Moments later, thanks to the separate wonders of Thanagarian and Amazon science, Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman stood aboard the satellite headquarters of the Justice League of America, orbiting 22,300 miles above the earth.
Superman stepped forward from the assembled group of costumed heroes to greet them. “I’m sorry to have interrupted your private time, but we need to talk,” he said. “I didn’t want to use the communicators. We wanted to speak to you in person.”
Behind the Man of Steel sat several other members of the famed group. Batman, Hawkman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, and Red Tornado waited with tense expressions on their faces.
“What is wrong?” asked Nubia. “Has something happened to my mother, or Donna, or Cassandra?”
“They are fine,” said Batman. “However, there’s a mystery we need to clear up. I’m confident you’ll be able to help us, J’onn.”
“That is, if we can believe a word you say!” retorted Green Arrow.
Nubia scowled. “Green Arrow, you may explain yourself,” she said, “and you should do so very swiftly!”
Green Arrow stood up. “It’s real simple, Wonder Woman,” said Oliver Queen. “Ol’ green genes, here, has been playing us for fools for a long time now, and I’m sick of it!”
“J’onn, certain allegations have been made,” explained Hawkman, “and we have to address them. We owe that to you as much as to ourselves.”
“I do not like the way you all seem aligned against us!” said Nubia. “Are we not part of this union of champions? Have we not proven our valor and honor in combat more times than we may recount?”
“My friends, you misjudge us,” said Red Tornado calmly. “We merely seek to ascertain the truth about certain statements. It is the logical thing to do in such a case.”
“Far-freakin’ out!” exclaimed Green Arrow. “Reddy, we don’t need to apologize. Like Lennon said, ‘just gimme the truth’!”
“Ollie, sit down!” commanded Aquaman. “You wouldn’t accuse someone without first telling them what the charges are, nor would you, of all people, condemn a friend before hearing his side of the matter! J’onn is not on trial here!”
Green Arrow shrugged and said, “Okay, so my temper was as hot as my chili. I’ve been told more than one lie about J’onn’s background, and I guess I blew my top.”
“Oliver — all of you — I appreciate your concern,” replied J’onn J’onzz. “I am not afraid of any questions, but the detective in me longs for the facts. I loathe an unsolved mystery.”
As J’onn led Nubia to a chair, Green Arrow sat down abruptly and said, “Okay, I can take a hint. I got ahead of myself, that’s all!”
Batman cleared his throat, and the others turned to face him. The Darknight Detective said, “J’onn, Captain Comet recently visited Kronis the prison planet, and an inmate we recall all too well claimed that our world is in peril from a secret society that originated on Mars. He claimed that you were a member of this group!”
At that, Captain Comet himself emerged from the shadows and said, “J’onn, he transferred certain memories to me, explaining that they were supposedly passed on to him by his father. They were incriminating, to say the least!”
Superman spoke. “J’onn, none of us believe that you are now — or ever have been — any kind of threat or menace. We just want the truth about what Captain Comet saw in those memories!”
J’onn J’onzz placed his hand on Nubia’s and said, “Perhaps the time for deception is over. I learned to trust all of you over our years together, but I was forced to keep certain facts from you for reasons that I will now divulge. Captain Comet, those memories C’yk Eda shared with you came from my late mentor, R’es Eda. He was the man who first led me down the twisting path that has now all too abruptly reached its inevitable end!
“I will share my true story with you all, but I will do so in an manner that is as immediate and powerful as the manner in which you say C’yk Eda brought his accusations against me,” he continued. “With the help of Nubia’s lasso of truth and the Amazon Magic Sphere, I will display my memories of those events to all of you, and my veracity will be guaranteed by the power of the magic lasso!”
Looping the gleaming golden lasso around his hand, J’onn placed his other hand within the Magic Sphere, an Amazon device that resembled an ornate television. Soon his memories were displayed upon the wondrous machine.
“I suppose you could call this the secret origin of J’onn J’onzz,” he said with a sad smile.
“Well, it’s about damn time!” muttered Green Arrow.
The Magic Sphere displayed a past scene on the planet Mars. The orderly and advanced culture of the green-skinned Martian desert dwellers was in evidence to all the observers. A series of intricately designed canals dominated the city, and industrious workers dotted what appeared to be an urban center.
Within one structure, a typical Martian family sat around a table, enjoying a family meal.
A young boy laughed merrily as an older youth, who was clearly J’onn J’onzz, fed a shaggy animal that stood on three legs and appeared to beg for the offered treat. Two older Martians watched with pleasure from one side of the table.
“J’onn, do not play with our pet at the table!” cautioned the matronly female Martian. “You’ll cause young T’omm to choke!”
“I am sorry, Mother,” said J’onn, winking at his little brother.
