Sunday, 14 March 2010

Martian Manhunter #20

Revelations Part One: Strange Visitors

Writer: John Ostrander
Artist: Tom Mandrake
Letters: Bill Oakley
Colors: Carla Feeny
Color Separations: Jamison
Assistant Editor: L.A. Williams
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Cover: Tom Mandrake
Cover Date: July 2000
Release Date: 03/05/2000

J'onn J'onnz has become aware of a spacecraft entering Earth's atmosphere. He follows it to Kansas, and finds the craft, open and empty, with footprints leading away from it. Curious as to what was contained within, J'onn makes telepathic contact with the spacecraft's AI, and experiences the death of Krypton, before being rejected for not being Kryptonian. The sound of an approaching truck makes J'onn turn invisible, and he witnesses Pa Kent bury the spaceship. Concerned that Kent may not be in control of his actions, J'onn follows Kent home and sees him and Martha agree to adopt the baby from the spaceship. J'onn leaves, vowing to return and guard the boy, ready to act if he threatens the Earth with the same destruction that Krypton experienced.

Eight years later, J'onn returns, disguised as Joshua Johnston, a black farmhand who helps out the Kents that summer. He befriends Clark, despite accidentally calling him Kal, all the time searching Clark's mind for any trace of Kryptonian that might threaten the Earth. In town, Joshua experiences racism from several youths, and Clark rushes to his defence, despite being smaller and weaker than those he confronts. Joshua attempts to break up the fight, but the parents of the other children get involved, continuing to taunt Joshua. One of the adults strikes Clark, and Joshua retaliates. Jonathan Kent arrives and the situation is defused, even though the tensions aren't. That night, the police arrive at the Kent farm - a complaint has been filed and the sherriff feels that it would be better for Joshua to leave town. Joshua agrees to leave, which angers Clark, who vows one day to make things right.

J'onn intends to return to Smallville, to ensure that Clark's desire does not develop into vengeance, but events elsewhere leave him without his memories for several years. He is able to recover, and spends a year as a high school teacher to Clark, now in his mid-teens. J'onn observes as major events happen to Clark, culminating in the reveal of his alien heritage, and progressing to the reveal of Superman to the world.

J'onn visits the Daily Planet in disguise, looking to find Lois Lane and through her, Superman. Once inside, he encounters Clark Kent, and is confused as to why Superman would hide himself and his heritage even though he has full knowledge of it. Later on, J'onn finally confronts Superman in the image of Jor-El, commanding him to embrace his heritage and reshape the Earth in the image of Krypton. Superman refuses to do so, passionately defending the Earth and its people. Realising that his fears have been unfounded, J'onn finally reveals his true self, and his past disguise as Joshua, to Superman. The two shake hands in friendship.

A concerned J'onn J'onnz looks down at an innocent baby contained in a spaceship. A great cover that serves the themes of the issue, despite not appearing within the narrative. And a great start to a great comic. This retcon insertion of the last survivor of Mars into the early life of Superman serves to strengthen both characters. J'onn becomes more trusting of other non-humans and heroes, while the bigoted behaviour of certain inhabitants of Smallville helps instill moral values into the young Clark Kent.

The issue picks up on an element of the Superman origin story as presented in Man of Steel that tends to be passed by in the general Superman mythos, the fear of Superman, what he represents, and what he might do to the planet. J'onn feels this fear, having witnessed the destruction of his own people, and learnt of the destruction of Krypton. Although we know the ultimate fate of Clark Kent as the protector of Earth, Ostrander does a good job of conveying an unsettling alternative through the thoughts and fears of J'onn.

An interesting element of the story is the choice of disguise as Joshua Johnston. A key element of Martian Manhunter's story is centered around the fear of his appearance. The man responsible for bringing J'onn to Earth, Dr Erdel, dies of a heart attack upon seeing J'onn for the first time, and J'onn is compelled to take human identities out of fear for what may happen to him if he is discovered. To then take the identity of a black farmhand in a Kansas town where racism is not unknown is an interesting choice, possibly a cathartic one, allowing him to experience the consequences of revealing his identity and thus be better prepared for doing so in the future.

I really like the ending of the book, especially the last panel, where the themes of trust and frienship overriding fear are encapsulated in a firm, friendship-defining handshake. J'onn and Kal-El share much in common, being the last survivors of their people, and in my opinion, not enough has been done with this in the Superman titles over the years. Although sitting outside of the core Superman books, this issue is a great read for anyone interested in how Superman became acquanted with the wider DCU in his early years.

The Geeky Bits:

Estimated Diamond Pre-Orders: 19.636
Diamond Sales Chart Position: 129
Best-Selling Comic Of The Month: Uncanny X-Men #382

Next on World of Superman: If MM#20 is an example of how retconning origins can be a positive and enhancing experience, then our next issue is completely the opposite. Join me in a few days for the 'experience' that is Action Comics #794.

No comments:

Post a Comment