The Red Planet on the Four-Color Page: Mars in Comics
The Red Planet on the Four-Color Page: Mars in Comics by Jerry Whitworth
Recently, NASA landed the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars providing a vast resource of information on the “red planet” that we never before had access toward. Man has told tales of the fourth planet from the sun for many years, a medium frequently employed in this way is the comic book. One of the earliest stories applied to the four-color page was from a source predating comic books by several decades. The Barsoom series written by Edgar Rice Burroughs describes Earthman John Carter as he is transported to Mars where he becomes that world’s champion and weds its princess. Created for pulp magazine (one of the chief progenitors to the comic book), Carter’s story would be applied to a comic strip for the Chicago Sun in 1941 but would be published for comic books in 1952 for Dell Comics, 1972 for DC Comics, 1977 (and again in 2012) for Marvel Comics, 1996 for Dark Horse, and 2010 for Dynamite Entertainment.
The same year John Carter’s story would be applied to comic strip, the Flash battled “the Spider-Men of Mars,” aka the Kigori, in the pages of Flash Comics. DC Comics maybe the publisher that has employed the planet the most over the decades, likely due to the popularity of a certain Manhunter that will be discussed shortly. However, before the advent of that hero, Mars was primarily known as the base of operations for the Roman god of war. In the pages of Wonder Woman in 1942, the god Mars is introduced as one of the titular heroine’s primary antagonists, which by his second appearance established a base on the alien planet where his children in the Duke of Deception, Earl of Greed, and Lord Conquest established operations that either targeted Wonder Woman or would bring her into conflict with one of their schemes. The Duke, who operated the Lie Factory therein, would engage in an operation leading the yellow-skinned residents of Mars as well as forces from Pluto and Saturn to invade Earth.
While Mars was scheming on the planet named after him, Jerry Siegel (famous for co-creating Superman) and Murphy Anderson (co-creator of Zatanna) created the hero Lars of Mars for Ziff-Davis Comics in 1951. A super-powered alien in the vein of Superman (with a little Buck Rogers mixed in), Lars was sent from Mars when the planet discovered mankind had developed enough power to cause them problems. Having survived a disastrous war with Venus, Mars deployed Lars to suppress evil on Earth in hopes of preventing similar difficulties. The story would only last two issues. That same year, Avon Periodicals produced a one-shot named Attack on Planet Mars which was mostly collected short stories from the series Strange Worlds and featured art by Joe Kubert and Carmine Infantino. In 1953, Fiction House produced a comic named Man O’ Mars featuring John Hunter and his Marsmen trying to stop Gurtil, the Martian War Fleet Commander, from going to war with Earth. The same year in the pages of Batman, DC Comics would introduce the “First Lawman of Mars” Roh Kar. Inspired by Batman to became a hero (despite Mars being a peaceful, science-based society), the green-skinned Roh Kar employed his people’s advanced technology including a jetpack and raygun in order to ensure peace. This measure would be a blessing when scientist Quork goes mad and becomes a criminal, stealing an experimental rocket to Earth. While the Martians begin constructing a second rocket so Roh Kar can give pursuit, Quork had taken the identity of the Stranger and continued committing crimes but now in Gotham City. Roh Kar would come to Earth and team with the Dynamic Duo to apprehend Quork and bring him to justice. Two years would pass before the Manhunter from Mars first appeared in the pages of Detective Comics.
Wandering the Martian landscape, J’onn J’onzz would be plucked from his homeworld by an experimental communication device built by Dr. Saul Erdel to Earth. His sudden, alien appearance shocked Erdel so badly the scientist would die, leaving the Martian on a world foreign to him without any help for the transition. J’onzz decides to bide his time on Earth as a detective and superhero while he awaits his planet to develop interplanetary travel in order to rescue him. The Manhunter from Mars, later shortened to Martian Manhunter, was created in a time of transition as the Golden Age of comics had run its course and the circulation of comic books was low while predating the so-called Silver Age by a year (a similar condition shared by the heroic Captain Comet). While the Manhunter was finding his way in Middletown, U.S.A., Harvey Comics published a story called “The Face on Mars” in the title Race For the Moon. Written and drawn by Jack Kirby, the story tells of an expedition force from Earth that discover a massive carved face on the alien planet. Exploring it, American mission leader Ben Fisher is transported to a memory of the giant residents of Mars who engaged in a war with a planet between Mars and Jupiter that the Martians are forced to destroy in order to survive.
