Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Like Steven Seagal, J'onn J'onnz is...Hard To Kill.

What's with all this talk about killing the Martian Manhunter, lately? DC's not seriously considering killing off one of their "Big Seven" heroes in the upcoming Final Crisis series just because they think people can't possibly be interested in universe-wide stories that don't involve death, do they?

I'll be pretty bummed out if J'onn J'onnz is killed, even though I'm sure it will be temporary. While he's never really broken through and become a transcendant sort of character, he's been around for decades, which indicates a certain amount of lingering appeal. Something about the Martian Manhunter clearly works on some level, even if it's not often the company and/or itss creators find the right way to isolate and capitalize upon what it is exactly. And this perpetual second banana status is something that I personally find enormously appealing; like his slightly more popular unpopular Justice League peer Aquaman, J'onn is a cool character that its easy to feel proprietary about. Like, as a fan, you feel that you see his true greatness, even if so few others can, you know?

If Rich Johnston's rumor reporting proves to be something more than a rumor, and if Netzer's Save J'onn campaign is unsuccessful and DC does kill off the big guy, then it looks like the person who will be acting as executioner would be Grant Morrison, and this is a somewhat odd role for Morrison, given that he clearly seems to like and "get" J'onn.

Morrison kept J'onn front and center throughout his run on JLA, and a great deal of what John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake would put into their short-lived Martian Manhunter monthly came from plot points, changes and innovations suggested by Morrison's JLA and DC One Million work. Speaking of which, Morrison imagined a future of the DC universe one million months after the debut of Action Comics, and in the 853rd Century, J'onn J'onnz was still alive, albeit transformed into some sort of Martian god, having bonded with his entire planet.

According to Morrison's take on the character, J'onn J'onnz controls his body on a molecular level—that is, he can control every single molecule of his body. That's a pretty impressive power, and coupled with all his others (Superman's + Charles Xavier's + The Vision's), make J'onn J'onnz probably the most unbeatable superhero of them all.

He is just not going to be easy to kill (Note that in boty The Dark Knight Strikes Again and Kingdom Come the creators found ways to take J'onn out of the future of the DC Universe without killing him). Now, if anyone can come up with a good way to off J'onn, it would be Morrison, who has proved time and time again that he's got a pretty good imagination between his ears.

He'll need it to come up with a convincing way to off J'onn.

Let's look at a couple examples of J'onn's unkillability, shall we?

First, let's examine a scene from 2001's prestige format JLA Versus Preadator, by John Ostrander, Graham Nolan and Randy Elliott. Now, stop your sniggering. This is actually a pretty good comic book, particularly by the standards of crossovers between DC superheroes with Dark Horse's Predator or Aliens comics (I just read Superman and Batman Vs. Aliens and Predator a couple weeks ago, and it was seriously one of the stupidest things I've ever read; it was the sort of comic that I had a hard time believing actually existed and wasn't just a bad dream I was having).

The story is pretty basic, leaning more toward the DCU side of things than the Predator side. The alien hunters who had previously vexed Superman and Batman decide to hunt the JLA en force, and they are given super-powers by The Dominators (whom you can learn more about in Invasion!; or at least you could if DC would collect the damn series into a trade!). So we get to see things we should never see, like a stretch-powered Predator vs. Plastic Man, a shrinking Predator vs. The Atom, and so forth.

What I found most appealing about it, beyond the fact that it wasn't anywhere as near as stupid as a lot of the DC/Dark Horse crossovers, was Nolan's art. He has a real nice clean, smooth, classic-looking line, and he's an ace storyteller who handles action and acting superbly. The production values on this thing really draw attention to how great Nolan is, and after seeing his work on the Batman books for so long in the '90s, it was quite a kick to see him drawing thre rest of DC's biggest heroes.

Anyway, what does this have to do with killing J'onn? Okay, check it out. Superman and Green Lantern Kyle Rayner are just returning to the JLA Watchtower and what do they find but

Oh my God! Someone totally cut off J'onn's head! And put it on a spike! He's clearly, definitely dead now! You just don't get up and walk away from a wound like that! Superman explains Predator aliens to Kyle, having met them in Superman Vs. Predator, and concludes that they must have killed J'onn...

But what's this? Aaaa!

J'onn survived decapitation by moving his brain into another part of his body. Then it's a simple matter of someone handing him his head and sticking it back on top of his neck hole. A quick sit down in a ring-generated easy chair, and he's as good as new. Gross, but good as new nonetheless.

