He has super-strength, telepathy, bullet-proof skin, shape-shifting (which also allows invisibility and intangibility), Martian vision, some super-speed, and flight. Even with all his power, he prides himself moreso on being a detective and having a finely trained analytical/tactical mind. He’s been alive for centuries and may still be alive long after this planet is gone. His only weaknesses are fire, his own sense of compassion and need to protect the innocent, and Oreo cookies. Yet some still see him as nearly a second-stringer, just a nod to Superman and not a hero in his own right.
Whatever the case may be, let’s look back on the history of a character who has quite simply refused to die or be sent to comic book limbo. The heart and soul of the Justice League himself, J’onn J’onzz, the Manhunter from Mars.
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND (I know, it’s cliché, but c’mon!)
Our Martian buddy first appeared in a back-up story featured in DETECTIVE COMICS #225 in 1955. Like Adam Strange and Captain Comet, he was a sci-fi based hero rather than a super-hero. This was during the time after super-hero comics had fallen in popularity, partly due to disinterest and partly due to the machinations of people like Dr. Frederick Wertham who claimed that “Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic book industry.” Western and sci-fi adventure stories were still deemed safe for the most part, as were tales of just a handful of heroes such as Superman and Batman, so they helped keep the medium alive.
In the story “The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel” (written by Joe Samachson and illustrated by Joe Certa), a Dr. Erdel accidentally teleported a real live Martian into his lab. Just as we all suspected at the time, it turned out Martians did indeed have green skin and no hair. He immediately learned English from Erdel via telepathy, explained that he was a scientist named J’onn J’onzz (pronounced “John Jones”) and wanted to know how he’d gotten there. Erdel was so excited and flabbergasted (love that word) to see a real alien before him that, after his explanation, he suffered a heart attack and died. Unable to work the machines himself, the Martian realized he was stranded on Earth.
Fortunately, J’onn was capable of shape-shifting and made himself look like a human being. Deciding to work among humans and watch over his newly adopted home world, he joined the police force as John Jones and became a detective. The term “manhunter” is an old phrase that was used to mean “detective” or to simply describe someone who captured criminals. Batman himself was called the “masked manhunter” in certain comics. Thus, J’onn J’onzz was called the “Manhunter from Mars.”
John Jones and J’onn J’onzz
The Martian Manhunter’s adventures were of a clandestine nature. As Jones, he would investigate crimes and then; when police work wasn’t good enough, he would close the case by secretly shifting into his Martian form and using his powers. His adventures as a Martian were not known to the public and only a few criminals would see this strange green creature attack them before they were knocked out. If you’re a viewer of SMALLVILLE, it was kind of like that where no one knew exactly what the hero was doing, only that various criminals kept winding up defeated. And a lot of the time, J’onn would also make himself invisible so as not to be found out. Because of this, I do not agree with those who claim that he, and not Barry Allen, was the first Silver Age hero. He did not act as a public super-hero. While he bore similarities to super-heroes, these similarities were not, in my mind, stronger or more apparent than the similarities Adam Strange and Captain Comet shared with them. For me, they were all sci-fi/fantasy adventurers.
As the stories went on, it became clearer that J’onn was an analogue for Superman. Like Superman, he was an alien who adopted Earth as his home, and what’s more he seemed to have roughly the same powers. He could fly, he was strong and bullet-proof, he had “martian vision” which involved both good eye-sight (though no X-rays or fancy things like that) and force beams from his eyes. His hearing was better than a man’s but not as good as Superman’s. He had no arctic breath or super-ventriloquism or anything like that. And while he was strong and fast, he was nowhere near as strong and fast as Superman. But on the flipside, he could shape-shift, turn invisible and read minds.
The drawback? He was vulnerable to fire. The tiniest flame from a match would frighten him, as its presence caused his powers to shut down.
While some readers thought this character was interesting and found him different than Superman in that his weakness was more available on Earth and he’d been raised as a alien rather than as an Earthman, others disliked him for practically the same reasons and considered him a poor man’s Kal-El.
With the introduction of Barry Allen as the new Flash later on, super-heroes began to make their way back into DC comics as the front-runners. Rather than fall by the wayside, J’onn J’onzz’s stories shifted and had him operating publicly now in his Martian guise, acting just as other super-heroes would except that instead of changing into a costume he merely assumed his true appearance. When DC decided to create a super-hero team, they had J’onn become one of its founding members in order to give him a boost by featuring him in stories with people like the Flash and Green Lantern. Thus, the Manhunter from Mars became a founding member of the Justice League of America. It would later be revealed that the JLA formed when these different heroes of Earth banded together to defend Earth from invaders from the planet Appellax. Ironically, J’onn made his public debut as an alien among humanity by fighting other aliens.
Since Batman and Superman were only “honorary members” at the time, J’onn was used to do what Superman would have done if he’d been in the stories (unless he passed by a pesky camp fire or someone who was lighting a cigar). As the stories went on, and as Superman became more and more involved with the League, the Martian Manhunter was just kind of THERE and not a particularly interesting character. At one point, they tried to soup of J’onn’s powers by saying he was “master of transmutation”, that he could not only change his own body but other things. This didn’t really enhance his character and later writers either dropped it or forgot about it anyway. He wasn’t a bad character, just not one that stood out.
MANHUNTER FROM M. A. R. S.
To help develop J’onn, he started having solo stories in DC’s HOUSE OF MYSTERY title. They gave him a sidekick: a dim-witted nekkid dwarf named Zook (who possessed the power to control temperatures) and arch-rivals such as Professor Hugo (who bore a strange resemblance to Lex Luthor). J’onn was also constantly attacked by various creatures and demons, all of whom were created by a mystic totem known as …(wait for it)… “The Diabulo Idol-Head.” J’onn never did find out the origins of this mystical device, so there was no kidding over the fact that it was nothing more than a pathetic macguffin (for you who didn’t study film, a “mcguffin” is an item in the story that is merely a plot device and doesn’t need a full story to explain it, I.E. the microfilm in various spy movies, since it doesn’t really matter what’s exactly ON the microfilm, the point is that the villains want it and the heroes have to stop them). These stories were seen as hokey (NO WAY!) and mundane, so DC decided to shake things up.
