Friday, December 16, 2011

Martian Manhunter: American Secrets

Eduardo Barreto, a renowned comic book artist from Uruguay, passed away yesterday.  He was 57.

I was a fan of his art.  He illustrated one of my favorite comics of all time; The Unauthorized Biography of Lex Luthor.  I was recently able to track down Martian Manhunter: American Secrets, a 1992 miniseries he created with Gerard Jones.

American Secrets is a story set in 1959 that features beatniks, malevolent aliens in dapper suits, the power of television and a wide ranging conspiracy.  It's quite the read and actually ahead of it's time.

The story opens with John Jones cradling a critically wounded beatnik, whose cryptic last words set Jones out to solve a mystery that involves America's biggest television shows.  It's a story full of cold war paranoia and "American values."

American Secrets really revels in it's time with John Jones.  He gets the most screen time, as a result when he transforms into the Martian Manhunter, those scenes and images really pack a punch.  We also get to J'onn in both his super heroic form and in his naturalistic Martian form.  It's really a stunning transformation every time it happens.

The villains are creepy.  They're lizard men with lizard pets.  They're physically able to hold their own against J'onn, which creates plenty of drama.  Additionally they know his weakness is open flame, which is a weapon they utilize often.  It makes for some harrowing escapes and battles.

Gerard Jones does a great job of capturing both the voices of the characters and the rhythms of the era.  Characters "sound" like it's 1959, yet have their own distinct voices.  You also get invested in the characters and quite a few of them don't survive. The story is a page turner, with a nice surprise at the end with the reveal of the mastermind behind the whole thing.

Barreto's art is just stellar.  The designs of the characters are perfect for the era.  Most people are clean cut and square, while those on the fringe of society have a bit more edge to them.  But the outfits, the cuts of the suits and the hairstyles just scream 1950s.

And again, he's rendering of J'onn in his various forms is breathtaking.  American Secrets is full of off-putting imagery and Bareto pulls it off every time.  One of my favorite images is the one of a certain JSAer that closes out book two.  It's just a powerful image.

I don't believe American Secrets every got collected in a trade, but you should probably be able to find the single issues in discount bins at you LCS.  Pick them up; they're worth more than you'll be paying for them.

Also, you get a chance to see Eduardo Barreto's work at his prime.

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