Let's look at another of J'onn's near death experiences, this one from his own title. It was part of the story that introduced us to his evil twin brother Ma'alefa'ak, which is anglicized into the rather evil-sounding "Malefic." This is again by John Ostrander, and features art by Tom Mandrake. I think their Martian Manhunter series was vastly underrated, and makes for a great read for anyone interested in the DCU at the time (the amount of guest-stars made it something like a Brave and the Bold style team-up book most of the time). If there's one storyline that should be collected into a trade, it's this one, as it is essentially a Morrison Era JLA story, which happens to focus on J'onn.

Anyway, in Martian Manhunter #8, Superman unequivocally declares J'onn J'onnz dead. He recovered his skull, all of the flesh burned off of it, from a crash site on the moon, and laid it on the table in front of his teammates (luckily it was just a meeting table and not one anyone actually ate off of, because that's hella unhygenic).

How did J'onn end up as just a skull in Superman's hands? Well, in the previous issue, Malefic tricked him into a booby-trapped Martian jump ship, the interior of which exploded into flames, the only thing that can rob J'onn of his powers and, as his belly mouth told Superman in that Predator story above, it's the only thing that can truly destroy him. Here's how that went down:

How can he possibly survive that?

With some really, really weird foreplanning, of course. The next time we see J'onn, it's as a little hand with a face on it, which he teleported down to Z'onn Z'orr, the Martian city that the Hyperclan used as their base in JLA: New World Order, and which was serving as J'onn's version of a Fortress of Solitude afterwards.

In flashback we learn what he did, exactly:

He created a "mirror self," which included both duplicating his brain in his hand and then moved his "Ta'ash," or "soul" in English, into his hand, Martian vision-ed it off and teleported it to safety, allowing the rest of his body and his other brain to walk into a death trap.

Then he simply borrows mass from the planet Earth (Martians borrow mass from their planet, which is how they're able to change sizes and desnsity), and looks for some threads:

These come from the semisntient Martian flower the Zo'ok, which was Ostrander's post-Crisis version of this guy:

Of course, J'onn recently changed his clothes after touching the super-evil mind of Black Adam in World War III, and it's not clear if he's wearing a Zo'ok which just zip, fwip, twip, whipped into a different configuration, or if Ostrander's work on Martian culture is all out the window post-Infinite Crisis (J'onn's new skull shape, for example, is neither his native Martian private one nor his Martian public head-shape). At any rate, old-school Zook is back in continuity, appearing in that dumb-ass Superman/Batman story that was a six-part sequel to a not-very good story by Mark Verheiden and Ed Benes in the pre-Infinite Crisis Superman titles.

So what have we learned? Killing J'onn J'onnz is a lot more difficult than it may look. And, also, never listen to Superman if he tells you J'onn's is dead. He's 0-2 when it comes to pronouncing his teammate dead now.


John Foley said...

I'm starting to hate everything that the Big Two do. They better not kill my Martian Manhunter. No they better not.

Mike Lorah said...

Ostrander and Mandrake's Martian Manhunter series is a definitely an overlooked gem. It's one of the few titles I kept when I switched over to trades and purged almost all of my old monthly runs.

There's also a development later in the series where J'Onn creates a duplicate self, a human-appearing John Jones who retains only J'Onn's telepathy (with Martian J'Onn ceding the telepathy, but keeping the other powers). When human John rebels and doesn't want to remerge with J'Onn, J'Onn simply regrows the organ that grants him telepathy.
Pretty neat twist, and shows just how versatile his molecular control can be.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for killing MM - not because I think nothing interesting can be done with him, but because I think nothing interesting WILL be done with him (I mean, we've been waiting 40+ years for the character to take off, how much longer should we keep waiting?).

Anonymous said...

Grant Morrison did figure out a way to kill Jonn, in Rock Of Ages. Desaad put him in a super-collider and smashed his atoms, one by one, powering Las Vegas this way for a year.

Mike Lorah said...

One could argue that his new status quo is killing him as well.

Caleb said...

Grant Morrison did figure out a way to kill Jonn, in Rock Of Ages. Desaad put him in a super-collider and smashed his atoms, one by one, powering Las Vegas this way for a year.

Oh yeah, he did, didn't he? I guess he'll have to think of a second to kill him off, as it wouldn't be very dramatic to repeat that death.

Caleb said...

Way. A second way to kill him off.