Thursday, January 05, 2017

Martian Manhunter: My Version

I gave you your chance recently to share here your visions for the Martian Manhunter.  Now here's mine.

My guidelines generally are: stick as close as you can to the original classic version of the character; incorporate beloved later elements judiciously and in a way consistent with the classic context; provide a context that allows for solo story-telling but permits connections to the larger DCU and opportunities for crossovers; whenever possible, use existing story elements from the DCU and the character’s past.

My version of the Martian Manhunter would look like the following.  

The Martian Manhunter is from Mars; a Mars in a parallel universe, where Mars is Earthlike, perhaps even occupying Earth’s orbital slot in its solar system.  If there is an Earth in that solar system, it is lifeless.
[Believing in the distant long-dead world of Krypton is one thing.  But Mars is a real-world place that we know, which doesn’t have Martians and if it I did they certainly wouldn’t be like the Manhunter.  He IS from Mars; just not OUR Mars (or Mars-1, I suppose). It’s a simple, minimalistic fix.]

The Martian Manhunter was brought to Earth by Dr. Saul Erdel in an experiment in transdimensional outreach that accidentally kills Erdel. 
[People parallel universe hop all the time in the DCU.  This is a solution that uses the tools at hand.]

The Martian Manhunter lives in Apex City, a metropolitan area in the northern Atlantic coast of Florida.
[Been over this before.  Heroes need a homebase, ideally a fictionopolis that can be tailored around their storytelling needs.]

His real name is J’onn J’onzz
[This is very ingrained. He’s called J’onn J’onzz almost often as he is called The Martian Manhunter.]

He has some powers natural to his race, such as shapeshifting and some psi ability. Back home, the psi ability allows people to identify one another regardless of any temporary shape.
[J’onn’s powers should be Martian in origin, but the idea of an entire planet of ultra-powerful beings isn’t necessary or realistic.]

The experiment that brought him here altered and amplifies some of those natural abilities.  Specifically he can redirect his psi power to do things impossible on his own world and not all of which he intuitively realizes.  When he is in his ‘human form’ he is mostly human and his ability to use his other powers is more limited.
[J’onn should not be merely as powerful as any other Martian, he should be a plus-up.  Many of J’onn’s expected power set – intangibility, invisibility, low-grade telekinesis—were originally portrayed as requiring effort. J’onn should be able to do those things but only with focus and only one at a time, like a present-day Ultra Boy.  Also, J’onn has often displayed odd and inconsistent power use; instead of denying that, own it.  This limitations of his human form give him a reason to change in the Martian Manhunter.]

The experiment that brought him here gave him a ‘tap’ into the energy generated by the interdimensional tension between his universe of origin and the Earth-1 universe.  This is a sort of “Martian Speed Force” that makes him super-human rather than just Martian.   He can redirect this energy to temporarily become superstrong or superfast.  But his applications of those powers are limited by the fact that they are not inherent. For example, when superstrong he’s not as supersturdy as he needs to be to use it fully and safely.  When superfast, his reaction time doesn’t keep up, so he’s limit to short sprints and non-traveling uses of superspeed, like spinning or vibrating.
[A further extension of the “Ultra Boy” limitations that are required to keep the character from becoming over-powered.  Also, it helps justifies why he tends to use his powers in odd and indirect ways.]

Emitters of certain wavelengths of black body radiation, most especially fire, interrupt his connection to this force, rendering him vulnerable and cutting off the source of much of his power.
[Fire being J’onn’s kryptonite is, admittedly, stupid.  But that’s how it is.  Gotta find a simple way for that to work.  A simple pseudo-science hand-wave is a lot cleaner than an overly dramatic psychosomatic PTSD condition from some Martian tragedy.]

The experiment that brought him here changed his ‘polarity’; Jo'nn can’t return to his own universe (“Mars-55”).  If he does, he’ll die after a short time.  Other beings from his Mars can show up here, but they have a similar limitation and cannot stay.
[J’onn used to have his own story; his home existed but he couldn’t go back to it.  He deserves that, rather than just being a Superman-lite, just another ‘sole survivor’.  This set-up allows for him to visit Mars and receive visitors, good and bad. This keeps Mars in the storyline but prevents it from dominating the storyline.]

