Heart of Justice – The Manhunter from Mars
J. M. DeMatteis would pen a four issue mini-series entitled simply Martian Manhunter in 1988 exploring the character’s revised origins. The story tells of the Martian people being wiped out by a plague where J’onn witnesses their bodies, including his wife, burned to halt infection (causing his fear of fire) but is saved himself by Erdel’s experiment when his people came for the corpse of J’onn’s daughter he refused to see set aflame. While for J’onn this experience occurred in an instant, forty thousand years had passed on Mars as some spirit tether was latched onto J’onn such that his people were unable to move on to the afterlife. Thus, the Martian god of death H’ronmeer sought J’onn to return to Mars so that the ghosts of his race could finally know peace. Further, many of the pre-Crisis truths of J’onn were lies composed by Erdel in a psychic link to save the Martian’s sanity (such as his beetle-browed appearance being his true form, Erdel had died, or that his name was even J’onn J’onzz, that actually Mars was a pacifist society and J’onn was a poet). After thirty years, Erdel reconstructed his machine (destroyed by the Manhunter when he first appeared) to be able to send J’onn to and from Mars which saw the spirits of the world laid to rest. 1992 would provide another mini-series in Martian Manhunter: American Secrets by Gerard Jones and Eduardo Barreto in prestige format.
A surreal series in the vein of David Lynch set in 1959, for American Secrets J’onn was in the guise of Denver homicide detective John Jones who uncovers an alien invasion subverting the world’s populace through the media and sentient mushrooms that attach to humans and kill those that disobey their commands. At story’s end, it’s revealed a Martian by the name of the Master Gardener was behind the invasion employing a race of shape-shifting Lizard Men previously fought by the Justice Society as his minions. Around the time this mini-series ran, in the present Martian Manhunter was mind-controlled into portraying another character named Bloodwynd for a time in the pages of Justice League America. Regarding the Justice League, shortly after initial publication Giffen and DeMatteis’ book was re-branded as Justice League International which was critically-acclaimed and went on for five years. A Justice League of America television pilot very loosely based on Giffen and DeMatteis’ series was developed featuring Martian Manhunter (played by David Ogden Stiers of M*A*S*H fame) as the leader emerged in 1997 but wasn’t picked up (though was aired on TV exclusively outside the US). Meanwhile, DC Comics editorial would decide to return to a serious tone for the comics and with the special Justice League Spectacular split the brand in two with Justice League America and Justice League Europe. It wouldn’t be long before the brand expanded further, one title with Martian Manhunter at the helm.
Shortly after his second mini-series, Martian Manhunter would star in the title Justice League Task Force. Likely influenced by the television series Mission: Impossible (perhaps even Suicide Squad), Task Force was a United Nations sponsored entity featuring Martian Manhunter composing tailor-specified teams of superheroes to go on secret missions. The nature of the work lent itself to a rotating cast of creators featuring the talents of David Michelinie, Denny O’Neil, Mark Waid, and Christopher Priest. Gypsy, one of the two survivors of the rookies from Justice League Detroit, would be a series regular as she became something of a surrogate daughter to J’onn and it was hinted she developed a romantic relationship with Suicide Squad alum Bronze Tiger (who instructed her in martial arts, elements of the pair’s relationship reminiscent of X-Men Wolverine and Kitty Pryde). Task Force would last for three years before all of the League books were canceled to make way for a new turn on the Justice League (a one-shot featuring J’onn called Martian Manhunter Special would emerge around this time that Diabolu Frank of the blog The Idol-Head of Diabolu speculates was simply an unpublished story from Justice League Quarterly). However, before we move on, following Zero Hour the Legion of Super-Heroes was rebooted and its history altered. Something that remained the same was that the group was originally financed by R.J. Brande. However, where pre-Crisis Brande was in reality a shape-shifting Durlan named Ren Daggle (who served with L.E.G.I.O.N.), post-ZH his origins were shrouded in mystery. This was because it was the writers intention that he be in fact J’onn J’onzz, leaving various clues to that effect, only for the reveal to be shot down by Justice League editor Dan Raspler.
