In DC Comics' “Final Crisis” #1 (May 2008), J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter died at the hands of Libra and the Secret Society of Super-Villains. This was his life.
The Golden Age of superhero comics began, arguably, with the arrival of an alien visitor who lived among us as Superman. The end of that era and the beginning of the Silver Age could be said, arguably, to have begun the same way. In November 1955, in the pages of "Detective Comics" #225, J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, made his debut. J'onn was a native of the planet Mars and, unlike Superman, was much less human in his appearance. With hairless green skin, a prominent forehead, and a number of strange powers including telepathy, the Manhunter was a far more alien visitor than the Man of Steel and was no infant when he arrived. Prior to his arrival on Earth, J'onn served as a Manhunter -- the Martian equivalent of a detective -- on his home world. With his wife M'yri'ah and daughter K'hym, J’onn had everything a man/Martian could want. Sadly, for superheroes, that's usually when it all goes wrong.
The Manhunter also had a twin brother named Ma’alefa’ak. While J'onn name meant "light to the light," Ma’alefa’ak name meant "darkness in the heart." Throughout their lives, the pair would live up to these names: J'onn as defender of right, and Ma’alefa’ak as the greatest criminal in Martian history. Ma’alefa’ak had been convicted of "mind raping" another citizen and was punished by being stripped of his telepathic abilities. The loss of his talent drove the criminal mad. Gripped by insanity, Ma’alefa’ak created a telepathic plague called Hronmeer's Curse, named for the Martian God of Death. The plague targeted all Martians’ weakness to fire, unleashing flames in the minds of those who used their psionic gifts. J'onn discovered the plan to destroy the Martians but was unable to stop the spread of the plague. J'onn himself buried his wife and daughter, two victims of the telepathic malady. In the end, J’onn found himself the last of his people.
It is unknown how long J'onzz remained alone on the red planet, but in 1955, an experimental teleportation beam created by a scientist named Dr. Erdel drew the last Martian to Earth. The shock of encountering an alien caused the doctor to suffer a fatal heart attack, leaving J'onn alone, a stranger in a strange land. Having no other recourse, J'onn returned to his duties as a detective, using his shape-changing powers to take the identity of Chicago detective, John Jones.
In his early adventures, the powers of the Martian Manhunter were poorly defined. He could change his appearance and see into the future on occasion, and of course had telepathic powers. It seemed that as a given plotline required a specific ability, J'onn would manifest it. Soon he could fly, had super strength, atomic vision, super hearing and a wide variety of other powers as necessary. Indeed, J'onn J’onzz was the Swiss army knife of superheroes. The only truly consistent thing about J'onn’s powers was his vulnerability to fire, but even that would be the case only when he was in his Martian form — sometimes.
Before revealing himself to the world, J'onzz detected the arrival of Kal-El as he headed to Earth and, using his powers of invisibility, observed Jonathan and Martha Kent as they found the last son of Krypton. Concerned that young Clark Kent could be a threat to Earth, J'onn returned to Smallville in the guise of Josh Johnstone, an African-American hired hand on the Kent Farm. In the end, the Manhunter was reassured the boy who would become Superman had a heroic heart when Clark Kent defended Josh/J’onn from a racist attack.
J'onn was a founding member of the Justice League of America in the 1960s, but as the years went on and his date of arrival in the 1950s was not retconned, there became a widening gap between his first appearance on Earth and that of his fellow Justice Leaguers. Through the literary magic of retroactive continuity, we learned that J'onn, during his early years on Earth, was a member of another super team. The Manhunter first revealed himself to the world as a superhero when he joined the Justice Experience as the Bronze Wraith. J'onn was the only survivor of the team, which was otherwise destroyed by the villainous Doctor Trapps. The Manhunter, in his guise as the Bronze Wraith, enlisted the aid of the Justice Society and brought Trapps to Justice.
After his period with the Justice Experience, J'onn resumed wandering the Earth, taking on many different identities, even those of animals. When Superman finally revealed himself to the world, a new wave of costumed heroes began to appear. In "The Brave and the Bold" #28 (February-March 1960), the Manhunter finally went public as he joined the other founding members of the Justice League of America to thwart an alien invasion. For the first time, J'onn could be himself and rediscover the concept of family. As a superhero and Justice Leaguer, the Manhunter gained acceptance from the people of Earth and his peers as he sought to better learn what it was to be human.