He has a brother named T’omm.
               [If you are going to own the stupid, might as well own it all.]

T’omm has a daughter named M’gann.
[Miss Martian is one of the most well liked and refreshing additions to the MM story ever and is worth keeping.]

In some attempt by his family to rescue J’onn so he can return home, M’gann is stranded on earth.  She is altered as he was, but she can spend up to half her time on Mars safely.  Her powers manifest slightly different than his and less strongly 
[This provides a reason for J’onn to be raising a teenage niece. She can be available or unavailable, whichever the story may require. Her story becomes a hopeful best-of-both bicultural story rather than his poignant immigrant making a new life for himself in a new world but still longing for home.]

He has a human secret identity as Hank Henshaw.
[If no one knew the name “J’onn J’onzz”, it would make sense to once again use ‘John Jones’ as the name of his secret identity. But LOTS (in the DCU) does use the name J’onn when they talk to him; a lot.  Even if you try to editorially declare that they shouldn’t do that … they will.  It’s a habit too ingrained. We LIKE calling him J’onn and hearing him called that.  He’s already going by another civilian ID in, the Supergirl tee vee show. Might as well use that, particularly since the ‘Hank Henshaw’ who used to exist in the comics doesn’t any longer and isn’t likely to.]

Hank Henshaw is a black American.
[MM has been consistently voiced by black Americans and portrayed by them on television. Go with it, particularly given the recurring theme of racial strife on Mars.  It’s also an interesting situation with his niece “Megan” being white.]

He has a job, though he is financially comfortable without one.
[The freedom to adventure that wealth permits was a key reason that many Golden Age characters were wealthy socialites.  MM doesn’t need to be RICH, but hey… if you can draw gold from seawater with your mind and can shape shift, there is no reason you WOULDN’T make yourself financially stable, first thing.]

He is a detective.  Ideally, he works for the local police department. Usually his job is routine and his array of powers make it easy, which leaves him time for other adventures.  He could also be merely a police consultant or a PI, but if so he still needs close ties to the local police, who will supply part of his supporting cast (friendly but indolent Captain Harding, sturdy but dim Officer Mike Hanson, perceptive and witty Detective Diane Meade).
[A core element, forgotten by too many subsequent iterations of the character.  MM is a noir-ish gumshoe/police procedural AND a sci-fi alien; that is the hook of the character. Lose either of those and you have lost the character. If he’s not a detective then he’s not a “Manhunter”.]

Apex City does have its share of crime, but it’s usually weird (giant bank-robbing robot bears, Mr. Moth, the Human Squirrel).  J’onn likes it there because (1) he’s less likely to seem out of place there and (2) it reminds him of his home planet.
[As Batman has taught us, heroes benefit from having their own fictionopolis with its own character, particularly if that character reflects the hero.  MM is weird; Apex is weird.]

J’onn has a pet dog, Jupiter, a dachshund, with special powers.  He used to have another ‘pet’, the other-dimensional being Zook.  Zook has already passed away (a result of being stuck in the wrong universe), but before doing so somehow passed along some of his powers to Jupiter as a memento.  As a result Jupiter has a share of Zook’s powers of limited speech, elasticity, can radiate heat/cold, and can identify anyone he has met before regardless of disguise.  These powers are used more for comic relief than as plot points, although Jupiter might, on occasion, save the day. 
[Having a pet humanizes J’onn and makes sense for a lonely alien. Perhaps Mars-55 has no dogs and he finds them novel.  Superman and Batman have dogs; why not J’onn?  Zook, however, was annoying naked monkey/toddler and off-kilter and simply wouldn’t cut it nowadays.  He basically functioned as a dog does anyway. This solution just combines the best of both Silver age pets. And gives J’onn a pet that reflects his character.]