Part of the British Invasion at DC Comics alongside the likes of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison carved a niche for himself telling surreal, metaphysical stories that developed cult-like followings (especially under the Vertigo imprint). In the late 1990s, Morrison pitched a revamped Teen Titans book that would be shot down because editors felt he was an unproven talent with traditional superhero stories. When the various Justice League books continued to lag in sales, editor Ruben Diaz was open to ideas for resurrecting the brand. Eddie Berganza, Titans editor at the time Morrison made his pitch, mentioned to Diaz Morrison’s idea to revamp DC’s properties. Morrison would be invited to pitch a concept for the League leading to the new series JLA. The new series would feature a return to the Big 7 with modern versions of the founders (Wally West as Flash and Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern) which was wildly successful, in time becoming DC’s hottest selling title. The initial storyline dealt with the post-Zero Hour version of the White Martians in the Hyperclan who came to conquer Earth by subverting its people into viewing them as its saviors (in the story, it was also established due to Martian genetic engineering, humanity should have evolved into quasi-gods from the metagene but it was instead hobbled by the White Martians). J’onn would wipe the memories of the Martians and they would assume identities as Terrans completely unaware of their alien origin. Morrison, unaware post-Crisis J’onn merely had a psychological fear of fire, made all Martians weak against flame which became the first major post-ZH change to Martian Manhunter (Peter David and Mark Waid in other stories earlier also sidelined J’onn with fire). A year after JLA premiered, Martian Manhunter would see some more of his backstory expanded in another title.
Following Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Justice Society of America and Justice League of America were placed on the same Earth. To explain why the Society wasn’t active when the heroes of the Silver Age appeared, writer Paul Levitz produced a story explaining amidst the campaign of paranoia in America over the Red Scare, the costumed heroes were brought before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to unmask and register or become outlaws. In response, the Society disbanded and retired which creates an intriguing problem: if there was no Society or League active for several decades, what happened with the supervillains? This issue was tackled in the pages of the series Chase. Starring Cameron Chase, the series followed the heroine as an agent of the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO) which combated metahuman threats to the United States of America. However, Chase’s backstory is that her father was the hero Acro-Bat, leader of the Justice Experience during the time between the end of the Society and beginning of the League. A notable member of the group was Bronze Wraith, secretly J’onn J’onzz of Mars. J’onn was brought to Earth around the time the Society disbanded and while he became detective John Jones, when the Justice Experience emerged, he decided to adopt a heroic identity to join them. Sadly, the entire group save J’onn would be massacred by a villain named Doctor Trap which not only discouraged new costumed adventurers, but costumed villains as well from emerging. The Manhunter would be damaged psychologically and developed amnesia, wandering as a homeless man for decades before returning to his senses and resuming his John Jones homicide detective identity and operated as a superhero in secret, careful to keep the public from seeing him in action.
In a tale in JLA Secret Files and Origins #1 written by Mark Millar under direction of Grant Morrison, the modern day life of Martian Manhunter was revealed. Therein, it’s told following the emergence of the Justice League, J’onn essentially took on the guise of various superheroes and civilians carving out Earth’s southern hemisphere as his territory (in essence, the Superman of South America, Africa, Australia, and parts of Asia like Japan). An intriguing identity is that of Johann Johnson, a taxi cab driver in Metropolis whose known to transport a certain Daily Planet reporter named Clark Kent. He also maintained his John Jones persona, but now as a private detective. Further, a Martian city unearthed by the Hyperclan in Antarctica called Z’onn Z’orr became his base of operations (in contrast to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic).
The success of JLA was huge boon for DC. A story arc in the series laid the groundwork for a new Justice Society title that materialized in the book JSA. An idea planned by Morrison would instead be handed over to writer Todd DeZago (who previously composed the one-shot Young Justice: The Secret) as a mini-series that set the stage for the Teen Titans-inspired series Young Justice. Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn would pen a series chronicling the beginning of the post-ZH Justice League of America in JLA: Year One. Martian Manhunter was a focus in the series, where following seeing the League turn the corpses of aliens they defeated into trophies to be displayed, he began to chronicle every known superhero on Earth including their secret identities and weaknesses (further, he maintained surveillance of the Justice League with hidden cameras). Alien invaders would gain access to J’onn’s files and use them to capture Earth’s heroes, placing them in internment camps. While the Manhunter from Mars would redeem himself in defeating the aliens, it further alienated him from his teammates which took years to heal (becoming their most trusted ally and counsel years later).