In an attempt to duplicate the success of "The New Teen Titans" in 1984, the editorial staff of DC Comics decided to replace the regular roster of the Justice League with a batch of new, younger characters, and the team was relocated to Detroit, Michigan. The team was initially led by Aquaman and included J'onn as a mentor character. Most of the focus of the stories surrounded the four rookie recruits: Vixen, Gypsy, Steel and Vibe. After a few issues, Aquaman left the title and the Martian Manhunter became leader of the team. Sales on the title fell at an alarming rate and the book gained the derisive nickname "Justice League Detroit." The final issue of the original "Justice League of America" #261 ended with veteran Justice League villain Professor Ivo murdering Vibe and Steel.
In November 1986, DC released the "Legends" miniseries in an attempt to provide a jumping-on point for new readers. It was also the launching pad for the Post-“Crisis on Infinite Earths” debuts of Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman. For many, “Legends” will always be remembered as the story that brought the Justice League back to its former glory as a popular and relevant DC book. Within the new League, J'onn became the chief tactician and eventually took on the leadership role himself. Under the Manhunter's guidance, the League, while not the power level of the original roster, was efficient as a unit and became a family, developing deep bonds of friendship.
It is interesting to note that this was the period that established the only real personality quirk that J'onn has ever possessed: an intense love of Oreo cookies. This became a central point of the interactions between J'onn and the duo of Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, as the mischievous pair would frequently taunt their boss by hiding his Oreos.
1988 saw the arrival of a four-issue "Martian Manhunter" miniseries that attempted to define certain details of the character. In a point of retroactive continuity, we learned that Dr. Erdel did not die, and that the Manhunter's frightening appearance was due to trauma caused by the death of his race. The form that was familiar to us was a "compromise" between his natural appearance and human form. Additionally, we were told the teleportation beam had not only displaced J'onn through space, but time as well, and that the Martians had been extinct for millennia.
Throughout the 1990s, J'onn continued as a member of various versions of the Justice League, including a time he spent under the guise of the superhero Bloodwynd, a necromancer and descendant of African slaves. These slaves created the mystical Blood Gem, using it to kill their cruel master. The Blood Gem was passed down through the generations, but, unknown to the Gem's holders, it had become a gateway to a demonic dimension. On the other side of the portal was the demon known as Rott, who claimed the souls of those killed by the Gem. Rott sucked the real Bloodwynd into the gem and mind controlled the Manhunter into assuming the identity of the African-American hero. Eventually, J'onn's identity was uncovered and he --along with the real Bloodwynd -- was freed from Rott.
The Martian Manhunter was finally awarded his own ongoing series in 1998, written by John Ostrander and illustrated by Tom Mandrake. The series lasted a short three years before poor sales forced cancelation. During the series, we learned the details of Ma’alefa’ak's plague and the destruction of the Martian civilization. It was also revealed in the series that J'onn maintained a large number of secret identities, but those were abandoned in favor of the original John Jones identity by the book’s conclusion. Ostrander and Mandrake’s series revealed that John Jones had been a real police detective who was murdered and that J’onn assumed the identity rather than creating it from whole cloth.
During the events of One Year Later, and using the events of World War III as a cause, the Manhunter's appearance was redesigned, giving him an even more alien appearance much closer to his native form. A new “Martian Manhunter” miniseries debuted the new look and portrayed a Manhunter as distrustful of mankind. The principle focus of the series was a quest to discover other Martian survivors.
In "Final Crisis" #1, Libra, at the request of the Human Flame, a minor villain from the Manhunter's past, murders the Martian in the presence of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. The details of his death and final moments were detailed in "Final Crisis: Requiem." Upon his death, J'onn returned to his native form and sent out a telepathic message to the Justice League, outlining his life on Mars and the history of his people. The Manhunter from Mars was buried on his home world in a pyramid removed from Egypt and replaced in its original spot on Mars. Superman delivered his eulogy.