Written by Steve Orlando
Illustrated by Riley Rossmo
Published by DC Comics
“But Da – you’re not a good Manhunter?”
We knew it had to happen eventually.
It’s not fun. It’s not nice. It’s not pretty.
But we already know that Martian Manhunter’s family is dead. We know that J’onn J’onzz’s wife and daughter lost their lives to the plague of H’ronmeer’s curse.
We know that J’onn watched them die.
So that scene has been coming for a while, and we’ve known that it has for most of that time.
Doesn’t make it any easier to witness, now that it’s here.
Mind you, there are so many ways that the scene could have gone poorly. It’s fine credit to both Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo, that it does not.
No, instead what we have is a tightly written, well-plotted, and smartly executed story that finally captures one of the greatest tragedies of DC canon on the page, while managing the neat trick of adding unexpected complexity and depth of characterization to one of our favorite heroes, and his mythology.
Along with another knock-out-of-the-park artistic job by Rossmo and the whole team, who do a striking job of showcasing the tragic contrasts of life and death on ancient, alien Mars.
The narrative arc of J’onn J’onzz Martian Manhunter has always been that of the noble outsider – cast-away survivor of a once-proud race, stalwart protector of his adoptive home. Leave it to a writer with Orlando’s touch too plumb that storyline of otherness for themes that also fit J’onn’s early life on earth, a life spent in hiding.
And so, we have another pivotal scene in J’onn J’onnz’s life: Telling his life’s story and his most painful secret, to his partner Meade. To gain her trust, to regain his own, to maybe at the same time look at all the ways in which he has been hiding from himself, not least of all.
This whole story, is a coming out moment for J’onn, and as we know, this moment becomes a pivotal one for the hero we now know as Martian Manhunter. It’s a confession that he needs to make, if he is to become the hero we know he will.
But oh, it’s hard.
The loss of innocence, the loss of love. The loss of pretty much everything really. And alone. It’s harsh. But that’s the story. One we are consigned to follow, if we are to know the true story of J’onn’s private loss and failure. Everything consigned to the flames.
This is a bit of redemption story then, too, and it’s nice for Steve Orlando to offer a menace from J’onn’s past life and a young damsel in distress in need of saving to get that job done.
It’s a role J’onn J’onzz is destined to play. So, even amidst his greatest personal tragedy it is good to see the strains of the hero playing throughout even J’onn’s most difficult choices. Orlando gives us reason to be sympathetic to our all-too-human Martian, for choices that may have been, in the end, too clever for his own good, but are nonetheless accomplished in the service of protecting those he loves.
Now, perhaps J’onn has the chance to expand that circle outward once again, to do a job that is not just demanded by his duty, but one in which his heart is fully invested.
One that gives the world one of its finest heroes.
Next Issue: “Let’s bust up a child-trafficking ring, shall we, Jones?”