February 9th, 2012
Being an irregular series wherein I spotlight some particularly beautiful cover runs, from some comics you might have forgotten about, or never seen before. Up this time, the forgotten classic Martian Manhunter: American Secrets mini series from 1992 by Gerard Jones and the sadly missed Eduardo Barreto.
Of all the comics in my collection the one that I think is the most under-appreciated, unrecognized and just plain forgotten is this one.
Long out of print, never collected, it’s a footnote at best in the history of the Martian Manhunter, a character known best for his supporting roles in comics rather than any of his own.
And the fact that people don’t talk about this one more is a crying shame as it is a brilliantly realised, dark and paranoid tale from the Martian’s past featuring some career best comic writing from Gerard Jones (whose ‘Men of Tomorrow’ is required comics history reading) and some beautiful artwork from Eduardo Barreto, who sadly passed away a few months ago at a far too young age.
American Secrets is a hot pulpy stew of 1950′s conspiracies, with rigged TV quizzes, beatnik prophets, Burroughsian Lizard overlords, the cracked facade of suburbia, monstrous child actors, police corruption, naive rock ‘n’ rollers and a healthy dose of alien invaders. And in amongst them is J’onn J’onzz, freshly arrived on Earth and feeling as alienated and lost as the kids populating the coffee shop poetry nights and the TV audiences sucked in to the Big Lie of entertainment. It’s dizzying, claustrophobic and distinctly nightmarish – delivered utterly straight by the creators and all the better for it. Jones captures the pulp beat tone perfectly in his writing and it fits perfectly for J’onn’s taciturn delivery – just listen to the first paragraph from the book:
“He reached for me as the bullet broke his breastbone. Who else could he reach for? He’s a stranger. I’m a stranger. Not just strangers to each other, but even bigger strangers to the cold stone eyes of the city. He’s a beatnik. I’m a Martian.”
Barreto’s art is breathtakingly good – a perfect 1950′s pastiche, with confident thick black lines and heavy noir stylings. The men look like rugged matinee idols, the women are gorgeous and the foulness lurking beneath the surface of things is depicted with savage glee, all the more unsettling when contracted with the clean, strong simple design work. Aided by Steve Oliff at his vibrant best, the book looks fantastic. Check this out:
Those covers are fantastic too – years before Cooke’s Parker, or Madmen they evoke the design of the period brilliantly, with bold, simple design and Barreto’s note-perfect magazine illustration watercolour cheesecake pastiches. I love the loose, heavy confidence of his Martian Manhunter and the bold primary colours of the books. Add a clean, simple retro font, and you have strong iconic looking comics that still look crisp and fresh today (despite the tattiness that my multiple readings have bestowed on them. They are honestly among my favourite comics in my collection, and if you can pick them up I heartily recommend you do so.
Rest in peace Eduardo, you were a class act.