In movies and film, spies were big now. James Bond, the Man from U.N.C.L.E., stuff like that. Marvel took the hint by bringing back their army character Sgt. Fury and reintroducing him as the older “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” DC was not one to miss out on this craze. In HOUSE OF MYSTERY, the U.S. government contacted J’onn and said they needed his help to investigate and combat the “super-secret international criminal empire called V.U.L.T.U.R.E.” The especially wanted the head of Vulture, a mysterious overweight man called Mr. V.
During his initial work with several F.B.I. agents, J’onn inadvertently caused the death of Marco Xavier, one of the top lieutenants of V.U.L.T.U.R.E. Seeing an opportunity to infiltrate V.U.L.T.U.R.E. from the inside, J’onn then took on Marco Xavier’s name and appearance.
As J’onn became a counter-spy hero, other things were dropped. The Diabulo Idol-Head was destroyed. Zook just vanished. And the hokey feel gave way to a much darker atmosphere of stories, with “Marco Xavier” displaying more and more of a gallows humor, showing he was a tough guy who wasn’t fooling around anymore. While the stories weren’t bad, many readers became angered that J’onn had gone from a laid back character to such a bleak person. DC actually got more letters demanding the return of the “real J’onn” than they’d received complaining about him being hokey in the first place.
To satisfy both camps, DC brought Zook into the V.U.L.T.U.R.E. stories, but this only annoyed folks since he didn’t fit into the new atmosphere. Finally, DC said “Screw it!” and tossed out both their Marco Xavier feature and their “Dial H for Hero” feature and turned House of Mystery into an anthology horror title with Cain narrating (years later, Neil Gaiman would feature both Cain and his special house in the pages of THE SANDMAN).
BACK INTO SPACE
Thrown back into the super-hero arena, J’onn’s character was developed in a different way, by building up his past. In DETECTIVE COMICS #500, Hawkman discovered that Erdel hadn’t died of a heart attack. His computer had actually gained sentience and killed him (as living computers seem to be prone to do). As time passed, more stuff was filled in. It was revealed that Mars had been home to two races at war: the Green Martians and the White Martians (or Pale Martians as they were sometimes called). J’onn had been leading an army of the Greens against Commander Blanx of the Whites when he was suddenly teleported to Earth and stranded there. It was then revealed that before their first official case against the Appellaxian invasion that led to their formation, the members of the later JLA helped J’onn when just weeks earlier Earth was invaded by Blanx and his forces, who were looking for J’onn. It was then said that after being with the JLA for years, J’onn left to rejoin his fellow Martians as they went to build a new settlement on Mars II.
J’onn was gone from Earth for a while. Superman and others would occasionally run into him space and in these adventures J’onn showed that he hadn’t lost ALL of his hard-ass attitude since House of Mystery. In one adventure that featured the first appearance of the alien warlord Mongul, J’onn told off Superman for being too arrogant and cocky in battling the villain.
SON OF MARS, SON OF SATURN
In 1984, Greg Potter and Gene Colan wanted to do a new series starring the Martian Manhunter. After submitting the ideas to DC, they were told the story was too radical a change for J’onn and altered things about his history that had been previously established (this is back when editors were more reluctant to allow changes in continuity). Rather than simply throw the story out, the two just rewrote exactly who the characters were. At fist, they changed it to be about another Martian named Jemm. Then they made Jemm an alien from another planet entirely.
Raised on Saturn (though it was never explained how a humanoid raise could live on a gaseous planet), Jemm was born a prophesied savior, marked by the stone on his brow. A Red Saturnian, he was a hero to his people and an enemy of the White Saturnians. Eventually, he came to Earth where he befriended an orphan boy and was blamed for the death of a human being, which brought him into conflict with Superman. The series ended with issue #12 and Jemm was forgotten about as the years went on.
HANGING WITH OLD FRIENDS AGAIN
J’onn didn’t return for a visit to Earth again until the Appellaxians once again attacked the JLA. Later, he returned again to warn them of a militaristic faction of the Green Martians, including his former lover, who saw Earth as a stepping stone to galactic conquest. J’onn joined with his former JLA allies and helped beat back his own people, though the JLA Sattelite and J’onn’s own space shuttle were destroyed in the battle as a result. After the invasion was over, J’onn was now seen as an outcast by his people.
With no other home to go to, he stayed with the team and helped in its reformation when Aquaman reformed it and based their new HQ in Detroit. When Aquaman left soon after that, J’onn was appointed team leader. A while later, when several old Leaguers showed up to help the new team out of a jam, J’onn convinced his old friend Batman to take the reins of leader, so he could help train these new younger heroes.
Later on, when the team broke up and then eventually reformed as Justice League International, Batman told J’onn he was the right one to lead the team, as he was the only one who could look at the Earth equally in terms of its need for protection due to his alien upbringing.
J’onn and Gypsy
J’onn showed more and more that he was the heart and soul of the team through his relationships with the other characters. Batman spoke to J’onn with a deference that he rarely used with others. Gypsy started seeing J’onn as a father figure. And even Steel I (Hank Heywood), who was normally a cocky jerk demanding to be recognized as the heavy hitter of the group, would back down when J’onn would tell him in no uncertain terms to sit down and shut up. Later on, J’onn showed his true spirit during the LEGENDS saga. After the Leaguers Vibe and Steel I were murdered by Professor Ivo and his killer androids, the President announced (due to political pressures at the time) that super-heroes were outlawed and ordered the League disbanded. J’onn said that the world needed heroes and the League had to survive if Vibe and Steel’s deaths were not to be in vain. In this moment, he showed just how much his adopted family meant to him. No matter who was a member, the idea of the JLA was something he believed in.
