"Martian Manhunter commission August 2013 I had a fun time drawing this tribute to Martian Manhunter in his New 52 outfit but remembering his traditional and tragic past. — at Space City Con: Houston, TX."When I moved into my new apartment earlier this year, I finally had the room to do some decorating. I bought a few vintage comic art silkscreens, put up some of the posters and prints I've had stowed away, and framed more original art for display. I currently have up my originals of Marat Mychaels' Commander Blanx bust and the Michael Bair Martian Manhunter that has been on a wall for about thirteen years, but the glass in the Andy Kuhn Doctor Trap shattered during the move. The piece was not visibly damaged, but I decided that those sorts of environmental factors are too great a risk, so I'm trying to switch to color copies instead. My first choices were Vo Nguyen's Cameron Chase, Chris Beaver's Human Squirrel, and of course Brian Denham's Bel Juz.
I've long wanted to find company for Bel Juz with a companion piece of similarly stark background and muted colors. The Marshal would be a natural, due to their romantic relationship, but his color scheme is anything but subdued, and I'm just not that big a fan. Commander Blanx is more of a favorite, but there's no relationship to Bel Juz, and I already had another artist in mind for him attending Comicpalooza 2013.
Meanwhile, the announced ongoing artist for the Justice League of America Martian Manhunter back-up strip, Scott Clark, produced only one tremendous story before passing away. In a comment thread on Bleeding Cool, Brian Denham talked about the life of his friend, and how their careers had paralleled one another. Denham had done fill-in work for Clark on Alpha Flight, and Clark was looking into getting Denham in at DC before his untimely passing. It occurred to me that Denham following Clark on the Martian Manhunter strip would have been a poetic turn, and while that was not to be, the notion stayed with me.
At Comicpalooza, I talked with Denham about my thoughts on the matter, and we initiated a Martian Manhunter commission in the New 52 vein using three Scott Clark reference images. Denham started work on the project, but there was an odd turn of circumstance that Denham wasn't sure he ought to share and that I wouldn't want to spill out of confidence, but let's just say I'm on the lookout for a Martian Manhunter drawing that might have escaped into the wild. Anyway, Denham seemed to be passionate about the project and wanted to have his full arsenal of drawing tools at his disposal for the piece, especially since I had requested color and his available palette at the con was limited. Instead, we talked about trying again at Spsce City Con a few months later, I emailed him to confirm, and the completed work was ready to pick up on the one day of the show I attended.
In a bit of synchronicity, I ran into Chris Beaver, who had also started a piece at Comicpalooza that I'd arranged to receive at SCC, near Denham's table. While Beaver was tied up talking to a publisher, I went over to speak with Denham, and around the time our conversation was wrapping up, Beaver handed me his completed Kishana Lewis commission. I'd just gotten Denham's piece, both unexpectedly in glorious full color, so the only thing I could figure to do was hand each artist the other's work to form a mutual admiration society.
Brian Denham had obviously put a lot of thought, care, and effort into his piece. There are subtle touches throughout the image, and Denham seemed to be pleased at how many I was able to notice and appreciate at initial presentation. The slight tear peaking just out of the right lid. The coarse texture below the coloroing of the ideally executed chestpiece. The drape of the dhoti. The way Mars appears in a haze to indicate plague or flames, while it and the swirl of Kirby dots also form a brain. I love how the vibrancy of the colors in the interior portion seems to indicate that these memories of Mars' destruction are more potent to the encompassing gray-skinned J'Onn J'Onzz profile than the present from which he recalls them.
I used to see Bart Sears' hulking Martian Manhunter as the perfect template for the character, but after years of exposure to earlier models (especially his co-creator Joe Certa's) and finding kids often confuse the Alien Atlas with the Incredible Hulk, I now prefer a lankier model. I also dig the New 52 costume more when it's blue-shifted over the ostentatious purple that recalls Hulk/Drax and is simply ill-suited for a low-key character. Denham intuited all of these preferences, and while he took some cues from the reference, they were all processed through his sensibilities to create a superior work. Denham does a great job of taking the somewhat rigid character design and softening it to something more organic and relatable, such as the concave temporal region and the scalloped underarm growths.
Most importantly though, there's true emotion in the piece. Denham worried that in crafting an image that reflected the character's pre-Flashpoint origins, he might have inadvertently contradicted something from the New 52. I explained that the tragedy in the character's past would always be a part of him, and would be the impression of J'Onn J'Onzz I would continue to carry in my heart, regardless of future retcons. Denham beautifully reflected the soul of the Sleuth from Outer Space, and I couldn't think of a better image to start the blog's sixth year...