As Martian Manhunter awaited rescue, he began encountering residents from his home planet. The first was B’rett, a Yellow Martian having all of J’onn’s powers and a raygun able to disintegrate even the Manhunter. B’rett would appear only nine months after the Yellow Martians fought alongside the Duke of Deception against Wonder Woman but appears to have no relation. After B’rett, there was the Martian Marauders, criminals from Mars teleported by an apparatus based on Erdel’s technology to Earth. After Manhunter took them down, he was finally able to return home where he was reunited with his parents and, now able to come and go as he pleased, used the technology to return to Earth. Then in 1962, there was B’enn B’urnzz, a Green Martian criminal from the year 2062 who used a time machine to escape capture and battled the Manhunter in the present. Martian Manhunter would then face the Martian Mountain M’mannix, a wild animal from Mars, or so he thought. In truth, it was a physically-superior Green Martian to J’onn who assumed its form to test the strength of Earth’s people and arrived on Earth with six other Martians ready for conquest. With help from Manhunter’s friend Zook and a candle, J’onn defeated the seven who tried to escape via space ship and ended up crashing into each other causing their demise. A year before J’onn battled the faux Martian Mountain M’mannix in 1966, Dell Comics produced a comic book adaptation of the Sci-Fi film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians featuring the art of Bob Jenney.
The Martian Manhunter’s next challenge would come in 1969 with Commander Blanx, leader of the militant White Martians that reside at Mars’ polar caps who had defeated and exiled J’onn (during this exile was when the hero was transported to Earth), conquering the green desert dwelling Martians. As J’onn tried to find a way to his homeworld, Blanx became aware of his foe’s survival and planned to come to Earth and execute him, in turn battling the Justice League of America (which J’onn was a founding member of). It was due to this encounter the Manhunter revealed his weakness to fire to his teammates and the League used this knowledge to defeat the White Martians, Superman sending them back to Mars. Blanx returned to Mars where he later bargained with an alien race to commit genocide on his people, unleashing the incredible Blue Flame of Mars which spread over the planet nearly killing everyone therein. The Justice League interceded and managed to save some of the Martians who remained (who left the planet for a new home).
In 1972, Marvel Comics adapted the titular character of the novel Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, a precursor to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series. Written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Gil Kane for the series Creatures on the Loose!, Gullivar Jones, Warrior Of Mars was an attempt to capitalize on the success of Robert E. Howard’s Conan series which Thomas adapted popularly for Marvel in Conan the Barbarian. Gullivar Jones was an Earthman, ex-military transported to the planet Mars where he became its champion (having enhanced strength due to the lower gravity and who wooed Mars’ princess). The feature only lasted six issues but Marvel would begin printing the adventures of John Carter in John Carter, Warlord of Mars in1977. The same year Marvel printed Gullivar Jones’ adventures, Martian Manhunter’s struggles would continue as the remnants of his race moved to the planet Vonn only to be captured and enslaved by the Thythen, using them to supply energy to their powerful Robo-Chargers. The Martians were betrayed by one of their own in Bel Juz, who tried to entrap J’onn J’onzz as well. With the help of Superman, J’onn liberated his people only for Bel Juz to escape. Meanwhile Marvel, in part, returned to Mars in 1973 with their character Killraven. Created by Roy Thomas and Neal Adams, Killraven is the protagonist of a somewhat sequel to H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds where the Martians return to enslave the Earth. Where women were employed for breeding stock, the men were generally forced into gladiatorial combat for the amusement of the invaders. One slave that rose to the top was Jonathan Raven, aka Killraven, who escapes to join the so-called Freemen and eventually liberated Earth of its Martian oppressors. Warren Magazine produced a Mars special issue of Creepy in 1977 which featured the art of Bernie Wrightson, Carmine Infantino, and John Severin.
Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel penned the limited series Mars in 1984 for First Comics detailing the exploits of people from Earth on a mission to Mars to terraform it only to lose contact with their homeworld. Awakening from suspended animation after ten thousand years, Morgana Trace must lead her team against the emerging threats arising on Mars. In 2005, IDW Publishing collected and reprinted the series. Also in 1984, Bel Juz would return to bedevil Martian Manhunter after she seduces the leader of the Martian people in the Marshal of the Red Brotherhood (a physically enhanced Green Martian) on their new colony Mars II. When Earth sends a probe by coincidence within the colony’s space, Bel Juz convinces the Marshal it is an act of aggression by the people of Earth leading to a declaration of war by Mars II on the planet. She engineered the Marshal’s rise to power and bid to conquer Earth in hopes of destroying the Martian Manhunter so he can never reveal how she secretly helped enslave her race. The conflict, which included the Justice League of America, lead to a singular confrontation between the Manhunter and the Marshal but when Bel Juz tried to kill her enemy in cold blood, her treachery was revealed and the Martians took the pair into custody abandoning their designs on Earth. The same year, writer Greg Potter proposed a new character named J’Em who would be the cousin of J’onn that escaped Mars II, which suffered a coup d’état by the White Martians, to Earth. Forming the basis of a new series in Jemm, Son of Mars, the idea was eventually altered when its use of Martian Manhunter generated conflict with his appearance in Justice League of America. So, the concept was retooled as Jemm, Son of Saturn. The following year, the Crisis on Infinite Earths took place which generally declared retroactively that Superman and Martian Manhunter are the last surviving members of their separate species.
Premiering in 1985, the Japanese animated series Robotech aired on American television proving to be a big hit. That same year, Comico produced a comic book adaptation including the series Robotech: The New Generation which features Scott Bernard, one of the few surviving members of Earth’s Mars colony after the Invid invaded Earth. In 1962, Topps produced a trading card series called Mars Attacks featuring the art of Wallace Wood that was very popular with children. In 1988, Topps partnered with Pocket Comics to produce mini-comics based on their franchise. In 1994, Topps self-published a mini-series on Mars Attacks featuring the talent of Keith Giffen and Charlie Adlard (whose popularity saw it return as an ongoing series). In 2012, the series returned under IDW Publishing. Popular animated series Biker Mice from Mars, featuring Martians as humanoid mice conquered by the fish-like Plutarkians leading to a trio of Martians to escape to Earth uncovering a similar takeover therein, would be adapted as a comic book by Marvel in 1993. The following year, Paul Pope began publishing the series THB sporadically through Horse Press which tells the story of HR Watson and her bodyguard THB in the future on Mars. During that year, Marvin the Martian appeared on the cover (and lead story) of the first issue of the Looney Tunes comic book produced by DC Comics.
In 1997, the Justice League of America was given new life under writer Grant Morrison in the pages of JLA. Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the “Big 7” concept was largely abandoned but, following the run of Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire, the Justice League (surviving name changes and off-shoots) had largely faded into obscurity as various series with little success. When DC was looking to rejuvenate its flagship superhero team, Morrison proposed a modern interpretation of the Big 7 which proved a monster hit. His first story saw him return the White Martians to DC Comics, re-imagined as the Hyperclan who sought to lull the Earth into a false sense of security as a superhero team without equal bringing about a new age of prosperity on Earth only to seek its enslavement. Their appearance brought about a series of changes to the Pre-Crisis history of Mars, the first of which is narrowing the species to only Green and White. Next would be the White Martians uncovered human beings’ potential due to the metagene which would have evolved the people of Earth into becoming godlike until the aliens modified them, leaving only a fraction of humanity to see their metagene activate and with limited abilities. When this was discovered, they were banished to a version of the Phantom Zone by the Green Martians. When they discovered a means of escape and arose as the Hyperclan, the League defeated them after uncovering their true species and brainwashed them into believing they were average humans.
In 1998, Martian Manhunter was given his first ongoing solo series under the pen of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. The history of Mars was revised as the planet, called Ma’aleca’andra (after C. S. Lewis’ Malacandra of Out of the Silent Planet) by its people, was a peaceful world before the birth of brothers J’onn J’onzz (“light to the light”) and Ma’alefa’ak (“darkness in the heart”), named by their mother Sha’sheen, a Manhunter (Martian peacekeeper) gifted with prophetic sight. Darkseid, dread ruler of Apokolips, sought Mars sensing a component of his fabled Anti-Life Equation therein (J’onn’s father M’yrnn was a scientist seeking the Life Equation, the research of which would aid Darkseid’s search). Forces from Apokolips captured Martians seeking the data, even in their very DNA, one such prisoner being Ma’alefa’ak (who, in his role as a scientist, made first contact with Apokolips) who was viciously tortured, dissected, and reassembled as a sadistic disciple of Darkseid. Apokolips was beaten back, Ma’alefa’ak and J’onn’s future wife My’ria’h were rescued by J’onn, and M’yrnn was a casualty of the conflict.