After the events of the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, many characters had their histories altered or completely redone. One thing done to J’onn post-Crisis was a “Private Lives” story in which it was showed just HOW he had become a cop. In the story, we saw J’onn educated himself on Earth culture largely through television after the death of Erdel. Finding a great admiration for TV police detectives, he decided to emulate them. He assumed the human identity of John Jones for the first time and minutes later walked into a police precinct. Using his mental abilities, he was able to convince the entire police station that he has been working there for years. One cop had many memories of John coming over to his house for barbecues, another remembered how John had helped him out of a jam, etc. This story was nice in that it made a little more sense of just how J’onn had been able to assume the identity of a police officer with no problems, but it also added back a manipulative quality of J’onn’s that had not been seen since his HOUSE OF MYSTERY days.
A couple of years after the Crisis, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis then did a mini-series which they expected would add a lot of depth to our Martian buddy. It started off with J’onn suffering a mind-body illness, one of the symptoms being that he was having visions of H’ronmeer (introduced as the lizard-like Martian god of fire and death). After trying to get to the truth of his illness, J’onn found Dr. Erdel, alive and well.
Ederl told J’onn that the life he remembered of Mars never existed. He was not a warrior and his true appearance was not a beetle-browed green-skinned human. In fact, his name wasn’t really J’onn J’onzz. In truth, Martians were a society of pacifists and the being who would become J’onn was a poet and a singer with a wife and daughter. Martians were bipedal, but only vaguely humanoid, as they were much ganglier and with pointier heads.
Life was good on Mars, but then a hideous plague came, causing Martians to become scarred and disfigured before dying. To try and halt the disease, bodies were burned in masses and eventually became towering flaming hills. The Martian who would become J’onn saw his wife die and burned her corpse. He then found that his daughter was also suffering, but was unwilling to let the other Martians burn his child. They surrounded him and then the Martian and his child vanished.
In his lab in the mid 50’s, Dr. SAUL Erdel was working on his teleporter when he accidentally brought the Martian and the dead daughter before him. The Martian panicked and used his telepathy to find out what happened. Erdel apologized and suggested he could send the Martian back but he wouldn’t have it and wrecked the machine in a rage. Erdel buried the daughter and then formed a telepathic link with the Martian. Understanding the mental trauma the alien had suffered, he used the link between them to over-write his true memories with new memories he made up, inspired by pulp sci-fi stories he used to read. Unable to pronounce the Martian’s true name, he called him “J’onn J’onzz”, a play on John Jones. The Martian’s body also became to shift into an appearance that was half human and half Martian. Finally, Erdel planted the memories that J’onn witnessed him dying of a heart attack. He hoped that in this way, J’onn would be free to leave on his own and not stay around someone who might one day inadvertently remind him of his past life. Because the trauma of seeing his wife and people burn had been so severe, J’onn maintained a severe pyrophobia. Thus, his weakness to fire was not like Superman and Kryptonite, it was purely psychosomatic due to his latent memories of fire equaling death. When J’onn saw fire, he freaked out and convinced himself that he was now vulnerable.
Having now learned the truth of his origins, J’onn used Erdel’s rebuilt machine to return to Mars. He was then visited by spirits of Martians long dead and discovered that Erdel’s machine had reached through time as well as space and that his people had died 40,000 years ago. As the Martians left for their final resting place, J’onn sang and danced in their memory, celebrating the beauty of their life rather than the tragedy of their death. What’s more, now that he understood his weakness was psychological, he began to work on it so that he would no longer look away from fire in fear.
The mini was good but, of course, required a retcon. Since there were no other Martians, all those stories of J’onn on Mars II and the Martian invasion of Earth could not have happened. Although it was not explained at the time just how the JLA satellite wound up destroyed in the new continuity, many readers were fine with the new history saying that J’onn had never left the JLA ever. Since Post-Crisis continuity had it that Superman had not been a member of the JLA, J’onn took his place in those stories, which worked out for the most part due to the similarity of their powers.
Not a bad mini-series and the ending was quite beautiful. The problem was that although artists quickly picked up on what J’onn’s “natural” form now looked like, very few people seemed to have actually READ the mini-series, including DC writers. More on this in a bit.
J’onn developed as a strong character in the Justice League International and later the new Justice League America series. He was seen as strong and powerful, but also possessed a dry wit. When his teammates broke the roof of the League Embassy, J’onn said he had to leave in order to perform an ancient Martian meditation technique “called screaming.” He also revealed he had a deep love of oreo cookies that bordered on addiction (DC’s fear of copyrights had later writers refer to the cookies as chocos).
In his initial story arc in the SANDMAN, Neil Gaiman had Morpheus the dream king encounter J’onn. J’onn immediately fell to his knees, recognizing Morpheus’s Martian aspect, that of the god T’Zoril. Morpheus said he was surprised by J’onn’s presence, saying he believed the Martian people to be eons dead. This cemented Giffen’s story, although not everyone got the reference since, still, many people hadn’t read it and many writers were not continuity gurus like Gaiman when it came to researching for their stories.
A couple of years later, during the BREAKDOWNS storyline of Justice League America and Justice League Europe, both teams split up. J’onn left for space to find his own destiny.
THE BLOODWYND STORYLINE
When a new JLA and JLE formed, the American branch eventually got themselves an interesting new member, a sorcerer of sorts called Bloodwynd. Bloodwynd kept his cards close to the vest, never explaining himself or the nature of his powers. Blue Beetle was very suspicious and tried to figure out what Bloodwynd’s deal was. He could fly and was very strong. He had telepathic abilities, though the extent of them was unknown. He seemed to be able to teleport and at times he would call upon the “spirits of the dead” to give him strength. He also refused to be examined physically by anyone, even when he was injured by the creature Doomsday during that monster’s initial rampage on Earth.
