Thursday, May 17, 2012

One Year Later...

With a second Zero Month coming in September to celebrate the first year of the New 52 and shake up the status quo once again, I thought now would be a good time to see what this time has meant to the Martian Manhunter, and where he might be going from here.

J'Onn J'Onzz made his DCnÜ debut in Stormwatch #1 (November, 2011), but his earliest retroactive appearance to date was in Justice League #8 (June, 2012). He is from a Martian race that appears to have been well versed in the history of the current universe. For instance, J'Onzz can recite a millenia old legend of how the Daemonites, a shapeshifting species at perpetual war with their former masters the Kherubim, had their homeworlds destroyed by the gravity mining otherdimensional menace Chrszy-Rr. J'Onzz's own race is believed to be extinct, although it remains to be seen if it was by either of the 2½ means depicted in older DC continuities.1 It has been strongly insinuated that J'Onzz is concealing the existence of other living Martians, but whom and how many are unknown. I would not be at all surprised if the integrity of the Manhunter's origin is to be compromised to set up a Big Bad as the author of his people's seeming destruction, who would then of course challenge the greater DC Newniverse (Despero? Darkseid?)

At an unknown point, J'Onzz took up residence on or around Earth. He became affiliated with a clandestine group called Stormwatch, which appears to have existed in some fashion since the 12th century or so. Associated members have defended the planet from evils mundane, magical, and extra-terrestrial ever since. Presently, the team exists at the pleasure of a secret cabal called the Shadow Lords, who may not be altruistic, and reside on a plane that living beings cannot reach. The current Stormwatch team resides in a commandeered Daemonite spaceship called the Eye of the Storm, where Helspont had been imprisoned by his own people. Helspont was freed during a destructive battle aboard the ship involving the Martian Manhunter, and has gone on to trouble Superman. There are an awful lot of ties between Martians and Daemonites, which hardly seems coincidental.

Within the past five years, J'Onn J'Onzz became involved to some degree with the Justice League, the preeminent collective of the recently surfaced "super-heroes." The Martian Manhunter became a publicly known figure through this association, and he appears to have been the only hero to be considered for membership since its founding so far, although Manhunter has stated that he did not formally join them.2 This is in large part due to his unexplained "betrayal" of the team, which involved his coming to blows with the lot before disappearing entirely. It has been hinted that J'Onzz was already a member of Stormwatch, and was spying on the League. Although some duplicity on Manhunter's part was discovered, the League do not appear to be aware of Stormwatch's existence, and are definitely unaware of Martian Manhunter's whereabouts. Further, the public was not informed of his falling out with the group.

The Martian Manhunter appears to be very concerned with building and testing super-teams in preparation for some coming threat of epic proportions. He was part of a Stormwatch away team that forcibly drafted Apollo, a rare super-human comparable to Superman, onto the team. J'Onzz helped some Green Lanterns recover a captured squad in an unannounced guest appearance. Similarly, the Alien Atlas clashed with and then assisted the captive Legion Lost, although he ominously predicted that they would all die in the present before ever returning to their home in the 30th century. The Martian continues to monitor the Justice League without their knowledge.

It does not appear likely that J'Onn J'Onzz has a civilian identity, given his status amongst Stormwatch. His only human form assumed to date has resembled his old continuity identity of Caucasian detective John Jones, but he went unnamed. No friendships outside of Stormwatch have been revealed, and even there he has only expressed closeness to Harry Tanner (who betrayed the team,) the Projectionist (a newer member lost to kidnapping) and his respected leader Adam One (whose destabilized mind rendered him incompetent on his last mission.) Adam was quasi-killed by the Shadow Lords at the end of the first story arc, which may have created a rift between J'Onzz and his seeming masters. Of the remaining team, J'Onzz has seemed to take up Adam's abandoned role as mentor to Jenny Quantum (a type of duty he was prone to in the old continuity,) but does not seem to be particularly friendly toward anyone.

From the looks of things, the newly introduced Vitruvian Man casts serious aspersions on the Shadow Lords, and after a crossover with the Red Lanterns, Stormwatch will confront the renegade Harry Tanner. There's a good chance Stormwatch will then confront the Shadow Lords or, perhaps, their rivals. Finally, the Martian Manhunter will battle all of Stormwatch as he did the Justice League, then quit the team "forever." What is the motivation for all of this?

