Saturday, February 09, 2008

A sharp dressed Man...hunter

As I mentioned in the post-mortem I wrote up on last December's theme month, I was awfully surprised about how much love J'onn J'onnz's current look got in the comments on the post in which Batman tried to trick him back into his old look. And by "how much love it got," I just mean "that it got any love at all," because I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate it. In that same post, I mentioned that in the near future I should really devote a post to looking at the many other look's of J'onn J'onnz, Manhunter From Mars, and, well, a month and a half later, I'm ready!

Are you? Cool. Then let's go!

Now, the Martian Manhunter is a pretty old character, created way back in 1955. In all that time, he's only really had one dramatic costume redesign, and has, in fact, changed the shape of his head more often than his clothes.

In the above image, in which we see J'onn giving Superman a tasty knuckle sandwich, imported all the way from Mars, we get a pretty good idea of his original look. Blue cape, boots and undershorts, held up by a belt, Superman-style. Pluse a red X-shaped harness across his chest, either to make him look slightly less naked, or to let us know, "Hey, I wear a harness. All the time. I'm totally up for whatever you earthlings want to do in the bedroom."

His head shape is at its most human at this point, too. Basically, he's got my head atop the body of Johnny Weissmueler. Only green.

Eventually, he'd get slightly more alien, looking, as seen on the cover of his 1996 one-shot:

Basically, his brow grew more prominent, and his eyes redder. In JLA: Year One, that's the look he had as soon as he went public, so that the smooth, human-shaped head didn't really exist Post-Crisi. In generaly, J'onn's look was explained as being a variation of Superman's and other superheroes, so that he wouldn't intimidate earthlings with a more alien look.

In John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake's Martian Manhunter monthly, they explained that the head-shape above was J'on's "public" form way back in the day when he lived on Mars. Martians had public and private forms; the public ones are what they wore to work and to meetings and grocery shopping; the private ones are what they wore around the house with their loved ones.

His look would change slighly from artist to artist and book to book, but only slightly. Sometimes he had human looking eyes, sometimes he had all red eyes, sometimes he had red eyes with black pupils. Whether his cape collar was folded under or pointed straight up may vary, as would the size of his boot cuffs, or his height (There doesn't seem to be any standard as to how tall characters are in relationship to each other in the DCU; of course, J'onn's shapechanging ability might render that moot anyway).

In the wake of Infinite Crisis' "One Year Later" drastic-changes-for-drastic-changes sake, J'onn got his new costume, the one I really dislike:

It keeps the color scheme of his original costume more or less in tact; in the first appearance it appeared black, but has gradually grown bluer and bluer.

The change seemed sudden and arbitrary to me, especially consdiering Ostrander's explanation of the original, as a Manhunter uniform from Mars, grown from the Zo'ok plant. Besides, the head-shape was wrong, a variation of his "private" head-shape, and the pointy ears and wrinkly chin looked a little too much like Marvel's shape-changing alien race the Skrulls, which we should all be quite sick of in two months time, thanks to the Skrull-centril Secret Invasion event series.

The new look was accompanied by a terrible eight-part miniseries, and a new bad-ass, grumpy attitude. Eventually it was explained that this attitude adjustment and costume change was the result of J'onn touching Black Adam's mind in World War III.

Now, while these are the main looks J'onn's sported during his career,he has adopted other looks, usually on a very limited, short-lived basis. Personally, I think they're all superior to his current neckbrace and bodysuit combo, but I'll submit them now for your approval. What do you think, should J'onn maybe switch to one of these looks permanent-like?

First, there's this charming little number:

That's his "J'oann J'onnz" look from a wonderful two-part arc in Justice League Task Force, courtesy of writer Peter David and penciller Sal Velluto. In it, a team of scientists stumble into a hidden underground world ruled by warrior women, and J'onn must lead an all-female task force in to retreive them. Of course, he'll have to disguise himself as a woman as well. Hilarity, naturally enough, ensues.

The advantage of this particular look should be quite obvious, particularly given DC's proclivity to sex their books up all of a sudden. If that were J'onn J'onnz's new look, it wouldn't be long before he was back on the Justice League, and Ed Benes was putting him front and center in each and every panel composition.

Ostrander and Mandrake's Martian Manhunter ongoing introduced quite a lot of new concepts to the character and his background, fleshing him (and the history and culture of Mars) out like never before. One of their innovations was that J'onn maintained more than one secret identity, which was traditionally that of Colorado policeman or private eye John Jones. He used his shape-changing and mind-reading powers to pose as lots of different people with lots of different backgrounds, in part to better understand humanity and in part to fight crime on a variety of different fronts (For example, one guise was as an agent within the Department of Extranormal Operations, another was as a dim-witted supervillain, others were actually the secret identities of other superheroes).

For example, J'onn was sometimes Japanese businessman Yuchiro Takata, who was secretly Bio Armor Jade Warrior, a gigantic, metallic superhero who defended Japan, and gave rise to a popular manga adaptation.

