The Martian Manhunter first appeared in Detective comics #225 (1955) and was created by Joseph Samachson (writer) and Joe Certa (artist). It’s interesting to note that Samachson was an accomplished chemist (PhD from Yale) and wrote for sci-fi pulp magazines (under a different nom de plume) before becoming a writer for DC comics in 1942.
The Martian Manhunter began as a combination of DC’s two most popular heroes at the time: he was a nigh-invulnerable flying extraterrestrial (like Superman) and a world-class crime-solving detective (like Batman). He even became a founding member of the Justice League of America in 1960 and had a prominent role in the JLA until 1968 when Batman and Superman became more actively involved with the team. Because, honestly, two nigh-invulnerable flying aliens on your team is two too many.
The Martian Manhunter laid low from 1968 until 1984 and only occasionally appeared when a DC character had an adventure in space. He made his big return in the pages of Justice League of America in 1984 and has pretty much been a key member of the Justice League throughout the 80s. He was even popular enough to merit an action figure of himself in the 1985 Super Powers Collection toyline.
After the Crisis On Infinite Earths, DC took the opportunity to revamp origins/past history of most major DC characters in order to fix continuity issues. In 1988 it was the Martian Manhunter’s turn. It should be noted that J.M. DeMatteis writing this mini-series was a good fit, as he had been co-plotting/writing Justice League of America stories with Keith Giffen since the Justice League relaunch in 1987, so if anyone had a good understanding of the Martian Manhunter it would be him.
Making major changes to a comic book character with a lot of history is always tricky, as you don’t want to do anything too drastic that will upset the long-time fans (ex: John Byrne’s Superman). In this particular instance, however, DeMatteis nailed it and the mini-series was well-received by fans.
Changes to Martian Manhunter (as per the mini-series):
- His real name isn’t J’onn J’onzz.
- He is the last martian. All the others were wiped out thousands of years ago by a plague.
- Mars is actually a dead planet.
- His real form is a green conehead creature.
- All of his personality and memories were implanted into him by Dr. Erdel.
- Dr Erdel never died, it was all an elaborate trick.
- Fire (previously his only weakness) isn’t deadly to the Martian Manhunter, the danger is all psychosomatic.
One of the reasons this revamp worked so well is because the character of the Martian Manhunter was never strongly defined to begin with, so there was lots of room for elaboration. The Crisis on Infinite Earths essentially retconned Superman’s early involvement with the Justice League of America and it would as appear as if the Martian Manhunter was meant to fill that continuity hole (one nigh-invulnerable flying alien can substitute for the other). This leads to a few continuity problems (mainly anything to do with Martians invading earth pre-Crisis) but I’m going to overlook that since DeMatteis did an excellent job regardless.
As a Giffen-era Justice League fan, I really enjoyed this four-issue mini-series. As a matter of fact, this mini is a direct conclusion to the events the happened in Justice League Annual #1 (1987). The Justice League International do make an appearance, but they only play second banana (since the main focus is on the Martian Manhunter). I did not enjoy the art (but maybe you did/might). Mark Badger was the penciller and I found his illustrations too abstract/psychedelic (as shown in ad) for this type of story. I guess in my mind’s eye Kevin Maguire was the regular Justice League penciller and the only artist fit to do a Justice League spin-off mini-series such as this one.
For your reading pleasure:
An excellent Martian Manhunter Fansite: http://idol-head.blogspot.ca
A more complete history of the Martian Manhunter and his retcons: http://www.fanzing.com/mag/fanzing12/dcu101.shtml
Michel Fiffe (creator of Copra) interviewed Mark Badger in 2010. Here is a link to the interview: http://michelfiffe.com/columns/mark_badger/index.html