During that same fight with Doomsday, there was one moment when Bloodwynd was tossed into a large fire by the creature. Blue Beetle went to find him and was immediately shocked when he saw Bloodwynd in the flames. Evidently, the sorcerer had changed appearance and Beetle cried out, “Bloodwynd is really … Bloodwynd MUST BE -” But was then choked by Doomsday, who immediately beat him into a coma. Readers would not find out for a while yet just what the Beetle had discovered.
Following Superman’s apparent death, the villain Dr. Destiny sent the JLA into a dream-reality where Earth was ruled by a fascist version of the classic “satellite era” JLA team. At one point, Bloodwynd fought the evil Martian Manhunter and in the midst of the battle his body shifted and he became the Martian Manhunter himself, only with Bloodwynd’s bloodstone still on his chest. This entire time, J’onn had been serving with the JLA again under a different name and face.
It was revealed that although there was a real Bloodwynd who was a sorcerer, the JLA had never met him. When he was leaving Earth, J’onn had found Bloodwynd having a bit of difficulty with his magical bloodgem. Trying to help the sorcerer, a strange occurrence took place and the two were bonded. Bloodwynd was trapped within his own gem, which had then attached itself to J’onn and convinced J’onn that HE was Bloodwynd. Believing himself to be the sorcerer, J’onn rejoined the JLA, his only true family since he’d arrived on Earth, and used his powers to simulate Bloodwynd’s mystical abilities. For instance, when it looked like Bloodwynd had teleported away, it was actually J’onn becoming invisible and then flying away.
The Martian Manhunter and the sorcerer were separated. Bloodwynd went off, feeling no loyalty to a team that had believed him to be their teammate for months. Back in his true form now, J’onn did not join the main League teams. Instead, he became head of the Justice League Task Force. Each adventure, J’onn would be given an assignment by the U.S. government and would select a different team of heroes depending on each mission’s needs. Later, after Zero Hour, J’onn created a more permanent roster for a new stable Justice League Task Force. The Task Force issues were never that great, ranging from the fairly interesting to the absurd (such as an adventure where J’onn went undercover among a group of women by becoming a female version of himself). It wouldn’t be until Mark Waid and Grant Morrison came around that J’onn could shine again.
There were too many Leagues and not enough readers. The various books were cancelled. Mark Waid’s story JUSTICE LEAGUE: A MID-SUMMER’S NIGHTMARE introduced the NEW JLA which was composed of the big guns, as hadn’t been seen since the earliest days. Superman, Batman, Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), Flash (Wally West), Aquaman, Wonder Woman and, of course, J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter.
After this story, the new JLA run started with a new series by Grant Morrison. Morrison made sure to emphasize that J’onn was essential to the JLA, due to his passion and dedication, and even had a scene in which Batman said that he knew no one else who understood team dynamics better than he. In Morrison’s stories, J’onn was a gentle soul, but once you threatened innocent lives or his teammates he was an outraged powerhouse, as evidenced when he met Ultraman (an evil Superman) and did not hesitate to take the man out. J’onn actually shape-shifted to have his own body covered with spikes that could pierce the villain’s hide and mess with his nervous system directly. Fans were appreaciative of this interpretation, but there was still a problem for a small number of them. Morrison, often hailed as a man with a nearly insane knowledge of comic continuity and trivia, had commited a continuity error.
J’onn vs. Ultraman
Morrison was completely unaware of the Giffen mini-series years ago and that it had done away with J’onn’s pyrophobia. So he had no idea that there would be complaints when he opened up the new series with an invasion by a lost clan of White Martians and showing that the aliens were rendered powerless when in the presence of fire. Also, a Martian city in the Antarctic was unearthed that was called Z’onn Z’orr, thus indicating that J’onn J’onzz was indeed a true Martian name. It was a great story, but a few readers immediately complained that the Giffen series had now been rendered moot.
White Martians (also called Pale Martians)
TO BE FAIR though, Morrison was actually not the FIRST to make this mistake, he was just the first to get noticed by so many readers. In an issue of AQUAMAN several months beforehand, Peter David showed a scuffle between Arthur and the League, during which the sea king nuetralized J’onn with fire. And in the afore-mentioned MID-SUMMER’S NIGHTMARE, Mark Waid showed J’onn go into a near catatonic state when he was assaulted by visions of flames around him, and Wonder Woman specifically stated during the story that Martians were vulnerable to fire. So Morrison was just following suit. He knew about those stories and not about the Giffen mini-series, just as Waid and David didn’t know about it evidently.
JLA: SECRET FILES #1 added a new depth to the Martian Manhunter. It showed that he not only maintained an identity of John Jones (as a private eye now rather than a 9-5 cop), he also used dozens of other identities all over the world, involving different ages, races and sexes, all in an effort to study all aspects of humanity and their world. At the end of this feature, Giffen’s idea of J’onn being just as much poet as warrior was echoed when readers saw the Martian praying for peace before an altar.
Another thing that was revealed in JLA: SECRET FILES was that, since he noticed most super-heroes were located in North America, J’onn tried to make up the difference by focusing on the rest of the planet when he wasn’t on a mission with the League. In the Southern hemisphere and Australia, he was seen by people to be as great a champion as Superman himself. John Ostrander would later take this idea and continue it.
In Mark Waid’s JLA: YEAR ONE, he showed that J’onn remembered having a wife and child during the early days of the League, long before Giffen said he regained his “true memories.” It was official now. Giffen’s mini-series was out (although his idea of the Martian god H’ronmeer and the depiction of a Martian’s natural form in his story would carry on). Waid had J’onn say that his wife and child had been lost to a tragic accident before he had been teleported to Earth. The full truth behind this would be found out later.
