Character Spotlight – Martian Manhunter

At Nerdifi we like to shine a spotlight on characters we feel are overlooked, under appreciated or that we just can’t contain our love for.

It’s a feature we unimaginatively call… The Character Spotlight. 

Imagine someone asked you to invent the world’s best superhero… What powers would they have?

Well, they’d have to be able to fly, right? Flight represents human wish fulfilment and, let’s face it, that’s why we love superheroes right?
And strength? Superheroes need to be strong. So… Let’s make our character as strong as say… Superman.
Speaking of Superman, how about we make our guy able to shoot beams from his eyes like Superman? Awesome!

Now then, what else?

You know what else would be awesome? Shape-shifting powers! Yeah, not only can our character assume the form of anyone they wish but let’s throw Mr Fantastic style stretching powers in there as well.
And ummm… Psychic powers! Yeah full on, mind reading, telepathic psychic powers!!
Also, he can phase through solid walls and move at super speed like The Flash. And… And heal himself like Wolverine.

Hmmm, he probably needs a weakness. Let’s make it… Fire!
I mean, pretty much everyone’s vulnerable to fire anyway, right?

Oh man, this character’s going to be so cool. I can’t believe nobody ever thought of this.

Except they did.

Sorry to burst your bubble, loser but you just described J’onn J’onzz, The Martian Manhunter.

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Created by Joseph Samachson and Joe Certa in the pages of Detective Comics in 1955, MM’s power set reads like a superhero Greatest Hits album with physical prowess to rival Superman and an intellect to match Batman he should be one of the crown jewels in the DC comics pantheon.
Instead, he’s been largely known as the Justice League’s secretary in most media and has (until very recently) only enjoyed a monthly comic for three years between 1998 and 2001.

In the hands of the right writers, however, the character truly shines and his Martian heritage makes him a psychologically interesting character whose tragedy eclipses that of DC’s big two.

Bruce Wayne lost his parents, J’onn lost a wife, two daughters and everyone else he knew when all life on Mars died in fire and agony.
Baby Kal El must endure the tragedy of being the last of his kind, true, but he has the luxury of never really having known his biological parents and only glimpsed his home world through recorded messages. Whatever feelings of isolation and alienation he may have felt wee at least mitigated by the presence of loving parents.

Poor J’onn has no such comfort blanket.

Brought to Earth quite accidentally by the brilliant but bonkers Dr James Erdel who died in the arms of his Martian visitor J’onzz’s tenure on Earth began in isolation. Studying humanity from within and eventually assuming the identity of the recently deceased lawman John Jones, the Martian Manhunter quickly gleaned a great fondness for humanity and eventually long lasting friendships among the Justice League (within which he became a major player in Grant Morrison’s much acclaimed run on JLA).

Martian Manhunter’s short lived but beautiful monthly by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake which masterfully interweaves science fiction with a pulp noir sensibility, gives a fascinating insight into the Martian psychology. Even the green skinned protagonist’s aversion to fire is made psychologically compelling rather than being a scarcely veiled plot device.

Y’see the fire that decimated life on Mars was in fact a telepathic plague called Hronmeer’s curse (Hronmeer being Mars’ God of fire, death and art- don’t you just want to learn more about Martian culture now?). The divide between the physical and the cognitive is far less tangible than our own, with the psyche regulating and dictating the physiological. Thus, the Martian psychology is compulsively drawn to the chaotic and lethal power of fire and thus it consumes the thoughts of Martians until they themselves become engulfed in fire.

The comic explains it much more elegantly than I can, but it makes the character psychologically intriguing and deals in bold and interesting concepts the way science fiction should.

Despite his largely administrative role in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series, the character has some terrific character moments (most notably a very I portent role in the pilot) and is played consistently well by Carl Lumbly.

No mention has been made of a presence for J’onn in the emerging DC Extended (Cinematic) Universe but with the fair reception of a recently launched monthly in DC’s New 52 continuity (which casts MM as a member of Stormwatch; a sort of intergalactic anti-terrorist unit) I genuinely hope there’ll be a resurgence of interest in this cool, interesting and hugely under-appreciated character. The striking visual and amorphous nature of the character would lend themselves wonderfully to a cinematic interpretation, as well as being a concept quite unlike we’ve seen from the good folks over at Marvel Studios.

Both Ostrander and Mandrake’s superlative run and the New 52 monthly by Rob Williams and Eddie Barrows are available on Comixology or, for the good of the economy, at your local brick and mortar store.

Think I’ve missed an important part of the character’s mythology?

Have some points of contention to share?

Talk nerdy to me folks!

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