REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS MARTIAN MANHUNTER
"It's not easy being green," so the saying goes. And it's even less easy when you're a Martian by the name of J'onn J'onzz who frankly should have been worked into the DC Universe Classics line of superb action figures from Mattel well before its 15th assortment, given the character's prominence in the DC Universe, certainly relative to some of the others that got there ahead of him.
Martian Manhunter has been a longtime favorite character of mine. I've just always liked the big green guy. He's almost as powerful as Superman, and can do a few things that Superman can't, but he certainly doesn't blend as well most of the time. So I was truly delighted when Mattel announced that he was to be added to the DC Universe Classics lineup.
Certainly there have been figures of Martian Manhunter before, and I have quite a few of them. He was part of the Super Powers line, a source of inspiration to the Four Horsemen, the design and sculpting studio presently responsible for DC Universe Classics, Masters of the Universe Classics, and Ghostbusters for Mattel. There was a really nice 9" cloth-costumed version of him from when Hasbro had the DC license. DC Direct turned out a very impressive 13" edition. And more recently, he's turned up multiple times in the Justice League animated line, a show in which he was certainly a major player, and there was a very nicely done 4" figure of J'onn in the DC Infinite Heroes line, a very distinctive figure whose only real problem was an excess of cape.
In the comic books, Big Green has been put through the wringer in recent years. He adopted a more Martian likeness for a time, got killed during the Final Crisis, brought back as a Black Lantern during Blackest Night, was restored to full life at the end of that mini-series, and currently within the pages of Brightest Day, seems to be terraforming a forest on his homeworld of Mars for reasons unknown as of this writing.
Fortunately, his overall history is more extensive than this. Created by writer Joseph Samachson and artist Joe Certa, Martian Manhunter first appeared in Detective Comics #225, in November of 1955.
He debuted in a back-up story titled "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel". In the story, he was pulled to Earth by an experimental teleportation beam (originally presented as an attempted communications device) constructed by Dr. Erdel. The shock of the encounter kills Dr. Erdel and leaves J'onn with no method of returning home. He decided to fight crime while waiting for Martian technology to advance to a stage that will enable his rescue.
This initial origin would see considerable revision in later years. During this early time, there was no suggestion that Mars was a dead planet or that J'onn was the last of his kind.
J'onn eventually reveals his existence to the world, after which he operates openly as a superhero and becomes a charter member of the Justice League. Within this title, he was often used as a substitute for Superman, as DC Comics was worried about using their flagship character too often within the Justice League stories for fear of overexposure. As Superman was allowed by DC to become a more fully active member of the team, the Martian Manhunter's appearances there dwindled.
In Justice League of America #71, his people finally came to Earth, and he left with them to become the leader of New Mars. However, over the next fifteen years, he appeared sporadically in various DC titles. During one story, Superman was teleported to New Mars. In another, J'onzz briefly returned to Earth via spaceship in 1975. He later encountered Superman again in an outer space adventure.
J'onn permanently resurfaced in the DC universe in 1984. Shortly thereafter, the League had several members resign amidst a number of changes for the team, leaving an opening for the Manhunter to take. In staying on Earth, he decided to revive his human "John Jones" identity, this time as a private detective. As a shapeshifter, it had been an identity J'onzz had assumed before. J'onzz was also present for the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In 1987, as part of a major overhaul for the Justice League title, the reins were turned over to Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis, who more or less made the title a humor-based one. Martian Manhunter was present from the start, and was more or less used as a straight man for the other characters. The series also added a number of elements to his backstory that have remained to the present, not the least of which is a distinct fondness for Oreo cookies -- presently referred to as "Chocos" in the comic books, since one assumes Nabisco had something to say about the matter somewhere along the way.
The 1988 four-issue mini-series "Martian Manhunter" by J. M. DeMatteis further redefined the character and changed a number of important aspects of his character and his origin story. It is revealed that Dr. Erdel did not die and that the character's humanoid appearance was due to physiological trauma and attempts to block out the death of his race, his familiar appearance being a compromise between his true form and a human appearance based upon Erdel's concept of what a Martian should look like. Later series would "retcon" that his real form is private and that, even on Mars, his "public" appearance was the familiar version. The native name for Mars is said to be "Ma'aleca'andra" in his native tongue (a nod to "Malacandra", the name used by the inhabitants of Mars in C.S. Lewis' novel "Out of the Silent Planet"). The series also adds the idea that J'onn was not only displaced in space, but in time, and the Martian race, including his wife and daughter, has been dead for thousands of years.