“My father was a canal worker,” explained J’onn as he and his fellow Justice Leaguers viewed the past. “He and my mother lived quite comfortably on his salary, and his position was an important one on a planet where canals played such a vital role in commerce. I was well-educated by a family friend, R’es Eda, who was a celebrated community leader. My younger brother T’omm was devoted to me, and his hero worship caused me more pleasure than embarrassment.”
Batman observed the family scene and thought, J’onn’s home life was a happy one. There’s no mistaking the affection he and his family had for one another. I was that happy, if not as obedient, a son when my own parents were alive.
Superman smiled as he thought of his own youth. Ma and Pa Kent did everything they could to make me feel loved and secure in spite of my alien heritage, he thought. I guess that’s why I was always able to put up with the ribbing my classmates gave me for the way I had to act meek and sickly as Clark Kent in order to protect my Superboy identity! It never mattered much if I was teased at school, since my loved ones gave me such support.
Green Arrow sat with one leg propped up against the table. In spite of his earlier bravado, he was moved by what he saw, since he knew all too well how painful a childhood without a devoted parent could be. His own father had been abusive to his unfaithful mother, and Oliver had led a lonely life as a boy at boarding schools.
J’onny had a real good thing going for him back on Mars! he mused.
The Magic Sphere shifted scenes to display an adult J’onn busy at work within a Martian lab full of mechanical parts and a team of eager scientists.
“I became a scientist and worked on early robotics projects,” explained J’onn. “My parents were proud, and I enjoyed my work! One of our long-term goals was the development of a spacecraft. The work was referred to as Project Star-Ride. It was the dream of those in my generation to one day reach the stars, as our ancestors once did during our colonization period, when ancient Martians were genetically modified to endure the vastly different environments of planets and moons throughout our solar system and beyond! The technology of that bygone age had been lost over time, as we Martians instead looked inward and pursued lofty goals of self-reflection and peace with one another rather than war, but a new sense of purpose had begun to grip our race by the time I was born.”
Red Tornado watched intently. He had succeeded in his John Smith identity of finding work as a paralegal, and he found the work extremely satisfying. It appealed to his orderly and logical mind. He was human enough to also realize that there was a real pleasure in having fulfilling work.
The Magic Sphere screen shifted to a scene outside the city. A solitary structure sat on a rocky slope, and within its domed environment, hushed tones echoed and a group of cloaked figured assembled.
J’onn continued to speak in a somber tone of voice. “You must understand that Mars had no crime to speak of in those days. What we called the Great Evolution had ushered in a time of prosperity and peace that was unheard of in all of Martian history, even in the golden age of Karmang the Good. (*) My mentor R’es Eda was a role model to me. He saw my desire to serve our world, and he brought me to a secret meeting one dark night when our moons were hidden behind ominous clouds.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “When Worlds Collide,” All New Collectors’ Edition C-58 (1978).]
R’es Eda was a serious-looking Martian with a slender build and the gravitas of a statesman.
“Brothers, I have brought young J’onn J’onzz here,” began R’es Eda. “You all know him as a promising youth with a keen mind and a brave heart. He wants to see Martian society thrive and reach new heights, as do we all! He has a passion for knowledge and a desire to risk much to see justice done! He is perfect for our Red Brotherhood!”
As the assembled Martians shouted their approval, a yellow Martian stepped forward with a large book. He held it out, and all could see a strange emblem engraved on its cover. The emblem depicted a fierce leonine creature.
“J’onn, our world has not known crime for many generations. However, this utopian condition has only been brought into fruition because of the secret efforts of men like us who banded together to hunt down criminals and restore justice to our world. The brotherhood has been called many different names as its goals have motivated new followers to band together on various planets across the universe!
“On Mars, the Red Brotherhood accomplished its goal of ridding the planet of crime! We have pledged to carry on that tradition, and we have sworn sacred oaths of secrecy. We work within many different sections of Martian society, and while we seek the goals natural to those in our respective fields, we are also bound together by a higher calling. We seek the advancement of our creed! We seek peace and security through the suppression of any who would rebel against society! While we have accomplished our goal here and now, we must remain vigilant for the return of baser elements in our society! We offer you a place within this secret society! We invite you to swear your allegiance to the cause of the Red Brotherhood!”
The young J’onn placed his hand on the book and took the sacred oaths. “I, J’onn J’onzz, pledge to protect the secrets of the Red Brotherhood with my life!” he swore. “I pledge to give my all to eliminate any threat to our proud world!”
Viewing the scene, Superman thought, So J’onn did join such a group! Still, I can’t believe he would ever work against us!
Batman frowned as he studied the images on the screen. That lion symbol may be stylized in some Martian art form, but it looks like a symbol I’d hoped to never see again! he thought. Glancing over to Superman, he could easily tell that his best friend had the same concerns over the symbol’s meaning.
Green Arrow verbalized all their concerns in one outburst. “J’onn — that’s the Manhunter symbol!” he cried. “Don’t tell me you joined that crazy cult of fascist androids!”