In JLA: YEAR ONE, it was shown that, still not sure if he should trust humanity or these new heroes, J’onn investigated all the super-heroes and kept detailed files on them. Later, the terrorist organization Locus stole these files and used them to attack Earth’s defenders. Although the JLA saved the day, J’onn was now given a new motivation. Along with his deep desire to help people and fight for justice, he was also trying to make up for the damage he caused during the early days of the League.
Showing that he wasn’t ignorant of continuity, despite what some fans claimed, Morrison brought in a surprise character from the past. When Lex Luthor formed a new Injustice Gang, it was composed of analogue for each of the JLA members. For GL, there was his enemy Dr. Light. For Flash, there was Mirror Master. Wonder Woman’s arch-enemy Circe was there. And for Batman and Aquman, there were also the Joker and Ocean Master. But what about J’onn? Outside of general League enemies, he had had no personal rivals since THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY. So Morrison surprised everyone by bringing in Jemm, Son of Saturn, who was forced to help the villains due to drugs that controlled his mind. After the battle, J’onn took in Jemm to care for him. Why he felt a kinship with the Saturnian would be explained later.
John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake had received huge acclaim with their successful SPECTRE series. Most impressive had been that they’d been able to write dramatic, thrilling stories starring a character who was obscenely powerful. What’s more, they’d been able to mesh different takes of the Spectre over the decades into a cohesive whole Since J’onn had the same basic problem with being very powerful (shall we go through the list of abilities again?) and having been interpreted in different ways, they were the natural choice. By this time, J’onn seemed to be many characters rolled into one. Philosopher and warrior. An alien yet also perhaps the one Leaguer most in touch with compassion for humanity. A super-hero and a detective. A team player, yet also a lone outcast, the last of his kind.
Ostrander did not reveal the Manhunter’s new official history chronologically. Rather than jump through the different time periods, I’ll just give it to you here, rearranged as linearly as possible.
Long ago, on the planet Ma’lecaandra (known as Mars to Earth people later), there were the war like White Martians and the pacifistic philosophers, the Green Martians. The name Ma’lecaandra is actually a reference to what C.S. Lewis called the planet Mars in “Out of the Silent Planet”, saying that was it’s name in the universal language known as “Old Solar.” Ostrander also said that Martians referred to Earth as “Per’elandra.” This is another C.S. Lewis nod, as Perelandra was his sequel to “Out of the Silent Planet” and in the story that is the Old Solar name for Venus.
A clan of White Martians started screwing with primitive humans. Due to their experimentations, they actually altered the human race. Whereas before evolution was going to make them into a race of superhumans, now only one in several would be able to develop superhuman powers, either naturally as a mutant or later on through some trauma that granted metahuman abilities. As punishment, the clan was exiled to the Still Zone, a limbo like dimension.
Both Green and White Martians began making clones to help them. The Green Martians made their clones red-skinned and looked at them as brothers. The White Martians made their clones white-skinned like them and used them as slaved. The clones were used to help build Martian satellite stations over Saturn. War broke out and the debris from it would form the initial rings of Saturn itself. The Martians left, but the Saturnians remained on satellites, evolving down their own paths. Like the Green and White Martians, the Red and White Saturnians would be forever at war.
The Green Martians formed a police force, though this police force also acted as an army and as a council of judges when neccesary. The roughest English translation of what they were called would be “the Manhunters.” After some years, the Guardians of the Universe, newly formed since their former colleague Krona had committed horrible crimes they had to make up for, saw the Manhunters of Mars at work and used this as a model for their own agents, an army of androids they called Manhunters as well. Through this, Ostrander connected J’onn to the Green Lantern Corps (which was later formed when the android Manhunters went rogue) and also established the Martian race as one of the oldest in the universe.
Ostrander also did his best to give the Martian people a unique culture. He talked about how the Martians were, as a people, fascinated by duality and cycles and how each Martian served TWO roles in society. Martians also had a private face (their true form) that was shared only with family and deeply loved ones and a public face (the humanoid, beetle-browed appearance) that they shared with others.
As telepaths, they were constantly linked to each other, all hearing a constant undercurrent of telepathy running between them that they referred to as “the Great Voice.” By the same token, they were very earnest in their respect for each other’s privacy, thus protocols were followed in just how telepathy was used. Martians telepathically handed down memories from one generation to the next, ensuring that those who did not live during their lives could learn from their experiences. Also, due to the harsh environment, Martians only had children as the environment could support it and each child was an act of will by both parents who used their shape-shifting abilities to give some of their own mass to invoke the offspring.
Martian clothing was actually derived from a plant they used that responded to their telepathy and would reform into whatever clothing the wearer desired. This plant was called the “Zo’ok” plant (ZOOK!) and in its natural state looked like a yellow disc, sometimes with a starburst design on it (it’s J’onn’s belt buckle, get it?).
J’onn’s mother Sha’sheen J’onzz was both a Manhunter and a seer. When she gave birth to twins, she knew that J’onn (whose name meant “light to the light”) would be a force for good whereas his brother Ma’alefa’ak (which meant “darkness in the heart”) would be warped and evil. As time went on, J’onn was a delight to many while his brother was withdrawn and acted coldly towards those around him. As children, J’onn approached his brother and asked about his angry demeanor. Ma’alefa’ak proclaimed, “Everybody hates me! Everybody fears me! All because of that stupid name our parents gave me! You’ll wind up hating me, too.”
J’onn reached out to his twin and said, “You are my brother. We were born in the same moment. We virtually have the same body. Nothing you could do would make me hate you.”
