rifle Jasonar had attempted to slay him with, and fled to the nearest inhabited world. Saranna slapped Despero, and demanded he stop lying.

The Sleuth from Outer Space took Saranna by the wrist, and mournfully explained Despero likely spoke the truth. J'onzz's inspection of Jasonar's body had uncovered cancerous growths throughout, most probably caused by his constant exposure to radiation. A further review of Jasonar's logs revealed that he knew he was terminally ill, with at best days to live. Although he felt Despero was sincerely improving as a sympathetic being, after being fooled so often before, he felt he couldn't risk allowing Despero to live on without his guidance.

Unbowed, Saranna continued to curse Despero for robbing her of time she should have spent with her father in his final years. Again, J'onzz interjected. Although it's true Jasonar felt safer with Saranna far from harm's way, the Manhunter had observed her consistent pattern of suspicious, judgmental and generally prejudiced attitude toward Despero. While her bias was understandable, Jasonar surely recognized there was no hope of redeeming Despero so long as Saranna was present to reenforce Despero's toxic self image. Fully breaking down at this observation, Saranna damned Manhunter and his cruel Martian logic.

The Manhunter extended his hand to Despero, in hopes the former tyrant would be willing to continue ascending the path of righteousness. Despero swatted it away, spitting out his assertion that any hope the universe had of quelling his burning hatred had been left to die on that satellite lab. However, the Sirkians were touched by all this, and insisted Despero be left in their hands for further rehabilitation.

The Manhunter agreed, with apprehension, and left the world with Saranna in the dimensional traveler. The Sirkians began discussing a course of treatment for Despero, and dismissed the barbaric practice of surgically disabling his third eye. His back to his would-be saviors, Despero allowed himself a small, nefarious grin...

Tony Isabella left the DC editorial staff midway through 1977, though stories he edited saw print throughout the year. Jack Harris took over all of Isabella's duties, and also edited his freelance writing on Black Lightning. After that title's last issue saw print late in '78, Harris moved its stunning artist, Trevor Von Eeden, to Manhunter from Mars. Although Harris had used a few Isabella scripts on the title in the past, the writer had left DC Comics some months prior, and the book struggled to find anything resembling a permanent creative team. Worse, just as Von Eeden was preparing for the assignment, the book shifted editorship to Ross Andru. Barely staving off cancellation during the infamous "DC Implosion," Andru had marching orders to burn off some inventory material as a cost-cutting measure before commissioning any new material. Von Eeden was left looking for fill-in work until his first issues shipped in the spring of '79.

In the meantime, this Martin "Marty" Pasko and Dick Dillin tale from the file drawer was extremely well received by readers, becoming an instant classic. It was made additionally poignant when Dillin himself passed on a year later. It was Dillin, after all, who drew many of the Martian Manhunter's guest appearances in the 60s and 70s that helped keep the character and his somewhat isolated solo series in the public consciousness. Dillin was also only the second artist to draw Despero, Jasonar, and Saranna (preceded of course by Mike Sekowsky.) While Dillin never again returned to the title, popular demand brought Pasko back for a number of stories. By the time Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn finally became the "regular" writing team in their first ongoing assignment, Len Wein had been handed the editorial reins, and would shuffle them off in less than a year. At least Von Eeden stuck around through #200...

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