Martian Manhunter #1
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Colorist: Ivan Plascenia
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Publisher: DC Comics
Review by Stacy Dooks
For every Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman, there are legions of comics characters who just don’t quite hit the bullseye in the pop cultural zeitgeist. A wise person once said that the simpler a superhero’s origin, the easier it is to sell it to a general audience. Batman: parents murdered, vows to war on crime, trains to the pinnacle of mental and physical perfection, criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot. Wonder Woman: ambassador of peace from an island of amazon warriors, warrior without peer, protector of the weak. Superman: doomed planet, desperate scientists, last hope, kindly couple. Spider-Man: got bit, uncle died, fights crime. You pick almost anyone out in the street, and they’ll know who any of those characters are, especially in the wake of recent movies and cartoon adaptations. But then we come to a character like J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter: a character who’s come close, but never quite broken out, which brings us to Martian Manhunter #1.
In the town of Middleton, Colorado, police detectives John Jones and Diane Meade are called in to investigate a homicide. Jones finds a clue that others would have missed, but they’re only human after all and Jones himself is in fact J’onn J’onzz, the Manhunter from Mars. When a lead in the case proves to have ties to J’onn’s old life on the red planet, he finds himself facing ghosts from his past life on the now-dead world.
Created by Joseph Samachson and Joe Certa in 1955, Martian Manhunter seems like a character who ought to be a break out hit. The power set is impressive: super-strength, nearly invulnerable (except for a nebulously reasoned aversion to fire), laser (or “martian”) vision, telepathy, and shapeshifting. Yet for all the impressive bells and whistles, the character has never been able to sustain a title of his own for very long, even with some seriously impressive creative teams featuring such luminaries as John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. When the guys who made The Spectre into one of the most impressive comics of the ’90s can’t work their magic for a character, you know you’re in trouble. Despite that, the Martian Manhunter has endured, appearing in comics, cartoons like Batman: The Brave & The Bold and Justice League Unlimited, and even on network dramas like Smallville and Supergirl. So what do Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo bring to this new incarnation with Martian Manhunter #1? Quite a bit it turns out.
Thankfully Orlando realizes that a rehash of J’onn’s origin story would be a waste of time, so instead he places a murder mystery and abduction tale before us as the main plot, while adding a thread that ties back to J’onn’s background on Mars. This allows the reader (either a longtime MM fan like yours truly or a newcomer) to ease into this new riff on the old classic and find their footing. The banter between Meade and Jones is great, and the police procedural stuff puts our feet on terra firma before we soar off to Mars with the flashbacks.
Rossmo’s art is phenomenal — whether it’s with the mundane realities of Earth or the scope, grandeur, and surprising grit of his take on the red planet. His style is a great fit for the character and his world: EC Comics by way of Pixar. The mix is all kinds of kooky cool, and I’m loving it. The colors by Ivan Plascenia add a nice touch to the proceedings, in both the grayer tones of Earth and the wild palatte choices for Mars. Deron Bennett’s lettering allows for the more subdued conversations of Earth, the layered telepathy of Mars, and all points in between, giving each character’s voice that extra bit of variation.
The Verdict: Buy It.
This 12-part series looks like a soft reboot of the character intended to bring Martian Manhunter to prominence in the wake of DC Rebirth and Supergirl. It wasn’t quite the take I was expecting: there were swerves I didn’t see coming that took me by surprise, which is nice in an era where most superhero stories can feel a bit similar. If you’re looking for a superhero story that’s definitely off the beaten path, give Martian Manhunter #1 a try. Recommended.