Sunday, June 22, 2008
Martian Manhunter: American Secrets. Book two. (10/92)
Upon arrival, the runaways took in the sight of the suburban "heaven." Preston informed John, "The comic book man told me all about Leavitzville. This is where he wants to come--after the reckoning... He used to come out here to visit with his old boss-- the 'Nuts' man!" Intruding on this revelation was the Anderson family, a nuclear bunch complete with both parents, a child of each gender, and a loyal pet dog. "Can we give you folks a hand?" The teenage daughter was already swooning over Perkins Preston, and Mom recognized Patty Marie. "Whatever brings you here so late at night?"
Jones bought himself a few minutes to come up with an excuse for his group's late night arrival into the Anderson home, involving a well-known mobster. "These extortion gangs threaten popular personalities to bleed the producers. I was about to move Perkins and Patty to a safe-house in the Rockies when someone tried to hit them...You heard of a man called Mr. Gioconda?"
"He's one of those Las Vegas gangsters, isn't he?" Jones was pleased to glean that bit of information, then asked about their suburban habitat, while Mrs. Anderson blathered the equivalent of product endorsements in the background (predating "The Truman Show.") Mr. Anderson affirmed, "People of all types, all backgrounds, and all creeds are welcome in Leavitzville. As long as they fit in."
Meanwhile, Sissy shared her secret stash of "Pink Passion" lipstick with Patty Marie. Sissy whispered, "Is your mom strict about things, too?" Patty replied, "She tried to give me to the lizards. Usually she only hurts me when she's drunk, or when one of my uncles is over and I interrupt them. But this time all I did was say the wrong thing on television. A man called me on the telephone and said I should say the words 'Prize-To-Be' on the program. And I said them...and she whipped me with the hose and said she was going to give me to the-- to the-- NO! NO! NO!"
Jones arrived to console Patty Marie. "Your mother's made milk shakes, Sissy. Wipe the Pink Passion off your mouth and join her." In the next room, Buddy showed off his collection of movie monster magazines. A hungry Preston was more interested in the kid's candy. "Have all you want. It tastes crummy. That weird Mr. Keene gives it out to all the kids. It's made from sugar-beets...Bleccchhh!" Perkins read the wrapper, "Beto," then mentioned black friends back home in Mississippi who share-cropped the sugar-beets. "Colored people? You've seen colored people? What are they like?"
Jones slept on the couch. "That night I dream strange dreams. Dreams of my other self. Misty dreams of Mars, and great airships over Earthly cities. Of little girls and their prizes, and boys and their candy. Dreams of endless grids. Straight rows of lights, or houses, of humanity, stretching endlessly away." The next morning, Jones perused the morning newspaper, noting the suicide death of singer Eddie Lowe. "Prize-To-Be... The tumblers roll through my brain but can't click into place. Eddie Lowe fights with Phil Jerry about jukebox orders from Mr. Gioconda. From Cuba. Las Vegas. The Big Question. And a parody..."
Jones decided to investigate further, by invisibly trekking to the home of the former employer of the proselytizing lizard-obsessed artist, Mr. Keene. Jazz music blared from his home, while Jones noted a sign above his door reading "POETRIE B E-Z --KOMMEDIE B HARD". A pudgy, goateed, bespectacled man answered the door, and was surprised to be questioned by a Denver police officer. On his floor was an unpublished art board from "Nuts" depicting child personality "Skeeter" as a murderous alien invader. "There was a murder on 'The Big Question.' 'Nuts' magazine satirized that...Your parody used the category 'horticulture' the day of the murder." Keene, an obvious analog for Bill Gaines, joked around Jones' questions before settling into a confessional funk. "Once I was serious. About science-fiction stories, crime stories. They took me to a senate committee for such serious. They dragged me through the mud. They cut off my head. Their pink-tinted head-shrinkers called me a capitalist pimp... and their flag-flying preachers called me a Red. They wanted me quiet. And they got it."
"Who? Who wanted you quiet, Keene?"
"My neighbors, maybe..."
Suddenly, a dragon-hound burst through the door, attacking the Manhunter. Mr. Anderson pulled up in his station wagon shortly after, walking up to Keene's door with briefcase in hand. Just as J'Onzz snapped the beast's neck, Anderson whipped out a hi-tech handgun, firing streams of flame at the Martian. Perkins and Patty thankfully arrived in their pink Cadillac, saving Jones by running Anderson down. "Oh my Lord! I killed him!" Keene consoled, "It's okay, kid. He wasn't human anyway... Insurance salesman." Keene fetched some fresh clothes for the singed John Jones, and a batch of All-Star Comics for Patty Marie. The girl protested, "But I don't read comic books! They're not educational." Keene retorted, "That's what you think."
