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The Greatest Martian Manhunter Stories Ever Told!

Every day in November we will reveal the greatest stories ever told starring a particular character or written/drawn by a particular creator (and throughout the month, you’ll get daily chances to vote for NEXT week’s lists). These lists are voted on by YOU, the reader!

Here is the list of characters/creators featured so far (along with the rules on how to vote).

Today’s list is the Greatest Martian Manhunter Stories Ever Told!


10. JLA Secret Files and Origins #1 “A Day in the Life”

In this short story written by Mark Millar, we learn that the Martian Manhunter has taken it upon himself to cover the parts of the world that the other superheroes cannot adequately service due to their connections to the United States (jobs, secret identities, etc.). We also meet a number of J’onn’s secret identities. Millar later re-visited one of these identities in a great fill-in issue of JLA. This really read like a pilot for a possible Martian Manhunter ongoing series.

9. JLA #84-89 “Trial by Fire”

J’onn J’onnz finally cures his fear of fire, but in doing so, he unlocks a genetic mystery that leads to him becoming one of the worst and most powerful villains on Earth in this Joe Kelly-penned tale!

8. Final Crisis: Requiem

Peter Tomasi wrote this beautiful tribute to J’onn J’onnz after his death in Final Crisis. Luckily, he was revived during the Blackest Night crossover. A must-read for longtime J’onn fans, as it touches upon the way that he was, in many ways, the heart of the Justice League.

7. Martian Manhunter #17 “Hidden Faces”

In this stirring issue by the regular Martian Manhunter team of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake, the Department of Extranormal Operations discover a list of his various secret identities around the world that J’onn had compiled as a sign of good faith to his former detective partner before she was murdered. The DEO attempts to blackmail J’onn – either he work for them or they will release his identities to the world. He refuses and thus has to suffer the “loss” of each life.

6. Martian Manhunter #1,000,000 “The Abyss of Time”

In this issue, part of the DC One Million crossover, Kyle Rayner is in the far off future when he encounters his teammate, J’onn J’onnz – still alive thousands of years from now! J’onn regales Kyle (and us) of what he has been doing all these years in this fascinating story by Ostrander and Mandrake. A number of readers included the sequel story in Martian Manhunter #11 with their vote for this issue. The majority of voters did not.

5. DC: The New Frontier #1-6

Darwyn Cooke did a marvelous job working in the history of J’onn J’onnz in Cooke’s re-envisioning of how the DC Silver Age got started. There’s a particularly famous scene where J’onn changes appearance based on what he sees on the television.

4. Martian Manhunter: American Secrets #1-3

Gerard Jones and Eduardo Barreto teamed up for this three book prestige format series about J’onn’s time on Earth in the late 1950s, with Jones exploring the various bits of the dark underbelly of the American Dream of the 1950s.

3. Martian Manhunter #33-36 “In My Life”

In the final storyline in his ongoing series, John Ostrander and a few different artists tell the story of J’onn’s life, culminating with a face-off against a major villain from the pages of Chase (as Cameron Chase had become a recurring character in Martian Manhunter, as Ostrander also revealed that one of J’onn’s earlier identities was a teammate of Chase’s father’s superhero team, the Justice Experience).

2. Martian Manhunter #20-24 “Revelations”

This one was tricky. In Revelations, Ostrander plays up how J’onn has been around so long that he was here for the start of all the major DC heroes. He knows young Clark Kent, he knew Abin Sur, etc. It is a nice look at the history of the DC Universe and a further exploration about how J’onn has a good case to be the heart of the DCU. However, the tricky thing is that the last part of Revelations is a seemingly disparate issue set during J’onn’s time in the Justice League International. It is drawn by a different artist (#20-23 are by Mandrake, #24 is by Doug Mahnke) and has a humorous tone that really does not connect to the other four parts. However, the majority of voters voted for this story with that issue included and it DOES say “Revelations” right on the cover, so I don’t feel right separating it.

