Heart of Justice – The Manhunter from Mars
Among those rescued by J’onn was M’yri’ah, a female Martian who would become his wife and the two produced a daughter in K’hym (named after Ostrander’s wife Kim Yale who passed away of breast cancer in 1997). Ma’alefa’ak, tortured mentally and physically by Desaad, was turned into a disciple of Darkseid who began forcefully invading the minds of his native Martians against their will (including M’yri’ah). When confronted by his mother, Ma’alefa’ak would take her life. J’onn would bring his twin to justice where it was decided he would be stripped of his telepathic gifts (which also cured him of his people’s weakness to fire). Implanted with false memories believing he was born without telepathy, Ma’alefa’ak experienced a solitude among his kind comparable to being alone despite being surrounded by Martians. Seeing himself as a freak, Ma’alefa’ak designed a plague to wipe out his own species. Dubbed H’ronmeer’s Curse, it would make any Martian infected erupt in flames should they meld their bodies or minds together. Considering melding so psychologically important to Martians, even when realized what caused the combustion, there were those that chose destruction regardless. One such pair was J’onn’s wife and daughter who died before his own eyes. Enraged beyond reason, J’onn hunted down his brother and murdered him (or so he thought). Believing himself the last survivor of Mars, J’onn walked the barren Martian landscape for centuries before Erdel brought him to Earth. In this version, James Erdel was an archaeologist that discovered an ancient Martian device that teleported J’onn to Earth leading to Erdel’s death.
Shortly after Erdel’s demise, police arrived including homicide detective John Jones. Intrigued by having a similar name, J’onn would follow him invisibly learning about Earth’s culture. However, Jones was set to testify against dirty cops but before he could do so, they would kill him. Disgusted with himself for not intervening sooner, J’onn brought the men to justice and assumed Jones’ identity. Along the way, an alien vessel would catch J’onn’s attention crash landing in Smallville, Kansas. Investigating, he would behold an alien child that looked similar to a human being. When a couple came upon the child, J’onn would decide to observe the progress of the boy. Through the years, J’onn assumed the identity of a farmhand on the Kent farm named Josh Johnstone and a high school Civics teacher named Mrs. Klingman watching a young Clark Kent grow into a good man. At some point, Green Lantern Abin Sur would battle a mass murderer on Earth named Tybalt Bak’sar which prompted J’onn to become involved (though, the Martian briefly fought Sur over a pact that the Guardians left protection of the Sol system to Mars). When Superman made his public appearance to the world and various heroes followed, J’onn decided to expose his presence to Earth hopeful it was ready to know a Martian walked amongst them. In the years that followed, the Martian Manhunter became the most trusted member of the Justice League considering that throughout the group’s many changes, J’onn was there for almost virtually all of it (referred as the heart, soul, and rock of the group).
In the modern day, Martian Manhunter developed a rogues gallery with the likes of Headmaster, Bette Noir, Cabal, Renegades of Mars, B’ool Sporath, and the return of his brother Ma’alefa’ak (now called Malefic who masqueraded as his brother in hopes of turning his adopted world and family against him), Kanto, and Dr. Trap. The while, J’onn tries to repair the fractured mind of Jemm who was manipulated by Lex Luthor into being used as a weapon against the Martian in the pages of JLA. These efforts are complicated when Malefic appears and furthers injures the Red Saturnian. The Saturnians eventually come for the long lost prince Jemm such that he would marry Koolar Princess Cha’rissa and bring peace to their world. With J’onn’s help, Jemm is healed and the marriage comes to pass (later in the pages of Superman: World of New Krypton, Jemm would also append the Faceless Hunters of the sub-atomic world Klaramar inhabiting Saturn to his kingdom). Over the course of the series, J’onn would be forced to abandon the majority of his many identities when the DEO tried to blackmail him into revealing the secret identities of the Justice League’s members to which he refused. Cameron Chase, who was given the assignment to leak these guises, learned of J’onn’s past as the Bronze Wraith and withholds some of his identities (notably, that of John Jones). Just a month after Martian Manhunter’s ongoing series started, the title participated with the Grant Morrison-helmed event DC One Million in which a time-displaced Kyle Rayner arrives in the 853rd century to learn J’onn had merged with Mars and became a sentient planet (as well as help the Legion of Super-Heroes and defeated Darkseid once and for all wherein the Source merged J’onn with his homeworld). The Martian Manhunter ongoing series would last for thirty six issues not including an annual, issue zero, and issue one million over the span of three years generally under the hands of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. Despite its narrative and how it expanded Martian Manhunter’s mythos, the series ended due to low sales (though, the series is just now being collected with its first trade in February and a second arriving in September).
