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‘Martian Manhunter #4’ (review)

Written by Steve Orlando
Illustrated by Riley Rossmo
Published by DC Comics


“You can’t hide anymore, J’onn J’onzz! The curse has one yet to claim.” 


Martian God of Death and Darkness.

Responsible for transporting deceased Martian souls to the afterlife.

Namesake of the extinction-level plague that laid waste to Martian society – killing among many others, J’onn J’onzz’s beloved wife and child – the psychic viral contagion known as H’ronmeer’s Curse.

That’s the history.

Part of the tragic story that defines the hero we know as Martian Manhunter.

As indelible to the mythos as the mysterious beam of energy that captured J’onn and transported him across space and time, from his homeland and his family, before the Curse had a chance to infect him as well. Leaving him alive in the far-flung future, the last of his kind. (Almost.)

In previous continuity that storyline struck even closer to home, as the plague itself was created and unleashed upon the susceptible minds of Green Martian’s by J’onn’s own brother Ma’alefa’aka. That may no longer be the case in Steve Orlando’s current, masterful retelling of the Martian Manhunter origin story in the New DCU. (Or is it?) But it’s no wonder that H’ronmeer’s Curse nonetheless plays a central role in the story he is telling.

With 12 issues to tell that story, it says a lot that at only 4 issues in we have already covered a lot of ground, with a lot of material – some familiar, some not – to absorb.

Already we’ve seen plenty of artists Riley Rossmo and Ivan Plascencia’s fantastic take on Martian society, with richly layered depictions of J’onn’s former family and work life, in addition to the moment of J’onn’s arrival on Earth, his assumption of detective John Jone’s own life and work, and plenty of narrative tension as J’onn’s true identity is first revealed to his partner Meade, while both are working the case of a particularly brutal homicide and kidnapping.

And now our villain, who steps fully forward onto the stage in this issue, with more than a few secrets to tell our favorite Martian Manhunter.

That’s… a lot already. And to my mind it’s a great sign. Because we still have three times as much territory yet to explore in this series. No telling what Orlando and crew have in store for us yet.

But if past is, well, not-quite-prologue, as it is in DC’s post New 52, there’s no reason to think that they feel beholden to tell a story that is anything more than familiar to us in its broad strokes. And that leaves a lot of room for surprises.

That fact was already laid down last issue when Dr. Saul Erdel dies moments after pulling J’onn J’onzz to Earth. That’s a sharp distinction from previous continuity, with repercusions we may not yet fully appreciate.

Similarly, it appears that the origins of H’ronmeer’s Curse may have a few more wrinkles in it this time out, with an antagonist whose connection to the psychic malediction is as mysterious as it appears to be vicious.

Riley Rossmo has as much fun bringing new baddie Charnn to life, as he does rendering every other aspect of malleable Martian life. But to have that finally spill over into the drab, shadowy landscapes of John Jone’s beat on modern day Earth, in full-color glory, is as satisfying as the sequence of events that lead up to the surprise confrontation.

In just four short issues, we find that a sliver of J’onn J’onzz’s past has caught up with him in the most unlikely of places, in startling, fantastic, and terrible fashion. It’s a sliver that drives right to the heart of the tragedy that defines him, at a time before he’s chosen to don his colors to become the champion of Justice for our own planet, that he is destined to become.

Who knows how this confrontation will define him going forward?

All of this comes on the heels of an issue that has plenty more revelations to share – ranging from the… unorthodox methods that J’onn has at his disposal to do his job, to the surprising mettle of a young girl caught in a nightmare of hellish proportions, to more steely rad action from Diane Meade, who seems to be something of a superhero in her own right, and is quickly becoming a favorite new character in this moderately new DCU.

Here’s hoping she sticks around for a good long while…

Put simply, this book is simply excellent. And it shows no signs of slowing down. (Or missing any opportunity to give us more x-rated Martian activity, I might add.) It’s clear by now that whether we find ourselves on Mars or on Earth, there is so much more to come.

But already this book is a classic.

Next Issue: Starve a Cold, Feed a Fever? Maybe not.




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