Hello comicologists! Sorry it has been so long between this show and my last one. My mac’s hard drive failed and I had to send it out to get fixed, and one of my closest friends got married, and lots of other stuff that I wont got into…. Anyway, I’m back now.
First thing that I want to say to all of you is…THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH for all the kind words that you sent my way in regards to show #63! I got lots of people sending me email and IM’s saying that they really dug the show a lot, which meant a lot to me.
Because that show was so well received by so many people, and because I had so much fun doing it I’m planning on doing a similar today.
This show will focus on another DC character who has a some what confusing background, which has been retconed a few times. For those that are not familiar with the term “retcon” it means that a characters history is changed for some reason, DC has done it to lots of characters in their universe via the “crisis” stories.
The point of today’s show is to do what I can to help make sense of this characters rather confusing background, and to just spot light another really cool character in the DCU.
Now when I started to research this character I thought this would be a kind of easier than the Flash show because there has been three different Flashes though out DC history, and there has only been one of the focus of today’s show… Then I started to do my research and found out just how confusing this guy’s history is…
The reason that I bring this is is because I’m just not going to be able to fit all of the information that I want to into one podcast, so what I’m going to do is break this subject down over a series of podcasts. I know this is not the regular format of the show, but I’m really curious to see how it works out.
I figured this would work out after listening to Cory Doctorow’s podcast, where he reads some of his short stories out loud over a series of podcasts
Be sure to shoot me an email or something and let me know what you think, all my contact info is over at comicology.net
So with out further delay…
That character I’m focusing on today is The Martian Manhunter, AKA J’onn J’onzz. Now even though Martian Manhunter has never had what could be called a successful ongoing series like The Flash, who I talked about last show, he is one of my favorite characters in the DCU…
Lets start out with some general information about
The *Martian Manhunter* is a comic booksuperhero appearing in DC Comics.
As of the current DCU continuity the Martian Manhunter is the last surviving member of the green Martian race that of course was the dominant spices on the planet Mars. All the other Martians were killed by either
1. a mental plague which was fatal to the telepathic Martian race, and was deliberately started by The Martian Manhunter’s brother Ma’alefa’ak. (this is from the early stories) or
2. a plague that disfigured martians and killed them…(this is from the more recent stories.) or’
3. something that I just don’t know about.
I’ll talk more about how the Martian Manhunter survived the plagues and found himself on earth latter when I get into the chronological aspect of the character.
Even though the Martian Manhunter is not an A-List super powered sort of guy Superman did ounce conceded that the Martian Manhunter is the most powerful being on the planet… IE: he is MORE powerful than Superman! One of the things that makes the Martian Manhunter so damn powerful is that he has several of the same super powers as Superman
such as super strength, (not as strong as Superman… but still really strong.)
the ability to fly,
a degree of super speed, (again not a fast as Superman or the Flash… but still fast)
Martian vision / hearing (which is really REALLY good.)
and he also has several powers that Superman does not including
and the ability to change shape, and control density.
Some people argue that Martian Manhunter is one of the only characters in the DCU that would be able to go toe to toe with Superman in some sort of fight, and have a chance of surviving and winning.
Also in addition to having all the really cool Superman-ish powers The Martian Manhunter is also detective and has a finely trained analytical/tactical mind. Sounds sort of like another big shot in the DCU who’s name starts with Bat and ends with Man.
So in short The Martian Manhunter has a mind like Batman and a Body like Superman… and some Professor X / Jean Gray mental powers, AND some Mystiqu shap shifting powers Kitty Pryde type walk through solid stuff powers. This is a really REALLY kick ass combo if you ask me.
Even though he is a major bad ass with lots of powers, like all super heroes
he does have a weakness…
He is highly sensitive to fire; in some stories this weakness is a physical weakness, and in others it is psychological. In early stories the smallest flame… like a match being lit… would cause the Martian Manhunter to panic, and his powers would stop working. In a recent JLA story it was revealed that the Guardians of the Universe instilled the aversion to fire into the Martians to prevent them from overrunning the universe. This weakness has been addressed in recent times and I’ll come back to it , when I get to Martian Manhunter’s involvement with the JLA later on in the show.
Another thing which could be considered a sort of weakness was shown during the Justice League International series was the Martian Manhunter’s odd addiction to Oreo cookies; which was later changed to ‘Chocos Cookies’ (presumably due to licensing problems)… This does not appear to me much of a problem for the Big Green Guy any longer.
Because he is a shape shifter J’onn can (and has) taken many different forms.