In 1998, many of DC’s titles had annuals sharing a theme called “Ghosts” which, interestingly enough, included Martian Manhunter despite his not having a series. At about the same time, Martian Manhunter’s first ongoing series materialized under the pen of John Ostrander and artist Tom Mandrake (again, interestingly enough, with an issue zero despite coming several years after Zero Hour, which had every title produce an issue zero). For many people, this series was the quintessential Martian Manhunter which both defined the character and gave those unfamiliar the reasons why fans should care about J’onn J’onzz. In much the same manner Peter David vastly expanded the world of Aquaman by meticulously defining Atlantis (both its history and culture) as to seem like a real place, John Ostrander breathed life into Mars (or, Ma’aleca’andra, in homage to Malacandra of C. S. Lewis’ novel Out of the Silent Planet). Martian society saw a coexistence between the warlike White Martians and pacifist Green Martians that would inevitably lead to a physical conflict. When Mars wanted to mine hydrogen from the planet Saturn, both races produced clones to act as labor on the artificial satellites above Saturn’s surface. Slightly weaker in abilities, White Martians produced White Saturnians (called Koolars) and Green made Red clones. However, while the greenskins treated their clones as brothers, Koolars were treated like slaves by their progenitors. This would eventually lead to a civil war on Mars where when the whiteskins lost, they were exiled to the Still Zone (Mars’ name for the Phantom Zone).
Following the Martian civil war, the planet became a veritable Eden as its people became artists and scientists. An organization called the Manhunters was formed as a peacekeeping force that dealt with admittedly few problems caused by Martians and protected the planet from alien invaders. Well organized and extremely sufficient, the Guardians of the Universe used the group as a model for its own galactic peacekeeping force called the Manhunters (though, these agents would be androids lacking compassion or empathy). Shape-shifters, Martians had no use for doors or windows on their homes and love became expressed as an experience of melding bodies (children born by two beings giving up some of their mass to form a new life made from their mutual DNA). Telepaths, the Martian race was part of the Great Voice where ideas and experiences were shared as those that died passed on their knowledge for the next generation. However, even Martians had limitations in terms of privacy. For example, in public they maintained a beetle-browed visage but in private assumed their tall, lanky natural forms. Also, there were areas of the mind limited to one’s self and their significant other. A violation into this part of the mind without permission was considered rape in their culture and a crime of the highest accord.
J’onn J’onzz was born to mother Sha’sheen (a Manhunter) and father M’yrnn (a scientist) with a twin brother Ma’alefa’ak (twins extremely rare on Mars). Sha’sheen, a seer that can glean the future, named her children based on the life paths she foresaw for them. J’onn’s name meant “light to the light,” whom she saw as a great force for good, while Ma’alefa’ak means “darkness in the heart” for the wicked path he would one day walk. In time, the twins took after their parents as J’onn grew to be a Martian Manhunter (taking the oath “Once begun, to walk the path, to pursue the prey, to never turn aside, short of death, until justice is done”) where Ma’alefa’ak a scientist. During the course of his experiments, the latter would come to make contact with the planet Apokolips. Called the New Gods, emissaries from this world came to Mars to exchange ideas (J’onn making friends with one of the race’s elite in Kanto). In truth, this was a ruse for Darkseid to pursue the much sought after Anti-Life Equation as M’yrnn made significant advances in what could be described a Life Equation. It wasn’t long before the invasion of Mars begun, its people (including Ma’alefa’ak) captured and imprisoned on Apokolips to be experimented upon (M’yrnn dying in the conflict). In order to safeguard the remains of Mars, the Manhunters stood guard on their world as J’onn and his mother alone covertly infiltrated Apokolips and freed their kind.
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