Sometime in the past, criminals on Mars were sentenced to have their shape-shifting abilities forcibly stripped, cursed to spend the remainder of their lives trapped in one form. One of those criminals was Charnn.
How he survived H'ron'meer's curse and the devastation of Mars remains a mystery at this time... regardless, though, he's here on Earth now, and has J'onn trapped in a telepathic snare!
Knowing J'onn is off-balance, Charnn continues to press the advantage, forcing J'onn to believe his deepest fear, H'ron'meer's curse is ravaging his body!
The horror continues to crescendo, and then climaxes with J'onn's own bubbling, flaming demise...
...and then... nothing. Charnn, the fire, the boils... vanished.
Charnn was never even there - in fact, the entire set-up was a ruse to draw J'onn in. Knowing now what he does about the true nature of the serial killer he and his estranged partner Meade have been tracking, J'onn knows what he must do: rebuild his bond with Meade, because separately, neither of them stand a chance against Charnn. But to do that, he must regain her trust... and her coming to terms with him wearing a dead man's face won't be easy.
For Martian Manhunter‘s fifth issue, writer Steve Orlando and artists Riley Rossmo and Ivan Plascencia go all-in with the body horror, and it’s a gruesome thing to behold indeed. Under Charnn’s telepathic influence, J’onn J’onzz’s body bubbles, goops, immolates, and distends in disgusting contortions. It’s a bloody disgusting thing to behold, and the creative team’s synergistic approach makes it impossible to look away from in gaping awe. Of course, this approach may not be for everyone, but it’s impossible to state it isn’t effective.
I will say, though, that for all the gruesome detail rendered in the H’ronmeer’s Curse sequences, there are definitely some panels where I feel Rossmo rushed his pencils (see this review’s cover image). It’s not throughout the book, but given how loose Rossmo’s style is in general, if this occasional tendency were to become too common, the impact of his loopy, swirling style would fall apart.
After that gut-punch of an opening sequence, though, the story shifts gears, and gives readers some insight into Meade’s character while she wrestles with the dilemma of whether or not she can accept J’onn wearing her dead partner’s face. These are small and lovingly tender moments from her past, hinting at the pain of a lost love that’s made her ultimately so cold. Not the most original sentiment, to be sure, but it’s nice that Orlando is putting some meat on her motivations at last.
The second half of the book, though, does feel a bit decompressed after the wham-bang opening sequence. That’s the trade-off for having such a visceral and visually powerful cold open, and given that the second half of the book is far more character-focused, it’s a trade I’m more than willing to accept.
Martian Manhunter definitely won't be everyone's cup of tea - I'd say enjoyment hinges on the reader's ability to get into Riley Rossmo's eccentric art style - but it's definitely unique either way. And at the end of the day, a book that's willing to take chances and be boldly its own thing is one I'm always willing to give a chance.
Martian Manhunter #5 (of 12): The Second-to-Last Martian
Writing - 7.5/107.5/10
Storyline - 8/108/10
Art - 8.5/108.5/10
Color - 9.5/109.5/10
Cover Art - 7/107/10
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