Review – Martian Manhunter #1: Secrets of Mars

Comic Books DC This Week
Martian Manhunter #1 variant cover, via DC Comics.

Martian Manhunter #1 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Riley Rossmo, Artist; Ivan Plascencia, Colorist


Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Martian Sex! (And it’s weird & cool.)

Ray: The Martian Manhunter twelve-issue maxi-series by Orlando and Rossmo has been compared to Tom King books like Mister Miracle and Vision, in that it promises to get to the core of a well-liked B-list character who has rarely gotten a starring role. The problem with this is that Martian Manhunter got a massively underrated series during the DC You era that more people need to read!

But this is something very different – a pitch-black flashback series that injects elements of cosmic horror and detective noir into J’onn J’onnz’s story. Taking place years ago, before J’onn joined the Justice League and was a public superhero, it follows him as a police detective in Colorado, where he works with a partner named Diane as they investigate murders. However, he’s haunted by memories of Mars, including a traumatic psychic phenomenon called Fright Foam. It’s not clear what’s real and what’s J’onn’s PTSD at play, but it’s clear that he’s not in a healthy place mentally and is slowly losing control of his shape-shifting and physical form.

The Earth-based story, where John and Diane investigate the brutal murder of a family whose daughter has gone missing, is spliced with scenes from Mars. This is where Rossmo’s art shines – but it’s also where the story is going to be massively controversial. This series positions J’onn as a man in need of redemption – a former corrupt police officer from Mars who enforced a corrupt status quo in the aftermath of a terrible war. He views himself as a necessary evil, but walls these memories off from his wife because he’s clearly ashamed. Riley Rossmo’s take on Martian shape-shifting is something to behold – from the shapeless blob-like nature of a Martian child before they take a form, to the twisted horror of a Martian form out of control, to a surprisingly graphic scene of Martian lovemaking. There is something fascinating being built here, a much darker and psychologically driven take on the Martian Manhunter. But I’m expecting this take on J’onn to be massively controversial and I’m not sure I’m on board yet.

Horror on Mars. Via DC Comics.

Corrina: I’m not so sure how graphic the Martian sex is, given its…well, you have to see the scans. It’s not x-rated but it’s definitely alien and I love that, because Martians are telepathic, it’s a literal melding of bodies and minds.

I would love this series alone for giving us a glimpse of what J’onn life was like on Mars. We’ve seen his survivor’s guilt portrayed over and over but rarely, other than a few quick scenes, has his Martian life been explored. His family comes alive in a way beyond being props for J’onn’s grief. I love the thought that’s gone into Martian customs and social status. Was J’onn that corrupt, or was he a good man doing the best possible in a bad situation? It’s not clear as yet.

As for the modern-day story, that full-page spread of the murders is disturbing and almost makes me think this comic should be in the Vertigo line, as it’s not for the faint of heart. But Rossmo also does some out-of-the-ordinary close-ups on various sections of the crime scene that turn into something much more than gore.

Orlando talked at NYCC about how much this book means to him and you can feel the care and love for the character bleeding off the page.

I predict this book will be one of my favorite over the next year.

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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