Despite being around for sixty years, being a founding Justice League member, having a higher profile now than ever thanks to his appearances on the CW’s Supergirl, and starring in his own ongoing comic series, Martian Manhunter is a character that has typically remained in the background, steeped in mystery that keeps him distant from the reader. Fans–and character in-universe–have said that Martian Manhunter is what you get when you combine Superman and Batman. He has all of Superman’s strength, and even more powers, but he is just as secretive, smart, and steeped in tragedy as Batman. Even then, to describe J’onn J’Onnz as merely an amalgam is relegating and denies him his own three dimensionality.
Over the last year, we at Screen Rant have become a bit obsessed with Martian Manhunter, discussing his powers, history and enemies, and now we’re presenting the 16 Things You Didn’t Know About Martian Manhunter.
16. He’s addicted to Oreos
Sometimes you just can’t force product placement. Chocos are DC’s fictional equivalent of Oreos, and when you consider that one of DC’s major characters became a violent psychopath while eating them, you might understand why Oreos insisted on a name change. Martian Manhunter loved eating the cookies, so JLI pranksters Blue Beetle and Booster Gold decided to steal all of his Chocos and then buy out the entire region’s supply. When there were none left to eat, Martian Manhunter went crazy; he grew to mammoth size, his shapeshifting abilities were out of control and his ability to reason was nullified. Justice League International writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis later confirmed the transformation was simply meant as a parody of The Hulk.
Batman deduced that martian physiology reacted to the cookies like a human’s to a heavy narcotic. Martian Manhunter was going through withdrawal, leading to possibly the best line in comic book history: “You’re a junkie. A Chocos junkie!”
15. He Debuted in Detective Comics
Martian Manhunter debuted in 1955’s Detective Comics #225 as a backup to the highly forgettable “If I Were Batman!” story. It was a common practice at the time–give a new character a backup series in book with established readership. The character proved to be highly popular, though very different than the one we’d come to know over the next several decades. Originally called The Manhunter from Mars, he was not the sole survivor of his race (many martians would appear over the course of the series) nor did he have a wife or daughter. He had a massive catalogue of powers–many copied from Superman. Martian Manhunter’s backstory borrowed from both Superman’s lone survivor of an alien race origin and Batman’s hard-boiled detective with a tragic backstory. Had Detective Comics at the time not already become that strange combination of sci-fi and crime stories, Martian Manhunter’s cross-pollination of influences may not have worked. Instead, it did, and serves as one of the few good things to come out of the fantastical ’50s stories.
14. American Hero
Superman and Captain America get the credit for being the most patriotic superheroes. In Cap’s case, he’s this scrappy native New Yorker who wants to fight tyranny; in Superman’s, he’s the immigrant that wants to give back to the adoptive world that took him in. They’re apolitical defenders of freedom who have stood up against the government as many times as they stood with it–all in the name of the American people.
In Darwyn Cooke’s seminal miniseries, DC: The New Frontier, Martian Manhunter’s origin is altered, this time adding that after his arrival on Earth, the racial and ethnic hatred, the violence of criminals, and all the war disgusted him. His fears were confirmed when he was detained and imprisoned by government forces led by King Faraday. Through conversations with Faraday, J’onn came to understand the noble side of humans. I Later, in seeing Faraday sacrifice himself for the sake of others, Martian Manhunter decided to stay, eventually becoming a member of the Justice League.
DC’s New 52 saw the re-imagining of the brand, and Martian Manhunter was no longer a founding member of the League. Rather, he was later involved in the formation of the Justice League of America: a strike team devised by Amanda Waller to protect the United States in case the Justice League ever went rogue. When asked, he made his reasons clear: he wanted to protect the place that was now his home.
13. Connection to the Fourth World
When Jack Kirby created the New Gods, he created a mcguffin to tease the story out. The Anti-Life Equation is a formula for complete control over all sentient life. Darkseid, a malignant despotic alien god, spent thousands of years searching the universe attempting to piece it together, killing and enslaving world after world along the way. Over the years, writers have interpreted the Anti-Life Equation in many ways. Thirty years after its original creation, John Ostrander added an incredible wrinkle to it in Martian Manhunter 33-35. Taking place before the fall of Mars, Darkseid’s Elite explored the planet, casing it for those worthy of being kidnapped and enslaved. They found an ongoing project the Martians were working on: The Life Equation, which would prove that the very core of the universe is defined by and reliant on free will. Its existence confirmed, Darkseid became obsessed with finding its negative correlate. Although Martian Manhunter did rescue his captured people, none of them knew that their sharing of thought, science and philosophy would lead to such danger.