Let's look at the facts. We know the Martian Manhunter possesses his old powers of shapeshifting, super-strength, flight, telepathy, and intangibility. Per the Shadow Lords, he now has some vague power of "energy manipulation," and he may have enhanced metasenses beyond the good old Martian Vision (which encompassed laser vision, x-ray vision, telescopic vision, microscopic vision, etc.) I don't recall if we've seen invisibility yet, but that's probably there. The Daemonites, the sinister alien invaders who've plagued all of the DC/Wildstorm relaunch books and then some, have most of those same powers in the new continuity. What if J'Onn's secret is that there are no such thing as Martians, or that the ones that do exist are related to the Daemonites (not to mention the type of Durlan J'Onn saved from a virus in Legion Lost? The Daemonites now have a backstory similar to Saturnians, yet unseen in the DCnÜ but retroactively made descendants of Martian clones in the prior continuity. J'Onn being the only DC hero on the only active Wildstorm team makes a lot more sense if Wildstorm continuity were being grafted onto his DNA.

Another question is, why oust Martian Manhunter from Stormwatch? There have been indications that a confrontation with the Justice League is eventual, and the WS team is a lot more formidable with the Alien Atlas on it. However, we know there's a Trinity War coming in 2013 involving the League in conflict with other super-heroes, as opposed to Stormwatch. It ties into the appearances of the mysterious woman revealed to be Pandora, who turned up in all of the New 52 #1s in some fashion. You know who else has been covertly "seeded" into titles? J'Onn J'Onzz, who established his lack of a prior relationship with Guy Gardner in a recent unsolicited cameo. This is the same Guy Gardner who is soon to lose most if not all of his fellow Justice League International cohorts to cancellation, despite solid sales. Given that this turn occurs in an annual co-written by Geoff Johns, surely something major is afoot. You know who else J'Onzz helped in that comic? Green Lantern John Stewart, currently on trial for insubordination against his Corps, and seemingly soon to collide with the Justice League in Trinity War. Suppose Martian Manhunter involved himself in that matter with designs? Other rogue heroes involved in the Trinity War include the Atom, Hawkman, Element Woman, Black Adam, and most tellingly, a youth bearing a strong resemblance to Vibe. Each of these characters had ties to the Martian Manhunter in the old continuity, and its just the sort of ramshackle collective only J'Onn J'Onzz would entertain.

Ideally, I would best hope for Martian Manhunter #0 to come out in Septemberby a swell creative team to build up J'Onn J'Onzz as a solo character, with or without all these elements I've theorized about. I'd vastly prefer the Alien Atlas stand on his own over being just another strongman in a team book. However, the signs as I see them point to Justice League International being canned to make room for a new team book involving heroes gathered by the Martian Manhunter. I've long felt that the DC Universe needed a powerhouse team between the Justice League and Justice Society for all of the "name" heroes who fall between them and deserve better than mingling with pikers like the Outsiders. Actually, that name is as good as any, so long as it leaves the word "Justice" out of the mix. Perhaps J'Onzz remains loyal to the Shadow Lords, and will be a third party challenging Stormwatch for artifacts of power to use against the coming evil. Maybe he's been another Daemonite sleeper agent all along. Could be J'Onzz is playing all sides to his own ends, but the Martian Manhunter is immersed in manipulations that I suspect will bring the character to the forefront of DC Comics in the coming months. That, or just more wishful thinking on my part. My track record for predicting developments on this blog have not been the best...

1: Mars was a living world throughout the Silver Age, until it was rendered uninhabitable by the evil Commander Blanx in a real estate deal gone genocidal. J'Onzz went on to lead a band of survivors on another world. In the late '80s, all of the old Mars stories were rendered fantasies implanted in J'Onn's mind, and he was instead the sole survivor of a plague. In the late '90s, the plague was made into a virus engineered by J'Onzz's evil twin brother Ma'alefa'ak, with significant alterations made in the retelling.

2: This matter is more than a bit galling for longtime fans. The Martian Manhunter was one of five heroes to found the Justice League of America in 1960's The Brave and the Bold #28, which excluded Superman and Batman from the cover and from full membership until after the group got their own series. He's been replaced by Cyborg, a relatively minor character who didn't even exist until decades later.


will_in_chicago said...

Frank, thanks for an interesting analysis. SOMETHING must be up for all the changes that J'Onn and Stormwatch are going through in the near future. While I doubt that J'Onn will do a face heel turn, J'Onn has been shown as being manipulative even if to good ends.