Ma’alefa’ak smiled and asked, “Is that a challenge?” There was a pause between the two and then the darker twin frowned and said simply, “I know you love me, J’onn. You may be the only one who does. And you believe what you say. I know all that. I just can’t help resenting you. That’s all.”
J’onn’s mother explained that Ma’alefa’ak’s name was not a punishment but a warning meant for others and himself, based on her visions, the same visions that said J’onn would be a champion embodying the best aspects of their race.
The two grew up and had to choose their dual roles. Ma’alefa’ak became a theologian and a scientist. J’onn chose to be a philosopher and a Manhunter. He trained long and hard and when he was given his role his colleagues welcomed him and gave him their memories so that he could learn from their field experience. He then spoke the oath: “Once begun, to walk the path, to pursue the prey, to never turn aside, short of death, until justice is done.”
The twins: Ma’alefa’ak and J’onn
In his experiments, Ma’alefa’ak wound up contacting the New Gods of Apokolips. Darkseid’s emissaries journeyed to Mars and learned about its people, speaking highly of their own world and culture. Darkseid’s warrior Kanto became a friend to J’onn. The manipulative charmer Glorious Godfrey had many talks with J’onn’s father M’yrn, who was a scientist/philosopher and a member of the leading Martian council. Godfrey said that Darkseid was interested in M’yrn’s studies of what he called “Life Equations” and “subsets of free will.” Godfrey added, “By logical extension, there should be negative corollaries that would describe how to NEGATE free will or CONTROL it. Have you considered these?”
M’yrn responded, “In THEORY, they might exist, but neither I nor my people would have any desire for them. It would be an Anti-Life Equation.”
Later on, Darkseid finally made his move by attempting to invade Mars. He took the Martian children and council prisoner and captured Ma’alefa’ak. At that point, Metron of the New Gods appeared, saying that for a long time now Darkseid had been pursuing a force he knew of in legends but had no name for. Thanks to Martian philosophy, he now saw this force as a tangible Anti-Life Equation and now that his desire was defined he had a solid objective to drive him. J’onn didn’t care about this, and declared he would journey to Apokolips alone, acting as a covert soldier until he had freed every Martian and returned them. He did so, but this made him forevermore an enemy to Darkseid, and he would share a special hatred for Kanto.
Even after being rescued, Ma’alefa’ak was forever twisted due to Darkseid’s manipulations and later turned on his own people, conducting telepathic mind-rapes. No longer able to trust that the dark twin would not abuse his telepathy again, the Martian Council forced a mental block that cut him off from his telepathic gifts. They also altered his memories so that he did not remember ever having had his abilities or who his true family was.
Ostrander said that Martians worshipped the god H’ronmeer, god of fire and death. Their telepathy had a severe reaction to the presence of fire. When they saw it, their telepathic control over their own body would weaken, deadening their powers and making them vulnerable. Without telepathy now, Ma’alefa’ak was the one Martian immune to fire.
Life went on for J’onn. Though he was saddened by what had happened with his twin, he found peace in his own life. He found a wife M’yri’ah, whom he loved very much, and later on they had a loving daughter named K’hym. Life was good and peaceful for the most part.
Though he did not remember his old life, Ma’elefa’ak came up with new reasons to hate the Martian people. He saw himself as a freak, believing he was the only Martian born without telepathy, and resented all others. He then created a telepathic plague called H’ronmeer’s Curse that, when spread, forced Martians to be consumed with thoughts of fire and then burst into flames, dying horribly. To save himself, J’onn had to cut his mind off entirely from his own people, no longer able to hear the Great Voice or even offer his family telepathic comfort. He was forced to watch as M’yri’ah and K’hym died in front of him. Confronting Ma’alefa’ak in a terrible battle, the two destroyed Ma’alefa’ak’s lab and believed that the other had been killed in the wreckage. Each brother then went his own separate way, convinced he was the last of his kind.
As J’onn would later recall, he spent centuries wandering alone. The trauma of having watched his own family die, his belief that he had killed his own twin, and the isolation he suffered after having lived among a telepathic community all his life was all more than he could bare sometimes. During his more severe moments of depression, he would actually split off a part of his mass to create a facsimile of his daughter or used his shape-shifting to take on the roles of his friends and family, convincing himself they were all still alive. This is why J’onn tells the JLA in JLA: YEAR ONE that his family died in a tragic accident. Even after being on Earth for years, it still took J’onn a while to admit to himself just what had happened, that his own twin brother had committed genocide and wiped out their entire race.
On Earth, it was 1956 now and Dr. JAMES Erdel was an archeologist who found an abandoned and ancient Martian teleporter on a dig. Activating it, he brought J’onn to Earth. J’onn panicked and the machines blew up, causing a fire. J’onn’s pyrophobia kicked in and he might have died, except that he saw Erdel lying on the floor, in danger. Instantly, though he was still weakened by the presence of the flames, J’onn remembered his role as a Manhunter, one who fought evil and protected life, and saved the scientist from the flames. Through telepathy, J’onn learned what had happened and where he was, just as the scientist seemed to die.
J’onn made himself invisible. Not knowing what else to do, he watched as humans gathered to investigate the fire. One such human was a detective named John Jones. Noting this human had a name so similar to his own and that Jones fulfilled a role in society similar to the Manhunters, J’onn decided fate had given him someone to learn from. He followed Jones to his home and lived with him for some time, invisibly watching what he did, how he spoke, and through his interactions with others (as well as the television), J’onn learned of humanity and Earth.
One day, Jones was going to give testimony in a major court case. But a fellow police officer betrayed him and killed him. J’onn immediately took vengeance but realized it was too late. The man was dead. Believing he was responsible for having failed to save Jones, J’onn needed a way to make up for his crime. Knowing how important this case had been to the detective, J’onn assumed his guise in order to testify in his stead. He had been with Jones long enough by now to perform a perfect impersonation and knew practically everything the detective had known. Now with a new identity, J’onn went on living as the detective. As time went on, he would find other people recently dead but whose deaths were not known about and would take turns assuming each of their identities, learning about all aspects of humanity.
