Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Characters I Like -- Martian Manhunter

Alex Ross's Martian Manhunter

Since everyone's favorite 4 Color Martian was laid to rest not too long ago, I thought this was as good a time as any to express why I liked the Martian Manhunter and was somewhat sad to see him killed off.  My route to being a fan of the Alien Atlas is a strange one, indeed.  You see, when I was first introduced to the character, I had no idea who he was.

My first memory of Martian Manhunter was as a kid, when I had his extremely cool Super Powers Collection action figure.  But, since he wasn't featured on Superfriends, and I don't remember ever reading the little minicomic which came with him, poor J'Onn (along with the similiarly unknown-to-me Dr. Fate) ended up being the scrub jobbers of my superheroes, beaten up by Darkseid real early and left laying while Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman saved the day.  So while he got a lot of playtime, I never really knew just who he was or what he could do.

A few years later, when I got into DC Comics for the first time in the post-"Reign of the Supermen" era, I learned about the Manhunter proper, and was impressed by this Martian powerhouse.  He seemed like a character that had tons of potential, and could be cool to read about.  Only, DC never gave me much to read about the character.  And so, he slipped back into my subconcious -- I was always aware of him, but I had so little concept of him beyond his majorly cool appearance and his massively strong powers, that I never gave him much thought, up to and including his solo series, which I have never read.

Martian Manhunter from The Super Powers Collection

That changed when, in 2001, the long-awaited Justice League series debuted on Cartoon Network.  And who was front and center on the show but Big Green himself.  Not only that, but he made a heck of a showing for himself -- showing off his telepathy, intangibility, shape-shifting, and downright brute strength at different times.  Being the outsider of the team allowed him to get a good deal of attention from the series creators, and really have a chance to shine.  He quickly became a favorite on the show for me.

What can be said about the Martian Manhunter that other, more talented folks than I haven't already said?  His ability to work in different genres is astounding, his personality able to shift between inscrutible alien, caring friend, driven hero, and dryly ironic comedian with ease, and the way he spins the "strange visitor from another world" cliche on it's ear is commendable.  It's unfortunate that since his solo series ended in the early 00s that DC has seen little use for the character.  His post-Infinite Crisis miniseries was a failure primarily because it moved away from the known aspects of the Manhunter and pushed him into an angrier role which did not suit him.  Every scene of Justice League: The New Frontier featuring J'Onn somehow became more poingnant, more meaningful, as we saw him try to find a place for himself on a world which is not his and does not want him.  And the Martian Manhunter we saw in Final Crisis: Requiem was the J'Onn I knew and loved, only it was obviously too late at that point.

This being the world of superheroes, J'Onn's death is only temporary at best.  We know at some point or another the Manhunter shall return, as green and beetle-browed as ever.   Perhaps, as I have said, his death is for the best, an opportunity for this character to rest and take a break outside the public eye, to be fully recharged and make his return in a few years to the triumphant shouts and calls of a public who is reminded that sometimes the best heroic character is the one you never even noticed was right under your nose.

This is Martian Manhunter, and he is a character I like.


Diabolu Frank said...

Y'know, our routes to J'Onn J'Onzz are pretty similar, although I wonder how you ended up with a Super Powers figure? I bought mine new, but figure those were long gone by the time you were coming up.

I'll link back to here after Vile Menagerie Week, so I can give it due attention...

Luke said...

I think you may be underestimating my age, my good man. I was born in 1980, making me 4-5-6 during the Super Powers years. Plus my brother is two years older than I am, so he was right there too at the beginning. I am pretty sure I got him as a gift for Christmas, along with Dr. Fate, but I am not 100% sure and I am not going to bust out the home movies to find out.

My father would tape both Superfriends and Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends/The Incredible Hulk, so I watched those series (along with others like Thundarr The Barbarian, and MOTU) throughout my childhood, whether they were on TV or not.

The more amazing thing to me is that all this did not lead to me reading comics any earlier than I did. How messed up is that?!

Diabolu Frank said...

Indeed, you boarded one of the very last trains into Supertown. If you peel back the translucent sticker on "Adventures of Superman #500," it reveals Jimmy Olsen wearing a sandwichboard sign reading "The End is Near."