J'onn J'onzz is one of the most intriguing DC superheroes, but also one we know less about. He sporadically appears as a cast member in comics like the Justice League, but very rarely finds himself in a solo title. Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo have finally brought J'onn J'onzz into the limelight in the 12 issue maxi-series Martian Manhunter.
Orlando has decided to take this very foreign hero and put him in a familiar storytelling setting. J’onn is working for CSI investigating crime scenes, which is a very apt job for his skillset. He works on a team alongside his female partner. In this issue, they are investigating a particularly gruesome murder case. Something is off though, and he finds a connection at the murder site to his past days as a Manhunter on Mars. This environment by Orlando helps us humanize and understand J’onn as a character. In the Justice League, he is often portrayed as a stoic and always mindful being that is hard to relate to. Yes, Superman can be the same, but he has been humanized through his stories as a kid in Smallville and as Clark Kent. In Martian Manhunter, we finally see J’onn’s thought processes as an everyday person with a relatively mundane job (for a superhero at least).
Martian Manhunter is split into two stories. The first being the CSI story on Earth, and the second being a flashback to his time as a Manhunter on Mars. While on Mars, we see that J’onn is not such a great guy. He’s a corrupt cop who extracts protection money from street hustlers and drug dealers. The color palette and art tone on Mars is quite a bit different as well. Colors by Ivan Plascencia create a pink and purple pastel look that is a jarring contrast to the darker and morose coloring of Riley Rossmo’s pencils for Earth. While there should be a contrast between the two worlds, the difference is such a shock that it’s hard to believe you are reading the same comic. I’d like to have seen a less cartoony approach to Mars and a more serious design and color palette to match the thematics of the story.
In Martian Manhunter, Steve Orlando is exploring the depths of J'onn J'onzz soul and in so doing has treaded new ground for a character not yet fleshed out by the DC Universe. Anyone seeking to know more about this often seen but rarely understood superhero will find Martian Manhunter a worthy starting point.