Not attention, mind you; justice. DC is all too willing to give attention to the Martian Manhunter. But usually it's to mangle the crap out of him or make him into a problem. Why is J'onn upset / crazy / hiding in the Satellite / not in the League at all / disguised as a cat / vulnerable to fire / black / white / dead / alive / reanimated / split into four or more beings / completely deceived / completely deceptive / crippled / more power than Superman ? Is he really from Mars? How long has be been here? Is he an icon or actually a supporting character rather than even a main one? Is Mars there? Is it gone? Is he stranded? The last of his kind?
DC's trouble dealing will the Martian Manhunter makes me think of Anselm's riff on Augustine:
For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand.
It sounds less stupid in Latin. Still, Anselm and his 'motto' are often used as perfect examples of how dumb religious thinking can be. It's the kind of thinking-- unthinking? -- that leads people to accept something wrong as fact and make everything else fit around it. It's a bit like redecorating the house to make your fake plant happy. There's quite a lot of it going around lately.
|It can be quite destructive.|
But it has its applications. For example, in many approaches to self-transformation -- 12-step programs, for example -- belief that you can be different must come before understanding how you can be different.
And it's the key, I think, to doing justice to the Martian Manhunter. You can't try to understand him first; you have to just believe in him and then go from there.
This, by the way, seems to be the crux of the magic that Geoff Johns works when he rejiggers messed up characters back from literary limbo and into a state of grace. He returns to their roots, identifies their essential mythic elements, accepts them without judgment, and tries to arrange them in the most efficient way possible, using tools at hand in the DCU rather than inventing new ones. This helps the character's new interpretation feel familiar, accurate, and organically developed. He's done it countless times and yet no other writers seem willing or able to follow this path.
And it's the only way to deal with the Martian Manhunter, because, let's face it: he makes zero sense. No use rehashing that here, we all know that. But what happens if you just ... believe?
An overview of his original stories gives us a picture something like this.
An elderly earth scientist named Saul Erdel conducts an experiment with a device that accidentally brings a man named J'onn J'onzz to earth from his home planet of Mars.
|Pictured: old guy takes too many party drugs at a disco.|
Erdel dies in the process, and J'onnz, unable to return home, decides to make himself useful as a police detective while he waits for an opportunity to return home. He uses his natural shapeshifting ability to pass as a human being and has no confidantes; he is not publicly known as 'the Martian Manhunter' but only as an 'earth self', Detective John Jones. He uses his various powers secretly to aid in his detective work.
|Batman fights villains. Superman fights enemies. Wonder Woman fights foes. |
Flash fights rogues. Green Lantern fights head injury. Green Arrow fights ridicule.
Martian Manhunter fights ... crime-mongers. Because everything he does it just a bit...off.
He has some physical powers, most of which involve body control (shapeshifting, phasing, invisibility). He seems to be able to use superspeed, but it seems limited to very short distances or non-mobile applications (spinning, rubbing his hands together, snapping his figures, vibrating his hand). He relies a lot on super powerful lungs and that seems to be his main way of acting from a distance. His vision can see things earthlings cannot but he doesn't quite have Superman's four vision powers (microscopic vision, telescopic vision, heat vision, X-ray vision).
|Pictured: Martian gaydar.|
He has mental powers that he can apply in a variety of ways (such as limited telekinesis), but not telepathy or psychic power, as we understand their use in comics. He tends to use his powers one and a time rather than combining them. He cannot fly. He is debilitated by the presence of fire and must avoid it.
He combats mostly regular criminals and rarely a costumed but not super villain. He occasionally combats other extraterrestrials, sometimes ones from his home planet; they are always returned home but he is not. Martian life continues in his absence; he has family there (parents, a brother, but neither mate nor offspring).
|I'll bet you a thousand dollars her name is M'Art'a.|
Martians seem to look and dress a lot alike, but they have variations in skin tones, at least.
|Or B'rett just needs some time at the solar salon.|
Eventually the existence of a Martian superhero is revealed and immediately accepted by the earthlings of his city (which, for almost all his run remains unnamed; the city is on the sea and doesn't experience winter).
|"Do ya have Chocos on Mars, son? I've got a ten-pound bag in my desk, if you'd care to give 'em a try."|
He acquires a small supporting cast over time. Including some one-shot friends (Larry Loder, Hiram Horner), continuing colleagues (Captain Harding, Diane Meade, Mike Hanson), and pets (one-shot Jupiter the dog and an extradimensional creature named Zook).
|I have given a name to my pain, and call it 'Zook'.|
He became a member of the Justice League, and was seen occasionally teaming up with other non-Trinity members (such as Green Arrow and the Flash).
Lots of shenanigans happened with him in subsequent eras and the transitions that preceded them. But those are the basics. What can we do with those?
I'll give you MY answer in my next entry. But for right now feel free to give me yours.