Over at Seven Hells, the recent article on Black superheroes (as well as the fine new blog, Glyphs, which focuses on black characters in comics) has inspired me to post yet another idea for the Martian Manhunter (whose lack of a title or even a backup series annoys me).
J'onn J'onnz should be black.
That is, his secret identity should be black. I believe that in Morrison's "White Martian" JLA storyline, it was established or strongly implied that Green Martians were the Black people of Mars. With that as background, JJ can be conceived of as identifying more easily with a secret identity as a black man (to the degree that someone as alien as he can identify with any "earthling").
Even within DC's fuzzy chronology, I think it's fair to say that J'onn was around during at least some of the "Civil Rights Era"; that's got to leave an impression on a guy, particularly one who's just arrived from another planet.
What's more, some people who erreth not but shall remain nameless, have suggested headquartering J'onn (who desperately needs a fictionopolis of his own) in a reintroduced Federal City, with its large black community. Interesting! There are dumber things the JLA could do than put its telepath in the center of the capital of the free world...
So--for the Manhunter at least-- is Green the new Black, as another blog is fond of saying?
I don't know if green is the new black but "fuzzy chronology" is definitely a new term I am assimilating into my comics-description lexicon.
In The New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke did a really good job of suggesting Jonn's empathetic reaction to the situation black Americans faced in the '50s.
And let's not forget that he's currently being voiced, rather awesomely, by Carl Lumbly!
My favorite Martian Manhunter issue from John Ostrander's run had a scene where J'onn posed as a black man in order to work on the Kent farm. He wanted to see what young Clark's reaction was to racial differences. It was a great moment.
J'onn actually marched for Civil Rights in an issue of JLQ. He took the form of a Black man, and manipulated his resilience so that he could feel the blows and dog bites, because it "wouldn't be fair" for his powers to allow him not to suffer.
It was a strong eight pages, but I think that it also illustrates the fine line between "J'onn takes on a minority (in America) form to fully experience the Human condition" and "J'onn goes Black to crib street cred from another cultural group's history of suffering".
Why Black? Why not Japanese? Jewish? Iranian? J'onn works best as "The Alien", just as Clark is "The Assimilated". And yes, Blacks are the most recognizable "Other" for the stereotypical 10-year-old White Male reader. But it is precisely because it is so obvious that it should be avoided, lest writers get lazy.
J'onn's huge "bank" of secret identities, ranging from White Males to Portuguese Females to Small Kittens, was hard to write convincingly. But it also made him a unique character, and paradoxically more human. A member of the Human race, rather than one racial group. I was sad to seem them go (Ostranders only misstep), and I hope that J'onn's new JLU fame will see them return.
Wow, that thing about J'onn becoming a black man to work on the Clark farm is basically the same idea I had for a J'onn guest appearance on Smallville. Crazy that it's already been done, but it should be done on TV!
Incidentally, however, I think the White Martians were actually used as a work force, IIRC. Ostrander covered relations between Green Martians, White Martians, and red and white Saturnians in his late-90s Manhunter series, where I think they said that the Greenies were the originating species who genetically developed all the other ones.
Good idea/column though. I've thought that for years.
And don't forget (although I wish we could) that J'onn impersonated Bloodwynd for a short time in the Justice League.
Reading ancient Justice League stories, I noticed that before J'onn had a beetle brow, he was drawn very fleshy. Very noticeable next to the angular jaws and cheekbones of the other guys. He honestly LOOKS black, as if the colorist made a mistake.
Makes me think the old writers wanted a black character, but the times wouldn't give him any popularity--so they made him a green alien dude.
When I first read J'Onn (at the time, hardly ever called 'Martian Manhunter'), it was through the Australian reprints of various JLA stories. Uncoloured. I actually had no idea J'onn was green, and mentally 'coloured in' his skin as being brown.
(Not that I didn't simply 'miss' on several other colours, skin and otherwise.)
Well I hope you're happy now. Phil Morris of all people!
Word verification: jmumhuut (or "J'mumhuut" as it's pronounced on Mars).
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