1. Justice League America #38-40 “Justice League versus Despero

Despero returns to gain revenge on the Justice League – only the Justice League that he last faced is pretty much gone, with J’onn being the only member still a part of the League. Therfore, J’onn gets the brunt of Despero’s rage – a rage so powerful that J’onn must make a tragic sacrifice to protect his teammates (and the people of New York City) from the powerful villain. Giffen and DeMatteis wrote it and Adam Hughes and Joe Rubinstein drew it.

Okay, that’s the list! Agree? Disagree? Let me know!


Awesome list as usual Brian. Was the storyline with Jonnz brother any good? I haven’t read it, but it seemed interesting.

Man, the DEO are dicks.

Huh– I thought Trial By Fire was terrible and would rank any issue or any arc of the Ostrander-Mandrake series (e.g. Rings of Saturn, which I loved) way, way above it. But I’d also rank pretty much any issue of the Giffen-era JLI way above it. I’m almost tempted to say I’d rank Salvation Run above it.

I’m still not done with Ostrander’s Martian Manhunter run and am glad to see that most of the stories on this list are ones I haven’t read, means the best is ahead of me :D

American Secrets is awesome. Sadly overlooked, as is most of what Gerard Jones has done.

nice picks. was hoping revelations and maybe his bit in new frontier made the list. along with how hidden faces showed Jonn will not be blackmail and is willing to pay a price for his principals.

I love American Secrets. I wish they’d collect it.

@Jacob T. Levy – I voted for “Rings of Saturn” and not “Trial by Fire” too. But I like “Trial by Fire” well enough.

7 of my choices were here (I separated “Revelations” and “Double Stuff” for the reasons Brian mentioned), and I also really like “Final Crisis: Requiem,” which I didn’t vote for. I also didn’t vote for “In my Life,” but I love all of the Ostrander/Mandrake run, so I’m happy to see it.

I don’t remember that JLA Secret Files & Origins story at all. I guess I should re-read that.

I also thought about voting for “Continuity Bandits” from Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man, which is maybe the best-ever silly use of J’onn.

Wow, I’d totally forgotten about American Secrets. That was a good comic.

I’m a bit surprised at the lack of silver/bronze age on the list. (I didn’t vote because of the ‘can’t think of ten stories’ rule of thumb I’m going on here, but I’d have put the original MM-Despero leaguer chess story and the Martian Invasion destroys the JLA satellite story onto my abbreviated version. And probably the DCCP issue with Mongul, too.)

Eduardo Barretto is so underrated. Anytime even a single cover of his pops up in these listings I’m reminded of that fact. I hope he’s a comic superstar in his home country because it’s downright criminal he was never quite one in this one.

In My Life is SO good.

I’m happy with how this turned out.

I was really looking forward to this list, but I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed. I expected a bit of JLA, because of how much more exposure it’s received than J’onn’s ongoing series, but even given that the choices were pretty weak. The most egregious has to be the short story from Secret Files and Origins. Really? It’s not even a story, it’s a montage. Literally any of the 38 issues of the ongoing would’ve made for a better choice. And even from that era’s JLA there were much better choices. I’d have gone with Justice League: A Midsummer’s Nightmare, but settled for JLA #1-4, “New World Order.” Is it because Millar wrote it? Were people just filling out their lists with any story starring J’onn they could think of? It’s inexplicable.

To me the most glaring omission was the Malefic story arc from early in the ongoing. It’s hard to pin down, because it was really foreshadowed from #0 on, but I think #4-9 read as one complete story arc. It’s so good that I voted for that as my #1. It really created a brilliant arch-nemesis for J’onn, and the stakes and consequences were suitably epic.