Here's J'onn in Japan, adopting the Bio Armor Jade Warrior look and tactics he saw in a manga to attack giant robot menace Antares, in Martian Manhunter #2:

As Bio Armor Jade Warrior also comes in gray:

Another identity of J'onn's from that series was The Bronze Wraith, a superhero who served on the half-forgotten team The Justice Experience, a retcon-created super-team that existed between the disbanding of the Justice Society, but before the founding of the Justice League. One the Wraith's teammates was Acrobat, a superhero who was the father of DEO agent Cameron Chase, form the even-shorter-than-Martian Manhunter-lived series Chase. She and The Justice Experience popped up in Martian Manhunter. Here's Mandrake's drawing of J'onn as The Bronze Wraith, from #17:

The costume itself isn't too bad. It's a tad dorky, and even less cool than J'onn's normal look, but I've certainly seen worse. What really bugs me about it is the name. If he were The Green Wraith or possibly The Blue Wraith, I could see that, but Bronze? I don't see any bronze on that costume. Maybe he's usually really tanned? The thing is, I can't really see that costume working on J'onn in his normal, non-disquised form. Because it's essentially just a costume that looks like his scantily clad costume, and would look super-goofy.

One of my all-time favorite J'onn appearances came in JLA, back when the Justice League comic wasn't horrible. The climactic story arc in Joe Kelly, Dough Mahnke and Tom Nguyen's run on the book was the six-part "Trial By Fire," in which J'onn quit the League for some much-needed rest and relaxation, which involved conquering his fears of fire and enjoying a romantic relationship with former Superman villain Scorch.

In JLA #84, Superman pays the vacationing J'onn a visit, and the latter grills them up some big steaks, while kicking it in his vacation clothes:

I love that image, off J'onn's crazy-huge biceps just exploding out of that orange golf shirt. (That is orange, right? It's not one of those colors that is kind of pink, is it?). Here's a full-body shot of what J'onn wears around his backyard:

Man, that's awesome. And something I didn't even notice until I scanned this panel:

Behold, the f'lipp f'loppz of J'onn J'onnz!

How cool would it be if J'onn started dressing like that all the time? Instead of the dark body suit and cape he's sporting these days, he started kicking ass and taking names while wearing a pastel golf shirt tucked into his dockers, rocking white flip flops? I think it would certainly make him a more menacing looking opponent. I mean, if he shows up to fight Despero dressed like he's headed to a Memorial Day picnic, Despero's gotta be thinking J'onn's not sweating bullets about the prospect of having to deal with him, you know?

A much less drastic redesign of J'onn's work clothes can be seen in "New Maps of Hell," the six-part story arc from JLA: Classified #10-#15, by Warren Ellis and Butch Guice. This was the last really good story arc in the now-cancelled JLA:C series; I remember being pretty down on it when I originally read it, but returning to it in trade recently, it was much, much, much better than I remembered. I guess that holds true for most of Ellis' writing though; when he writes for the trade, you're much better off waiting for the trade.

Anyway, here's what Guice put J'onn in throughout:

I imagine this is just an art mistake more than a conscious decision to change his look, but it's a pretty dramatic mistake, giving him those big, gold wristbands. Of course, Guice had Kyle Rayner wearing some weird-ass ring-generated armor throughout too. I like Guice's art in this story, and I like the way he draw's J'onn's shorts there, but I don't think the wristbands add anything of value to the costume. Other than making him look like a Wonder Woman wannabe (Sorry, Power Man!)

Finally, for another great alternate J'onn look, we need to look to an alternate continuitiverse, that pocket continuity where just about everyone is better designed than they are in the regular DCU, Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier.

When the captive J'onn J'onnz is finally released by his friend King Faraday, here's what he shape-changes into, once Faraday tells him that real men wear pants:

It can be complimented with a pair of sunglasses,

and, the tie and collar can be loosened in especially stressful situations.

Looking sharp, J'onn!

And those are most of J'onn's alternate looks. Tomorrow, we'll look at his very best one. Don't miss it!


Anonymous said...

Great post, Caleb.

But I still hate MM's original look, and anything more clothed is, to me, simply a step in the right direction. I like the current look more than the old one, but not much.

Anonymous said...

"Behold, the f'lipp f'loppz of J'onn J'onnz!"

Blog line of the *year*.


Jack Norris said...

I'm one of those in betweeen:
Put him in pants & a proper top (i.e., the "costume" part of the new look doesn't bug me too much), but fer chrissakes get rid of the skrull chin and cone head. If they want to make it a bit pointier to acknowledge his "true" head shape, fine (like in that "on vacation" scene), but the current shape, with that lame-looking dent or whatever in the front has got to go.

B.G. Christensen said...

Tomorrow, we'll look at his very best one.


I agree with Jack; it's never made sense to me that, for superheroes, having non-white skin--whether green, orange, or brown--necessitates showing as much of that skin as possible.

JohnF said...

