Originally conducted by "Highfather Izaya" on 04-14-05. Edited for clarity and relevance. For the complete interview, which covered Ostrander's origins, early career, interests, Grimjack and Star Wars work, click here.
What do you believe is the key to working with a character like Martian Manhunter? Inquiry about Ma' Alefa 'Ka what was your direction for this character?
Our goal with Ma'alefa'ak (Malefic) was to create an arch enemy for J'Onn that would be his "opposite number". Who could give J'Onn a severe challenge. To my mind, the "key" to J'Onn is that he is an ALIEN. He was born and raised and lived a lot of his life not only on a different planet but in a different culture. Superman/Clark Kent was raised on Earth and his values are of not only Earth but of America; indeed, of the Midwest and Kansas. That is the CULTURE in which he was raised. For Tom Mandrake and myself, J'Onn will always be an "outsider". The key is not in his powers but in his CHARACTER.
What were your goals in your title run on Martian Manhunter what did you want to accomplish with the character?
We wanted to show J'Onn as something other than a "green Superman". We felt he was a little unfocused as a character. He is a PART of this world -- the only world and "family" he now has left -- but he is, at heart, a Martian. We wanted to weave a tapestry of his existence around him; show him in context of both Earth and Mars. What makes him UNIQUE?
In MM #25, 26, and 27 it was shown that the gods of Ancient Egypt were actually Green Martians. These Martians remained on Earth and posed as gods, until some anomaly in the environment caused them to deteriorate and they were forced to transfer their minds into humans to survive. Doing so eliminated all of their previous powers, save their telepathy.
My question is, do you feel this is an ability all Martians could replicate, mind transference I mean, or were the Ancient Egyptian Martians an isolated incident that can't be replicated?
I haven't read that story in some time and it's hard to put myself back into what I was thinking at the time. I think I would treat it as a MUTATION that occurred for these particular Martians. Probably caused by environment. Contact with the planet Mars would be very important to a Martian, in our version. They literally draw their substance from it and cutting themselves off from it would have repercussions.
In MM #1, page 23, J'Onn says, "I am not as fast as the Flash or Superman." Since that issue, in several JLA issues it has been shown, both by J'Onn and by other Martians that they can reach speeds rivaling those of both Flash and Superman. Is your stance still that J'Onn is third best, and if so how fast would you say he is in comparison to the two aforementioned heroes? For example, would you say he is 80% as fast as Superman?
My theory comes down to this -- when you have a character like the FLASH whose super power really comes down to how fast he is, then he has to be the fastest man alive. Superman has to be overall better than all the other heroes; that's his place in comic's history and, IMO, the DC Universe. He shouldn't be quite as fast as the Flash but a close second. J'Onn can come in third; his primary powers, IMO, need to be telepathy and shape changing as this is what sets him off from the other characters. How fast he is doesn't really matter to me.
What are your thoughts on J'Onn's position in the JLA? Should he be the leader or remain in the advisor/tactical officer role he currently inhabits?
The JLA used to have a rotating leadership which I thought worked out pretty well. These days there appears to really be no central leader; the team comes together and certain people assume certain functions as is necessary and that seems to work okay, too.
If DC asked you to write another Martian Manhunter series would you be willing to? Just as a sidenote, I enjoy your version of MM more then anyone else's. I have often said, Ostrander is to MM as Simonson is to Thor.
There is always a tug to return to characters or books that you enjoyed (as I certainly enjoyed doing Martian Manhunter) but I don't know if that's always a good thing. With some exceptions, I think it's better to go on to the next thing. Still, never say "never".
In MM #13, after J'Onn merges with Martian soil, to regain his full operational body, after having severed his arm and transferred his soul etc. into it to escape Malefic's trap, J'Onn states, "There are some limitations, but I will explore this later."
Did you intend for J'Onn to experience problems or have less abilities due to losing so much of his original mass, and just never got to explore this further, or was this matter just pushed aside because it didn't mesh with what was to come?
I think the editor wanted to get past that and move on.
What are your thoughts on the Fernus story arc in JLA from a while back? What did you think about the introduction of "Burning Martians"and the statement that the Oans were responsible for the Martian fire weakness?
Different writer, different explanation. I think we linked it back to Darkseid. Somebody will come up and make their own explanation. It's the nature of the beast when working on characters that you don't own or control.