Over in the pages of JLA, Mark Waid had taken over the series and during the storyline “Terror Incognita” brought back the White Martians. When the League combated a wish-granting foe called the Id, it took J’onn’s subconscious sense of loneliness and in its ironic means of wish fulfillment awoke the White Martians. This time, upon defeat the aliens were exiled to the Phantom Zone. When a Justice League animated series was developed for television for 2001 based on the DC Animated Universe (which featured Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series), the first threat that brought the team together were based on the White Martians. An expedition by Earth on Mars releases the Imperium’s army, white-colored invaders that conquered Mars, wiped out virtually the entire species, and absorbed the Martian ability for shape-shifting and telepathy. J’onn J’onzz and the other remaining survivors managed to imprison Imperium and its forces but at a cost of J’onn being the sole Martian left alive. When Imperium went to Earth, J’onn awoke out of hibernation and gave chase but was captured. After being freed by Superman and Batman who uncovered the invasion, J’onn summoned Wonder Woman, Green Lantern John Stewart, Flash, and Hawkgirl to repel the threat. Upon defeating the aliens due to their weakness to sunlight, the team formed to become the Justice League.
Back in the comics, Mark Waid would make way for Joe Kelly who took over JLA in 2002. For Kelly’s final storyarc, he would radically alter Martian Manhunter’s backstory with the six-part “Trial by Fire.” Seeing himself as a liability to the League, J’onn set out to conquer his weakness to fire. Enlisting Scorch, a woman transformed by the Joker when he wielded the godlike power of Mister Mxyzptlk into some sort of fire demon, J’onn would be successful only to unlock a dark secret of Mars’ past. It’s revealed what was once the Martian race were beings known as the Burning, extremely powerful entities that reproduced asexually in flames. Growing closer to intergalactic traveling capabilities, the Guardians of the Universe feared the chaos the race would rain down upon the cosmos and twenty thousand years ago genetically altered the creatures. The beings were split into two races (white and green) with two genders and an extreme case of pyrophobia such that they would subconsciously kill themselves when exposed to fire. When J’onn overcame his fear of fire, it unlocked a genetic key that allowed a dormant entity of the Burning named Fernus killed on Earth by Vandar Adg centuries ago to possess his body. Fernus nearly massacres the League but the timely intervention of Major Disaster saved them. Out of options, they decide to release the White Martians from the Phantom Zone in hopes they can overcome Fernus only to discover the being anticipated this and eliminated the entire species already. Fernus planned to awash the Earth in fire in order to rekindle the Burning but Plastic Man kept him at bay long enough while Leaguers found the spiritually displaced J’onn on the Astral Plane to help him reclaim his body.