12. He Almost Stopped Final Crisis Before it Began
While Martian Manhunter did not play a major role in the series, which saw Darkseid proving the Anti-Life Equation and taking over Earth, he almost stopped it from happening. In Peter J. Tomasi’s Final Crisis: Requiem, we’re brought back to the moment of Martian Manhunter’s death at the hands of the Secret Society. Rather than replicate what we had already seen, Tomasi took the time to establish a story between the panels, showing us Martian Manhunter’s last stand. Despite being ventilated by pyro-tranqs, he fought back against Effigy, Doctor Sivana, Gorilla Grodd, Lex Luthor, Ocean Master, Talia al Ghul, Doctor Light and Vandal Savage.
Martian Manhunter projected a shared illusion into their minds. They believed the Justice League arrived to save their comrade and kill them all as well. Had Libra not been able to see through the illusion thanks to his godhood, Martian Manhunter would’ve subdued the group long enough for the Justice League to arrive and get a handle on what Darkseid and Mandrakk had planned.
What’s most exciting is to see the limit of Martian Manhunter’s powers, particularly the way he can warp reality to such a perfect degree as to make someone truly believe their chest is being drilled into by an infuriated Kryptonian. This goes from cool to scary when considering the next item.
11. The Paranoia
JLA: Tower of Babel is one of those seminal comic book stories, truly a modern masterpiece. We learn that Batman has a dossier on the weaknesses of his fellow Leaguers along with methods of crippling or killing each member in case they ever went rogue. Here, an interesting incident is revealed but otherwise glossed over: Martian Manhunter kept the same types of files. He was new to Earth at the time and wasn’t entirely certain he could trust anyone, including his new teammates. It was something he was ashamed of and wanted to somehow undo. However, it does show capability as well as a certain level of premeditation.
Martian Manhunter’s paranoia is upgraded in the New 52. Prior to joining the state sponsored JLA, he was a member of Stormwatch, a clandestine team of superheroes that take on impossible missions without the world ever knowing about the events or the people involved. In order to keep his secrets when joining the JLA, Martian Manhunter wiped the minds of his Stormwatch teammates to forget he ever existed. He would do something similar later on to Guy Gardner: probing his mind without consent to search for information before wiping the GL’s mind as well.
10. The Affair with Scorch
We’re all attracted to things that’ll hurt us. In superhero comics, that moth-to-the-flame stuff is dialed up to eleven. Cyclops and his love for Emma Frost, Batman and virtually every woman he’s ever loved, Captain Atom and Plastique, Firestorm and Killer Frost, Flash and Magenta. But Martians don’t do anything on a small scale. Spinning out of the truly awful Emperor Joker storyline, J’onn J’onnz began a relationship with the villain Scorch–whose powers are entirely fire-based. Fire is J’onn’s only weakness.
Due to Joker’s alterations to her memory, Scorch needed Martian Manhunter to search through the detritus to figure out what was real and what wasn’t. With their minds connected, they fell in love with each other. While he was able to briefly help Scorch uncover the truth of her memories, she also helped unlock a door in his. This is a rare instance where he’s ever had a love interest; in the perpetual-now of comics, he has always been in the midst of mourning the death of his wife and daughter. Thanks to Joe Kelly, this fact wasn’t lost, and gave Martian Manhunter a very sweet touch of humanity.
9. The Burning Martian
Martian Manhunter’s interest in Scorch uncovered a hidden genetic memory buried in Martian Manhunter’s mind. A secondary personality called The Burning Martian was freed. Entirely on fire and existing only to burn and reproduce, the Burning Martian was the original form of the Martian race. The Guardians of the Universe studied the Martians and realized that their development would soon allow for interstellar travel. Realizing the threat, the Guardians invaded and augmented their genetic structure to subdue the savage traits of the species. They also programmed in a genetic weakness for fire; later developed as a psychosomatic effect to keep the Martians from reverting to their original form.
