While Martian Manhunter is one of the founding members of the Justice League he has not enjoyed the same solo success as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern and Flash. That said, Martian Manhunter’s status has been elevated recently as he has become the leader of the latest incarnation of the Justice League. That elevated status made this the best time possible to see if Martian Manhunter can carry a series by himself. That is exactly what DC Comics is going to try out by giving Martian Manhunter a 12 issue maxi-series with Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo on board as the creative team. Can this maxi-series lead to bigger things for one of the Justice League’s founders? Let’s find out with Martian Manhunter #1.
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Colorist: Ivan Plascencia
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 6.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: In speaking about his past Martian Manhunter tells his partner Diane that he wasn’t always a hero but rather something to hide.
Years ago Martian Manhunter in his Detective John Jones disguise gets ready for work. He picks up Diane at her house as she is about to heat up some pizza. She gets annoyed by John getting her to go out without eating breakfast but John says their latest case may be better on an empty stomach.
At a crime scene John and Diane look over what happened to a family that was brutally massacred. John finds something that looks like something other than the family’s pet, named Spaceman. Diane questions why John always takes their cases personally. John states that it keeps him motivated.
John goes alone to investigate the rest of the house. Finally alone Martian Manhunter tries to piece together what happened with his powers. When he discovers something he recognizes, which causes him to freak out and sweat.
Diane shows up and gets John out of his trance. John says he did not find any sign of a struggle but that the attacker saw the young girl (Ashley), who is missing, in the house differently from the rest of the family. Diane says they should look into Ashley’s known associates back in her high school.
Some time ago in the city of G’Orr G’Regg on Mars, while the Martians are interacting normally J’onn J’onzz shows a criminal, N’irhl, what it means to respect a Manhunter. J’onn reminds N’irhl that if the other Manhunters find out what he is doing he will be sentenced and frozen like other felons. J’onn then tells N’irhl to find him his money. N’irhl says he wishes the worst for J’onn.
In the city’s suburbs N’irhl contacts J’onn to try to offer him something to do with the next Whiteflesh fights. J’onn reminds N’irhl to never contact him outside their meeting site and hangs up on him.
Inside his house J’onn spends some quality time with his wife (M’yri’ah) and son (K’hym) over dinner. After dinner is done K’hym is sent to his room to study. Now alone J’onn and M’yri’ah have sex.
Afterwards M’yri’ah says she noticed while they meld J’onn wanted another kid. M’yri’ah says that if they have another kid J’onn needs to stop closing a part of himself off to her. J’onn states he is leaving out the bad things from M’yri’ah as a way to spare her from knowing the darkness he knows. M’yri’ah reminds J’onn they’ve bonded for a long time and there should be no secrets between them.
Back to years later while driving Diane comments that John is unusually silent. John says he is just thinking about the case. He starts sweating heavily again which worries Diane. While John says he is fine John is starting to lose his concentration.
As he loses concentration John spots a child Martian on the street and he swerves out of the way. John ends up crashing through a barrier and into a tree.
Diane desperately tries to escape from the car as it catches fire. As she does that Diane is shocked to see John’s body reacting oddly as returns to his Martian Manhunter form due to the fire. End of issue.
The Good: Martian Manhunter #1 is not a traditional superhero comic and it is much better for it. Rather than just painting J’onn J’onzz as someone that personifies being a superhero Steve Orlando goes a completely different route. That different route makes Martian Manhunter #1 stand out from the normal first issue of a superheroes comic book.
Throughout Martian Manhunter #1 Orlando puts a lot of effort in showing how different J’onn J’onzz is with his life on Earth and his past life on Mars. Both versions are very different from each other. Showing different versions of J’onn gave greater weight to his present day status as the leader of the Justice League. Everything that the character has gone through has shaped him to be who he currently is and how he approaches being a superhero.
It was especially refreshing to see that in his life on Mars Martian Manhunter was not the best person. Seeing how he was actually on the edge of being a piece of crap who was out for his own interest flipped everything we knew about the character. In turn it gives Martian Manhunter much more of a personality since there is a shady nature to who he was before the Martians were wiped out.
Making this portion even more interesting was what we see J’onn do. The brutal way he was getting information and money out of other thugs was shocking to see given his normally heroic approach in the present.. This carried a greater emotional weight with how his wife, M’yri’ah, mentioned that J’onn is keeping this part of his life a secret even from her. It all puts into question what made him be this way during his life on Mars.
Seeing Martian Manhunter portrayed in this way gives more insight into how he possibly views his life on Earth as a second chance to actually be be a better person. His silent nature with his partner does certainly show that this may be the case. As Orlando peels back the layers of J’onn’s past both on Mars and Earth there is likely even more interesting facts that we didn’t previously know about him that’ll make him a deeper character.
Given what we see in the past it’ll be interesting to see how J’onn’s current case ties into his life on Mars. Orlando did a good job showing that it is possibly one of the creatures or people that live on Mars. We saw enough of Mars that it could be anything. How it all ties in should provide us more insight into who J’onn was and how it shaped his current version.
With all this information that Orlando gives us it is a good starting point to learn about Martian Manhunter. Especially with Orlando establishing that all the events in Martian Manhunter #1 take place in the past it gives him even more room to explore the character. There is no worry about having to align with the current events going on in the DC Universe. That freedom will make this series a good entry point to bring new readers into the Martian Manhunter’s character.
Riley Rossmo art style will certainly not be for everyone. Rossmo’s style is not what you think about when picturing a superhero comic. Though that does work for Martian Manhunter #1’s advantage whenever we see life on Mars. There is a very alien look to it as both the city and Martians are unlike what we are used to seeing on Earth.
The Bad: From a story standpoint the only thing that fell flat was Martian Manhunter’s supporting characters on Earth. Diane is a very cookie cutter police detective. There is nothing distinct about the character as presented. This can be easily be fixed as this maxi-series continues and Diane is given more screen time to develop her character. For now she just did not come across as a compelling enough supporting character for this series.
While Rossmo’s art style worked for scenes on Mars it did not work out for the scenes on Earth. This is one of those times were it might have been better to split the artwork duties with Rossmo handling the Mars flashbacks while another artist handled the scenes on Earth. It would’ve added a extra unique layer to how life on Mars is different from Earth. But since we did not get that many characters on Earth did not look great because Rossmo’s style does not fit with those scenes. Hopefully that is something that is improved on
Overall: Martian Manhunter #1 is a very good start to this maxi-series dedicated to one of the Justice League’s founding members. Steve Orlando showed a strong understanding of who Martian Manhunter is as he crafted a compelling story around his life on Earth and Mars. The developments in this first issue are more than enough to grab the reader’s attention in order for them to come back for more.