A Different type of Martian
Smarter people than I have traced how Superman represents an immigrant (and, more specifically, Jewish) fantasy: the story of a refugee who can pass in mainstream society, yet is celebrated for the unique characteristics granted to him by his ancestors.
Mars’ J’onn J’onnz is the inverse struggle. Like Clark, he’s the lone survivor of his civilization (or so he thinks.) Unlike Mr. Kent, J’onnz was old enough to remember his civilization before he was forced into exile. While J’onn’s abilities make him a formidable hero, he must hide who he is in order to protect his adopted planet. He must do so while carrying the burden of survivor’s guilt.
In the Justice League and Supergirl TV series, J’onn has been portrayed as a wise and lonely sentinel. He fights crime because it’s the only part of his identity that can be acceptably translated to human culture.
Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo’s J’onn J’onnz is not the Martian Manhunter you’re used to. Unless you’ve been wondering how green martians fuck.
Orlando’s 12-part “maxi-series” presents us with J’onn J’onnz: dirty cop. The narrative opens on a horrific crime scene in Middleton, Colorado. John, a hardened wiseacre, and his partner Diane – sporting a Wilma Flintstone pompadour and shoulder pads to the heavens – investigate. John finds Martian telepathic residue on the scene. Lost in a reverie, he crashes their car and the fire exposes him as a Martian. We learn more about John’s misadventures on Mars. His racketeering scam, his enduring love for his young family, and the impending doom rolling towards Martian civilization.
Martian Manhunter’s Transformation
Rossmo’s gonzo art could not be more perfect for this story. Orlando’s rendition of Green Martian civilization relies heavily on the idea of Martians as shapeshifters. In their most intimate states, Green Martians are a puddle of goop. As we learn in issue 2 — which focuses on Mars — Green Martians chose their “social shape” at a sort of coming-of-age ceremony. This has a lot of potential to open queer and/or trans storylines, and I hope that Orlando takes that opportunity.
Unfortunately, life is grand for the Green Martians, despite the seedy underbelly supporting J’onn’s bourgeoisie existence. He’s not above knocking a few heads and skimming a bit off the top to support this lavish lifestyle. Even though he knows the drug that’s literally setting the streets ablaze is destroying life as he knows it.
This version of J’onn is unlike most portrayals of him and I’m loving it. Rossmo’s art combined with this characterization of J’onn is so disorienting that I love dissecting the layouts and learning more about the world Rossmo and Orlando have created.
Overall Thoughts and Rating
For now, it looks as if we’re steering straight into the crossroads of a buddy cop comedy and a dirty cop reconciling his past and seeking redemption. We’re only a third of the way into the story (I haven’t picked up #3 yet), and I know that Orlando is building up to something. However, I hope that the story’s direction takes turns as surprising as Orlando’s initial story choices. Even if this story ends after 12 issues, I hope future chroniclers of J’onn J’onnz’s adventures return to Orlando’s version of events.