Before he could be restored, Martian Manhunter as the Burning Martian went on a rampage, very nearly killing the Justice League and all life on planet Earth. As morally gray as the genetic engineering was, the Oans were proved correct in the fear that the Martians were dangerous. This would again prove prescient in the case of Martian Manhunter’s niece, Miss Martian.
8. Miss Martian is Even More Powerful
Miss Martian’s powers and history are on the strange side. Following the through-line in the Young Justice series which was also hinted at in the Teen Titans comics prior to the New 52, it seemed as though Miss Martian’s abilities were developing too quickly (much to the pride and worry of Martian Manhunter). The Young Justice episode “Failsafe” finds Miss Martian’s powers pushed past the upper limits that Martian Manhunter himself had difficulties controlling. He acknowledged that she was too young to be able to have these abilities and that she had more potential for power than anyone else in the Martian race.
Over in the comics, the Titans Tomorrow arc saw the young heroes confront their corrupt and morally bankrupt future selves. The future Miss Martian was the most powerful of the pack, and nigh invincible thanks to a few secondary tricks involving force fields. However, the most telling issue was the fact that her teammates were largely afraid of her, partially because her powers made her unstable. The Jean Grey connotations–intended or not–were impossible to ignore. While the subplot never developed, its implications were exciting.
7. He Had a Partner Called Zook
Described as “a mischievous little child,” Zook was some sort of unfortunate Cronenbergian mesh of Yogi Bear, Pluto and the Great Gazoo. Zook came from a parallel world in another dimension who accidentally fell through an anomaly and landed on Earth with several criminals. Unable to send Zook back home, Martian Manhunter decided to keep him as a pet and acted as an assistant on cases and adventures. This was actually helpful, as Zook had many of the tracking qualities of a dog and the radar-like senses of an insect.
Zook was tiny and zany, and a very clear cousin of characters like Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite (the latter of whom Zook would team-up with). Due to Frederic Wertham’s slanderous Seduction of the Innocent, characters like Zook were created to appeal more to children, embracing a lighthearted fantasy rather than the darker and subversive stories that had been the norm previously. Even for the times, however, Zook didn’t last very long. After a handful of appearances, Zook was neither seen nor mentioned again for about thirty-five years, until a brief cameo in Superman/Batman.
6. Alternate Identity: Bloodwynd
Described by Grant Morrison as a character “[that] does appear to have based his super identity on some alarming rectal trauma,” Bloodwynd isn’t a high point in Martian Manhunter’s career, and given the amount of attention received since, not a publishing high point for DC Comics. The name and design of the character is clearly indicative of the 1990’s “edgy era” in comics.
The story goes is that Bloodwynd was possessed by a creature called Rott because of the Blood Gem. He then trapped Martian Manhunter’s body in the Gem, though eventually Martian Manhunter’s mind was able to escape and possess Bloodwynd/Rott’s body. Martian Manhunter as Bloodwynd then rejoined the Justice League but decided not to tell anybody about the situation for reasons unknown. While Superman and allies fought the Battle for Metropolis against Doomsday, a small contingent of Leaguers figured out Bloodwynd’s situation and freed both him and Martian Manhunter, and re-imprisoning Rott. In the last twenty years, Bloodwynd has been relegated to the rare background cameo.
5. He May Have Created the Future Legion of Super-Heroes
R.J. Brande’s character history was always complicated. Pre-Crisis, he was a Durlan shapeshifter who eventually became locked in his human form. He eventually became a galaxy-wide financier, funding and then co-creating the Legion of Super-Heroes along with Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad. Post-Zero Hour, the plan was to reveal that R.J. Brande was actually Martian Manhunter, having outlived all of the other Justice League members, and became the connective tissue between the League and the Legion. Plans changed and the story never happened, though many hints were dropped to this revelation even after the story was nixed.
This could have added a nice, happy ending to Martian Manhunter’s story. Through all his portrayals, he was always the widower, mourning his lost family and lost culture. He found a surrogate family in the Justice League, but was still an outsider. He was strange, distant–always alien. Brande is gregarious, wise, hopeful and warm. When he receives news that he’s stuck in human form, he’s happy with it. He literally was comfortable in his own body.