I did a drawing of my ideal MM costume. It's a cross between the traditional one and this new (awful) one. I should send it to you.
Here's one thing I will never understand- if MM is understood to be almost as strong as Superman, and he can borrow mass and grow to giant size, isn't he pretty much the toughest guy out there? If almost Superman isn't enough, how about a giant Superman? That's got to be good enough to take down just about anyone.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I didn't know he could absorb mass like that. I mean, I know he absorbed some Martian soil that one time he moved his brain into his arm and let his body get killed, but I didn't know he could turn into a super-strong giant, as well. Could he not also, logically, shed some matter and shrink himself down ultra tiny?

Already overpowered, he now seems to have Giant Man and (some of) Swamp Thing's powers as well. I'm figuring up a list of JLA fights that would have been over before they began if more writers knew about this.

Jacob T. Levy said...

In the Nail pair of elseworlds, he had a slightly different design. It made little sense-- the harness was shaped like an X over a V instead of just an X, so that by the time it his his shorts it was only attached at one spot.

J'onn seems to inspire writers to make retcons-- the fire issue has been rewritten so many times as to just make me cringe when it comes up now. I hated, hated the JLA "burning" arc, however much I agree with you that the pre-"Burning" suburban life with Scorch was adorable.

SallyP said...

I have to admit liking the classic look for J'onn the best, BUT the casual look with the flipflops is quite adorable. I'd like to see him in a hawaiin shirt too.

Anonymous said...

I still prefer the classic look.

I don't mind adding some pants to his uniform, but I love the X-harness. It's very pulpy sci-fi, and very fitting with the notion of a guy from - of all places - Mars. It gives J'Onn a John Carter vibe that I appreciate.

Anonymous said...

Hey, since I'm not likely to find another Martian Manhunter-centric post fora while, can anyone here explain the weird Martian spelling for J'onn's name? I get the joke that most all Martian names are phonetically English-sounding, but the addition of the apostrophes and slightly wrong spelling seems to imply that Mars has a Greco-Roman alphabet. Surely he has some funky Martian alphabet, and didn't, like, sign his Martian lease with the English characters of "J (apostrophe) O N N," right?

I mean, there are various accepted spellings for different Asian words/names, but Anglicized versions of Japanese don't invent new grammer rules the way J'onn's name does. I can understand that it was probably a neat hook back in the 50's, but shouldn't his name of "John Jones" be translated as "John Jones"? (It only bothers me because the JLU cartoon always pronounced his name as "Jean," probably because they figured "It's spelled funny, so it must not be pronounced as 'John Jones.'"

Anonymous said...

I agree with John Foley about MM being ridiculously powerful. It's like they just kept giving him powers without realizing that they were making him out to be more powerful than Darkseid or whatever.

But you know, if there's one thing almost as lame as his original costume, it's . . . his name! It's a freaking mouthful - the Martian Manhunter. It doesn't roll off the tongue and it isn't particularly memorable, plus it always requires the definite article, so that's six syllables total. No wonder they rarely called him by that name on the JLU cartoon series.

Caleb said...


Heh. The jewel-encrusted thigh band kinda sinks that particular look for me.

Hey, since I'm not likely to find another Martian Manhunter-centric post fora while, can anyone here explain the weird Martian spelling for J'onn's name?

Nope, I sure can't, other than something smart-ass along the lines of "Because Silver Age DC, that's why!"

I admit that one of the things I was most excited about the JLA cartoon when it was announced was learning how they pronounced his name, because I always assumed it was just pronounced "John Jones."

I don't think Martians had our exact alphabet--I seem to recall scenes of alien-looking glyphs in some stories--but a couple of stories (Morrison's first JLA arc, an arc or two of the Martian Manhunter monthly), have dealt with the fact that the Martians were coming to earth for millennia and messing with the evolving humans, so I suppose it's possible English and/or all human language gradually descended from Martian....maybe...and thus J'onn J'onnz coincidentally ended up with a name that sounded exactly like a common English name?

mordicai said...

I mostly want him to be a MARTIAN. You know? The new direction is great for being his OWN THING. When he showed up in Catwoman? Just like, "hey, been invisible, caught this person trying to kill your baby, ps, I'm creepy," it was my FAVORITE. I also like him dressed in Izod, though.

JohnF said...

I read somewhere that his name is pronounced exactly like "John Jones" but they just changed it to "Jean" because they didn't want people to get confused between J'Onn and John Stewart GL. Good thing they didn't share too much screen time with Red "John Smith" Tornado.

Matthew said...

Wow, that Bronze Wraith outfit is very reminiscent of an old Wonder Man suit, don't you think? Which came first?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the overview Caleb,

When I read they were changing Jonn's costume, I was sort of hoping it was to the one his counterpart wore as one of the Justice Lords in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. Original head shape, cape and harness and full body suit looked pretty badass and still distinctly Jonn-like. I even liked the chest symbol.

Unknown said...

The big thing about J'Onn's name?

In his origin, it was said that his name couldn't truly be pronounced in a human language, but J'Onn was the closest approximation.

As for him being overpowered, he originally could see into the future as well.

His being able to pull material into his body to add to his mass? When he did it with martian soil, it was all good. When he did it with Earth material, he couldn't immediately shed the mass for awhile. So when he added a few arms (also in the Ostrander/Mandrake run) he was stuck looking like a Hindu deity for awhile.