Time does not often work in favor of comic book characters. When was the last time you met someone named Clark or Bruce? How about that classic, totally straight golden age favorite "The Gay Ghost?" In that same time period, two separate publishers decided to take the police term "manhunt," add an "er" to the end, and create what they thought would be formidable trackers of the world's deadliest game. Today, and quite frankly for some time, references to a "Manhunter" have been more broadly interpreted like, well, this. I've been addressing the "gayness" of J'Onn J'Onzz's nom de cape since the late '90s by pointing out that he was a married father who's had numerous sexual relationships with women of various races and species while asserting himself as a heterosexual male, sometimes quite pointedly. Recently though, I've been reconsidering the matter of the Sleuth from Outer Space's sexual orientation. I'm a big believer in representation of all people through the spectrum of super-heroics. These are figures meant to inspire the best in all of us, so it kind of sucks when white males have their pick of Super Friends, while minorities are asked to make do with Samurai, Apache Chief, El Dorado and Black Vulcan. There's been a trend toward depicting John Jones as African-American in popular media, but for many he'll never be African nor American, and there's always the reminder that his first four decades in comics were spent in the human identities of various Caucasians. The Alien Atlas is undeniably powerful and well respected within the DC Universe, but if he can never be wholly "owned" by the black community, an adjustment in pigment may forever be seen as a halfhearted measure. Click To Enlarge
Meanwhile, John Jones in the Silver Age was no ladies man. Superman and Lois Lane were courting one another from the beginning, while Spider-Man saw years of comics retroactively altered solely because a large contingent of his fans missed the girl-chasing that long defined the character. Batman and Robin were more forcefully pressed into relationships with the newly created Batwoman and Bat-Girl to dispel Fredric Wertham's allegations of improper conduct between the Caped Crusaders, but Batman tended to have a femme fatale in waiting for a sufficient percentage of his adventures to at least secure him bisexuality.
Middletown Detective John Jones seemed to operate in an almost entirely male sphere for much of his early career, and even when pretty Patrolwoman Diane Meade was brought into the mix, her partnership with Jones was purely platonic. J'onn J'onzz spent entirely too much time in a secluded mountain hideway with an orange imp of undetermined foreign origin. As international playboy Marco Xavier, the disguised Manhunter was often availed of beautiful women that he dismissed while obsessively mediating on Mister V. Having debuted in 1955, and aside from ill-defined episodes of affection toward Meade and Bel Juz, J'onn didn't present an unambiguous "girlfriend" until 1984. Of course, Hunter Commander J'en had already suffered an acrimonious break-up from J'onzz at her point of introduction, and the couple never so much as kissed on panel. J'Onzz was retroactively "married" in 1988 to a conveniently deceased spouse. Of his three strongly implied intimate relationships with women (and a stated lust for another,) not a single one predates 1997. That is an awfully long period of mourning for his wife, and it's worth mentioning that each of these couplings was seemingly established with planned obsolescence (two had fire-based powers, one was a reformed villainess, and another was the fiancée of an alien prince set for an arranged royal marriage to bring forth global harmony.)
Over two years into the New 52, we still know very little about a visibly altered Manhunter from Mars. He's full of secrets and agendas, with no time for romance. Not to fall into stereotypes, but where J'Onn was something of a chaste "Green Guru" Post-Crisis, the current Manhunter is a much more physical, visceral, passionate being. Where altering the race of an extra-terrestrial shapeshifter provides a limited object of identification to black readers, such a figure of fluid orientation hiding his true nature in a society that lacks understanding and is quick to persecute his kind would resonate strongly in the LGBT community. Loosening the definitions on J'Onn's gender identity would make far more sense on the DC Mars as we understand it today, as opposed to the more patriarchal model from the 1950s. Nothing need be lost in translation, as J'Onn could still be widowed and dealing with the loss of a child-- but his tragedy could be made more universally endearing if his family unit were allowed to include a homo-or-polysexual partner.
I'm not confident that J'Onn J'Onzz could ever be a great black hero, and as a white one he's rather doomed to mediocrity in a sea of same. However, with competition like Northstar and the fifth most popular flavor of Green Lantern who makes his home in an alternate universe, the "Manhunter" could more fully own his name and become the premier queer of the cosmic set.