Martian Manhunter: Where Do I Start?

He’s not the only alien on the Justice League team, but he’s the only one who looks like an alien. Nevertheless, the green-skinned Martian Manhunter has become an integral part of the DC flagship team’s line-up as seen in comics and in his invigorating appearances in the Justice League cartoons. In the wake of DC’s New 52, the martian known by some as J’onn J’onzz has become part of the revamped Stormwatch team with no word yet on if any of his backstory counts…. but it counts to us.

Created in the mid-50s in a back-up strip inside Detective Comics, he mixes the extraterrestrial outsider threat with America’s own views of cold war paranoia. As he involved, he became an oddly arresting figure in solo and team ventures, being both distant and approachable depending on the company he keeps. The gang over at IGN ranked the Martian Manhunter as the 43rd greatest comic character of all time, and our friend Ben Morse at Cool Kidz Table has called him one of the most underrated characters in comics.

By special request from an iFanboy reader, iFanboy takes on the challenge of delineating the best stories to start with when it comes to Martian Manhunter.

Martian Manhunter: American Secrets: This 1992 prestige-format series re-visited Martian Manhunter’s origin in the heady days of the 1950s and played it up against the changing American landscape of the time. Writer Gerard Jones turns in an admirable murder mystery against the baxckdrop of J’onn J’onzz’s first years on the planet, and comics legend Eduardo Barreto really does something special with the character and the setting here. This little-known series has never been collected, but it’s worth a trip to the back-issue bins to find this engrossing story.

JLA: Trial By Fire: An original member of the Justice League of America, Martian Manhunter has become a key member of the team acting as both a powerhouse and defacto telepath in a group of heavy-hitters. This under-rated story-arc by Joe Kelly and Doug Manhke puts Martian Manhunter on the front lines he’s forced to probe every mind on the planet to find out why the president is in a coma, the world leaders are unusually agreeable and hardened villains are turning over new leaf. Sounds like not so much as a problem, but when you think about what could be behind it you see how Martian Manhunter is the only person in the JLA capable of getting to the bottom of it.

Martian Manhunter: My Brother’s Keeper: Although he’s never been able to keep up a solo series for long, the ongoing series launched in 1998 after the success of Morrison’s JLA has proven to be the best, going on for 36 issues. Writer John Ostrander and artist Tom Mandrake cemented themselves as the defacto quintessential creators for Martian Manhunter as their run stretched onto three years, and this first arc really gets to the core of J’onn and gives readers a viewpoint on the character’s purpose, conflict and foes. Like AMerican Secrets, DC has yet to collect this story-arc but readers should be able to find issues #0 – 9 for a reasonable price in any decent-sized back-issue collection.

DC: New Frontier (Vol. 1 and 2): Although not a M.M. solo story by any degree, J’onn plays a key role and his origin is intertwined inside this miniseries’ story. Pay no attention to the animated adaption if you’re looking for Martian Manhunter action, as the comic is the place to go.


Comments

  1. Martian Manhunter didn’t join the League years after they debuted in comics, he was there from the start in Brave and the Bold 28. Right there on the cover along with Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman.

    There was also a great series in the late 80s’ by JM DeMatties and Mark Badger that introduced many of the elements that we see today in the character including the notion that the fire vulnerability was a mental block, not an actual weakness and that the thick browed muscleman is not his true form, but a result of his shapeshifting. Never collected but its the source of much of the modern mythos.

    • kennyg kennyg says:

      I was also going to recommend the DeMatties and Badger mini. Check out the 8-issue mini by A.J. Lieberman as well. It’s been collected as a trade.

    • ckl ckl says:

      I found the Liebermann min really difficult to follow. Not that it was a bad story, it’s just that nearly all of the names for the minor supporting characters were lifted from the players of the Manchester United Football team! I found it completely distracting from the plot, and the whole book became about trying to spot which was the next soccer start to get namechecked!

  2. ckl ckl says:

    I bought the American Secrets books in the early ’90′s, and I agree that it’s a wonderful book. A good story with a pulpy feel, and great artwork. I’d also recommend the storyline that ran early in the Justice League Task Force book where J’onn had to shapeshift into the form of a woman (I think it was because the mission was on Themyscira). It also addressed his weakness to fire. The Mandrake / Ostrander series was also very good. I doubt if any of these are available in trade!

  3. AceBathound AceBathound says:

    All of these are great. I’d love to see my favorite Martian get some more love. Hell, he is the only reason I even tried the new Stormwatch.

  4. PaulAllor PaulAllor says:

    Woo hoo! Thanks, Chris!

  5. PaulAllor PaulAllor says:

    Woo hoo! Thanks, Chris!

  6. PaulAllor PaulAllor says:

    Woo hoo! Thanks, Chris!

  7. PaulAllor PaulAllor says:

    Uhm… no idea why I posted twice. Unless my finger spasmed on the submit button? Anyway, if one of the iFanboyers were to delete two of them (and this) I’d be cool with that!

  8. Metamorphic Metamorphic says:

    I really enoyed the Martian Manhunter series though I’m still missing a handful of issues. Ostrander and Mandrake just nailed the character and built him up fantastically. Worth looking in the back issue bins for anytime – and certainly worth a couple of trades!

  9. I wish Martian manhunter woul get a solo series again. Definitely one of the most underrated characters in all of comics

  10. CaeuZokul CaeuZokul says:

    I’ve loved it all. One of the All Time Best long box & a half you ain’t read yet.

  11. Tork Tork says:

    To go with Trial By Fire, Mark Waid’s Terror Incognito story (where the White Martians launch a full-on invasion of Earth) is a really cool alien invasion action story that really puts J’onn into focus. It’s Secret Invasion done right, more or less.

  12. Multihuller Multihuller says:

    I just spent the past few minutes racking my brain trying to think of a comic not listed that featured Martian Manhunter, and that is pretty tough. JLA: Year One by Mark Waid is great, but as always, he is sharing the stage. Personally I really like the interpretation of him in the Justice League animated series, but even there he is a supporting character. Great tragic character though. Loved how Morrison used him in JLA. He also has a cool cameo in Morrison’s Animal Man run.