Going ahead with Manhunter/Brande would have opened up new avenues to explore in the Legion’s time while also giving those writing present day stories an arc to build toward. You place clues here, references there–and you can chart real changes in Martian Manhunter’s personality. You take a character whose physiology is protean and extend it to his personality: he will change over time just like the rest of us do.
While DC abandoned this specific idea, Martian Manhunter has changed over the course of the last sixty years, probably more than any other character. That’s quite fitting for the shapeshifter from Mars.
4. He’s a Fan of Sailor Moon…and so is Batman
Well, there’s a sentence you never thought you’d read. J’onn J’onnz has had many, many disguises and secret identities as a way of absorbing the full human experience. Over the years, he’s been a cabbie in Taiwan, a fur trapper in Siberia, a Sri Lankan bartender, and an American private detective. For him, these different lives have given him “a sense of home on this alien world.” One of his more modern personas was the one-off Hino Rei, a Japanese finance reporter. Hino Rei is also the name of Sailor Mars, from the popular Sailor Moon manga. It’s a subtle joke, with an amusing twist. In what was supposed to be just a covert meeting with Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent to discuss Justice League matters and the Plastic Man problem, Wayne decides to give his critique. “The accent’s flawless, J’onn, but your name’s a giveaway.” While still subtle, suggesting that Bruce Wayne is familiar with Sailor Moon characters is hilarious.
3. We’ve Never Seen the “Real” Martian Manhunter
The martians are a species of shapeshifters. Combine that with the fluid history of comic books, Martian Manhunter’s “true form” is something that always changes. Over the years we’ve seen many different versions of what was real, from monstrous in the Young Justice animated series, to the angular and gangily forms, to the “expected” martian form based on what Dr. Erdel assumed a martian would look like. In more recent incarnations, Martian Manhunter’s appearance in front of the Justice League and the rest of the world has slowly adapted a more alien visage. The reason could be that he has, over time, become comfortable enough with Earth that he has decided to be more himself.
The New 52 and Rebirth eras have only had Martian Manhunter on Earth for a scant few years. He’s mistrusted, and reflexively, he’s tired of hiding what he looks like. Martian Manhunter has decided to show more of who he really is, much to the horror of everyday folks. Later on in the series, we finally get to see the Rebirth era version of the “real” Martian Manhunter; a complex mix of old and new, with some sci-fi horror built in.
2. We Haven’t Seen All of his Powers on Supergirl Yet
So far, we’ve seen Martian Manhunter use his basic Superman-like power set–strength, flight, invulnerability–and some of his martian capabilities–shapeshifting, phasing, telepathy/telekinesis–but we have yet to see everything he’s capable of. For instance, he can alter his size substantially like The Atom or Ant-man. Early on, he even had precognitive abilities. The power we’re dying to see is his ability to create perfect illusions. Referenced in number 12 on this list, Martian Manhunter can create and project perfect-quality hallucinations, like something out of The Matrix or Inception. The psychical stress is great, which is why it’s not used very often, but as we’ve seen in Final Crisis: Requiem, it’s a dangerous ability that can be used to distract, subvert, harm or even relieve others. The illusions are based on whatever he wants projected–to harm his enemies, or to give comfort to an ally.
Imagine he comes to a dying Batman and uses his powers to project a world where Gotham is safe and all he’s lost is suddenly returned to him. The perfect nature of the illusion would make it impossible to tell the difference between the fake and the real. It would be an incredible mercy.
1. Martian in the Mainstream
Supergirl isn’t the first place we’ve seen Martian Manhunter in live action. He was previously played by the great Phil Morris in Smallville. This version was an old friend of Jor-El’s who was tasked to check in on Clark to make sure he was safe. Morris’ Martian Manhunter was a secret agent mixed with the alien but accessible version of the character that was popular in the comics at the time. Morris’ version didn’t often change into his green skin, and when he did it was a muddy, CGI mess. Rather, the writers let Morris’ strong acting do the work, much to everyone’s benefit.
Then, there was Justice League Of America.
In 1997, there was a Justice League Of America pilot. Played by a hefty David Ogden Stiers in sticky makeup, Martian Manhunter was the apparently very sleepy leader of the JLA (though the cast was clearly based on the old Justice League International book). Like the pilot itself, this version of the character was infamously awful. Fortunately, the pilot never aired in the United States, but you can watch numerous clips in all of its glory on YouTube. It’s a treasure for anyone who loves to cringe.