Martian Manhunter #1 (May, 1988)
Writer – J.M. DeMatteis
Artist/Colorist – Mark Badger
Letterer – Bob Lappan
Editor – Andy Helfer
Cover Price: $1.25
Since we discussed Jemm, Son of Saturn yesterday, I figure why not check in with his sometimes analogue J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter? I’ve had an affinity for the character ever since the bwa-ha-ha era of Justice League. In the year since, I have gone back and checked out his time with what many refer to as Justice League Detroit. He is usually quite a comforting presence, sometimes as the “straight man” among goofballs… other times just as the cornerstone among a pantheon of Godlike characters.
I was quite disappointed when The New 52! revoked his Justice League founder status in favor of Cyborg. I’ve heard J’onn referred to often as the “heart and soul” of the League… and I find that quite the apt description. He just belongs there… always has, always will.
Now let’s turn that “comforting presence” on its ear and take a look at this spooky J.M. DeMatteis and Mark Badger miniseries from the mid-to-late 1980’s.
We open in Gotham City. Batman has cornered a killer whose most recent victim was a young girl of only four-years. The killer seems surprised that he is the target of the Batman, and maintains his innocence. He is suddenly brought back to reality when he realizes he is holding a bloody knife and a baby doll. So shocked is he by this realization that he throws himself off the… I dunno, fire escape (?) he is standing on. Batman leaves and notes that the man really did not know what he had done. It is then that he is approached by a wildly malformed J’onn J’onzz pleading with him for help.
We are soon swept into the titular “fever dream” of J’onn J’onzz. He feels something inside of him… something he cannot touch, or even describe. It is something that shakes him to his very core. Before we get too deep, he awakens… inside the Batcave. He tells Batman that he was the only one he could go to and immediately apologizes for getting him involved. He feels that his association will only endanger him to whatever it is that is haunting him.
He is suddenly troubled by something he perceives as sinister. Batman is confused. He doesn’t see whatever it is that has spooked his martian pal. J’onn tries to escape the Batcave, however, Batman protests… thinking him unwell. Batman tries to restrain him, and it ultimately comes to blows. J’onn socks the Batman in the jaw with a thunderous right!
When Batman comes to he is rather thankful that J’onn decided to pull his punch… otherwise, his head would likely be in another area code. As he gathers his druthers… he sees it. The apparition that has J’onn so jumpy. He reaches out to it… but it vanishes just after his hand goes through it. He realizes it just might be time to involve the Justice League.
From here, we get back into the Martian Manhunter’s head. He is recounting his past, thinking about his arrival on Earth… and his association with certain Leagues who gather in the name of Justice.
He continues… and the name Erdel comes to mind. Dr. Erdel was the man who unwittingly brought J’onn to Earth. He had shot an energy beam into cross dimensional space… which somehow reentered the “real” universe on Mars… and, again… somehow results in J’onn winding up in the fella’s lab. Unfortunately the poor doc’s heart couldn’t take it… he dropped dead upon seeing our main Martian.
This trip down memory lane somehow brings about the realization that Batman was right… there was no apparition. The entire thing was a result of a fever dream. We learn that during an adventure with the Justice League, J’onn had absorbed a sentient cell… a spore into his body. He sees this as the cause of not only his fever, but his bodily distortion. He refuses to let this “fever dream” defeat him.
Suddenly… the apparition returns. J’onn is steadfast in his belief that this is all just a manifestation of his fever… and ultimately all in his head. The apparition thinks this belief is positively adorable, and taunts J’onn to no end. The word “father” is repeated throughout this sorta battle between the two… the baddie informs J’onn that it sees a sickness in him… a sickness it intends to cure. J’onn breaks away… and flees through the city.
We rejoin Batman as he addresses the Justice League at their New York Embassy. He pleads his case, and requests their aid in assisting the Martian Manhunter. They all seem on board, however, Captain Atom… of all people, is the lone voice of resistance. Well, maybe resistance is a bad word for it… he’s just really uncertain. Batman takes this as “whining” and actually calls him out for it. This kind of feels out of character for both of these gentlemen… but what do I know?
The chapter draws to a close back in the mind of the Martian Manhunter. He repeats the word “father” some more… and appears to feel some sort of calling… something might just be calling him home.
Yeah… this one was a lot of fun. I did not see this coming. I gotta be straight with you… I’m not sure I understood some of it, but the story is so intriguing I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. I’m not sure just what this is that is haunting J’onn… and it’s been so long since I’ve read the Justice League that I have long forgotten whatever this “spore” was.
The Batman bit at the open… really not sure where that’s going… or even if it is going anywhere. It’s an awfully specific thing to include, so I would imagine it will be addressed down the line. A serial killer whose victims include young children seems a strange thing to add to a story for no reason, right? I will say that Batman appearances are a bit gratuitous, however, in this instance… it both fit and worked.
I gotta give it to J.M. DeMatteis… he does some fine mental/emotional anguish. We really get this… unbalanced… unhinged… and uncomfortable feeling inside of J’onn’s head. His memories are repeatedly interrupted by whatever it is inside him… the “sentient cell”. There are repeated mentions to “father”… it’s all quite nebulous… but I’m sure there is a payoff on the horizon. One that… unfortunately, I’m going to have to track down. This series isn’t one I come across all that often… or at all. Gonna have to add the remainder of this series to my “watch list”.
Now… the art. I’m sure this is the most contentious bit for most readers. I… really dug it. It’s not a style I would seek out… however, for a story such as this… it’s really quite fitting. We get strange scenes of body horror… and Mark Badger’s art really aids in getting this across… without being too graphic or visceral, which… if you ask me, would not have served this story all that well. This is not supposed to be that kind of story… it is far more cerebral than that. His take on, the Justice League for example, may not be to everyone’s (or even my) liking, but I maintain he was the right artist for this project.
Overall… yeah, definitely worth checking out. This isn’t a “single issue” recommendation… however, if you come across the entire four-issue mini at a decent price, you shouldn’t hesitate to snatch’em up.