Secret identities is an attribute of superhero stories which feels far less prevalent these days than it used to. To be fair, with some characters it only makes sense every person under the sun knows who is behind the mask. The X-Men, for instance, are rather recognizable in their spandex because they're not moonlighting as heroes to fight crime in their hometowns. Instead, they're meant to be the face of an often-maligned minority and are looking to become the poster children of a cause for equality. The masks, capes, and tights are just window dressing.
We've seen secret identities stripped away in film as well. When Tony Stark admitted he was the man parading around in a piece of billion dollar technology at the end of Iron Man, the moment almost felt subversive. Up until that point, most superhero films mined the notion of a hidden life for dramatic effect and emotional depth.
RELATED: PREVIEW: Martian Manhunter #1
Comic books, overall, play things a little more close to the vest when it comes to keeping alter egos under wraps, especially in the DC Universe, where secret identities still mean something for guys like Superman and Batman. Sure, there's a small group of people in their lives who know the truth, but the general public is either oblivious or just doesn’t care. Acts of heroics often create symbols that outweigh any interest in who is behind the cape. Seeing this partition melt away can be a bit disappointing, however. When the dichotomy of hero and citizen begin to bleed into one another, we can get some rather captivating moments which can potentially define a character. The first installment of the twelve-issue limited series Martian Manhunter might just be the start of one of these defining works in the character’s long history.
DC Comics has been producing a lot of exciting soft relaunches and reintroductions for some of its most popular characters over the past year. For example, Brian Bendis' Superman titles have been fantastic; Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp's The Green Lantern has been unlike anything else on the shelf; and Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham's recent Shazam debut was an absolute blast. But even with the glut of great titles with a big, fat "#1" plastered across their covers coming from DC, most of them have been somewhat scattershot in terms of being a good entry point into understanding the character the titles focus on. Now, however, we have a debut that reads like gangbusters when it comes to a fresh introduction to a character who has been around for decades.
In Martian Manhunter #1, we follow the titular Justice Leaguer living on Earth under the guise of police detective Joshua Jones. His partner doesn't know he is actually a green-skinned lawmen named J'onn J'onzz, but, of course, the reader does, as the narrative gives us glimpse of J'onn's time as an interstellar manhunter and how it parallels his current position on Earth.
Steve Orlando's script plays both sides of the coin with wit and deep insights into our heroes headspace, jumping between the heinous, violent crimes plaguing J'onzz's terrestrial experiences and the more spectacle-driven moments of his time off world. The bridge connecting these two aspects of Martian Manhunter's life are balanced well. Neither become overbearing enough to distract from the other.
Aside from the stellar writing in this issue, the art is wonderful. Riley Rossmo's work is simply fantastic. The darker elements of the murder scenes Josh Jones investigates drip with noir and are rendered in grisly detail, making them feel real without being a grotesque display of gore and sinew for the sake of shock value. There is an element of reservation to every horrific depiction of a crime scene, which makes them all the more upsetting to look at.
The otherworldly moments are presented in stark contrast to what's happening on Earth, which is helped in being realized by Ivan Plascencia's gorgeous colors. Plascencia knows when things should be vibrate and when they should be drab, and helps set the tone perfectly depending on what's happening on the page.
From the first page's dual narrative captions to the final shocking splash page, Martian Manhunter #1 is a great read. What could have been a larger than life, off world adventure book looks to be shaping up to be in the same ilk as crime noir superhero books like Powers or certain runs of Detective Comics. It's a welcomed surprise in a year that has seen a huge amount of relaunches and retreads of all stories. Putting J'onn J'onzz in a crime comics and allowing his dual life be one of the biggest hiccups is a wise decision, and it has us looking forward to where things go from here.