J’onn is a auxiliary member of the Justice League, but seldom as a combatant.  J’onn is often asked to deal with the odd situations that don’t take place close enough to anyone else’s home, because he’s got the time. 
[J’onn’s association with the Justice League is pretty much the source sole of his fame among readers. The fans of JLU who think of J’onn as ‘the heart of the League’ (despite the reality of the character in comics) need something to hold on to.]

J’onn has an A.I., L-Ron, whose main function is digital valet and JL monitor duty.  The League relies on them to keep tabs on anything that might require group attention, and on J’onn to take care of anything that doesn’t.  They are assisted by Lucas ‘Snapper’ Carr, a graduate student in linguistics who specializes in slang.
[L-Ron and Snapper are, of course, previous JL ‘sidekicks’ whose interactions with J’onn can help capture some of the comedic tone of their eras without involving any of  the more ‘serious’ Leaguers.]

Roy Raymond, an actor who plays a detective on teevee but who also likes to play one in real life, is J’onn’s friend and frequent wing-man, and often winds up dragging J’onn into various non-super mysteries.  Roy isn’t aware that he’s not a very good detective and is always in over his head without J’onn.  Roy thinks J’onn is his Watson, but the situation is actually the opposite.  J’onn likes Roy because Roy tries to help people even beyond his reasonable capacity to do so.  Also, Roy enjoys the limelight and J’onn does not.  Besides, J'onn is a big fan of the show and patterned himself after Roy's character.
[Roy Raymond, TV Detective, was of course the OTHER back-up feature in Detective Comics at the same time the Martian Manhunter was.  A good excuse to drag J’onn into anything not easily fit into normal Apex PD/JL business.]

J’onn has a few other oddball friends, including his investor Larry Loder, wealthy amateur inventor Hiram Horner, newpaper editor Jim Wade.

[Because J’onn is an odd character, it’s helpful to surround him with characters even odder to help ‘normalize’ him.  It’s how he became the Straight Man in the Giffen League; it’s how producer managed to build a long-running TV series around a long-running tertiary character, Frasier Crane.]

If this conception of the Martian Manhunter seems unoriginal...good. That's what I'm going for.  Constant 'new and original' takes on classic characters who became classic for a reason are foolish and "Rebirth" is pretty much DC's admission of that fact.  


CobraMisfit said...

I would read this comic so, so hard.

Gus Casals said...

I would buy this as well.

I believe that the only missing link would be the Oreos, wouldn't they?

Bryan L said...

I'd read it, too. I particularly like the Ultra Boy "one power at a time" limitation. I've always liked Ultra Boy, and always thought that was a clever way to limit the Superboy/Mon-el "omnipotence."

Scipio said...

" the only missing link would be the Oreos"

Oh they would be there :-)

Anonymous said...

I like so much of this. But for me, much of the appeal to J'onn is that he is the last son of Mars. I hate to stick it to the guy, but I feel there should be no "someday I'll find a way to get back home" because there is no more home for him, other than a lifeless world. So he is learning to love this world and make it his new home; despite its problems he sees the potential in it.

M'gann as another survivor is a good addition, and I like J'onn being sort of an adoptive uncle to her. I would not make her actual family; however, I would not want her to be the melancholy sort that J'onn is, and I'm not sure how to pull that off. Hit on the head with a frying pan and lost her memories?

Differing opinions aside, I would totally read your version.

Anonymous said...

... that first panel with Dr. Erdel, is he trying to land a job programming robot brains? Because I think he failed the test.

I explain the joke:

SabrebIade said...

Great job!
Apex City?
Does he know Captain Laserbeam?

Chad Walters said...

How is Miss Martian an actual niece of J'onn's if she's a white Martian?

Scipio said...


Unknown said...

I like it. Not so sure about otherdimensional "Mars 55". Why not warp through time, like normal? Conversely, what if Mars LOOKS barren only because of Martian illusion?