J’onn’s brother, made more powerful after being touched by his dark god, continued in secret to search the minds of his people for Anti-Life Equation components (the act of probing unwilling minds the greatest crime for the race). He would “rape” My’ria’h in this way and nearly killed his mother Sha’sheen, who suspected him, but was brought down by his brother. His atrocious crimes were met with its worst penalty, the removal of his telepathy and given a new identity to cover his old one. However, Ma’alefa’ak would regain his memories and constructed Hronmeer’s Curse, a virus that when Martians meld with each other (mentally and physically, the bedrock of Martian connection), they burst into flames and die. J’onn and his wife and daughter K’hym were some of the last survivors but they too succumbed, J’onn watching as his family melded and died before him. The last survivors of the race, the brothers fought with J’onn leaving Ma’alefa’ak buried at the planet’s core, believed dead. J’onn walked the surface of Mars half-mad for months before Dr. Erdel’s device brought him to Earth.
Ma’alefa’ak, who survived, eventually sensed his brother’s presence on Earth and journeyed to the planet, taking the name Malefic, impersonating him, and tried to kill the Manhunter’s friends (including the Justice League). In a final battle between the brothers, J’onn abandoned his brother on a vessel set to collide with the sun where it’s believed he died. Some other tidbits retconned include White and Red Saturnians (such as Jemm) were Martian clones created for the planet H’ronmeerca’andra (Saturn), the Reds from Green and Whites from White. The Reds were treated by their Green donors as equals while the Whites used their clones as slaves. This lead to the first conflict between the Greens and Whites. Another retcon is a team of Green Martians journeyed to Earth shortly after the fiasco with the White Martians’ manipulation of humanity to monitor mankind only to find a way to live virtually forever as parasitic beings feeding off humans (one of their number opposed them, J’ahrl J’onzz, an ancestor to J’onn who they imprisoned in a tomb beneath the Egyptian Sphinx). These Martians advanced humanity’s technology in the guise of Egyptian deities. When J’onn uncovered his ancestor’s corpse, he sought the seven other Martians and ended their aberration of existence. Also, Manhunter’s “pet” Zook was reimagined as Zo’ok, a plant native to Mars that shape-shifts and can be controlled via telepathy. These plants act in a symbiotic relationship with Martians, attached to them and taking the form of clothes while obtaining life sustaining nutrients from their hosts.
A later encounter with the malevolent entity the Id awoke the White Martians which lead to another confrontation resulting in being banished to the Phantom Zone again. When Martian Manhunter sought to cure himself of his weakness to fire, it uncovered another retcon that the Martians were worshippers of fire and chaos that sought to sow destruction across the stars. Before they could develop the technology to achieve this, the Guardians of the Universe rewrote their DNA to psychologically fear fire (to the point of being harmed or killed in its presence) which seemed to divide the species, where Green Martians were peaceful and progressive and White Martians were malevolent and conniving, but both were creatures of order nonetheless. By unlocking this change, J’onn transformed into the personification of his race’s heritage as Fernus, the fire god of destruction, who sought to bathe the world in flame and asexually reproduce the original Martian race. When the White Martians were sought to help stop him, the League learned Fernus had already murdered them all in the Zone. Eventually J’onn was able to reassert control with the help of his friends.
Another retcon for the DC Comics Martians came from the unlikely title Son of Vulcan in 2005. Therein, we learn of the presence of White Martians on Earth who were not involved with the Hyperclan. Further, their most hated enemy is the hero legacy Vulcan, having created a metavirus that gives humans the ability to manipulate fire that is passed down between hosts via touch, the first Vulcan swearing a lineage to wipe out the White Martians. The final two remaining Martians, A’Morr and A’monn A’mokk, sought to eliminate Vulcan and breed a new Martian race, achieving the latter in a deal with Funky Flashman using the DNA of members of the Secret Society of Super-Villains to generate offspring with the metahuman abilities of the humans. This litter included Sapling (Poison Ivy), Buster (Blockbuster), Silhouette (Shadow-Thief), Quaker (Quakemaster), and Blur (Reverse-Flash). Another White Martian emerged in Miss Martian, a teen heroine whose parents rocketed her to the Vega system to escape the civil war on Mars who ended up eventually on Earth pretending to be a Green Martian that joined the Teen Titans as a heroine. When the Titans are attacked by future versions of themselves, Miss Martian kills her future self Martian Manhunter only for Manhunter’s consciousness to take refuge in Miss Martian’s mind as an ongoing threat.
