MARTIAN MANHUNTERThe New 52 has proven a solid jumping off point for me as a devoted DC reader, although the truth is that I've been steadily losing interest across a decade, and should have probably quit them between the Crises Identity and Infinite. I came in with Jenette Kahn, Dick Giordano and Paul Levitz, whose aesthetic is simply not compatible with that of Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. That said, I remain excited by the potential of the New 52 Martian Manhunter, who despite recently leaving Stormwatch remains a pivotal figure in the integration of the Wildstorm properties into a merged DC Universe. I'm more excited about Helspont as a Superman villain than I ever was in his days as the Magneto of the WildC.A.T.s, and it's great fun to feel the fresh synergy of Daemonites roaming in a shared history with Mars. After a year's worth of revised, mysterious continuity and some hindsight, I've come to appreciate J'Onn J'Onzz being freed from the shackles of staid establishment. He's not a Justice League founder anymore-- and he may have betrayed them as an early recruit! Is the Blue Flame that empowers Helspont the same as the one that destroyed Mars in the Bronze Age? If Martian Manhunter wasn't tied down to every incarnation of the JLA, what has he been getting up to with his clandestine operations? Might we finally get an Alien Atlas built up to stand as a solo hero again, with creators actually looking into his rogues gallery instead of inventing redundant retcon lame-os? Click To Enlarge
"The big gun of Stormwatch. The goal was to create a warrior look for the Martian Manhunter-- he's a bad dude-- but at the same time make him somewhat regal looking. He's not a brawler; he's a master strategist. DC co-publisher Jim Lee stepped up to lock down the final design... The sides of Manhunter's head proved tricky for artists when this new design was first being incorporated. The raised forehead yet slightly sunken, ridged sides took some practice before it became second nature to draw."
Another major step forward in my book was the redesign of the Manhunter from Mars. I have much love for J'Onn J'Onzz, but I've always tried to view him with a critical eye and recognize his failings. Let's be honest, no thought went into his original costume, and it was about as generic as Martian gear gets. Chest straps, a belt, trunks, boots, cape. Tweaks were made over the years, my favorite being the raised, folded collar on his cape, but he might as well have been a low rent luchador if not for the brow and green skin. Over time, the simplicity of the suit gave it a nostalgic appeal, but the uninitiated would be forgiven for assuming that J'Onzz was simply a variation on the Hulk (as I've learned from experience.) As much as I want to hold on to the old J'Onn I bought as a Super Powers figure back in 1985, his look has held him back for decades. Visually, there was nothing about him that said "the Sleuth from Outer Space," or much of anything besides "retro extraterrestrial." Click To Enlarge
I've been frustrated for over a year with DC releasing design sketches for New 52 heroes on their blog, many with only minor tweaks, but skipped the fairly radical Martian Manhunter revision entirely. Yeah, I'm sure Apollo and Midnighter were worth way more web traffic. It's not like their every solo comic combined amounts to fewer issues than the 1998 Martian Manhunter series alone. Thanks to DC's irritating oversight, like sand in my eyelid, I had to wait until the trade paperback collection Stormwatch Vol. 1: The Dark Side was released in late May to finally see the above images. I bought the comics as floppies, so between the wait and their not being very good, I was pissed off enough not to bother buying it. I've waited for months to see if a scan would turn up online, and finally found some at The Art of Jim Lee tumblr and Character Model.
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I liked Apollo's new outfit, as I found the old one about as dull as any super-hero who ever existed, so the only direction was up. Midnighter's is-- well-- comically inept. Jenny Quantum and Jack Hawksmoor were given modest positive alterations, while the Engineer seems to have been left alone. All were by Cully Hamner, who I've erroneously been crediting for the new look Martian Manhunter. No one has yet to draw J'Onn's more alien head as well as Hamner, but the two designs he turned in for the Alien Atlas leave a lot to be desired. The first one kept J'Onn's red "x" chest straps, which I have long felt are too common amongst prominent DC heroes (Hawkman and Adam Strange come readily to mind.) I hate when the "x" is used as an icon for the Manhunter, and I'm happy to see it ultimately excised. However, aside from the "x," nothing in that first design says "Martian Manhunter" except the guy wearing it. The flap on the cape kind of alludes to his old collar, but the degree of skin exposure around the neck better recalls Superman. The reverse teardrop cape serves even less purpose than a normal cape, is effeminate, and just plain embarrassing. The random techie crap on the chest is dated and dumb, the plunging "v" neck pities the fool, and the artist seemed to lose interest from the waist down. Piping is to 2012 as multiple bootstraps were to 1994. Click To Enlarge
Hamner's revised attempt looks like a swell N'or Cott update, but what about this tells you it's meant for the premier Martian super-hero? Remember in the '90s when you'd get a costume redesign for a story, and then Toy Biz would turn it into Arctic Gear Batman™ or Stealth Armor Iron Man®? This looks like that action figure variant, except dressed down, like he comes with a vehicle or snap-on extras. Besides a souvenir novelty-sized Blood Gem and boots that vaguely resemble cavalier stock, there's nothing Martian Manhunter here. That is, unless he's going undercover as Johnny Utah to prove that the Ex-Presidents are, in fact, surfers.
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I typically like Hamner's work, and the final Martian Manhunter design seemed keyed in to his sensibilities. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be Jim Lee, who I feel is one of the worst, most creatively bankrupt designers in comics. Lee was really inspired here though, and deserves kudos. As much as I miss the collar, the skin tight yet angular cape is slick. The bottom straps of the old chest piece remain intact, but the upper portion is a unique horizontal plateau. The eight sided "pie" belt buckle dating back to the oldest comics is elevated to emblem status, which frankly warms my heart, since it was also present on my Super Powers figure. In order for it to stand out from a Plain Jane black and white image any schoolchild could draw in seconds, the "slices" are rendered gray and the slits a luminescent red, oddly complimentary. In an intriguing blending of cultures, an Eastern style breechcloth covers a pants/boot combo once worn by Cossacks, giving an added exotic effect to the alien's otherworldliness. While the seashell temples and insectoid forearm plates have that stink of cheap television sci-fi and video games, they also serve to separate the Martian Manhunter visually from the Hulk, which is a good thing in moderation. As previously noted, application of those physical affectations has been inconsistent, and the great thing about a shapeshifter is that it leaves a lot of the presentation up to the artist's prerogative. They can go for handsome humanoid or creepy creature as desired, and that flexibility should lend them enthusiasm, always preferable if you want good work.
Other elements have been up for grabs. Miguel Sepulveda drew the chest symbol as an Atom atom, which I could have done without, and the dhoti has contained a variety of designs. Sometimes the suit is colored bright purple, which is a bit loud but contrasts perfectly against green skin. Other times, the purple is so dark as to turn blue, and often is a dark blue at that, which is more familiar and preferable to me. The new get-up doesn't have much "Sleuth from Outer Space" in it, but as a battle suit for cosmic conflicts, I think it's aces. There's also room to play, since the new Martian Manhunter seems geared toward a more multifaceted presentation. I like this track, and hope DC has more in store for J'Onn J'Onzz...