I also wonder think J'onns physical powers such as strength are based on shapeshifting to emulate Superman. Very limited by concentrating to hold such a strong form, when he's used to being so malleable or intangible.

Scipio said...

"Why not warp through time, like normal? Conversely, what if Mars LOOKS barren only because of Martian illusion?"

Because in the DCU those are VERY easy to fix. Plus, it still requires a Mars that is way way way different than ours.

Bryan-Mitchell said...

This is quite interesting and really good. One thing I've thought about is to take advantage of the fact that he is a shape shifter. He is a natural master of disguise so have him undercover. Only to make it more interesting the reader doesn't know which character is him.

Unknown said...

Maybe they could even retcon J'onn to be a founding member again WITHOUT a reboot, by handwaving that he was always there but disguised as other characters, or conversely - that he made the team forget he was there, including readers (like The Sentry or Triumph).

Unknown said...

LOVE this. (Maybe not the dog, but the rest is gold.) So much better than the DC angle of, "He's an alien, AND he's ALIEN. 🙄

Anonymous said...

What about Mars of the future? I seem to remember that 30th century Mars has been terraformed. Sometime after the 853rd century (yes, I remember DC 1,000,000 without loathing) Mars is populated by Martians, who may or may not be genetically modified humans -- or possibly sapient psychic algae.

-- Jack of Spades

SallyP said...

This... this would be a fantastic book, J'onn does have a rich... if slightly bizarre backstory, so why not USE it?

Anonymous said...

Other Anonymous -- I love the 853th century Mars, and am totally in favor of seeing more of it.

Are you talking about some sort of time loop where J'onn J'onnz is the lone survivor of Mars who finally becomes Mars and brings life to Mars including himself as a Martian? Hind .. blown. (Fairly literally: if Future J'onn / Mars were to send some portion of himself back in time, it might be necessary to forget what is to come, and replace it with memories of a Mars where everyone died.)

Anonymous said...

I meant "MIND ... blown". Although, I think I'll run with it anyway.

Redforce said...

@Scipio said "He has a brother named T’omm. If you are going to own the stupid, might as well own it all.]"

Why is J'onn having a brother named T'omm stupid?
It's not unusual.

Unknown said...

that was just awesome!

LissBirds said...

Noir-ish detective. Yes, please. That's the element that's always missing from MM comics nowadays.

I'm all for super pet Jupiter, too.

The "friend who plays a detective on TV" makes me think of L.A. Confidential, and I'm all for that.

I would read this comic so hard. If only it became a reality.

tad said...

Love it, totally agree with it except perhaps T'omm. "T'omm J'onzz" is a visual obstacle that would make readers like me start singing "What's New Pussycat" every time we saw it. As entertaining as that would be at first, it would get old swiftly.

If I were writing it I'd have to change his name to "T'ommei" or "T'ommazao" or something and only use "T'omm" as an occasional nickname.

Otherwise, yes, I think yours would be a grand Manhunter. Whenever I've thought in the past about what I'd like to do with him as a character, the core was always making it a cop drama with aliens and crazy powers and all the other Martian side of things. Done well, having him effecting a lot of things in secret while not giving away his identity could be very entertaining. He's a one of a kind -- it makes sense for him to have a human secret identity and guard it.

OK said...

Found this googling for an example of "Martian speed" from JLA and got swept up -- building my own fan DC Universe variant(Earth 166 or something) with all the things I like is something I've been considering as a hobby (ie: centering 1960's DC Universe events around an expanded role for the Challengers and various Sci-fi heroes sort-of like the now-fairly-consistent 40's version of DC in WWII)

My suggestion on the Martian/fire thing... Martian physiology is essentially "psychic" in that their physical forms build from their mind -- which is the basis for the shape shifting, super-strength (or any strength), invisibility, intangibility, etc. and telepathy is normal communication. Fire is a plasma, a cloud of super-heated random electrons flying chaotically around reacting molecules -- being near that "confuses" Martian psychic power and without the ability to "concentrate" the physical form is damaged