At one point, it showed that J’onn had realized the arrival of Kal-El in Kansas and decided to keep an eye on the alien, making sure the child was safe and that the great powers he would exhibit later would not make him a threat to humanity. J’onn seemed to stay exclusively with the Kent boy, giving up his other identities for a time. Please note though, this story was immediately in question because it went against some of the Post-Crisis continuity for Superman and now that we’ve had SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT rework a lot of Clark’s past, it’s even more in question whether this part of J’onn’s past still “counts.”
Another tale showed that at some point J’onn met up with Abin Sur, the alien who would one day choose Hal Jordan to become his replacement in the Green Lantern Corps. And although it was not explored upon in his own series, James Robinson mentioned in his STARMAN series that J’onn had had an adventure with Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern, during his early days on Earth. Robinson said that J’onn had also encountered the alien Mikaal Tomas, who went by the name of “Starman” during the 70s.
In terms of J’onn’s powers, Ostrander added a couple of new tricks, working with what he had. To explain how J’onn could sometimes assume massive shapes, Ostrander added that J’onn was actually capable of siphoning mass from the Earth itself and adding it to his own. This was not an easy task, of course, and took a lot out of him, but at time was useful and necessary. Once, J’onn used it so he could grow to gigantic proportions to stop a giant enemy. Another time, he used it to recreate most of his body when he was about to face certain death and telepathically forced his mind into his hand, the only part of him that would survive (though J’onn remarked how difficult this was and that due to the stress of it and the low chances of it actually working, it’s not a trick he’d like to rely on ever again).
In an issue of CHASE, it had been established that after the retirement of the world’s first super-hero team the Justice Society of America, and many years before the formation of the famous Justice League of America, there had been a group of athletes and metahumans who had formed to become the Justice Experience. These people were not heroes so much as well-intentioned adventurers, who often fought villains who were more obsessed with becoming famous for clever crimes and large heists than in conquering the world. The issue had shown the members of the Justice Experience, such as Major Flashback, the Bronze Wraith, the Manx Cat and others, but only gave background on their leader, Acro-Bat.
Ostrander picked up on the idea of the Justice Experience and took it a step further. He revealed that the Bronze Wraith had really been J’onn in his first attempt at being a super-hero (he also had Mandrake change the look of the costume so that it would resemble his usual outfit). After having left Smallville when Clark was still in elementary school, J’onn had assumed the guise of the Bronze Wraith and pretended to be a superhuman. Now able to operate openly, he worked as a crime-fighter with the Justice Experience (although it was rare that they ever fought someone truly threatening). J’onn enjoyed being part of a team, but still didn’t feel humans were ready to know his true nature.
The Justice Experience vs. some Golden Age baddies
When a woman was accidentally killed in the midst of a battle between the Justice Experience and the villain team called the House of Pain, her lover Dr. Larry Trapp took revenge. As the Justice Experience heroes were not as careful as the JSA had been, it was easy for Trapp to learn their identities. His first target was J’onn, whom he attacked with a mind-trap that gave the Martian amnesia. For years, J’onn wandered the streets believing himself to be a homeless human. By the time he regained his memories, it was too late. Trapp had killed every other member of the Justice Experience and had later gone to jail himself, captured by JSA members who came out of retirement.
J’onn began to assume new identities again, now that his memories were back. Since a couple of decades had passed since Detective John Jones had been seen (and since he’d never been famous to begin with), J’onn saw no reason not to assume the same basic identity again with a new police force. It had been his first human identity and his introduction to the world, so he had a particular fondness for it. As a cop, Jones was once again fighting crime, occasionally using his powers clandestinely to help him out. He was partnered with Detective Diane Meade, who would become J’onn’s friend for years.
Sometime after John Jones joined the Middleton Police, Superman made his debut and a new wave of heroes started showing up. When Earth was invaded by Appellaxian warriors, J’onn operated in public for the first time as his Manhunter self, believing that if the world could accept an alien like Superman then they were ready now to be given a chance to welcome him as well. Thus, the world came to know the Martian Manhunter. He became a founding member of the JLA and since post-Crisis he never left to help colonize Mars II and since he was actually Bloodwynd for a time and later headed up the JL Task Force, he is seen as the one character who has been a constant presence within the League over the years.
Ostrander and Mandrake’s series was very good and did a lot for J’onn’s development as a character. It gave him some supporting cast, enriched his history and just how important he and his people had been for the history of the DCU, and it gave him a rogues gallery with villains such as Dr. Trapp, the telepathic Bette Noire, the serial killing Headsman. His dark twin came back to haunt him as well, now calling himself “Malefic.”
Jones and Meade: Private Eyes!
Ostrander also nicely developed the relationship between Jemm and J’onn. Jemm’s people, the Saturnians, referred to Martians as “the Makers”, and viewed them as having almost demi-god authority. But J’onn was insistent to Jemm that they were brothers and equals, not creator and creation. J’onn helped Jemm recover from the psychological scars of his manipulation by Luthor and a later battle with Malefic. The two departed as friends as Jemm went off into the stars to join with his fellow Saturnians, trying now to build peace between the Reds and the Whites.
Sadly, low sales led to the series being cancelled after 36 issues. It ended with a final battle between Trapp and J’onn, the revelations about J’onn’s connection to Darkseid and the full origin of Malefic, and also showed that Diane Meade was now joining J’onn as his full partner in his private detecive agency was John Jones. Nice tie-ups, but since then we haven’t seen Diane or indeed been privy to J’onn’s many private lives outside of the JLA.
