Review – Martian Manhunter #5: Old Sins Come Home

Comic Books DC This Week
Martian Manhunter #5 variant cover, via DC Comics.

Martian Manhunter #5 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Riley Rossmo, Artist; Ivan Plascencia, Colorist

Ratings:

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Death of the Family

Ray: A slow-burn cosmic noir mystery with some of the most haunting art ever published in a DC comic, this Orlando/Rossmo collaboration continues to shed light on the history of Mars in a way few writers have managed. Martian Manhunter #5 starts on Mars in their highest court, as felons are sentenced to a cruel fate – having their shape-shifting stripped away and being locked in a single form designed to mark them as a deviant. Whether these criminals deserve this fate or not, the book lets us decide for ourselves – after all, we’ve seen that Mars is a rather corrupt and repressive society, and J’onn is hardly immune from this even though he seems to have some hesitations about these punishments. This dark chapter comes back to haunt him in the present day as one of the “marked” has seemingly survived, honing his psychic skills to compensate for his lack of shapeshifting. He’s able to psychically inflict the terrible H’ronmeer’s Plague on J’onn in a chilling segment that breaks J’onn down like we’ve rarely seen.

The story wisely keeps things ambiguous about whether the evil Cha’rnn is actually there or if it’s a sickness deep in J’onn’s mind, but it’s clear that if he’s real, he’s probably behind the serial killings. J’onn and his former ally Detective Diane Meade are still on the outs, but she wants to work with him again, at least to finish the case. We learn a lot more about Meade this issue, as the series gives her a personal life and a girlfriend with whom she has a fun, salty banter. More evidence that letting LGBT writers develop LGBT characters results in good writing for everyone. This is very much a breather issue after the opening segments, as J’onn and Meade are slowly easing towards the next stage in their mission. However, the ending indicates we’re going to see what really happened on Mars’ last day in the next issue, so I’m expecting that to be full of gut-punches. This series is a slow burn, but at almost halfway through it’s turning into one of the best Martian Manhunter stories.

Martian Manhunter #5 interior page
The court of Mars. Via DC Comics.

Corrina: I’ve run out of words for how good this series is. It’s gotten to the point where I want to just shove the comic into someone’s hands and simply say “Read it. Now!”

But I’ll attempt to explain why.

It humanizes J’onn in a way that hasn’t been done in a long time–and it does it by going back to his time on Mars and making Mars a fascinating and complex place, ruled by not-always benevolent leaders. It also creates shades of gray for J’onn’s life on Mars, as he struggles to follow the orders of his society that he knows may be wrong. It shows him as a family man, providing depth to his family, instead of the cardboard background characters that they’ve been.

It also draws parallels between J’onn’s work on Mars and his decision to continue to be a police detective on Earth.

Detective Diane Meade has been well-drawn too, with her anger and fear at J’onn’s deception clear, though she’s too much the police officer to finally turn away help in finding a killer.

There’s the truly terrifying villain who may or may not be casting illusions (or is it reality?) to drive J’onn mad and kill him. Given why the villain is on Earth, I even feel pity for this villain.

And, finally, Rossmo’s art, which verges between adorable (J’onn and his family), pure horror (J’onn under attack by the virus), and more subtle, especially in the scenes with Diane struggling with her new knowledge.

So, yeah. Go. Buy. Read.

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

Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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