Martian Manhunter: Identity Review

For a character that has been often described as the heart and should of the Justice League and one of the great creations of the late Golden Age*, but in the half century of so, has had scant time in a series of his own. There have been more recent attempts at giving the character the centre stage, but the fact likely remains that most likely only remember the short-lived 1990s series by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. Martian Manhunter without a doubt, is long overdue for a more personalized story.

Enter Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo with a new twelve issue maxi series that is not only a defining moment for the Martian Manhunter of Mars, but also a handy retelling, and deeper exploration of the character’s origin story. For a character that has been around for as long as he has, his backstory, specifically his time on Mars is often overlooked in favour of telling the age-old pastiche of “stranger in a strange land”. Right off the bat, Orlando and Rossmo demonstrate that this will not be just another generic origin story, however. No, this is not the Chocco cookie loving J’Onn J’Onnz; this version we see may be younger, but he is more cynical, or perhaps a brutal realist. We learn that as a Manhunter on Mars, his morality and intentions are considerably less heroic. He is driven by his own ambitions, his own desires, and it serves as an interesting allegory to the real world.

J’Onn’s actions are not without consequence, and it takes a sacrifice of the worst imaginable to finally send our protagonist down the familiar path of the hero. Split between two framing sequences of time and location, the Martian Manhunter’s earliest days on Earth are chronicled, even as his martian past looms over him. While the super heroics are of decent fare, the multilayered story benefits more from the character interactions, the smaller moments and perhaps more in J’Onn’s loss and failures, than his successes or triumphs. For an alien, the Martian Manhunter has always been written as a very humanized character, and we forget that this was not always the case, and certainly not at first. It is not that that character is suddenly a villain or even an anti-hero, instead we are treated with a character that usually sees the world in moral absolutes, living and benefitting from decisions made very much in the grey. It takes an exceptional creative team, the likes of Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo to tell such a nuanced tale.

And one should gives considerable praise to Riley Rossmo, and not as an intentional afterthought as a stunning storyteller in his own right. DC has an incredible stable of artists working on its properties at the moment, and Rossmo is certainly on that list. His art is beautifully rendered in Martian Manhunter that reminded me, without being a comparison, to the stylistic flamboyance of Mitch Gerads. If one were to compare it to the recently reviewed Mister Miracle, one would have to admit that these two-self contained stories featuring second and third tiered characters are some of the best DC has put out in recent memory. It also goes to show just how unique and exciting the DC Universe could be, can be, wants to be but still cannot seem to find outside of these few examples.

This is one of the best interpretations of a comic book icon, equal in gravitas to Ostrander and Mandrake’s run; with time, it will hopefully be just as recognized and revered by the fandom.

*Some consider the Martian Manhunter the first Silver Age creation, but a stronger argument for The Flash and Showcase #4 as more widely recognized as the “first”.

Collects: Martian Manhunter (Volume 5) 1-12

Mr Miracle Review

The critically acclaimed limited series is collected, giving readers a complete look at, including alternate covers, of this modern day classic. If that sounded like hyperbole, it would befitting imitation of a series that truly blew things up, out and sometimes even out of proportion during its original twelve issue run. A long standing character within the DC Universe, this Jack Kirby New Gods creation has had several attempts at a series under various creative teams, with limited success. It is perhaps a twist of fate that the character hits a new high with a purposeful limited series such as this one by Tom King and Mitch Gerads.

No square inch of space is wasted in any of the issues. Brilliantly illustrated by Mitch Gerads, he is classic in his depictions of Mister Miracle, Big Barda and even Darkseid, but also pushes the series and its stories into compelling and sometimes confounding visuals. It is not just Gerads pencils that need to be highlighted, but the fact it was also inked and coloured by him hits home his brilliance as an artist, and that of his artistic vision.

Thematically and narratively the series is just as rich, layered and nuanced as the artwork that visually tells this tale. Many reviewers have already expounded on the various theories on the opening moments of the book, whether or not this was Scott Free’s status throughout the series, or even what it all means in the end. Those have all been brilliant analyses, and one that this reviewer does not wish to expound on. There are a wide variety of views on how to interpret the series, and even if you take writer Tom King at face value, there is still a lot of material to diverge from and speculate with.

This is most definitely a story about life, death and rebirth, but it is also when you dig a little deeper, a man having a mid life crisis. However, when you are a literal god, what does an existential crisis look like exactly? Is it the perpetual nature of existence where Scott and Barda will possibly never die, but be locked in perpetual war against Darkseid and the forces of Apokolips, or is the crushing banality of mundane earthly existences and impending parenthood? Between wars, Scott and Barda kick back in their condo, discussing the state of their lives, and argue over whether or not they even need a kitchen as large as theirs, when all they do is order take-out. It is this sort of scripting that leads to such an entertaining tale. Jack Kirby laid the original groundwork with the New Gods saga fifty years ago. We know that the struggle between New Genesis and Apokolips is eternal; King and Gerads make it almost window dressing, a necessary inclusion to the plot, but not necessarily the plot thread we should be focussing all of our attention on.

This is perhaps the best highlighted when Darkseid comes to “visit’ Scott and Barda on Earth. While most would laugh at the comedy of Darkseid eating a carrot stick, there is more going on in that scene. The war is waged on many fronts, and often diplomacy is a better weapon than brutal force. We could have been given yet another fight scene, instead we are given something a little different, with a bit of good absurdist fun thrown in for good measure.

It perhaps comes as no surprise that this limited series nabbed three Eisner Awards; one for each of its creative team members, and one for Best Limited Series. And even if you don’t believe the hype or hyperbole, take it back to its core; an extremely well written, incredibly illustrated, self-contained story featuring a classic hero in a timeless struggle between good and evil. It truly does not get much better than this, and deserves every single accolade it receives.

Collects: Mister Miracle (Vol. 4) 1-12

Earth-9 Podcast – Ep23 – The Flash Age

So this week on the podcast is the start of the new regime, this is the first comics focused episode, then the movie and tv podcast will be the next one and then back to comics, just to give us the chance to cover everything without trying to cram it all in every two weeks! This time we delve into the new 80 years of Joker book, a little Deathstroke talk but mostly visiting old and new Flash comics! Mike goes through one of the greatest Flash runs with Mark Waid’s Terminal Velocity, while Jim tries to make sense of the current Flash run Legion of Zoom!