Monday, July 07, 2008

How J'Onn Could Work: Condition #1

I'd really love to do a "Why I Should Be Writing Martian Manhunter", like that blogger did about the Legion of Super Heroes and, if you believe the interwebz, almost got a job out of it. But I know that Grant has to have a way to bring him back all plotted out, so there is even less reason for a barely published writer to try to pitch.

So, instead, I'll be giving you how he could work as a character to build damn entertaining stories around.

Condition #1: He doesn't have to always be written as a poor man's Spock. Having the perspective of an alien who survived his whole race fading from existence is great, but it doesn't mean he has to be written as devoid of emotion all of the time.

The Spock approach worked well in Justice League/Justice League International because he was part of a large ensemble cast where he had great value as a straight man and filling a two dimensional role. But this is not how he has always been written. It has gotten to the point that no one remembers that the character has great emotion at times (one of which is shown above, from JL: A Midsummer's Nightmare, a mini that preceded Morrison's run on JLA).

It would seem that the Giffen/DeMatteis work had the unfortunate side effect of sapping all passion out of the character. Any perfectly acceptable emotion had to be a warning sign (Joe Kelly's great arc where J'Onn was transformed into a nigh unbeatable villain) or a lingering negative side effect (the craptacular AJ Lieberman mini where his emotions were from his WWIII exposure to Black Adam).

Readers have a hard time identifying with an emotionless character that studies the human race like a science experiment. If you absolutely MUST do something like that, then you need a regular cast member that serves as the reader's entry point.

But this shouldn't be necessary, since J'Onn is capable of demonstrating feelings and should show this a helluva lot more often than he has in the last decade or more.

He's not Spock, dammit...and even Spock demonstrated some emotion about once a film (translates to once an arc?).

How J'Onn Could Work: Condition #1: He needs to go back to showing just enough emotion to be able to have readers identify with him more. Maybe a little more, but never a little less.


  1. I'm not sure what you mean when you say the Giffen/DeMattis J'onn was devoid of emotion, cause that's not really how it was at all. he *certainly* was the straight man for sure... but he had a lot of emotion then... from a lot of sadness and gruffness in the early going, to the lighter, yet stern alternative leader to Batman's no-nonsense Drill Sargent, to the frustrated and exasperated "parent" to the Beetle/Booster/G'nort/Guy antics, (GOD who can forget the HYSTERICAL 'Alien's Night Out" issue?) to the friendly and supportive shoulder for Max, Orbern, Fire, Ice, etc.

    Actually, J'onn's popularity rose in those days and got him TWO seperate mini-series (one guest starring the JL in fact). In reality, I think if J'onn was written on a regular basis like he was in the JL/JLI series he'd be more well received. It was in that run that I became a HUGE fan of the character.

  2. My friend, I think you need to go over the initial run of the series. Indeed, go over much of the Giffen/DeMatteis run. His displays of emotion were very few and far between, because he was busy being written as the straight man and very serious. Occasionally, people would have to wonder aloud whether he was joking or not, because they couldn't tell. He was written very dry and with little emotion displayed. He was dominated by logic to the near exclusion of emotion, much like Spock.

  3. I agree that that Kelly arc was great. It was genius making him Scorchs sex slave.
    But I have to disagree on the other point. The fact that one could not tell whether he was joking or not gave him charm in the JLI. As Cap Atom said, "he's secretly enjoying some private joke in his head."

  4. I think you and Rocky are misunderstanding me a bit. His role in JLI worked very well...because he was part of an ensemble cast. I'm talking about ways that he can stand alone in his own series, as only characters that are marketable on their own stand a decent chance at...oh, I don't know...NOT being killed off for a substantial period of time. ;)

    That's why I said that, if you want to keep him as colder-than-Spock alien, you need to have a member of the cast that can play off of that. Sort of in the same vein as Christopher Priest using Everett K. Ross to allow him to keep Black Panther's behavior very regal, royal and proper.

    But the way that J'Onn was largely written in the Giffen/DeMatteis JL run up until even current times makes him have little appeal outside of an ensemble cast.


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