A panicked Perkins Preston shouted, "Detective Jones? Sir? They're coming, sir. Station Wagons!" Loading up the Caddie, Jones reverted to Manhunter form, and flew away with the car. Keene looked on. "I didn't think there were any of your kind left."
Jones and company made the long trip across country to Nevada. On a night drive, Preston asked, "Are they after us, sir?"
"Then what do we do?"
"We learn who they are. And we go after them."
"What are you, sir."
"Don't ask me that. Just drive."
In a Vegas hotel room, child actor Whitey Bright, nationally famous star of the hit series "It Must Be Skeeter," talked up a couple of working girls while smoking and boozing. Watching an episode of his show, the boy noted "We shot this baby in three days, dolls. No thanks to (co-star) Hubert. What a bender he was on!" The broadcast was interrupted by a special bulletin. "The F.B.I. requests all citizens be on the lookout for the murderer of a Leavitzville insurance agent. He has been identified as Denver Detective John Jones, and he appears to be holding as hostages Hillbilly singer Perkins Preston and child actress Patty Marie."
Arriving at a casino lobby, the Martian arranged a meeting with Mr. Gioconda by posing as Preston's manager, an elderly southern fried colonel. "The Colonel" claimed to want Perkins to perform for the mobster's patrons, but Preston quietly protested, "With all these drunken old people here, sir? I'll never sing in a place like this."
"Without cooperation, young man, you may not live to wrestle with that dilemma!"
The Colonel was more concerned with meeting the management than booking Perkins, so he had his charges shuffled off to separate rooms. He claimed the "abduction" of his talent was part of a publicity stunt he'd engineered, until things got out of hand with John Jones. He also slipped mentions of Cuba and the jukebox business, which grabbed Mr. G's attention firmly.
In her room, Patty Marie was visited by Whitey "Skeeter" Bright, who let himself in with his own key. Still smoking, Whitey pressed himself ever closer to the crying girl. "They call Skeeter a 'message show.' They don't know the half of it. I sell big messages on that show, baby. Stick with me, and maybe I'll let you in on a few. Or maybe you got a few secret messages of your own, huh, Sad-Eyes? What makes another child-star shed such big, juicy tears?" Whitey's hand rested on Patty Marie's prepubescent thigh, as he kept leaning in closer. "Who'd ever want to hurt a sweet little thing like you?"
"My mother! And my uncles! All the uncles she brings home! She lets them hurt me! She always let them hurt me!" Whitey's hand crept ever higher, under the child's skirt, another creep with a perverse agenda. "Tell Uncle Whitey what the bad men did to you... Come on. We've all got secrets. The world runs on secrets. Tell me yours and I'll tell you mine. Come on honey... tell me everything those terrible uncles did to you."
In his own room, Perkins Preston read, with occasional difficulty, some of Keene's comics. In an adventure of the Justice Society of America, Perkins was surprised to find the team battling "Lizard Men."
Exiting his meeting, "the Colonel" was confronted by Inspector Anole of the F.B.I in the hotel hallway. At first he seemed to be enlisting the Colonel's help investigating the "subversive" Gioconda, until his features began to take on a decidedly reptilian appearance. "... nobody's what they seem to be these days. Before the war, you knew the lefties. You knew the thugs. Then it all changed. Gangsters pose as businessmen. Commies work in the state department. Homosexuals pass for school teachers. And that client of yours. Perkins Preston. He has a white man's face but a Negro's soul. Just to seduce our American girls into popping open their little coin-purses. You just can't tell about anybody anymore." Anole knew the Colonel was green in his own heart, and wanted to enlist his services to keep up the "land of the free." That is, "Free for those who are advanced enough to appreciate it."
At that moment, Patty Marie burst out of her room into the hall, crying for Officer Jones to "Make him stop!" Whitey Bright strolled out after, affecting innocence and claiming he was only doing his duty as a "Junior G-Man," plying the poor girl for information. Inspector Anole congratulated the fresh-faced youth as they strolled off together, leaving Jones alone with his shaken charge. "He... he changed, Officer Jones!"
"Yeah. Who hasn't?"
Back in Perkins' room, Patty and Jones learned about the four-color Lizard-Men with crops that controlled racketeers minds. "This is what we need, Sir! Heroes-- like Flash and Green Lantern and Doctor--" John Jones cut him off with, "It'd be nice, if they were real." Perkins assured Jones they were, pointing out the indicia of the comics informing, "Published by arrangement with the Justice Society of America. Melvin Keene, licensing representative." With another item tying Keene to the conspiracy, Jones begins looking for other common bonds. The "Beto E-Z Rip" candy wrapper, "Prize-To-Be," and other clues all contained the same combination of letters, but what did they spell? Before Jones could come to an answer, yet another visitor darkened the refugees' door. "Forgive me, Detective. An inclination to cheap suspense comes naturally to my sort after a while. I'm Charles McNider. Physician, retired. But they used to call me Dr. Midnight!"
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