Martian Manhunter #1 review

A few years ago, police detectives John Jones and Diane Meade are called to a crime scene. The parents are dead, the daughter is missing. Jones, secretly a Martian, gets a telepathic flash.

We see from a flashback to life on Mars that fright foam most likely equates to human blood. Also, that while he was also a policeman there – a Manhunter – J’onn J’onzz was not a good man.

Later, at home, his wife is upset that he doesn’t share his most private self with her.

The flashback ends and Jones is distracted while driving…

This is a stylish book, no denying it. The art of Riley Rossmo gives it a unique look that serves the Mars sequences well, where people have public and private appearances (that would be a metaphor, kids). Jonn’s chosen look is the familiar humanoid who’s been appearing in DC comic books since the 1950s, with much, much tighter shorts. What’s new is the idea of him as a shakedown artist, and so far as ‘everything you thought you knew was wrong’ makeovers go, I hate it.

Absolutely hate it. I nearly didn’t buy this book on hearing the premise, that it’s going to show us how a bad guy became a hero. Of course, redemption is great, but do the storyline with a new character, not J’onn J’onzz, a shining hero since his debut. Can’t a guy just be good? Does DC have to jeep giving its heroes feet of clay, or deep motivations? Hal Jordan, drunk driver, becomes a space cop. Barry Allen, obsessed with his mother’s murder, becomes a speed angel…

… can’t a guy just be a hero? Was anyone clamouring for a story in which corrupt cop J’onn nearly beats an associate to death before forming a sex blob with his wife?

I bought this book because, like me, Steve Orlando is an Old Fart Fan, and I’ve enjoyed his work on Justice League, Midnighter and elsewhere. I like the weirdly dynamic style of Rossmo, and the cool Seventies leisure suits and exaggerated hair make me smile. And I enjoyed half the comic – the half that had Jones and Meade diving into a case, bantering as they mull the evidence. I didn’t much care for the flashback, and especially all the Martian slang – I can take the odd ‘grife!’ or ‘sprock!’ in a Legion of Super-Heroes story, but otherwise, let’s stick to regular English, otherwise a book becomes a chore.

Dialogue nods to the Martian Manhunter’s creators were nice, but a little distracting, and if we’re going to set the story in Jonn’s old city of Middletown, why change the spelling to Midleton?

I’d love to read a modern day Martian Manhunter book by Orlando and Rossmo. The level of craft here is high – let’s not ignore the superb colours of FSC Plascencia and letters of Derron Bennett, and stunning covers by Rossmo (regular) and Joshua Middleton (variant, and nice coincidence) – but I don’t think a 12-issue maxi series revamping the origin is for me. Mars is always my least favourite aspect of any J’onn J’onzz series, and an utterly crumby version of the world has even less appeal.

So, I think I shall bow out. If I hear great things, I’ll be back, either downloading or waiting for the trade. Meanwhile, what did you think?

13 thoughts on “Martian Manhunter #1 review

  1. I’m not a fan of the dirty cop theme either. The thing is, we know how good he has been on Earth, and for a long time. The hope I have is that this is a small part of the series. But we’ll see.

    I like the art a ton. I feel it fits the tone perfectly.

    I’m probably in for an arc. I’ll keep you in the loop.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What bothers me here is that once again DC seems intent on going for dark and gritty, something that has not been doing all that well for them. I can appreciate a story like this with a character like, say, The Question or Catwoman or Midnighter. These are characters who have dark edges to them right from the start. But you are right about J’onn J’onzz

    This is the Martian Manhunter, a character who is immensely powerful yet also immensely gentle. His depiction in the Justice League animated series was perfection, at least in so far as his character was concerned. His powers were a bit low compared to this character in the comics.

    DC needs to start learning from the ancillary projects that seem to have a better grasp on some of their characters than many of their writers. Their Wonder Woman animated film got Diana right, better than most of their writers. JL and JLU got MM and Green Arrow beautifully. (I do like the current run on GA, though, they seem to be going for the old justice warrior character)

    I just keep getting upset by how they seem to be stuck in the 90s somewhere and can’t seem to help but go back there with their often very negative attitudes toward their characters.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow. Huh. So they’re going with J’onn being a dirty cop now, or at least past version of him. Yeah me no likie. You and @Comics Geezer were very correct in your reviews and thoughts, because I too don’t get the unnecessary need to darken J’onn, whether it be his past or present. And while Orlando’s a really good writer. this approach to J’onn is NOT the way to go, especially when the art (which I like because I really dig Rossmo’s interpretation of ‘Jonn) is such a sharp contrast to the overall tone and feel of the story so far.

    Personally, I’d rather the former heart and soul of the JLA be portrayed in a better light. I mean, why couldn’t Orlando go the Morrison route on GL and give us a nice space-age noir detective story that looks something right out of 2000AD? I believe since Brexit and Immigration is such a hot current topic, why not go there?

    Yeah shit like this, for lack of a better word, is why I’m glad I quit reading and buying comics and only stay in the loop news-wise. That’s about it. Damn shame for J’onn. He deserves better than this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Even me who has never much cared for J’onn found this unnecessary and a bit disturbing. Why not throw in him shooting unarmed Red Saturnians out of ‘fear’ while they’re at it? Orlando has hit the point for me that he has had as many books I can’t stand as ones I adore so I’ll be picking up series he does based on affection for character from here on in rather than his name on the cover. I seem to be the only one who found even the Earth sequences difficult to follow because of the art. I’ve never stayed with a Martian Manhunter series through to the end but this looks like a record with one issue being enough to drive me away…

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    1. I know what you mean about Orlando’s hit rate – I’ve found The Unexpected more annoying and confusing than enjoyable, and Electric Warriors didn’t excite me; I’d rather he’d been able to keep his JLA book which, while not perfect, had a good mix of character and the ambition didn’t get out of control.

      Like

  5. Mixed feelings about this one.

    I love Rossmo’s art — but unlike you, I think it’s the Earth sequences that stand out. I didn’t feel like I had enough of my bearings on Mars, but on Earth, I loved the look of John and his partner and the crime scene investigation.

    As for the story, I’m a lot more interested in the Earthbound sections, too. I’m not crazy about J’onn’s new “dirty cop” characterization, but I think if I were more interested in what was happening on Mars, I could shrug it off, or even embrace it. But I’m ultimately just not that interested in that part of the story.

    I might be picking up another issue; I’m interested in seeing J’onn come clean to his partner after the last page. But my comics budget has been climbing lately, and I need to rein it in. As much as I want to see more Rossmo art, this one might not make the cut.

    Liked by 1 person

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