– The following features SPOILERS for Supergirl –
Supergirl season 2’s sixth episode, “Changing,” brought the payoff to several storylines: Alex came out of the closet to her sister (which, ironically, went better than coming out to the object of her newly-awakened affection); James Olsen took his new armored-vigilante identity out for a field test; and Mon-El tried the selfless-superhero life on for size. Of course, some characters got better payoff than others (poor Alex). But one major looming shoe only inched closer to dropping: J’onn J’onzz still hasn’t learned that Miss Martian is not precisely the kindred spirit he thinks she is.
As part of the episode’s main “villain of the week” story, an Arctic-based climate researcher had an unfortunate encounter with an extended homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing and found himself transformed into a environmental-activist version of classic Superman foe The Parasite… which might be the most “Peak CW” thing to happen on the series yet.
For those not immediately familiar, The Parasite is a big purple alien energy-vampire who can suck the life-force out of any being – making him one of the few DC Universe villains dangerous to Kryptonians and Martians in hand-to-hand combat. The experienced left J’onzz (aka “The Martian Manhunter”) in a near-comatose state and in need of a blood transfusion that only Miss Martian could provide. She did – but not without hesitation. And though J’onn seems to have recovered, a final glimpse of an involuntarily shaking hand would seem to confirm that Miss Martian (a.k.a. “Megan Morse”) was right to be worried about their compatibility: No one yet knows that she’s actually a White Martian, not a Green like J’onn – and there’s no telling what that will mean for either of them.
GREEN & WHITE
When DC Comics first introduced Martian Manhunter as a character in 1955, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of extra thought put into how the “Martian” part was supposed to work in terms of background: The visual hook of the character was a bald, green-skinned alien, “Martian” was the most universally-familiar non-generic name for an alien species most people knew and the words sounded good together. Everything else about J’onn J’onzz culture, history and power-set would get detailed piece-by-contradictory-piece over the course of many years – even the now standard idea of DC’s Mars as a war-blighted dead world wasn’t part of the original plan.
Retcons being what they are in the DCU (what they are = frequent), the exact cause of what brought Mars to ruin has changed almost as often as the number of Martian survivors – which at one point was revealed to include enough refugees from “New Mars” to mount an attempted colonial invasion of Earth that was devastating enough to lead to the disbanding of the original Silver Age Justice League. Also not paid much attention to: Consistency in the physical appearance of the species, usually excused by pointing out that as natural-born shape-shifters, physicality is somewhat subjective to Martians.
But in 1997, as part of the inaugural storyline for his era-defining relaunch of Justice League as “JLA,” Grant Morrison threw a new wrinkle in DC’s Martian mythos: In addition to the Green Martians we’d met, the species also came in white – and they were complicated.
Like everything else in the DC cannon, how the White Martians “work” (and even look) has been retconned a few times over. Apart from the obvious skin-color difference, they tend to look more superficially “alien” than their Green cousins, with exoskeleton-like armored skin, sharp teeth and claws. Sometimes they have tails, and have even been depicted as having a secondary larger mouth on their lower abdomens – though since they, like the Greens, can shape-shift at will, that’s all somewhat relative.
What’s consistent is that the White Martians are typically presented as both outwardly and personality-wise the opposite of the more Zen-like sensibility typically associated with the Greens (or, rather, with J’onn J’onzz): Even if they only really “choose” to look like albino Xenomorphs from hell, they’re warlike and aggressive. How they got that way is another story – or, rather, several stories. Originally, they were simply a breakaway sect of Green Martians who chose to adopt a form that reflected their differing philosophy; but the most recent version of the story has the two races originating as a single, more powerful people forcibly separated via interference from The Guardians of Oa.
Something else that’s changed a few times: Exactly what the Martians are fighting about in the first place, and who started out as the initial aggressor. Most of the time, it’s the White Martians causing the problem (“cause problems” essentially being the philosophical tenet they differ so much about with the Greens), and version of the story makes them the ultimate big-bads of J’onn J’onzz backstory. The series presents the White Martians as marauding subterannean conquerors who were directly responsible for the genocide against J’onn’s people and made a memorable showing as creepy villains in multiple Season 1 episodes.
Since their introduction the White Martians have figured in a number of prominent DC Universe storylines, but none more noteworthy than the saga of Miss Martian: At first appearing as a Green Martian who affected a humanoid-female appearance (complete with long red hair), M’gann M’orzz was ultimately revealed to be keeping a big secret: She was actually a White Martian turncoat attempting to shape-shift her way to a fresh start, a reveal that turned her from an already popular breakout star among the DCU’s “cute” teen-heroes into a complex fan-favorite whose debut was among Supergirl: Season 2’s most anticipated new elements.
The series has waited no time informing the audience that this incarnation of M’gann shares her comic counterpart’s duplicitous nature and White Martian secret identity, but thus far the other characters aren’t in on the deception – yet. It’s also not clear what reasons she has for hiding herself in this way in the first place, beyond intentionally vague allusions to a White Martian having seen the light during the waning days of the war that wiped out the Greens. Is she hiding out of shame, or does she fear a more tangible threat to her safety? Thus far, we don’t know for sure.
Instead, the tension has been focused on what will happen when Martian Manhunter (who, in the show, more frequently taps in to his deeper reserves of anger and torment than in many other conceptions of the character) learns the truth: Even if a transfusion of this type isn’t lethal or long-term damaging, J’onn J’onzz now has the blood of a White Martian – a race he’s regarded as his most hated enemy for centuries – coursing through his veins. How he reacts when he finds out will likely change the course of both Martians’ stories for the remainder of the Season… and may even be enough to blow up the safety-systems of the rest of the cast as well.
Supergirl airs Mondays on The CW.