J’onn’s usual appearance is of a tall, hairless, green-skinned humanoid with red eyes. However in Justice League International that it was revealed that his familiar appearance was not his true Martian form, but a “compromise” form between his true self,and a human appearance.
Hawkman saw Martian Manhunter’s true self one time and said he looked
sort of “Gumby like”
Now before you get all down on Martian Manhunter for hiding his “true from” away and conforming to conventional Super-Hero beauty standards this concept would be refined in Martian Manhunter’s own series that explained that his true form as private and that, even on Mars, his “public” appearance was the familiar version.
Unlike Superman who an alien that
1. looks like a human and
2. was raised in a “normal” as a “normal” human.
J’onn is an alien who
1. Does not look human (but can make him self look human via his shape shifting powers)
2. was not raised as a human at all.
J’onn does not see him self as a human being the same way that Superman does, but his characters has always been writen in such a way that shows J’onn as a alien who does care about humaniy very much. I also believe that it could be said that J’onn is a character who really likes to spend time among human beings and learn more about them
Because J’onn is a big green super hero looking Martian, when he goes out among normal human beings he uses his shape changer ability to “blend in” and discisusing him self, by making him self look like a human.
J’onn is not limited to the same human desciuse, he can (and does) make him self look like many different humans both men and women from a variety of races. One reason that J’onn does this is because he wants to learn more about humanity…
J’onn can make him self black or white, man or woman, tall or short etc. And he can see how differently humans treat him based on whatever outward appearance he chooses to adopt when he walks among us. This is a really interesting thing that I really which more writers would have capatilized on… it is perfect stuff for social conscious stories that say something about race, gender, and class in society. (Denny O’Neil here is another green guy for you to write great stories about!!!)
Grant Morrison (with a little help from Mark Millar) did come kind of close during his run on the JLA when J’onn started to take an active inteest in helping out the more poor countries / people in the sothern hemisphere. In the JLA secret files there is a really cool mock interview with J’onn where he says that the United states and Europe have enough heroes looking out for them, but the people in south America, and Africa really don’t. Thus he choose to make a base of operations in Antarctia and make protecting and helping the people in that part of the world.
By doing this J’onn became more recognized in the southern hemisphere than Superman, he really became a “hero of the people” so to speak.
(Now before people start sending me email saying how recently J’onn has been portrayed as very detached, and not involved in the affairs of humanity le me say this:
I do recognize that this aspect of his character has been very down played in some of the recent JLA stories, and the JLU cartoon where we almost always see J’onn just chilling in the watchtower on the moon far away from “normal” humans… I still think of J’onn as a character who is a hero to humanity and who strives to help humans in what ever way he is able…)
Ok that wraps up a most of the general info I wanted to talk about.
Like I said in the beginning of the show The Martian Manhunter has a confusing background that has changed several times over the history of the DCU.
What I want to do now is sort of give you a bit of a chronological / historical perspective on J’onn, and explain some of the changes that have occuredin his history though out his long existence, but let me tell you all this is no easy task. I did a lot of research on this stuff and I’m still not sure that I have it totally down… But I’m going to give it my best shot here.
THE EARLY YEARS…
I almost opted to not talk about any of this because it was all retconed out of J’onn’s history… but for some reason I decided not to. What I’m going to do is tell you all this early stuff most of which is totally irrelevant just to show what a nerd I am!
The Martian Manhunter first appeared in a back-up story featured in DETECTIVE COMICS #225 in 1955, the story was called “The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel”, it was written by Joseph Samachson and illustrated by Joe Certa. During this time super hero characters were not doing so well, (mainly because of this idiot Dr. Frederick Wertham who claimed that “Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic book industry.”) however Si-Fi characters like Adam Strange and Captain Comet were doing really good.
In the story Dr. Erdel accidentally teleported a real live Martian into his lab. The Martian immediately learned English from Erdel via telepathy and asked him “where am I, how did I get here.” Now Dr. Erdel was old… really old… and well the shock of his invention working and bringing him a real live martian… well that was just to much for him to handle and he had a heart attack. Now even tough the Martian knew enough to pull the entire english language from the Doctor’s head, he was not smart enough to pull out any information on how to work the teleporter. The Martian did try to figure it out… but… well he just was not smart enough I guess and thus was stranded here on earth.
Well because the Martian could shape shift, and make him self look like a human being he decided to make the best of this unexpected and mandatory vacation on Earth and make him self look like a police detective, join the force, and fight crime.
