Current Reviews


Martian Manhunter #1

Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2006
By: Diana Kingston

Writer: A.J. Lieberman
Artist: Al Barrionuevo

Publisher: DC Comics

Stop me if you've heard this one before: a less-than-iconic hero previously associated with paragonism makes a startling discovery about his life/past/worldview and undergoes a drastic change in wardrobe, perspective and attitude. This change is accompanied by tortured (torturous) internal monologuing, as the reader discovers that everything they knew was wrong (for now, at least).

Odds are, you have heard this one before. It's practically the formula for superhero deconstruction. It's also the approach Lieberman is applying to the Martian Manhunter, who has learned he isn't the last of his species after all, and a covert organization is kidnapping and torturing other Martians. This leads J'onn J'onzz down a dark path, complete with Biblical condemnations of humanity and the promise of vengeance. As an aside, I'm genuinely stumped by the first page, which features a Martian protagonist invoking Cain and Abel as though it's actual fact. Granted that DC has a tenuous link to Christian theology (God and the Spectre, etc.), but there must be better avenues to pursue this train of thought than a book about alien shapeshifters.

If this issue had been published twenty years ago, it probably would have been considered groundbreaking and shocking. But in 2006, the only word I can use to describe this interpretation of the Manhunter is "formulaic." It's simply not enough to just do things by the book anymore; all Lieberman has done is compile a list of tropes and themes common to the deconstruction genre, working J'onn J'onzz into that list. In doing so, Lieberman misses the point: deconstruction is supposed to serve the character, not the other way around. This story could have featured any superhero at any point in DC's history - there's nothing here that makes it unique to the Martian Manhunter at all.

I personally think this is symptomatic of a larger problem with J'onn J'onzz: he's basically an amalgam of other, more popular DCU figures. He's the last Martian just as Superman is the last Kryptonian, he's detached from humanity but walks among them like Batman, he has a strong moral center like Hal Jordan... the character has never struck me as "individualized" in any sense, and maybe that's why this issue is too generic to be distinctive on any level. It's sort of like how a Black-Eyed Peas album sounds like one 72-minute song: after a while, it just grates, and you wish the tune would change.

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