Now, it matters. Writer Peter Tomasi, penciller Doug Mahnke, inkers Christian Alamy and Rod Ramos, colourist Nei Ruffino and letterer John J Hill made me care. Heck, they made me cry, with a simple final page moment. This issue is a masterful example of how to give a hero a classic send-off; whereas in Final Crisis it seemed J’onn was ambushed and crisped, in about two seconds flat, here we see him fight back. He takes on awesome odds and nearly wins. We see just how powerful his mental powers are, both in battle and in saying his goodbyes to those closest to him.
For as J’onn dies, he reaches out to Superman, Hal Jordan, Black Canary, Batman and Gypsy. Yes, Gypsy. This is the moment I know J’onn really matters to Tomasi – he reminds readers that Cindy Reynolds, a heroine he’d taken under his wing during the JLA’s Detroit spin and stayed close to ever since, was one of the most important people in his life. J’onn had lost his own daughter long ago, on Mars, and Cindy had seen her parents murdered by Despero; is it any wonder the empathetic Martian and spunky Earthling clung to one another? She doesn’t have a big role in this book in terms of page time, but it’s a huge one, emotionally.
The fight is rendered superbly by Doug Mahnke, in the best artwork I’ve seen from him – he seems to have tamed his love of massive figures and gone for a more classic look, in keeping with JG Jones’ work on the Final Crisis mother book. I don’t like gore in comics, generally, but it’s justified here to point out that this is J’onn’s toughest – final – battle. Standout moments include the discovery of J’onn’s body by Nightwing (a nice touch, given J’onn debuted in the back of Detective Comics, with Robin and Batman in the front) and the final skewering of J’onn by Libra. Among the quieter moments, the funeral splash page is a masterpiece of perspective.
The funeral is wonderful in that it sees Superman, in his eulogy, mention J’onn’s dry sense of humour, a nod to his JLA/JLI/JLE days, when J’onn gained a personality after three decades in comics. And we see the fun side of J’onn even as he’s dying, attacking the villains with images of an ultra-violent Justice League, his ‘super friends’ – where Aquaman is slaughtering Ocean Master, Superman is ripping Luthor’s heart out, and so on, J’onn imagines Batman snogging the face off bad girl Talia.
The book also gives us, through the neat device of J’onn transferring his memories and the history of Mars to Gypsy and co, a lively rundown of the terribly underrated Martian Manhunter book by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. Tomasi edited that run, and the recap here is him saying, ‘hey guys, look at the great stories you missed’.
And that final page? In case you haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil it, but after pages of getting used to the idea that, yes, J’onn is gone, it’s a classic, touching goodbye to the first hero of comics’ Silver Age. If there’s a better special from DC this year, I’ll be amazed.