Friday, June 20, 2008

A Day In The Life (JLA SF&O #1, 9/97)

Aquaman dismissed Martian Manhunter, who had offered to take his turn on monitor duty. With no further chores available at the Watchtower, J'Onn J'Onzz left. "I opt for a swift patrol of Earth's Southern Hemisphere. First stop is a twister in Peru. Time Magazine said 90% of the world's population is watched by less than 5% of the world's superhuman community. Most of the poorer, underdeveloped countries have no one to look out for them at all. As an alien with no family and few social ties in the United States, I decided I should do what I could to redress the balance. Now my recognition factor in Africa, Asia and Australia outstrips even Superman himself."

Speaking of the latter continent, the Manhunter helped police capture Doctor Dreamtime there. The villain had planted psychic grenades throughout Sydney in protest of a Japanese conglomerate mining sacred aboriginal land for uranium deposits. J'Onzz then returned to Z'Onn Z'Orr, an ancient Martian City in the Antarctic. Unearthed by the Hyperclan, it now served as his base of operations. "Here I can wander the empty streets of the past and rediscover my lost heritage or tinker with the Martian technology they left behind." J'Onzz encoded a mineral with shapeshifting Martian DNA to serve as an alternative power source for the Japanese. "They accept my offer and promise to leave the aboriginals alone for the time being."

"Later, I decide to relax in one of my many secret identities; complex alter egos I invented to learn how it feels to be human on my adopted world. Each imbued with his or her own habits, tastes, and circles of friends, they must surely be considered works of art in their own right. Two hours every week I'm New York City private detective John Jones, movie buff with a peptic ulcer and an allergy to household cats." As Jones, he determined that a "multiple homicide" was rather a collection of corpses dug up to illegally sell to medical school students. "An hour later and I'm an immigrant driving a Metropolis cab under the name Johann Johnson. The purpose of my exercise in multiple human identities is to examine how ordinary people react in various different circumstances. Pretense is an alien concept when you come from a telepathic culture, but mixing with humans means I'm getting better every day."

"An hour from now, I'm on monitor duty in the Watchtower. Regular sleep is difficult because my body still feels tuned to the Martian day. I pray for peace, White Martian music scratching quietly in the background. God tells me He'll do what he can."

Based on how often this short story was referenced by "JLA" fans, many new to the DC Universe in general and J'Onn J'Onzz in particular, this might as well have been called "The Legend of Martian Manhunter." Mark Millar wrote the tale, although most of the ideas presented were developed by Grant Morrison. The feeling was that the character wasn't as popular as he could be because he lacked many of the classic super-hero trappings: a Batmobile; secret identity; his own Fortress of Solitude. All these hooks were introduced in and around this story, caught fans attention, and were systematically destroyed in the John Ostrander ongoing series that spun out of them. Speaking of Millar, this was long before he was a hot commodity in comics. Considering he wrote additional Manhunter material for this issue, appearances in "Aztek" and elsewhere, as well as having him co-star in the Zauriel mini-series, it wouldn't have been much of a stretch to have seen him script the Martian Manhunter series if asked. Ah, what could have been.

Don Hillsman, who had previously inked J'Onn J'Onzz for an issue of "Damage," provided rare but impressive full art here. When "JLA" became a hit title, a Hillsman image from a faux Manhunter interview in this issue became ubiquitous in magazines and on the internet for years after. To this day, about every third bio page for the character still features the same illustration.


Luke said...

At first blush, the "big in South America" tag always seemed like a cheap ploy to me; Martian Manhunter may be a joke to you but he's big time in other countries. Like David Hasselhoff, I suppose. In any event, I think this story (your summary thereof) presents this is a more imaginative light, and provides J'Onn with ample story engine opportunities, what with the multiple secret identities (hey, it works for Moon Knight!), and the chance to write adventures all over the planet. It's also good to know that freaky alien powerhouses have secret hangouts at each end of the Earth's poles.

Diabolu Frank said...

I liked J'Onn in other countries, but not as "their" Superman idol-head. I never liked the alternate identity library, as I don't find it true to the character. I liked Z'Onn Z'Orr, but I could see the problem, and it was gone so quickly regardless.