Martian Manhunter would continue to serve in many different versions of the League throughout the 1990's, including the highly-successful reboot into "JLA", which saw the team return to its core as a showcase for DC's top characters. Martian Manhunter joined Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, and Green Lantern as the "big seven" of the DC Universe.
The character would get his own ongoing series in 1998, written by John Ostrander. The series ran for 36 issues, and established that Martian Manhunter is the most recognized hero in the Southern Hemisphere, a generally neglected area from a superhuman standpoint, and that he maintains a number of different secret identities, many of them outside of the United States.
The series also established that J'onn has a disturbed brother, Ma'alefa'ak (translated into English as "Malefic"), who uses his shapeshifting abilities to pose as J'onn, capturing and torturing Jemm, Son of Saturn (another character in this wave of DC Universe Classics figures), and terraforming part of Earth to resemble mars. This is all part of a grand plan to convince the Justice League that J'onn has turned into a sociopath. Ultimately, of course, J'onn is able to defeat his brother. The series also further established the history of both the Manhunter and the Saturnian race.
During the lead-up to Infinite Crisis, Martian Manhunter is feared killed in an attack on the Justice League's headquarters. He is later revealed to be alive and a captive of Alexander Luthor, Jr. After the events of Infinite Crisis, most of DC's series underwent a "One Year Later" jump, with the weekly series "52" filling in the missing time. In issue #24 of this series, it is revealed that J'onn had been working behind the scenes in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy the organization Checkmate for its role in the death of Blue Beetle Ted Kord.
Using the events of "World War III" as a catalyst, DC comics redesigned the appearance of the character, changing his costume and giving him a more alien appearance. These changes were further explored during a Martian Manhunter miniseries. Written by A.J. Lieberman, the series portrayed a Manhunter more mistrustful of humanity and their actions towards each other. The storyline focused on J'onn's search for other survivors of Mars. He finds some, but they are ultimately revealed to be a group of the highly-violent White Martian race, which had appeared in the pages of JLA.
Following this mini-series Martian Manhunter was intended to be in the Outsiders title, but a change of writers saw him quickly dismissed from the team. He is next seen working undercover during the events of the mini-series Salvation Run. At the end of the story, he is left stranded on the alien planet which a large number of supervillains had been transported to. Somehow, he managed to find his way back, just in time to be killed at the start of the Final Crisis mini-series. He next appears in the Blackest Night mini-series as a Black Lantern, but is fully resurrected at the end of the series by the power of the White Lantern. Which brings us back around to his present appearances, as of this writing, in Brightest Day.
As to his powers and abilities, many of his powers are similar to those of Superman. He possesses phenomenal super-strength, flight, invulnerability, super-breath, and "Martian vision", a term designating his ability to see through solid objects and to project beams of energy from his eyes. Superman once said of J'onn, "He is the most powerful being on the face of the earth."
During the 1990's, it was stated that the source of his flight and Martian vision is a limited form of telekinesis. The Martian Manhunter also possesses the power of shapeshifting, which he employs for various effects, everything from adopting a fully human appearance, to monstrous creatures, to stretching his limbs enough to make Reed Richards rubbery with envy.
He is a powerful telepath, capable of both perceiving the thoughts of others and projecting his own. In this capacity, he has often acted as a "switchboard" between minds in order to coordinate the Justice League's actions. The extent of his telepathic abilities is considerable. On several occasions he has connected his mind to the entire population of Earth.
J'onn is also capable of absorbing energy projectiles such as beams and other energy waves. He has demonstrated regenerative abilities, once able to regenerate his entire body from only a severed hand, although this required considerable strain.
Aside from his superhuman powers, the Manhunter is also a skilled and capable detective. Batman has recorded in his files, "In many ways, Martian Manhunter is like an amalgam of Superman and the Dark Knight himself."
As to his weaknesses, the most obvious one is a vulnerability to flame. Exposure to fire typically causes J'onn to lose his ability to maintain his physical form. It was revealed during a storyline called "Trial by Fire" that this vulnerability was actually instilled on a genetic level by the Guardians of the Universe, some 20,000 years ago, who sought to curtail what was then a very aggressive species on the verge of interstellar conflict. This act also split the race into the relatively peaceful Green Martians and the militaristic White Martians. J'onn has at least partially overcome this weakness.
