Well, I just endured the Snyder Cut of Justice League on HBOMax. I watched it in four one-hour chunks, referring to it as my series of vaccinations to my wife. Next week, I’ll be reviewing it on my podcast’s inaugural episode, so make sure to listen to that. Meanwhile, one thing I did like was that it introduced the Martian Manhunter into the DC Films. He’s been a mainstay in the DC Universe since his inclusion in the inaugural roster of the Justice League of America in 1960. However, Martian Manhunter has never been a superstar and didn’t appear outside of the comics books until 1997.
In the pages of Detective Comics #225 (Nov 1995), after a feature story starring Batman & Robin and a back-up story with investigator Roy Raymond did we get the first appearance of the Martian Manhunter. It was a story titled “The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel,” where the titular scientist tests his experimental teleportation beam. The result is that Martian native J’onn J’onzz is pulled away from his family and onto Earth. Erdel dies of shock from meeting this alien, and J’onn becomes trapped on this new planet. He adopts the identity of John Jones, a detective in Middletown, USA.
J’onn has a poorly defined power set, often drawing comparisons with Superman and his power development over time. He possessed precognitive powers, telepathy, and flight. He’d be given assorted vision-based powers when needed and have his senses heightened. Much like Marvel’s The Vision, J’onn would also have the ability to become invisible and intangible are introduced. His only public-facing persona is police detective John Jones while he operates in his Martian form in secret in his earliest appearances.
Eventually, J’onn would make his Martian Manhunter persona public and join with the Justice League in their first appearance. J’onn’s role in the Justice League would often be as a replacement Superman. The editors at DC were worried about overexposure of characters and would sometimes backseat the A-tier figures in JLA in favor of characters that weren’t carrying their own titles. During this time, there was an ongoing desire by J’onn to return to Mars and be reunited with his family. He would contact them from time to time, continually teasing the readers about his return home.
His back-up feature was moved from Detective Comics to House of Mystery, where the John Jones identity was killed. He would eventually take on a new identity of Marco Xavier and fight the criminal organization VULTURE for several years. J’onn’s appearances in the Justice League dwindled as Superman became a more prominent member. His feature in House of Mystery was also discontinued in 1968, and over the next fifteen years, he would fade into obscurity, popping up sporadically. J’onn would be reunited with his family on New Mars and showed up when the villain Despero returned from beyond.
In 1984, J’onn returned to the DCU permanently as the Justice League collapse, and he and Aquaman formed a new team. They would consist of almost entirely new characters and be nicknamed Justice League Detroit for their headquarters location. The Crisis on Infinite Earths occurred, and with it, the need for another new Justice League. J’onn was there from issue one and often played the straight man to Blue Beetle & Booster Gold’s antics.
He even got a reboot of his origin from J.M. DeMatteis in a four-issue mini-series. In this new version, Dr. Erdel lives, and J’onn’s heroic appearance was based on images the alien read from Erdel’s mind about what the doctor believed a Martian would look like. This added a new, more alien-like natural form to the Green Martians, which J’onn would only assume in his quarters when meditating. Additionally, J’onn was teleported not just through space but also time. When he arrives on Earth millennia, have passed, which means his family and the Martian civilization are long dead. In the wake of the Breakdowns arc that concluded this run of the JLA, J’onn flew off into the sunset. Or so it seemed…
In fact, J’onn assumed the identity of the necromancer Bloodwynd and joined a new roster led by Superman. The real Bloodwynd was trapped inside the blood gem that J’onn wore as part of his costume in this form. He participated in the battle against Doomsday which led to Superman’s death, and during the fight, Blue Beetle realizes Bloodwynd is his old friend. The JLA, with help from the shrinking Atom, goes on a journey into the blood gem leading to J’onn and Bloodwynd being separated into their respective bodies.
Continuing a long-held tradition, J’onn was there to help start the Grant Morrison era of the Justice League, which you can read about in length here. In 1998, for the first time, there was a Martian Manhunter solo ongoing series. Written by John Ostrander, it lasted for an impressive 36 issues and deeply developed the mythos of the Green Martians. It established that J’onn lived in the Southern Hemisphere and maintains several different identities in those continents. John Jones would separate from J’onn, which led to him abandoning these other personas and focusing on the one.
This series introduced J’onn’s mentally disturbed brother Malefic, who tortures Jemm, Son of Saturn. Jemm was a half-hearted attempt to reboot Martian Manhunter during the character’s regular absence from the comics. In Ostrander’s series, he expanded on Sol’s cosmology by delving into the Red Saturnians, a related species to the Green Martians. With the conclusion of the JLA ongoing in the mid-2000s and the Infinite Crisis event, J’onn once again faded into the background. There was a mini-series and then his inclusion in the Brightest Day event, one of the last storylines before the New52. It seemed like J’onn was fading back into the shadows.
In the New 52 reboot, J’onn showed up as a Stormwatch member, one of DC’s acquisitions from the Wildstorm line of comics. They mention him being an ex-Justice League member, however in the origin of the team in this new continuity, he was not a founding member. Eventually, this is retconned into meaning he debuted around the same time as the other heroes. The Stormwatch series failed to sell, and a few years later, Justice League of America was launched, and there was J’onn. He would take part in the Forever Evil storyline that saw Earth-3’s Crime Syndicate wreaking havoc on the DCU. This would be followed by Justice League United, where J’onn would join forces with Hawkman, Adam Strange, and Stargirl.
Somewhere along the way, it was decided to radically rewrite J’onn’s past. In the pages of Justice League, written by Scott Snyder, J’onn had entered into a relationship with Hawkwoman (Shiera Sanders). He apparently lived on Thanagar, home to the Hawks some years ago. What was genuinely wild is J’onn unlocked memories that, as a child, he had been teleported into the laboratory of Lionel Luthor, Lex’s dad. Lionel was trying to create a Martian-human hybrid and experiment on the young J’onn. Lex helped J’onn escape from the lab and developed a friendship. Lex realizes the creatures his father was trying to create were Apex Predators, unbeatable organisms, and begins to tamper with his own DNA. He lures J’onn to his base, where he absorbs J’onn entire molecular structure and turns himself into this all-powerful being.
The League met a false future version of themselves, including Shayne, the child of J’onn and Hawkwoman. Shayne sees what happened to his father and sacrifices himself to pull the consciousness of J’onn out and into Lex. The big baddie of this story, Perpetua, stops J’onn from warning all the Multiverse of the pending Crisis. The leads to a transformation of Earth into a sort of nightmare realm ruled over a Batman-Joker hybrid known as The Batman Who Laughs. There was even Mindhunter, a dark version of Batman who spliced Martian DNA onto his own. When Perpetua and her forces were eventually defeated, J’onn was back in full force, but this time as part of The Totality, an alliance of heroes & villains out to prepare for the mysteries the reborn Multiverse holds for them.