I’m pretty sure I have mentioned before that the Martian Manhunter is my favourite comic book character. In fact, I think it a running theme in everything I write; no matter how unrelated it is I manage to give the Green Martian a mention. In this gushing jumble of assorted sentences, which stems from a conversation I had with Lewis in a shopping center a few years ago, I will try to explain why I believe the character to be one of the best around. As with most comic book characters the continuous line of reboots can get pretty confusing, and while this article will contain some information from the New 52 version of the character, I’ll be primarily focusing on the original, because that’s the version I’m most familiar with.
Powers and weaknesses
The Martian Manhunter is one of the most powerful heroes in the DC universe with abilities including superhuman strength, durability, flight, regeneration, shape-shifting, intangibility, invisibility, telepathy, telekinesis, extrasensory input, and optic blasts. While you may groan, bemoaning him for being boring like Superman because nothing can really harm him, you’re bloody wrong.
J’onn J’onzz has one major weakness- fire. In some imaginings fire cannot physically hurt him, with his susceptibility to it being purely mental, while in others, fire can damage him. This may seem like an awful weakness for a character to have, especially when you are in the business of saving the world, but this has an important edge on his stories. Giving the Martian Manhunter a common vulnerability means that the reader or viewer is often on edge, scared for the character’s well-being.
I know the 90s weren’t the greatest time for comic books, some of the stories got pretty damn weird, but it’s during this time that The Martian Manhunter got his notable 32 issue series. This rendition of the Manhunter set out his origin in the Son of Mars story arc. The telepathic Martian race was under attack by a virus, and it wasn’t just the common cold; it was a prophesied plague known as h’ronmeer’s curse. The virus spread rapidly through from Martian to Martian as they communicated telepathically with one another, and resulted in the Martians bursting into flames… nice. J’onn being the species’ most successful detective, or “Manhunter”, was tasked with finding the cause of the curse. J’onzz managed to prevent infection by closing his mind off from his people, including the ones he loved most- his wife and daughter. Unfortunately for the Green Gumshoe, his wife and child weren’t as resilient as him and as their minds connected they burst into flames in front of his eyes. J’onn did eventually find the culprit (his own brother) but only after the rest of his race had perished. The Manhunter then spent decades, possibly centuries, wandering his burnt planet alone until he was brought to Earth in a teleportation accident, where he took on the guise of PI John Jones among many others. I personally prefer this origin the character- a detective that was too slow in figuring out the problem which resulted in the death of his planet. The addition of his family burning in front of his eyes adds so much more to his characterisation than the New 52 origin, which has him off world training to become the next leader of Mars as his planet burns.
But what is important about his origin? Tragedy is certainly one of the key aspects of a Superhero’s origin, but what makes MM’s origin so important to me is that, it is the most tragic out of all of them. Yeah OK, Batman watched as his parents were murdered in front of him, but at least there are 6.7 billion other people milling about Earth upon which Bruce Wayne can inflict his untrusting demeanor. While Superman also lost his planet and his people, Kal’El was a baby when he was sent off into to space and was basically raised as a human, and even though his adoptive-dad did die, his mum is still there (Thank God she was called Martha… -Lewis). Yet despite the tragedy on Mars, and him almost giving up completely (satisfied to use his shape-shifting abilities to reanimate his daughter and wife), once on Earth the Martian Manhunter becomes one of the most dedicated heroes acting not only in the US but across the entire globe.
Character personality & role within the JLA
So after all that I can still hear you thinking “Why the hell do you like this guy so much?”
Well, in short, the Martian Manhunter is the heart, soul and often the brain of the Justice League. While Aquaman is off aquaman-ing in Atlantis, Superman plays house as Clark Kent and Batman runs a business empire as Bruce Wayne, the Martian Manhunter is either in the Watch Tower watching over the Earth or spending time with one of his countless personas- always working. The Martian Manhunter has identities spread across the entire globe, from a Dallas based PI to a Japanese millionaire, an Italian cat to a Brazilian orphan. J’onn J’onzz is also one of the few heroes to spend a majority of his down time in developing countries- what a top bloke (Or at least he was before the New 52).
The Martian Manhunter co-ordinates many of the Justice League plans and due to his telepathic abilities can act as the entire team’s communication array, while also while acting and reacting in the field. J’onn J’onzz is also ready and willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the rest of the team. For example, in JLA issue 1 (from the 90s) the JLA fight a weird Angel thing (told you the 90s were bizarre) and, despite knowing he couldn’t beat the villain, J’onzz takes a beating to give the rest of the team time to regroup and form a battle plan. Then to top it off, he is one of the first on the scene to catch a burning space station despite being seriously injured and the fire from the falling station being able to kill him.
Not coming from Earth, the Martian Manhunter brings a different, some could say slightly more clinical view to the defence of the Earth, a viewpoint which is particularly noticeable in the Justice League Unlimited Cartoon. However, this makes him no less determined to protect his adoptive home and its people from threats. This clinical view could work really well within a Justice League film but with the current iteration of Superman being as mopey and miserable as he is, there may not be space for a second Alien on the team.
So, hopefully the above has given you, the dedicated reader that made it to the end, an idea as to why I like the Martian Manhunter so much, and why I really want to see him used in the DC films as well as his very enjoyable (if not slightly altered) television appearances on Supergirl.
Ok. Well thanks for reading and as always if you agree, disagree or want to point out any glaring mistakes, don’t hesitate to post a comment, leave a like, or give this piece a share!