The tragic story of the Martian Manhunter

A friend of mine texted me saying, and I quote, “Bro, why is the Martian Manhunter always portrayed to be this wimpy character who keeps getting injured or can’t do shit?”

And that got me thinking, Why?

The Martian Manhunter is easily one of the strongest heroes in the DC universe. Probably at par with Superman along with a few other powers like shape-shifting and telepathy. So why is he so criminally underutilised?!

Let’s get into the history.

Martian Manhunter, or J’onn J’onnz, was created by Joseph Samachson and designed by artist Joe Certa, and made his first appearance in Detective Comics #225 in November 1955. The story was aptly called The Manhunter From Mars. He is one of the seven original members of the Justice League, and is widely considered as one of the most powerful beings in the DC universe.

As part of his origin, J’onn was pulled to Earth due to the experimental teleportation beam constructed by Dr Saul Erdel. The shock of this kills Erdel and leaves J’onn stranded on Earth, he adopts the identity of John Jones, a detective in Middletown, USA.

Much like with Superman, his powers are originally poorly defined, with them expanding as per the plot demands. The addition of precognitive abilities was quickly followed by telepathy, flight, atomic vision, super hearing, and more that put him at par with the other alien hero, Superman. His weakness to fire only manifesting when in his true martian form.

His telepathy is essentially the main communication medium for the League, with J’onn running missions from the Watchtower.

Such is his mental prowess that he once temporarily cured the Joker of his insanity in JLA #15

J’onn a literal green martian, and a superhero, brought the worlds of science fiction and comic books together in a way no other character did.

He is also a tragic figure. You think “Oh poor Superman, he lost his whole planet.” Or Batman “My parents are DEEEAAADDDD” (it’s a whole meme/college humor thing).

But J’onn lived to maturity. He had a family, friends, and lost them all.

The Martian Manhunter has appeared in various other media outside of the comics. He’s been in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series, Young Justice, Static Shock, The Batman, Batman the brave and the Bold, and Justice League Action.

Multiple animated DC movies over the years.

He was played by David Ogden Stiers in the original live action Justice League of America movie from 1997. Phil Morris plays him in Smallville, and David Harewood plays the most recent live action incarnation in the Arrowverse. All these versions have slightly different origins and powers as opposed to the comic book version.

He’s also had a crossover with Looney Tunes character Marvin the Martian. Which was weird and hilarious, but weird.

So, what are the comics that portray more about this beloved and truly underappreciated superhero? Let’s get into it.

1 Martian Manhunter: Son of Mars

Written by John Ostrander

Art by Tom Mandrake

Honestly John Ostrander’s run on Martian Manhunter is superb and worth tracking down. Son of Mars collects issues #0-#9 from the 1998–2001 run where J’onn tells Superman the stories of when he first arrived on Earth. Uncovering murders in Denver, battling a giant robot in Antares, his relationship with private detective Karen Smith, her death, and saving the Justice League and the world from the threat of Malefic.

2 Martian Manhunter: Identity

Written by Steve Orlando

Art by Riley Rossmo

Orlando and Rossmo team up for a twisted retelling of the manhunters origins. Back on Mars, J’onn J’onnz was about as corrupt as cops can be. And when a reconning comes for his people, he has a second chance that he doesn’t deserve. A shocking murder combined with an unexpected fragment of Mars he lost will change his life forever.

3 JLA: Trial by Fire

Written by Joe Kelly

Art by Doug Mahnke

Kelly and Mahnke join forces for this epic tale. Villains across the world are suddenly incapacitated by remorse over the deeds of their heinous past. With the villains on the verge of committing mass suicide, the League must figure out what’s wrong or be decimated by a creature known simply as The Burning. Can J’onn and the rest of the League prevent World War III?

Words: Anant Sagar

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