Did he have any stories in mind for Martian Manhunter's series that he never got to tell due to cancellation?
Nothing comes to mind.
Subquestion: Did you have future plans for any particular characters that had been introduced in the series?
Again, nothing comes to mind. It's been awhile since I did the series.
What is your general opinion on the basis of J'Onn's powers? Are they telekinetic used in conjunction with his shape shifting abilities?
It all stemmed back to his being an alien and that the Martians had certain things because that's how their species adapted to their world and its environment. J'Onn wasn't the only Martian to have these abilities; they were common to his species.
Does J'Onn possess the ability to breed with other species?
It would depend on how close that species was to him; how close the DNA matched. More likely with a Saturnian, less likely with a human, I should think. Again, just my opinion.
If you had another shot at doing an MM book Mr. Ostrander how would you go about building his support cast and villains? Would you bring back the White Martians? Would you create some villains? Or would you retcon some obscure villains into worthy MM villains?
Probably look more at building a Rogue's gallery and single support cast. The white Martians have been used a lot and I'd probably keep away from them for a long time. Easier to build new villains, IMO, than retcon old villains into something usable but it might work. I'd have to spend more time seriously thinking about it and that only makes sense if I was actually working on the character.
Do you keep up with J'Onn's appearances in JLA since MM's book ended? What were thoughts on Martian arc like Terror Incognita?
I've seen some of them. Like I said, different writers, different takes. I got the chance to do what I wanted with the character and other writers should have the same right without kibitzing from me.
What role do you believe J'Onn plays in the JLA? and what is MM's best asset?
I think his telepathy is his strongest and most useful power, especially in a team book.
Some people have posed that most J'Onn abilities appeared out nowhere sorta like out of continuity for example Martian super-speed and a host other powers what is your response to this? What about mind control is this a good power for a hero to have?
Superman developed powers that he didn't have when he first appeared in comics and those powers have fluctuated over the years. It usually happens when a writer needs the character to have a certain power in order to make a given story work. Lots of time, there was NOP continuity when these characters were first developed. Is mind control a good power for a hero to have? I don't know; is x-ray vision a good power for a character to have? Is the ability to bend steel with their bare hands? Depends on the character.
What do you think of MM relationship with the following characters..Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, GL(Hal) & Plastic Man?
We showed the basis of some of those relationships when we did the book. My guess is that he might have the closest relationship with superman since both were born on another planet and derive their powers from that; both are aliens. Leads to a certain amount of bonding. What's his relationship with Wonder Woman? Harder to define -- the character tends to change a lot. Plastic Man? Well, they're both shapechangers but J'Onn is outwardly a LOT more serious about it. Hal Jordan? Again, it depends on who Hal is this month.
MM's costume what up with that? Another what up with that.. the Zo'oks? If you could update his costume what would do with it?
I think the costume is a nod to Edgar Rice Burrough's MARS novels. Zook was a "pet" that J'Onn had in the earlier continuity. I decided to bring it in and update it -- make it a symbiote. Otherwise, the "clothes" J'Onn wears when he morphs is really just his skin which creeped me out a bit. I wouldn't update the costume.
Why did DC abandoned MM before and is reviving him now?
Best to ask DC that.
Who would you cast as Martian Manhunter in a JLA movie?
I would NOT cast David Ogden Stiers. The Rock might be cool.
Did you ever hide any Easter Eggs in run on Martian Manhunter that you care to tell us about?
Nothing comes to mind.
Had to ask Superman vs. Martian Manhunter who wins?
As an extra, here's a brief excerpt from a later interview...
Conducted by Highfather Izaya
July 30, 2009
You had an acclaimed run on "Martian Manhunter." What are some the hardest parts about making Martian Manhunter not appear just as "Green Superman"? And what would you consider your most proud accomplishment in that series?
John Ostrander: Figuring out what made him different besides the color green. Many of the powers were duplicated, so we looked at his CULTURE – what would that have been like? That would have helped shape him into who he was. [My most proud accomplishment was] working out that society and background. I also liked how we worked Jemm, son of Saturn, into the mix.
Any thoughts on the death of Martian Manhunter?
John Ostrander: Nobody stays dead forever in comics. Also, he’s DC’s character, not mine, so they can do as they like with him.