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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Alphabet of Cool – M

Today, we look at one of my favorite DC characters of all time.

Martian Manhunter

One of the strangest things about Martian Manhunter is how he is such a great character, and yet writers (who end up doing marvelous work with him) seem to almost be STUCK with him.

For instance, while J’onn J’onzz was a founding member of the Justice League of America, he left the team in issue #71, and no one really saw much of him over the entirety of the 1970s.

When he came to prominence as a member of Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis’ Justice League, it was not because the two really were dying to write Martian Manhunter stories, it was because they were denied access to the bigger Justice League characters, so they made do, and they did more than just make do, they essentially turned J’onn into the heart and soul of the team. The anchor, as it were, of the Justice League. It was actually pretty funny to see how a character who had gone missing for practically a whole DECADE was now considered to be the heart and soul of the Justice League.

Later on, when Grant Morrison was finally GIVEN access to all the big name characters (and shockingly, such a book was a bit hit – who’d a thunk it?), he also was stuck a bit with the Martian Manhunter. He wanted to do the big-name characters, but he also wanted to do the original seven members of the JLA, and that included the Martian Manhunter, so Morrison had to think of how to use him, and he ended up doing a fine job with him, as well, also spotlighting him enough that John Ostrander was able to write an ongoing series starring J’onn, based on the strength of JLA.

But now, once again, J’onn is floundering – DC doesn’t seem to know exactly what to do with him, and it is quite disheartening.

Gabriel Suiter, who has a Martian Manhunter-centered blog, wrote Five Reasons To Love the Manhunter from Mars – check them out:

He’s not the best. In an idealized universe like the one found at DC Comics, every major hero has to embody some conception of perfection. This is the American Way, as this nation adores winners, be they Ãœbermenschen or underdogs. J’Onn J’Onzz, despite often being described as “more powerful than Superman,” plainly isn’t. He’s been beaten through the overwhelming force of super-villains and fellow heroes, on to the most minor of thugs armed only with a matchbox. The character makes no pretense about being omnipotent, either. It’s refreshing to see a hero who’s constantly knocked down get right back up again and keep chugging along with the full knowledge he’ll be getting knocked right back down again and again. He’s heroic in a very European fashion, fully conscious of his faults and limitations, without the slightest hint of self-pity, and braced to take on whatever comes his way to the best of his abilities.

He’s not popular. Yeah, he made it to the 11th place in this year’s “Comics Should Be Good” ranking of DC characters, but the guy not only doesn’t have his own book, but often doesn’t appear in any book on a given month. He’s delightfully underexposed. You will never be forced to buy weekly installments of a Manhunter comic written by committee using often underwhelming “talent.” You will never be subjected to an obligatory, undercooked crossover event starring the Alien Atlas where he proves how great he is by making other characters seem comparatively lame. You will not be exposed to a silly live action television series centering on the adventures of the Martian Marvel when he was a mopey teenager, nor a series of overproduced but underwhelming feature films. You will rarely even meet anyone who knows that J’Onn J’Onzz ever had nicknames like “Martian Marvel” or “Alien Atlas.” Urban youths will not begin to carve the Martian “pie” into their hair, and you will never be cut off in traffic by some jerk with a Manhunter symbol bumper sticker. Writers can go places with J’Onn J’Onzz prohibited for “popular” characters, and artists need not cleave their representations of him to a rigid style guide. The Manhunter from Mars doesn’t belong to licensors and middling tastes, but to fans and creators.

He’s a geek. His “girlfriend” really wasn’t. He not only doesn’t get babes, but doesn’t even seem to want them. He’s way more into science, religion, and philosophy. He pays lip service to “normal” life, but he’s obviously all about his “campaigns,” even when hidden among the mundane. He’s awkward and freaky looking, prone to wearing ill-fitting and poorly considered costumes that too often expose parts of his body better kept under wraps. His kid sidekick was a naked toddler with antennae. You’ve never heard of his rogue’s gallery, but it consists of a mad scientist, a fat spy, and a knick-knack. While he’s worked with all the big names, he’s just as prone to spend time with the biggest losers in comics. He’s got a tons of squandered potential. He’s one. of. us.

He could be worse. He’s a telepath, but he had nothing to do with those League mindwipes, and wouldn’t even invade the sanctity of Maxwell Lord’s villainous mind to know there was a serpent in his midst. He can turn invisible and intangible, but still takes a beating in every battle so that other heroes can claim all the glory. He can stretch and assume the form of any object, but abstains so that guys like Elongated Man and Plastic Man aren’t rendered redundant as teammates. He can fire laser beams from his eyes, but will not kill a living soul, not even his worst enemy. J’Onn J’Onzz has so many powers, that every time he chooses not to abuse them, he’s all the more heroic in his restraint and respect for others.

