Champion and Chief
In final battle with the monstrous Martian criminal Charnn, J'onn J'onzz is psychically frozen by his terrifying opponent!
But having made peace with his past, no psychic prison built out of those memories - J'onn's shame, guilt, and blame - can hold him!
J'onn and Charnn are locked in final battle, but Meade and her police allies are also caught in a desperate battle against Charnn's pawns. Outnumbered and trapped, there's only one person who can help them: Ashley Addams, the newly-minted Miss Martian!
Will the forces of good prevail? Or will Charnn succeed in his dastardly plan?
What do YOU think?
At last, Steve Orlando, Riley Rossmo, and Ivan Plascencia’s identity parable Martian Manhunter comes to an end. It’s been a glorious, thought-provoking, deeply personal ride for everybody involved, and a comic utterly unique among the tights-and-flights set. Without hyperbole, it can be said readers have never quite seen something like this comic before, and it’s unlikely they ever will again for a very long time.
J’onn J’onzz, for much of his existence, has been a taciturn, stolid character. A paragon of quiet, meditative virtue, sole survivor of a culture he watched burn to ash. Orlando and company have busted that take on the character wide open in ways not even the lauded creative team of Ostrander and Mandrake could back in the day by choosing to focus on an aspect of the Last Martian that’s never been explored before: his flaws, fears, and failings. It was a controversial move from the start, casting J’onn, always the utmost example of shiny heroism, as a corrupt cop while on Mars. His greatest failing, though wasn’t that. It was that his wife didn’t find out the truth until the moment before her death, forever tarnishing J’onn’s memory of the family he lost. That he wasn’t worthy of him haunted him ever since, particularly after he wound up on Earth, alone and lost without a home to return to.
That’s a deep emotional arc to mine, especially set against a backdrop of utilizing J’onn as a metaphor for the LGBTQ community’s ostracization from perceived mainstream society, and the highly personal quest for identity therein. I’m excited to say the creative team pulled it off with nerves of steel and an eye to unique details. The first arc of the miniseries, especially, should be highly commended for the extremely well thought-out Martian society and its corresponding visual weirdness. (Non-pro tip: worldbuilding is an excellent way to distinguish a book from the back. Don’t just do the same ol’ thing… put some time and thought into the world your characters live in, and what distinguishes it from any number of other works of fiction – but also, how that world is a reflection of your character.)
Endings, though, are tricky beasts. Writers have to not only bring the narrative to a successful thematic conclusion, but they also need to tie off any loose subplots and deliver on dramatic stakes. In other words, don’t leave readers nonchalantly shrugging and saying, “Well, that was the end of the comic” and moving on to the next thing without any lasting impression.
With this in mind, I’m glad to say the creative team mostly succeeds. Without getting into spoiler territory, J’onn’s arc wraps up in a suitably heroic manner, as he fully comes to terms with his past and becomes the hero we know and love. His narrative arc comes to a fulfilling end, as does the imaginative (and fitting) conclusion to his struggle against Charnn. The villain, even, gets a moment of vulnerability when he realizes how outmatched he truly is; maybe he doesn’t become sympathetic, but he is at least – for a moment, anyway – humanized.
Detective Diane Meade unfortunately draws the short end of the straw. Her arc, as both a surrogate for readers meeting J’onn for the first time and as an out queer woman marginalized for her sexuality, has been a painful parallel to J’onn’s own journey of self-discovery. With no definitive conclusion to her arc other than acceptance of herself vis a vis acceptance of J’onn, she’s definitely been short-changed both narratively and through the lens of queer and/or gender politics. Her agency after a certain point is wholly dependent on J’onn, which is definitely not a good look. It doesn’t ruin the potency of her emotional arc, but it does marginalize it to a certain degree. Then again, she’s a supporting character, not the lead, and there’s only so many pages. Pick your poison.
Riley Rossmo’s pencil’s continue to impress, although I have noticed a decrease in detail and an increase in balloony, loopy abstraction as the series has progressed. He still has an incredibly unique look, but the shift in style has created an artistic inconsistency as the book has gone on. I hate to pick on Meade again, but her already-exaggerated appearance has gotten so bizarre by this issue that in some panels she barely looks human anymore. It’s a stylistic choice on Rossmo’s part, but the decrease in detail as the series has progressed suggests an artist rushing to meet deadlines. Artists should hone and update their craft as time marches on, but it’s rare to see such a dramatic shift in so short an amount of time. Thankfully, colorist Ivan Plascencia – one of the absolute best in the business, right up there with Laura Martin and Jordie Bellaire – is firing on all cylinders, and elevates Rossmo’s sometimes-questionable pencils well beyond their idiosyncrasies.
In the end, Martian Manhunter has been a comic about identity, grief, and coming to terms with both. It has worked as a queer parable and a sideways, left-field superhero tale, and stands alone and unique in the world of capes and tights comics literature. With it ending, it’s unlikely we’ll see anything else like it for a very, very long time. Which is all the more reason to treasure Martian Manhunter now.
Martian Manhunter successfully brings its arc to a thrilling, fulfilling conclusion. There's never been a comic quite like it, and there likely won't again for a very long time. The entire creative team deserves your attention and applause for a job very, very well done!
Martian Manhunter #12 (of 12): The Hero Rises
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 8.5/108.5/10
- Art - 7/107/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 9.5/109.5/10
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