(LONG after this story there was a story written called “Private Lives” where we are able to see that J’onn learned about how to be a cop by watching cop TV shows rather than just knowing how it was done. J’onn also used his mental abilities to implant memories of his human identity in the minds of the cops that he worked with.)
J’onn became the Martian Manhunter (The term “manhunter” is an old phrase that was used to mean “detective” or to simply describe someone who captured criminals. Batman himself was even called the “masked manhunter” for a little bit.)
J’onn did not get his own book, he kept showing up as a back up story in Detective Comics, then latter on in House of Mystery. However he did get his own side kick, this really wired looking nikked orange dwarf looking thing called Zook. The stories were sort of well hokey would be a good word to describe them.
Later on though when the spy comics started to become popular DC got rid of Zook, and the hokey feel of the Martian Manhunter stories. 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.
Early in the investigation the Martian Manhunter accidental killed one of the dudes in VULTURE and assumed his identity and started to be a sort of double agent, giving the stories a much more dark feel (the feel what was working so well for Marvel characters like Nick Fury).
Some readers liked this, other did not. The readers that did not like it wanted the hokey Martian back, and they wrote to DC saying so. In an attempt to keep everyone happy 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, and now DC had people who liked the more hard edge stories writing in telling them how pissed they were. DC said “Screw this” and sort of dropped the stories (putting them in the less read Dial H for Hero series and making House of Secrets a horror anthology.)
THE MIDDLE YEARS
Eventually the super hero comics popularity bounced back and the Martian Manhunter character stared to get used again. In Detective Comics #500 we found out that DR. Erdel had NOT died of a heart attack. Rather his computer which had actually gained sentience killed him (’cause that is what living computers 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. Later Blanx and his white Martians stared to mess with Earth but the super heroes here (inluding J’onn the Martain Manhunter) kicked their asses. After that J’onn went back to Mars and helped the Martians who were not free of the evil Blanx create a better Mars.
Then a bit latter J’onn had to return to Earth to warn JLA 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 Satellite 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. But, he took it well, he made the most of it and stayed here on Earth as a hero and member of the JLA.
J’onn’s character remained a member of the JLA and eventually became sort of the “center of the team”, the one that everyone including Batman) would shut up and listen to, and sometimes even defer to.
A couple of years after the Crisis of Infinite Earths, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis jump in and do this mini-series about J’onn where EVERYTHING that I just told you gets pretty much totally retcond (IE: scraped.)
It turns out that Dr. Erdel is alive and well. J’onn finds him and the Doctor tells him that the life he remembered of Mars never existed. Martians were a society of pacifists (not warriors) and Life had been good on Mars, but then a really bad plague came. To try and halt the disease, bodies of those who had died AND those who were infected 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 as they were telaported to the Doctors lab. J’onn’s daughter died in transit (or maybe just as they arrived it is not really clear). The Doctor offered to send the martian back home but the J’onn who was grief stricken became enraged and destroyed the telaporter.
Dr. 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. Those memories were all the stuff that made up the stories that I talked about prior to this.
In other words the retcon made it clear that there were no other Martians, all those stories of J’onn on Mars II and the Martian invasion of Earth could not have happened. Since this was all Post-Crisis the DCU’s continuity was now totally re-vamed most people were ok with this.
This information also made J’onn aware that his fear of fire, and the weakness that he experienced in the presence of fire was psychological and he began to work on over coming it
A funny thing about this: Latter on When the JLA was relaunched in the 90’s by Grant Morrison (who is normally a writer who knows EVERYTHING about a characters continuity) had not read the Giffen title and thus wrote stories that did not reflect the changes Giffen had made. And so all the stuff that was established in Mini series by Giffen was totally thrown out, in the same way that Giffin’s mini-series had thrown out all the previously established stuff about J’onn… a wired sort of comic book karma I guess.
Some people thought that Morrison was a dumb ass for not knowing about the Geffin series but to show that he was not ignorant of continuity, despite what some fans claimed, Morrison brought in a surprise character from the Martian Manhunters past named Jemm. Morrison Made Jemm part of the Injustice gang. But it is important to note that Jemm did not join the gang because he wanted to be a bad guy. He did so because Lex Luthor was controlling him with “mind controlling drugs”. Proving that drugs are bad, even if your from Saturn.
Sidenote: Taken from Monitor Duty
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.
You see at one point the martians went to Saturn and 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.
Jemm was a Red Saturnian, he was a hero to his people and an enemy of the White Saturnians. In the 1984 series, 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.