During the events of 52‘s World War III, J’onn J’onzz touches the mind of Black Adam in order to stop him instead taking some of his hate and rage and internalized it. As part of this, Manhunter alters his appearance to be more in line with his natural, alien look. During this period, another retcon was made where another Green Martian survived Hronmeer’s Curse. Seeking revenge against J’onn J’onzz for his brother’s crime, Cay’an tried to kill J’onn but was too late as he was transported to Earth. Plotting revenge, she made her way to Earth, bided her time, captured five White Martians when they emerged and brainwashed them into believing they were green, sold them to a government research facility, and then waited for when the Justice League was disbanded to enact her plan. In an attempt to turn J’onn against Earth and his heroic allies (creating a mutual rift), the reveal of the Green Martians as his hated White Martians was suppose to push him over the edge, alone and depressed, so that Cay’an could kill him at his lowest point. When that failed, they fought only for Cay’an to disappear during the conflict.
July 2010, creators Dave Pauwels and Nicolas R. Giacondino began publishing the popular weekly webcomic Free Mars describing the exploits of humanity in the year 2339 who colonized Mars only to be oppressed by the Combined Systems Corporations and the rebels fighting back, cheered by the music of the Sisters Grimm, a rock band speaking to the youth of Mars. The Secret Avengers in their monthly title would go to Mars when they learn of a secret base on the planet operated by the evil Roxxon Energy Corporation after member Nova disappears during the investigation therein. They learn Mars is the prison for the ancient malevolent entity known as Abyss that the Watchers buried there. Also there are his children including the Darkest Child who can be freed through any of the the three Serpent Crowns, one of which was buried on Mars and had taken control of Nova’s mind. It was the power of the Crowns that eliminated all life on the planet before they were defeated by the Archons, constructs left by the Watchers to prevent Abyss and his brood’s resurrection. By the time Nova was enslaved, only a single Archon remained to inform the Avengers of the dire threat they faced.
Meanwhile, DC Comics’ Martian Manhunter dealt with another retcon as it is learned yet another Green Martian survived Hronmeer’s Curse in D’Kay D’Razz by being imprisoned at the time for experimenting on her people and subsequently went mad during the isolation following the demise of her jailers. She would end up being teleported to Earth by Dr. Erdel where she delved further into madness being around so many minds suddenly. Absorbing the identity of a human, D’Kay believed herself into being a human until the death of the Martian Manhunter broke her psychological lock freeing her. When the Manhunter was resurrected, she desperately sought to breed with him to remake the Martian race (so far as to try and kill Miss Martian to prevent any possibility of J’onn mating with her). When J’onn combats her advances, she commits suicide by thrusting herself into the sun.
In 2010, the animated series Young Justice premiered telling the stories of Earth-16 of DC Comics’ multiverse that are supplemented by a monthly comic book series. A prominent member of the title’s group of protagonists in the Team is Miss Martian, Martian Manhunter’s niece who is also a White Martian. Mars, or M’arzz as residents refer to it, is home to three races: the Green, Red, and the minority White (who are looked down upon). Its residents live in caves beneath the surface (as the above ground is inhospitable) and are ruled by a royal family. Bluewater Productions published a new graphic novel entitled Sinbad: Rogue of Mars in April 2011 intended as a sequel to the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad film trilogy seeing the pirate transported to the red planet by a magical urn with a malicious Jinn and the tale has been optioned by Morningside Entertainment to become a feature film in 2012. D.O.G.S. Of Mars is a digital comic published in print by Image Comics in 2012 by Johnny Zito, Tony Trov, Christian Weiser, and Paul Maybury. A Sci-Fi Horror story set on Mars, D.O.G.S. describes a team establishing a colony on the planet only to discover it’s infested with monsters that appear at night.
This article would have been impossible without the help of The Idol-Head of Diabolu, a Martian Manhunter blog. Huge thanks.
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