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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 324: Martian Manhunter #4

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Martian Manhunter #4, which was published by DC and is cover dated March 1999. Enjoy!

Cop humor!

John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake, who had a long and fruitful partnership in comics, didn’t quite get the acclaim on Martian Manhunter that they did on their previous work, but while I haven’t read the whole thing yet (I only recently finished getting all the issues), what I did read wasn’t bad at all. It’s so sad this series isn’t more fondly remembered!

But let’s just consider this first page, shall we? In the upper left corner, we get the title, with Carla Feeny (presumably) coloring the letters orange bleeding into … well, slightly darker orange, but Mandrake (presumably) added the blood behind the letters, so the entire color scheme immediately puts us in the mood of anger, which is the point. Underneath that, Ostrander catches us up on where we are and who the body is. A new reader probably won’t know that “John Jones” is a human secret identity of the Martain Manhunter, but they’ll learn that soon enough. Note the position of the word balloons. The caption box stretches to the right, and the fold in it draws our attention to the right, where we see Detective Segarini’s dialogue, which is where we should be. Ostrander and Bill Oakley don’t take any chances that the reader might go down to the ME, so they subtly move our eyes sideways so we read Segarini’s top word balloon first, then zig down to the ME’s sarcastic answer, then zag back to Segarini’s response. Once they get us to read Segarini’s dialogue first, the rest of the page is easy.

Mandrake doesn’t have to do much storytelling, as this is a splash page, but he does need to come up with a dramatic image, and he succeeds here. When we read the title and the caption box, our eyes take in the broken window, and we see that Mandrake hasn’t drawn any glass on the corpse, implying that someone left that way. The caption box and Segarini’s first word balloon frame the corpse of Karen Smith, and Mandrake places her between the two speakers so she remains in our field of vision even as we’re reading the dialogue. Notice that this was a slightly more innocent time, and while the body is fairly bloody, Feeny and Mandrake don’t color it all red, so Karen doesn’t look as bad as she might. The black around her isn’t blood, by the way – we find out on Page 2 that they’re scorch marks, because she was killed by some kind of “laser or heat device.” Notice, too, that Mandrake puts the destroyed computer between the second and third dialogue balloons, so once again, we can’t miss it. Everything of importance that we need to glean from the page is inside the triangle formed by the three word balloons, so the page is designed pretty well. Mandrake and Feeny drench the page in black, setting the mood fairly well.

It’s always nice to look at a comic created collaboratively by these two gentlemen. Whether you like them or not, their comics are always really well designed. Too bad they don’t work together anymore!

Next: Peter David goes cosmic! That sounds fun, doesn’t it? Find more Peter David comics in the archives!


The one thing that really strikes me negatively about this page is the dialogue. The art is functional enough in a 90s sort of way, but that dialogue… is Detective Segarini supposed to have recently transferred to Denver from Brooklyn? (I am reading that caption correctly, yes? This takes place in Denver CO?) I can only guess that Mr. Ostrander is under the impression that all big-city cops talk like New Yorkers, or at least the tough ones do…

darinf: Well, I disagree with you about the art – Mandrake is very good, much better than your typical 1990s artist – I will say that Ostrander does enjoy his tough-guy cops. It doesn’t sound so weird when you’re reading The Spectre, which takes place in New York, but you’re right – it’s a bit strange hearing from a guy in Colorado. All writers have tics, and this is one of Ostrander’s!

In the DCU, Gotham is New York and Metropolis is New York, so I guess Denver can be New York, too.

Martian Manhunter was a very good, underrated series. Not as amazing as The Spectre, but well worth reading. It took a few issues to get cooking (I thought issues 0 and 1,000,000 were great infodumps, but issues 1-3 were only so-so), but after the Malefic story Ostrander & Mandrake found their groove.

I loved the Martian Manhunter series. Such a great collaboration between Ostrander and Mandrake. I got 39 issues of it (0-36, 1000000 and Annual 1) for 7 dollars last year. Probably the best deal I’ve ever gotten, and not just in comics. Such a great series, it really needs to be collected.

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