@Brian Cronin:
Tim Truman pencilled #21 amidst “Revelations,” not Mandrake, which is why I didn’t have a problem including #24 as well. I’m probably going to catch some flack, but I think that arc’s overrated. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, it was #9 on my list, but something was missing. Almost like it was better in idea than execution. The quality of each issue varied as dramatically as the time periods. As good as #20 was, the aforementioned #21 was very ordinary. I echo the love for #13-16, “Rings of Saturn,” by a few other commentators, I had it higher than “Revelations.”

randypan the goatboy

November 16, 2011 at 10:17 am

As much as i like the character…I hate the name martian manhunter. To me it would simply be easier to call him J’onn j’onzz or manhunter. For example if J’onn was named John Jones and he was human he wouldnt call himself the earthling manhunter. Stating that he is martian is insulting the reader into thinking…”hmm somethin weird about the green fella…i wonder what?” I know it was the 50’s and UFO’s were in vouge..but as peter brady would say…its time to change. manhunter from mars if you insist on it but anything but martian manhunter

I wonder if anyone can help me with something. When I was in grade school in the early 90’s, I remember reading a comic that took place in a frozen wasteland with the Flash (I want to say he had amnesia, but I could be mistaken). The twist, if I remember correctly, was that the person helping him out turns out to be J’onn, who remembers everything. If anyone can help me place this, I would really appreciate it.

I always really liked how Morrison used him in his JLA stories. In ‘Rock of Ages’ he has that great part where the Manhunter and Superman can only escape from a maze/trap (created by the Joker) by shape-shifting his brain to more resemble Joker’s. Nice thinking outside the box.

The Crazed Spruce

November 16, 2011 at 4:18 pm

J’onn’s regular series wasn’t available around here, so I never got a chance to get into it. Which is apparently a shame, ’cause it looks like there were some pretty good stories there.

There was a great story from Justice League Quarterly (can’t cite the specific issue, sorry) where J’onn investigated a black girl’s death during a church burning in Alabama during the Civil Rights movement that I’m sorry didn’t make the cut. (I’m not surprised, considering how few people probably read JLQ, but still….)

6 of the stories from my list made the countdown. The aforementioned Ma’alefak & “Rings of Saturn” were on it, as well as:

Martian Manhunter #0- J’Onn’s history retold as a conversation with Superman. Ostrander did a great job streamlining continuity, and contrasting J’Onn with Superman was a good hook.

JLA 15: In one of the coolest moments in “Rock of Ages,” J’Onn saves the world by temporarily restoring the Joker’s sanity.

Aww. I’m disappointed but not surprised to see that the Verheiden/Steacy Secret Origins story from 1989 didn’t make the cut. The scene from New Frontier that Brian mentioned? I’m pretty sure that was inspired by this story.

Other stories I was hoping to see: the Chuck Dixon Detective Comics story where J’onn and Batman team up against Firefly and a time-traveller and the first Giffen/Dematteis Justice League annual, which captured the gravitas of the character really well.

There was an amazing story from some annual (late nineties, maybe early 2000s) where John Jones goes to investigate some little Southern town that has become a tourist destination because some local hunters killed a space alien that attacked them in the woods. Of course, we find out that wasn’t the story at all, and it was something more sinister. I wish I knew what issue it was, so I could recommend it. That’s what I always go to when I think of good Manhunter stories.

TJCoolguy, I believe that’s the JLA Annual 1 from the late 90s. That is a good one, iirc.

More than a bit surprised that the late 80’s Martian Manhunter mini by DeMatteis and Badger didn’t make the list, as it was largely responsible for introducing many of the updated backstory and concepts (including, if memory serves, J’onn’s life as a husband and father on Mars and the Martian fire god H’Ronmeer) that provided the foundation for many of the stories that did make the list

Justice League of America #144 – “The Origin of the Justice League —Minus One!” by Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin and Frank Mclaughlin. A great 1950s, cold war-paranoia Martian Manhunter story, really, and an influence, I believe, on Darwyn Cooke’s “DC: The New Frontier”.

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