My hope is that J'Onn as well as Stormwatch will fare better than they have in the first year of the DCnÜ. It would be great if J'Onn was shown again as a powerful and influential hero, and Stormwatch was better written than it has been. (I liked a lot in the most recent issue, but thought that somethings -- a Red Lantern crossover without explanation -- were unneeded.)

Somehow, I think that J'Onn will be fine in the long run as the character has survived a lot of shabby treatment by writers and editors. As J'Onn has gotten a lot of exposure in the DC Animated Universe, I expect that DC wants to take advantage of that in the comics. Now if J'Onn could get a solo series and a supporting cast.

mathematicscore said...

I'm in denial about the possibility of J'onn being a Daemonite; way too much bad baggage with that, and I've never been a big fan of "true forms." That said, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that he is at least on the cusp of some movin' and shakin'.

As to the facts, J'onn showed something like invisibility in the JLA battle, although that may have been a side effect of phasing; he also seemed able to be invisible in Legion Lost, although it was mostly treated as a telepathic trick.
Energy Manipulation seems consistent with the broadest interpretation of his old powers, from all forms of Martian Vision to "mind over matter." He seems to be using it to build the alchemical tools in the stormwatch issue.

What would his tie to Element woman? He wasn't even on the same JLI team as Metamorpho.


Diabolu Frank said...

Will, I enjoyed the last two issues with Paul Jenkins, and had hopes Peter Milligan would continue the upward trend with Ignacio Calero. I like(d) these characters, but not enough to support them without J'Onn. I wonder if I'm alone in that, not so much pivoting on the Manhunter, but in planning to leave the book behind now that its strongest tie to the DCU has been severed. I'm also dropping Aquaman, so I may finally be DC-free by October.

Ah, M.C., you called my bluff. J'Onzz's very tenuous ties to Element Woman come from his brief association with Metamorpho in Justice League Europe. But hey, I got Black Adam through World War III! Anorexic, indeed.

I'm hoping we get Daemonites dependent on Martian culture, and not the other way around, but it's hard to ignore all the Wildstormery going on these days.

mathematicscore said...

Yeah, I agree re: daemonites dependent on Martians. A shared past history is more than fine; a fake out on Martians will just piss me off.

Black Adam gets my vote for Menagerie status, as WWIII was his story and J'onn's, and J'onn showed up in his mini, if only in cameo. J'onn's encounter with Black Adam was the impetus for the OYL shift, however dumb that may have turned out.

They both are A-class powerhouses who are often overlooked; I hope they have a relationship that grows, as I am fans of both.

Element Woman was the only stretch, and I feel like not much of one, as I could easily see her on the JLI, JLTF, or even Outsiders or the Authority...oops, I mean Stormwatch ;), with J'onn.

Diabolu Frank said...

I have serious reservations about inducting someone into the Vile Menagerie with such strong ties to another hero, but then again, Doomsday. I've been considering putting such matters up to a vote, though.

mathematicscore said...

Grodd, Doomsday, Savage... they all are other heroes villains, but have ties to our boy. Black Adam, as played in recent years, has stepped out of Capt Marvel's lawsuit-shrunk shadow; He's his own entity, and J'onn has clashed with him significantly.

Anonymous said...

Is the last mashup cover on the entry feature Pasarin's artwork or another artist's? Thanx

Diabolu Frank said...

The artists credited on the "cover" are accurate. Pasarin inked by Hanna, from an issue of GL Corps.

LissBirds said...

Has it been a year already?? Thanks for the synopsis--it's good to know what's been going on with my favorite hero over the last year, though I can't say it makes me want to pick up any issues of Stormwatch any time soon, unfortunately. Maybe next year will be better...

Diabolu Frank said...

Well, we're up to issue #9 with solicits up to #12, so the road map is there already. Since J'Onn's going, jumping onto Stormwatch seems pretty pointless, but DC's got another chance to get JLI closer to right now with the September #0 issues.

LissBirds said...

#0 issues? I've been so out of the loop, I have no idea what is going on.

JLI was cancelled, though, right?

Diabolu Frank said...

The unconfirmed rumor is that all of the New 52 titles left/starting in September will be #'d 0, new reader friendly, and will often involve new creative teams/directions. JLI has been canceled despite solid sales to make room for another, more "important" JLA spin-off series.