Tuesday, June 10, 2008

First Impressions: Review of the Martian Manhunter, By Johnathan

Hallo! J'onn R'eview here, teaming up with the irrepressible Rachelle to bring you some Martian Manhunter tribute action. SPOILERS SPOILERS VERY RECENT SPOILERS (although not terribly spoilery ones, I guess) READ YE NOT THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH IF YE WISH NOT FINAL CRISIS NO 1 SPOILERS. Poor dead Martian - who's going to be the JLA Mom now?

Because it's one of the things I already do, and because Mr. J'onzz never tried out for the Legion (though the time that he hung out with them might just have to get a mention...), I'm going to cover his first appearance, in Detective Comics No. 225.

Here goes:


Good logo, I like the crossed "J"s (as a John, I have opinions about the letter - form is all!) and the fact that they're emphasizing the 'JOHN JONES' over the 'manhunter from mars'.

Introducing... CLARK KENT, a super man!
Introducing... BARRY ALLEN, who is quite fast!
Introducing... HAL JORDAN, a pilot with a ring!

Oh, the humour. Enough laffs, though - on with the show!


Here's the big ol' intro panel from JJ (the MM)'s first story. I include it here for a few reasons. First off, that text piece, I'll bet, probably reveals exactly how the Manhunter came to be. Detective had, by this point, had any number of, uh, detectives, including Slam Bradley (pugilist extraordinaire), Cosmo (racist master of disguise), Pow-Wow Smith (frontier sheriff), Roy Raymond (TV Detective) and Captain Compass (sleuth of the high seas). Someone was given the task of thinking up a new one and figured "Why not make him an alien? He'll fit right in."

Secondly, that's a great title. The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel, indeed.

Finally, see J'onzz over there, with the giant Martian head-halo? That was an effect that cropped up a lot when he was appearing to be a human but using his Martian powers, like an eerier version of Peter Parker's face turning half Spider-Man whenever the spidey-senses kick in. Not sure why, but I like the implication that the Manhunter has a huge cranium.


That's Dr. Erdel, who has, I just noticed, an incredibly cool desk. In fact, His whole lab is pretty bitchin'. My copy of Showcase Presents: Martian Manhunter says that Joe Certa is responsible for the art on this story and I think he did a bang-up job, yessir.


I mean, look at Doc Erdel! That is one skillfully rendered potty old science-man.


And this is one of several panels that I threw into this review purely for aesthetic reasons. If I had a really good scan of this I might be tempted to have it blown up into a poster. It's pure fantastic. The colours! The sound effects! One of my favourite panels ever.


Enter the Manhunter! Arms akimbo, he stands ready for adventure! I wonder, did he have some warning that he was about to be teleported somewhere where he could make a great entrance, or was Mars going through a 'dramatic body language' fad? If so then J'onn is lucky - he could just as well have been ostentatiously thinking with one foot upon a low wall and his appearance on Earth might have been marred by him toppling sideways as soon as he materialized.


Martian Manhunter is HUGE! His head is HUGE! And he looks inappropriately amused by the fact that he has been teleported to another planet.



This story was mostly about introducing the character of J'onn J'onzz, so stuff like this happened a lot. Doc Erdel is suitably impressed, I think, by the fact that all Martians can make themselves look like a young Ronald Reagan.


Poor Dr. Erdel. The Martian Manhunter didn't have one of those giant, tragic origins like Superman or Batman, but it always struck a chord with me. Erdel dies while realizing his dream, while J'onzz is trapped on Earth - a very sad little origin scene, with nary an exploding planet or murdered parent to be seen, just a little old man with a tenuous grasp of where his heart is located.


See? Touching! Though I half suspect that that whole 'Xymo Serum' thing is a scam, just in case Erdel was holding out on sending the Manhunter home. Clever, cold-hearted Martian bastard.


*sniff*

I need a minute to myself...


Okay, I'm back.


Ah, the classic John Jones look., back in the days when he was a detective first and a Martian second. As I've blogged before, I really wish that someone would take the opportunity to write him as a super-detective again, rather than constantly increasing his level of alien-ness and alien-ation. His being an alien that had adopted humanity was always a lot more endearing to me than Superman's equivalent gesture, given that J'onn did so as an adult. Come on, DC! J'onn J'onzz as the immigrant done good! You know it could be cool!


As Rachelle has been pointing out in her posts, The Martian Manhunter used to have a whole lot more powers than he does now. Good thing he got all of that gold before that happened, hey?

Post gold-harvesting, J'onn decides to take a trip around the world, looking at Earth stuff while thinking about how much cooler the stuff on Mars is. Here, I will pointedly refrain from comparing this to the manner in which North Americans tour the rest of the globe.


At the end of the tour, he absent-mindedly wanders out into traffic, while thinking about traffic. This incredibly focussed forgetfulness has got to be another one of those since-discarded powers.


Luckily, he had intangibility on his side (still does, too!)! This is the other panel that I threw in for purely aesthetic reasons, by the way. Between the angle, the colours and the reaction, it looks super-nice. There's not even a caption on there - possibly the captioneer thought it was as nice as I do and didn't want to clutter it up.


I'm not sure if this younger planet = more primitive inhabitants thing was cultural or if it was just a DC Comics theory, but I remember seeing it quite a few times in Silver Age comics, like Batman would end up on a planet and there would be dinosaurs everywhere and he'd assume that the place was geologically younger than Earth. I wish I knew a scientific historian so I could ask 'em about it.


After his powers have been established, J'onn spends a page or so thinking about how much crime "Earthians" (fantastic) have to put up with and deciding to help out with cleaning it all up. The origin story is nearly complete!


There we go, a weakness! Everything required for a super-character is now present: origin, costume, secret identity, motivation, powers, weakness. And all in six pages - highly efficient!


You know, life must have been considerably rougher for Mr. J'onzz back when everyone and their dog smoked. Could he be covertly influencing anti-smoking regulation? Probably.

I need to meet a police historian, too. Could you really just walk into a police station and sign up to be a detective? That's great!

Well, there's a somewhat rambling review for you. Personally, I really enjoyed the Manhunter's origin tale. It was compact and well told and looked real pretty. J'onzz, you're

JOHN APPROVED

Plus, I just realized exactly why The Martian Manhunter isn't dead: he was killed in a Grant Morrison yarn, and Morrison continuity is frequently more cohesive than the DC continuity that it lives in. So, since Martian Manhunter No. 1,000,000 laid out a future history that did not include J'onzz being a mouldering corpse in the far future, it's likely that he'll be back (and better dressed) by the end of Final Crisis. That's what I'm telling myself, anyway.

2 comments:

SallyP said...

Great review, Jonathan! It must have been a whole lot easier to become a detective back in the Silver Age. None of that going to the academy, or possessing a social security number!

Johnathan said...

Yep. All you had to do was prove that you were literate and that you didn't have syphilis, basically (because nobody likes a cop with syphilis).