J'onn J'onzz, moments after arriving on Earth. Artist: Joe Certa.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1955
Creators: Joe Samachson (writer) and Joe Certa (artist)
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Some comic book historians say it was not the debut of a new version of The Flash that sparked the resurgence of the superhero genre, but the …

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… considerably less prominent appearance of J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars, in the back pages of DC's Detective Comics. While it's true the green guy came along ten months before the new Flash, he could scarcely have sparked any trends because, with Batman the only thing in Detective to draw attention, J'onn J'onzz was scarcely even noticed. It was more than four years before he so much as appeared on a comic book cover, and even then, it was only as part of a group. (And for that matter, Captain Comet beat him into print by more than four years as DC's first 1950s superhero.)

It was in Detective Comics #225 (November, 1955) that Professor Mark Erdel, using a "robot brain" to communicate with unknown realms of time and space, accidentally teleported a Martian to Earth. (This was not the only time an attempt at communication turned into teleportation in DC comics — that's also how Adam Strange got to the planet Rann.) Erdel, shocked by the sudden appearance of the huge, menacing-looking figure, promptly dropped dead, stranding the hapless alien on our planet. The Martian, making the best of a bad situation, used his natural power of assuming any appearance to make himself look like an Earthman. Using his real name, J'onn J'onzz (which, when in human form, he anglicized to "John Jones"), he took a job as a police detective and did a little superheroing on the side.

The story (as well as many subsequent ones in the series) was written by Joe Samachson (who had written lengthy runs of The Sandman and Seven Soldiers of Victory for DC in the 1940s) and illustrated by Joe Certa (who also drew Robotman for DC, Captain Marvel Jr. for Fawcett, and scores of mystery/horror stories for Gold Key, Harvey and other publishers).

At first, he did the super stuff only while invisible, functioning mainly as a police detective who happened to have unusual abilities (another reason not to consider him to have started the superhero revival). However, in Detective Comics #273 (November, 1959), he lost the ability to use his powers while invisible and revealed his existence to the world, making him just another superhero in a world increasingly rife with them. That's when he started being known by the more superheroey name "Martian Manhunter". Later, he gave up the "John Jones" identity and used a succession of others, related mainly to whatever case he was working on. Still later, he abandoned human disguises altogether, and became a full-time superhero and Martian.

While he was ringing these changes on the secret identity schtick, DC revived the old Justice Society as The Justice League of America. At the time (1960) they still had a dearth of superheroes to fill it with, so he became a charter member. It was only then, supported by more high-profile characters to sell the book, that his face started appearing on covers.

A 1964 editorial shake-up resulted in J'onn J'onzz's ouster from Detective Comics in favor of a Flash supporting character, The Elongated Man. The Martian was transferred to House of Mystery, which had hitherto carried only non-series sci-fi/fantasy stories. He started in the 143rd issue (June, 1964). After over eight years in comics, he finally held down a lead feature, appearing regularly on the cover all by himself. Apparently, tho, he wasn't working all that well there, as within a year the non-series stories started occasionally pre-empting him. In #156 (January, 1966), the every-issue cover spot, along with the lead position inside, was taken over by a new series, "Dial H for Hero", and J'onn J'onzz was right back where he started — back pages, no covers, but this time it was in a comic that came out only eight times a year instead of 12.

And then, he lost even that. With its 174th issue (May, 1967), House of Mystery was converted back to non-series stories, leaving "Dial H" out in the cold and J'onn J'onzz with only his Justice League membership keeping him in the public eye.

As time wore on, of course, it became increasingly difficult to reconcile a high civilization on Mars with what was becoming known with certainty about the real-life red planet. In Justice League of America #71 (May, 1969), the character finally returned to his native planet, and found all life there wiped out — it looked pretty much like the Viking photos would show it to be just a few years later. His people, apparently, had fled some awesome menace, so he embarked on a quest to find them, and that was the end of J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars.

Or so one might think, but these are comic books, which never quite turn loose of a character, no matter how untenable. A few years later, he was back, having found his people. Later retcons established that Professor Erdel's machine had transported him through time as well as space — just in case anybody should happen to go to Mars and find no traces of recent habitation. He's now a regular fixture of the DC Universe. Although still unable to hold down a prominent series for long, he's appeared in numerous specials, mini-series and whatnot, and has been a part of most of the numerous Justice League revivals that have been seen in recent years. He even held down his own title for a couple of years in the late 1990s.

Which just goes to show — something, no doubt — but what?


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