Evo 2013 has come and gone and while the bland Injustice: Gods Among Us tournament showcase probably poisoned the well for the game getting another high-profile appearance next year, it did at least show off a new trailer for Injustice DLC. Not only is John Stewart an available alternate skin for Green Lantern (Phil LaMarr voice acting included), but they’ve announced the first of the second set of DLC characters in Martian Manhunter.
So let’s take a look at the history of everyone’s second-favorite cookie monster.
Alias: J’onn J’onzz, John Jones, Fernus the Burning, Bloodwynd, Bronze Wraith and dozens of others
First Appearance: Detective Comics #225 (1955)
Powers: Super strength, speed, shape-shifting, telepathy, invisibility, laser vision, flight, intangibility
Other Media: Was a big player in the Justice League cartoon, showed up on some of the different Batman cartoons and starred in the terrible live-action Justice League pilot/movie.
Years ago, Patton Oswalt wrote a graphic novel called JLA: Welcome to the Working Week, where the main character – existing as Oswalt’s mouthpiece – referred to Martian Manhunter as the Bob Dylan to Superman’s Elvis Presley. When you’re a kid, you love the optimistic spitcurl, but when you get older, you start to appreciate the more serious giant brow. Martian Manhunter is a great foil for Superman, mainly different in that he was an adult when he made his exodus from his dying planet and that affects him differently.
The original origin was that J’onn J’onnz, a Martian lawman, was accidentally transported to Earth thanks to an experiment by Dr. Erdel. While Erdel would have been able to send him back, the shock of seeing this Martian caused him to have a heart attack and die. In the original continuity, Mars was still populated, so J’onn was driven by his quest to return. Back then, the idea of shipping a guy to Mars, even in a superhero world, was considered rather difficult. How novel.
J’onn used his shape-shifting abilities to take the identity of John Jones (get it?) and became a detective who would use his powers to give him the edge. His appearance as Martian Manhunter was meant to be a middle-ground version between Martian and human, being the best of both worlds. He joined the Justice League, used mainly as a stand-in for when the publishers felt Superman was being used way too much. For decades, J’onn was considered to be THE staple member of the Justice League. He appeared in nearly every incarnation of the team, which offset how little juice he had in carrying his own solo series, no matter how many times they tried.
Eventually, J’onn was reunited with his people and went on to rule Mars. He was written out of comics for a while until being brought back into the Justice League fold. I seem to remember that he had to save Earth from his own people in the final adventure of the classic “Satellite-Era Justice League” (ie. the original version of the team that started in the 60’s and ended in the 80’s). There was a part where he challenged another Martian to a fight and while the narrative strictly said that they were both invisible during this fight, the artist drew them like normal anyway.
Things got pretty dark for Martian Manhunter around this time. He was on the outs with his race. He joined the infamously bad Justice League Detroit (otherwise known as Aquaman leading a team of angsty teenagers) and ended up becoming the leader towards the end, only to have a couple of the kids tragically die on his watch. Then after Crisis on Infinite Earths changed continuity, it also reshaped J’onn’s origin. J’onn’s insane brother unleashed a plague upon Mars that wiped out everyone but J’onn himself. Not only did Dr. Erdel’s machine pull him from space, but also from time. The destruction of Mars was thousands of years ago. Like Superman, he was the last of his kind… until they brought in guys who were also Martians down the line.
It picked up for J’onn, though. He had a big role in Justice League International, known for being the fun and funny era. He mainly played the straight man to jokey characters Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. Thanks to Captain Marvel, he was also turned onto Oreo cookies (later renamed Chocos due to trademark) and became addicted. He also led his own Justice League side-team called Justice League: Task Force and nothing of note came from that other than the time he temporarily turned himself female.
Every now and then, J’onn and the Justice League would have to face the White Martians, a genetic offshoot who were more dedicated to war while the Green Martians were more peaceful. The most famous of these battles was the beginning of Grant Morrison’s Justice League run where a team of superheroes came to Earth to create a utopia while antagonizing the Justice League. Batman figured out that they were White Martians in disguise and easily defeated them thanks to their weakness of fire.
Fire is something all Martians fear, though it’s shown to be more of a psychological weakness than physiological. In other words, fire only hurts J’onn because he lets it. He briefly got together with a reformed fire-based villain named Scorch, who helped him get over his fear of fire. This turned out disastrous. We found out that eons ago, when the Martians were still primitive life forms, they were both bloodthirsty and virtually unstoppable. The Guardians of the Universe (Green Lantern’s bosses) were concerned with what this would mean if the Martians could evolve to figure out space flight. They intervened and subdued the entire race, injecting them all with a fear of fire as a way to keep them all in check.
No longer bound by this gigantic weakness, J’onn became corrupted by this savage, forgotten piece of his bloodline. He became a beast known as Fernus the Burning and showed that he was really the most powerful member of the League all along, as even Superman was helpless against him. Turned out Batman had a solution to this situation as well by siccing Plastic Man on him. Plastic Man’s immune to mind control and has a better grasp on shapeshifting, so he was able to help take down the mad Martian. J’onn and Fernus were separated from each other as two different identities in the end.
Nothing much happened with J’onn for a while. After Infinite Crisis, he got a new look that looked closer to his pure Martian form, mainly due to his pessimism towards humanity. This was for his new solo series which once again sold like shit and was canceled. J’onn was killed by Libra and the Secret Society of Supervillains in the story Final Crisis. Sweetly enough, Batman visited J’onn’s tomb and left a single Choco cookie.
J’onn returned from the grave during Blackest Night as one of the more unbeatable walking corpses. At the end of the story, he was one of the dozen characters fully resurrected. J’onn then starred in the series Brightest Day, where he was able to make Mars fertile again and ended up clashing with an insane Green Martian D’kay. J’onn had to kill D’kay and destroy the budding life on Mars, showing that in the end, Earth was his only true home.
With the New 52 reboot, J’onn had never joined the Justice League in the past but instead was part of Stormwatch, a cloak and dagger superhero organization. There, J’onn fought against evil from the shadows, but eventually left the team and removed all their memories of him being there in the first place. Since then, Martian Manhunter has been brought into the Justice League of America, the US government’s personal team meant to counter the regular Justice League if they ever get out of line. Martian Manhunter is there to deal with Superman.
Probably the saddest depiction of J’onn is in Kingdom Come, the dystopian future storyline. In order to give Superman vs. Captain Marvel more gravitas, J’onn had to be taken off the table. He appeared in one scene to aid Batman, depicted as a gibbering and mentally broken John Jones who could barely function after trying to open his mind to all of humanity. Poor guy.
One of the better Martian Manhunter stories is New Frontier, which exists as both a wonderful graphic novel and a pretty good animated film. When showing off his hybrid superhero appearance to a human friend, he was flatly told, “Real men wear pants.” And that’s a fair point because, really, what the hell is that outfit?