It wasn’t easy to think of a DC title that should make a comeback. They bring back their titles so often that I have more opinions about which concepts should be given an extended vacation than I do about which titles should come back. But there is one very notable exception: the Martian Manhunter.
I’ve been a fan of the Martian Manhunter since I was a little kid. I had his action figure form the Kenner Super Powers line. I was intrigued by his bald green head. I was amazed by a character that had all of Superman’s powers plus invisibility, shape-shifting and telepathy. I wanted to know more and more.
I grew even fonder of the character as I started to read about him. He had a small part in George Perez’s Justice League of America that merely whetted my appetite (the great issue 200 was a Martian centered story). The Giffen/Maguire Justice League was the main course. Finally, J’Onn J’Onnz was a star. He was a straight man in the center of chaos. Yet he had a light side. He was amused, even whimsical. And he liked his cookies. He was like Dean Martin- the coolest guy in the room, allowing others to riff around him but always in on the joke.
Since then, DC has made a couple of attempts to make Martian Manhunter a solo star. He headlined a pair of mini-series in 1988 and 1992, and then a one-shot in 1996. Finally, they gave him his own series in 1998. It was critically acclaimed if not a smashing sales success. It was also a bad time to launch a new title, right in the middle of the late ‘90s trough. The title strode along for three years until it was canceled after issue 36. DC tried one more go with the Manhunter, giving him an 8 issue limited series in 2006.
So why would I want to give a new title to a character who has a poor track record on his own? I guess it’s because I’m convinced that he’s a great character, fully capable of being a star. He’s been the best part of several team books. His one ongoing series was really good, even if it didn’t garner the attention it deserved. In the right vehicle at the right time, J’Onn J’Onnz could be a smashing success.
DC has also shown that they’re pretty good at reviving old characters. I did make fun of them a little bit earlier about doing it too often. But they’re much better at bringing characters back to their roots than they are at giving them a new spin. The 2006 Martian Manhunter limited series is evidence of the latter. The very successful Green Lantern Rebirth series of 2004 and the fairly popular Flash Rebirth series from this year are proof of the former.
In fact, that’s the model that I would choose to follow. I would wait a couple more years (he was just killed in last year’s Final Crisis, after all) and then put a big promotional push behind the Martian Manhunter Rebirth. I’d use that mini-series to reintroduce the character and build his new status quo. And then, I’d jump from that mini-series into a new ongoing.
I even have an idea for what the new series should be like. I think that Martian Manhunter should be brought back to what worked in the beginning. When he was first introduced, he was an alien new to this world. Things were strange, even wacky. It’s not a stretch to think that the world might just be alien to him again. He would see it with new eyes. He is reborn, after all.
J’Onn J’Onnz coped with this world by taking on a secret identity. I think that’s the way to go again. I know that secret identities are losing their cachet. Hal Jordan and Barry Allen are now public heroes. The X-Men no longer hide who or what they are. But there are a few heroes for whom the secret identity is still an essential part of their character- such as Peter Parker as Spider-Man and Clark Kent as Superman. This would work for J’Onn as well. He could learn about the world through the eyes of his secret identity. And you could give him an actual supporting cast, something that was attempted in some of the mini-series but never really caught on.
One of the reasons why secret ids are in disrepute is that they are less and less believable in a digital age. Yet I think that could be turned into an asset. You could use that issue as a complication for the hero instead of as an impediment to the story. Spider-Man stories often contain bits about how his superhero life complicates his private life and vice versa. Martian Manhunter stories could show how difficult it is for him to maintain a secret identity. He would have to use his full arsenal of powers- invisibility, shape-shifting and telepathy- to pull it off. I might even introduce a new power, such as the ability to disrupt technology telekinetically. There’s precedent for the Martian Manhunter to reveal new powers and there’s an in-story rationale: they’re part of his rebirth.
But why stop at one? As part of their series, John Ostander and Tom Mandrake revealed that Martian Manhunter maintained several secret identities around the globe. I wouldn’t want to go that far. It’s hard to juggle too many roles and too many supporting casts. Yet I would want room for at least one more. It’s also been established that J’Onn J’Onnz has used other heroic identities, including Bloodwynd and the Bronze Wraith. I would give him a new one. I would have him learn about the superhero world as if he was a new hero. He would try to re-establish himself, without his former teammates knowing who he was. I wouldn’t completely discard the classic look. J’Onn would use his traditional identity to fight crime and supervillains on his own. But he would use the new identity to try and work his way back into the superhero community, even joining a team that doesn’t currently have a title of its own (there has to be at least one, right?).
That would give us three levels of stories: the new secret identity and the street level detective work (go with what works), Martian Manhunter as a solo hero, and the new id trying to fit into the superhero club. There’s the potential to tell all kinds of different stories, and for these stories to run into each other and conflict with one another. And there’s potential for the Martian Manhunter to be a star.
At least, that’s my idea.