And then of course there's those Chocos cookies...
The character has appeared in animation, predominantly in the Justice League series, but he was also in "The Batman" series. He has appeared twice in live-action, once in a generally awful pilot for a live-action Justice League TV series, where he was portrayed by David Ogden Stiers, and in the Smallville series, where he is played by Phil Morris, looking mostly human during the episode, but at one point reverting to his Martian form, and looking very much like his comics incarnation.
I'd say he's about due for a DC Universe Classics action figure, wouldn't you?
So -- how's the figure? Absolutely outstanding! This is indeed the classic Martian Manhunter. There is a variant out there, with a more "Martian" head and a shapeshifted right hand that looks like a curved blade, but that wasn't the one that I was interested in. I wanted J'onn as he is best known, and here he is.
The color is perfect. For some reason, green skin seems to be difficult for some toy companies to manage. Mego's Hulk, back in the 1970's, was far too dark. For that matter, so were some of Mattel's Justice League versions of Martian Manhunter. Hasbro's She-Hulk was pretty good. So is Mattel's DC Universe Classics Beast Boy. Martian Manhunter? Right on the money!
The headsculpt is excellent. Martian Manhunter has a somewhat jutting brow, something that was largely forgotten during his earliest Justice League adventures in the 1960's, but which since has been restored. It gives the appearance of the character a sense of mystery, especially with those somewhat creepy red eyes showing forth beneath them. His head is otherwise relatively human looking, color notwithstanding. Martian Manhunter has no apparent hair, although you've got to figure that something like that would be a serious pain for a shapeshifter to manage on a regular basis.
Martian Manhunter seems to use the same upper torso as Hawkman. It makes sense -- they're both shirtless. But the torso, although certainly following the pattern of design that most DC Universe Classics figures do, which is what lends the line its excellent consistency, is slightly larger than average. Not significantly, but just noticeably. This is not a complaint. It's certainly been established that Martian Manhunter is a powerful individual (for that matter, so's Hawkman). He can get away with it.
Although shirtless, both Manhunter and Hawkman have straps crossing their chest in an "X" shape. Although the straps are different, doubtless this was also a convenience for Mattel, since there was already a slot molded in the torso to snap the straps into.
It would appear that Martian Manhunter may use the same arms as Hawkman, as well, but I'm not 100% certain of this. Some of the details don't quite line up. He still looks good, though. The lower torso and legs to the knee are standard, as well, molded and painted in the proper colors, of course, and Martian Manhunter is wearing his distinct belt with the silver belt buckle with the four crossed lines in it.
It's the lower legs that get interesting. For starters, Martian Manhunter is very slightly taller than most DC Universe Classics figures. Not by much -- about a quarter of an inch. But, he has been shown in the comics as a notably tall individual, so this fits. And the additional height is all in the lower legs.
Martian Manhunter's boots are clearly unique to the figure, and feature folded down flaps. Interestingly, an additional point of articulation has been added to the figure -- a lower leg rotation at the boot tops, a decided rarity for a DC Universe Classics figure. But it doesn't at all adversely affect the look of the figure, the way some other additional articulation might have, like pointless double-jointed elbows or knees.
Of course, Martian Manhunter has his high-collared blue cape, and in contrast to his DC Infinite Heroes counterpart, whose cape looks about two sizes too big and you wonder how he has any peripheral vision at all, this cape is a much better fit.
There's honestly not that much paint detailing on the figure, but then there doesn't really need to be. J'onn is dressed in the red cross straps, red belt, blue trunks, blue boots, and blue cape. The trunks are probably the most obvious paint on the figure, along with the red eyes, outlined in black, and the silver belt buckle. Whatever is painted on this figure, has been painted very well.
Of course, Martian Manhunter is superbly articulated. He is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles. The cape is not so large that it adversely affects his balance, and he stands very nicely.
So, what's my final word here? I am truly delighted to finally be able to add this figure to my collection. If anybody was massively overdue for inclusion in the DC Universe Classics line, it was Martian Manhunter. And now he's here. And he was certainly well worth the wait. This is really an outstanding figure in a line that continues to impress. And if you're any fan of DC, or the Justice League, or of Martian Manhunter, then I promise you -- you will want this figure! It may not be easy being green, but it's a very easy thing to welcome this figure into the DC Universe Classics collection!
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of MARTIAN MANHUNTER definitely has my absolute highest recommendation!