One other Martian continuity glitch Ostrander fixed had to do with the question: if J’onn was the last of the Green Martians and there had never been a new settlement on Mars II, just who had wrecked the JLA satellite years ago? In his series JLA: INCARNATIONS, Ostrander created a new alien race known as the Debris who attacked the Earth and took the JLA by surprise, destroying the satellite base in the process. Glitch fixed, just like that!
Sadly, other than his adventures alongside the JLA, J’onn now did not have the freedom of a solo book to further explore his character, nor those of his friends and enemies. Another shame about the cancellation is that Ostrander had intended to do a story that brought Dr. Erdel back. Perhaps one day.
In the meantime, if anyone from DC or even one of their interns is reading this, how about collecting some of this series, huh? People who come to love J’onn through the JLA comics or the cartoons should not have to look through back issue bins at conventions to try and piece together his rich history.
In a recent JLA story by Joe Kelly, J’onn was tired of being a liability to the team (no one else agreed with this, but he was too stubborn to listen) due to his pyrophobia. He went to the former villain Scorch and asked her for help. Together, they worked for months getting J’onn over his fear. At first, this seemed a good thing but then J’onn began turning more and more malicious until he took on the appearance of a flaming, lizard like monster called Fernus, ready to destroy his former colleagues.
The story then revealed that 20,000 yars ago there had been a dangerous race of beings called the Burning, who caused fires to help themselves reproduce asexually. The Guardians of the Universe saw the danger in these creatures and split them into TWO new races: Green and White Martians. To stem the threat they posed, the Guardians gave both Martian races genders and also ingrained them with a deep-seated fear of fire. By losing his pyrophobia, J’onn had allowed himself to be possessed by the spirits of one of the ancient Burning creatures who had originally been killed on ancient Earth by the immortal villain Vandal Savage. In the end, J’onn’s true spirit came back and Fernus was defeated thanks in large part due to the aid of Plastic Man, who isn’t so easily burned and is immune to telepathy. In fact, it was revealed that part of the reason Batman asked Plastic Man into the League was due to this telepathic immunity, in case J’onn ever went rogue.
J’onn regained his sanity as well as his pyrophobia. Since then, he has done his best to continue being the hero he knows in his heart that he is.
WHAT, YOU WANT ANOTHER ORIGIN?
J’onn’s first incarnation outside of comics was not a good one. In the CBS pilot JUSTICE LEAGUE, which thankfully never made it to screens, J’onn was played by David Ogden Stiers. A fine actor Mr. Stiers is and a fine voice he gave to the Martian Manhunter. Problem is, Mr. Stiers is also a large man and the few people who have seen the bootleg of this god-awful pilot have all been taken aback when they see J’onn walk onto the screen with quite a large belly.
In the pilot, J’onn was mentor and trainer for the Justice Leaguers, who were based in his downed spaceship at the bottom of a river. He had made it his mission to seek out humans with special powers, giving them a place to be accepted and where they could learn to control their gifts. In my mind, this changes J’onn from being the Martian Manhunter into being Professor X of the X-Men. J’onn also did not get into any fights and never seemed as forceful or commanding as he had been in the comics.
Years later, in the JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon on Cartoon Network, the first episode gave us a new version of J’onn J’onzz. Here it seemed that there were only Green Martians, all but one of whom had been wiped out by alien invaders. As the sole survivor, J’onn had made himself the warden of those who had invaded his planet and later been imprisoned. When the invaders were free and came to Earth, he followed, enlisting Superman’s help. Understanding his appearance was odd to humans, he adopted a more humanoid one. Because he was basing it on Superman and Batman’s clothes, he gave himself similar clothing (cape, shorts, etc.). After their initial adventure, J’onn was more than happy to join the Justice League.
The portrayal of J’onn on this cartoon is quite accurate in terms of personality and he is wonderfully voiced by Carl Lumbly, who was also the lead actor of the super-hero M.A.N.T.I.S. series on Fox and is currently starring in ALIAS. One odd thing about the show is that J’onn seems a little less powerful but, on the flipside, has yet to express a fear of fire. Also, the cartoon has given a different spin on J’onn’s true name. Rather than saying it is proncounced exactly like “John Jones”, Carl Lumbly has pronounced the Martian’s first name like the French name Jean, such as how Jean Luc-Picard or Jean-Paul Valley proncounce their names. I think that extra little accent makes J’onn just a little more believable, personally.
POSSIBLE FUTURES AND RECENT EVENTS
In the storyline DC 1 MILLION we were shown a timeline in which J’onn would outlive most of his JLA companions. He would meet and help out the Legion of Super-Heroes and would later be involved in a centuries long war. As Mars became colonized again, he would become both teacher and storyteller and would later help lead a new generation of heroes into the final battle against Darkseid, during which the villain would finally die and J’onn would literally become one with the planet Mars itself. His spirit and mind would telepathically inhabit every inch of the very soil, allowing him to continue on as a living, sentient planet until it finally comes time for Mars to die. Will this be his ultimate fate? Who knows?
In a recent JLA issue, J’onn was in the JLA Watchtower on the moon, looking over the events that have been leading up to the INFINITE CRISIS. As remarkable as it seemed, he believed that there had to be some definite player at work behind the scenes, manipulating all the chaos. Just as he realized this, a red-caped individual who the scanners recognized as having Superman’s DNA, and who J’onn evidently recognized, arrived on the Watchtower. The next page showed the entire Watchtower blow up. J’onn has not been seen since.
I refused to believe he was dead and have recently confirmed I’m right. How could he be? He was able to survive for years when the general public saw him as just a poor man’s Superman, why would he be less resilient now that he’s become far more interesting and gotten a larger fan-base due to the cartoons and the past ten years of comics? No matter what happens, he’ll survive in his own way. And the League will always have a place for him.
Hope you enjoyed this article. Be sure to leave a comment below to let us know what you thought and to make suggestions for other characters you want me to profile. Until next time, cheers!