He’s a Communist. Seriously, the guy believes that everyone is equal, and that they should work to the best of their ability while taking only what they need. If you’re a thieving fourteen-year-old runaway and you want to be a super-hero, he’ll let you join the Justice League of America. If you’re a murderous scheming running dog capitalist who pretends to have a change of heart and support super-heroes while really plotting against them, J’Onn will take your money and give you a say in defending the planet. If you’re his nemesis, a world-conquering tyrant who’d gleefully level cities while draped in the U.N. flag, but now want to become a young hero in training, J’Onn will take you under his wing. The Manhunter would prefer to work with dregs like Vibe than the self-aggrandizing Guy Gardner, who feels he’s better than other heroes and deserves more for his efforts. J’Onn J’Onzz does not discriminate according to age, race, faith, or any other distinction aside from those who wish to take more than they give or assume power over others. Most of all though, he gives of himself entirely, regardless of the consequences, for the common good. While he had a tragic circumstances tacked on to his origin in the late 80’s, his motivation isn’t based around any personal loss. While he didn’t choose to come to Earth, once here his choice was made clear from his very first appearance. “Earth is far behind Mars in many ways– but this is natural, since it’s a younger planet! But this evil they have– called crime… Mars once had crime– centuries ago! Until the Great Evolution, we had wicked men who preyed on the good. But our enlightened science made crime obsolete! There seems to be much crime here– so perhaps, while I am stranded on Earth, I can help the Earthlings by fighting this crime!” The Martian Manhunter isn’t out there fighting the good fight due to some obsessive fixation, but out of a sense of social justice and moral
obligation.

It’s textbook socialism of a type humans can’t muster because hey, we’re only human…

12 Comments

Mind you, J’onn was also the heart and soul of the JLA in the run immediately preceding Giffen’s, the Detroit years. Not a great run by any means, but a lot of the groundwork for J’onn’s rehabilitation as a character was already underway by the time the JLI era rolled around.

I totally thought this was going to be about ‘Mazing Man. Martian Manhunter is cool, too/

J’onn was the perfect one for Giffen & DeMatteis–better for how it worked out than Batman or Superman would have been. Now where are those Oreos and caviar?

J’Onn’s such a good character, he brought out the humanity in Mark Millar’s writing. See JLA Secret Files #1.

Cool piece. I thought I had read somewhere that MM was the only character to be a member of EVERY incarnation of the Justice League. I’m not wholly familiar with segments of the league’s history, so I’m not sure.

I also feel that he’s the heart and soul of the team, even more so than Batman or Superman. You’re right… it’s tragic he’s now become an “up in the air” character. In my humble opinion, he always has a place on the team. Is Meltzer’s lineup set in stone?

Morrison’s “white Martians” storyline was brilliant, as was his whole JLA run. The idea of the evil Martians attempting to win J’onn over by appealing to his superiority to humans and his rejection in favor of his devotion to helping humanity was brilliant.

Ebullient praise for communism is… unsettling.

Cool piece. I thought I had read somewhere that MM was the only character to be a member of EVERY incarnation of the Justice League. I’m not wholly familiar with segments of the league’s history, so I’m not sure.

Revisionist history by fascist pro-Martian zealots.

Revisionist history by fascist pro-Martian zealots.

Of course. Now that you mention it, I did accidentally wind up on their newsletter’s mailing list.

Attend ONE organizational meeting/rally in college and they won’t take their hooks out of you.

Only a criminal hooligan who opposes the enlightened principles of the Great Evolution would refer to the patriots of Mars as fascist zealots. Nyet kulturny!

Darwyn Cooke and Bruce Timm did amazing work with him.
Although he seems to be the member, by seasons 4-5, who kind of sat behind a computer and did nothing.

Only a criminal hooligan who opposes the enlightened principles of the Great Evolution would refer to the patriots of Mars as fascist zealots. Nyet kulturny!

That’s what they SAY. But you let them talk you back to their hooverportal and they’s all “Mars Needs Women” on yer ass.

[quote]Darwyn Cooke and Bruce Timm did amazing work with him.
Although he seems to be the member, by seasons 4-5, who kind of sat behind a computer and did nothing.[/quote]
I loved that toward the end of the series he left the team to find himself and eventually came back during the great battle, revealed to be posing as an old man with his lady friend.

——

I’m surprised by the lack of Oreo jokes.

No shout-outs to David Ogden Steirs painting his bare chest green to play J’Onn int he live-action Justice League TV pilot?

Probably for the best. Martian Manhunter is extremely bright, and a bit distant and unknowable. You know what that’s the definition of.

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