SPOILER ALERT: The following article contains major spoilers for Martian Manhunter #1 by Steve Orlando, Riley Rossmo, Ivan Plascencia and Deron Bennett, on sale now.
J’onn J'onzz has remained one of the most enduring characters in DC Comics’ roster of icons since debuting in Detective Comics #225 as The Manhunter From Mars in a story by Joseph Samachson and Joe Certa. While the Martian Manhunter hasn’t had quite the same storied history as Justice League allies like Superman or Wonder Woman, he’s had some of the very best creators come aboard to add to the canon of what makes J’onn such a great character.
While a lot of characters are stuck in the status quo that they first found themselves in in the Golden Age, Martian Manhunter is — fittingly, given his shapeshifting powers — more adaptable. Whether it’s Jon Ostrander, Grant Morrison or even the recent run by Rob Williams, J’onn’s history represents the best things about superhero comics in a shared universe.
The latest creators to make their mark on the legacy of the Martian Manhunter are Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo, who are coming at the character with a take unlike anything we’ve seen before. Not only does it give us a closer look at his time on Earth before joining the Justice League, flashbacks even further to his home planet show a vibrant and thriving civilisation with its own customs and traditions. Among the hustle and bustle of Orlando and Rossmo’s red planet, the team makes one major change to the Martian Manhunter’s backstory which truly changes everything we thought we knew about the character, and explains so much about the hero we know him to be today.
Right away, one of the biggest changes to Martian Manhunter #1 is that it seems to retcon pretty much everything that was introduced in the previous Martian Manhunter series by Rob Williams and Eddy Barrows. That series was a drastic departure for the character, revealing that J’onn was given his powers against his will by the Martian who would become his mortal enemy, Ma'alefa'ak.
There’s nothing in Martian Manhunter #1 that outright says that run isn’t canon anymore, and there’s a chance the Mars scenes are just set before the Mars scenes of Williams and Barrows’ run — Steve Orlando is a creator who likes to incorporate all aspects of continuity, after all, and isn’t one to retcon something he could instead work into his master plan — but for now, it seems like this team’s take on Mars is a bit more traditional, in a broad sense.
However, when Martian Manhunter #1 gets into the nitty gritty of Mars culture, we see Orlando and Rossmo explore it in a big way. One of the big additions is the idea of a “social shape” or a form that Martians wear outside of the house in front of others; we see that J’onn’s traditional superhero look is his social shape, something his wife chides him for wearing when he returns from work. Similarly, J’onn’s daughter K’hym in the past just looked like a little human girl but green; now, she’s a cute, floating blob that somewhat resembles Doop of the X-Men.