For 2004’s Eisner, Harvey, and Shuster Award-winning work DC: The New Frontier, the Manhunter from Mars takes center stage. Set in the 1950s where the Silver Age of comics is superimposed over the real world culture of America at its time, the Justice Society of America is disbanded amidst the seething paranoia of the nation while Superman became a government operative, Batman operates in secret as an outlaw, and Wonder Woman goes rogue in foreign nations before returning to Themyscira. A being named the Centre as old as the Earth itself fears mankind’s propensity towards violence and its discovery of atomic power, deciding to wipe out the species and abandon the planet. The while, new heroes like the Flash and John Henry emerge and are feared by the people and hunted by the government. As the threat of the Centre presents itself, the government and heroes are forced to align for mutual survival. While the work features dozens of characters, arguably those focused upon most are Martian Manhunter, Hal Jordan, and the Flash. For New Frontier, Dr. Saul Erdel is trying to communicate with alien life only to bring J’onn J’onzz to Earth. Erdel warns the alien about hiding due to humanity’s violent behavior and fear of the unknown before dying. J’onn watches television in order to learn about this new world, deciding to become a film noir detective named John Jones who joins the Gotham City police. It’s in this capacity he begins uncovering data on the Centre, tasked by Batman to investigate the issue. However, seeing the racism and xenophobia of mankind convinces him to return to Mars. When secret agent King Faraday tries to stop J’onn, the Martian is forced to give up his ride and save the man’s life. Turning himself over to the government, J’onn strikes up a friendship with Faraday. When the Centre launches its attack, the pair go to face it together only for J’onn to lose his mind to their foe. Faraday gives his life to free J’onn inspiring the Manhunter to fight for mankind.
In 2006, the Martian Manhunter would make another appearance to a wider audience. In the television series Smallville, J’onn J’onzz was the last surviving Martian following civil war on his planet who became a bounty hunter. Hired by Jor-El, J’onn helped capture various criminals to be sent to the Phantom Zone. Becoming friends with Jor-El, J’onn swore to watch over Kal-El and protect him in the wake of Krypton’s destruction. Since his arrival on Earth, J’onn kept vigil over Clark Kent watching him grow into a good man. Clark wouldn’t become aware of J’onn until an encounter with the Zoner Aldar forced the Martian to reveal himself. From then on, J’onn infrequently helped capture Zoners until Bizarro soundly bested him. Clark and J’onn worked together to defeat Bizarro as the latter largely disappeared for a while, returning when Clark was nearly killed by a mind-controlled Green Arrow. A star seems to rob Martians of their powers as J’onn took Clark to the sun to save his life but at a cost of making the Manhunter powerless. J’onn would take on the guise of John Jones, a homicide detective for the Metropolis police. Martian Manhunter would regain his powers later when Doctor Fate briefly sent him back to Mars which turned J’onn into his true Martian form. Joining the Justice League, J’onn would infiltrate Checkmate and destroy their data on the League including knowledge of the members’ secret identities.
Following Infinite Crisis, DC Comics produced a weekly series called 52 by writers Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, and Greg Rucka in which J’onn played a minor part. When the Blue Beetle uncovered Max Lord’s plot to eliminate all of Earth’s superhumans, no one believed him including J’onn. Feeling guilt for this and Beetle’s death, J’onn infiltrated Checkmate to tear the organization down from within. However, he’s forced to deal with a much more pressing matter when Black Adam is turned into a WMD after being tortured by Dr. Sivana. J’onn takes on an almost starring role (as well as narrator) in the 52 spin-off World War III where following the massacre of Bialya, J’onn appears as a little girl to Black Adam only to telepathically assault him when they make physical contact. However, the severe trauma Adam experiences creates some sort of mind meld or mental link as J’onn’s being starts taking on the darkness inside his foe. Unable to cope, J’onn retreats to space where he observes Adam’s rampage over a span of weeks. When Black Adam murders Young Frankenstein and Terra, it shakes J’onn free of his stupor as he contacts Checkmate. Likely still under the influence of Adam’s darkness, J’onn reveals his secret identity to his former fellow officers on the police force and burns his detective agency down. As Adam assaults China, Earth’s heroes are given clearance to engage Black Adam in the country as Martian Manhunter joins the fray and fills Adam’s mind with the destruction of Mars. Slowed for a few moments, Captain Marvel manages to summon a magic bolt of lightning that reverts his enemy back to Teth-Adam (while changing his magic word so he can’t instantly switch back). Immediately afterward, J’onn assumes his true secret Martian form and dons a militant suit of blue and red (refusing to pretend to look like a human any longer).
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