Martian Manhunter

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I dug up an old review I wrote about the first issue of Martian Manhunter way back in 2018. It’s entertaining to say the least.

But after finally reading all 12 issues, I can say without a doubt, this is brilliant. What Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo did here was truly groundbreaking. Just the sequential art alone and watching Rossmo depict all the shapeshifting abilities along with Martian sex (yes that’s right), I’m surprised this thing didn’t win all the awards.

How can you possibly sum up all twelve issues of this book (that is now collected in Martian Manhunter: Identity)? You can’t. But we can try.

The first issue kicks it off with a bang and you pretty much know what you’re getting. Like I said, I wrote about the first issue when it came out but what I will say here is that it has everything that you need for the first issue. You have a complex character, who is ripped from his world and has to survive. You have fluid Martian sex, and you have people shooting and punching each other. It’s a comic book right?

Then as the twelve issues progress we learn more about our protagonists J’onn J’onnz and fellow law officer Diane Meade. We unravel tiny little mysteries and we go through an incredible journey of reconciliation after Meade discovers he’s been lying to her. Probably the most second fascinating aspect is turning J’onnz into a corrupt cop on Mars and the choices he makes in order to bring his family to safety. And how he has to deal not only with the guilt but also the tremendous shame. This is a story about choices and the ones that we choose define who we are, whether we know it or not. Our identity.

Martian Manhunter #5, Lost in the Sky title page.
One of many examples of Riley Rossmo’s incredible art, from Martian Manhunter #5.

What is identity? This is what Orlando attempts to answer issue after issue. And I think that answer is that it’s incredibly fluid. We all wear our masks and act dependent on the situation. Who are we really?

And that’s really what Steve Orlando is all about. I hesitate to state what he’s trying to say because I don’t think you can. I really did him a disservice in that first review because I said he’s good at weird sci-fi. But after reading this, it’s not weird sci-fi it’s just life. As we know it, right now. And our lives aren’t the same for everyone. We all have different experiences and some have it harder than others. But what the one thing that we do have in common is that we’re all hiding something. And it’s how you deal with what you’re hiding that is important.

And the art by Riley Rossmo is incredible. The amount of skill this artist has in being able to translate words to the page is without words. But yes that is what sex would probably look like between shape shifters. And it’s not about that, but it’s also about the shapeshifting in general and the sequential art that Rossmo puts on the page. He manages to do it and it’s incredible, I can’t overstate that enough. I hesitate to post any images here because it’s worth discovering for yourself for the first time. Each issue has its own incredible sequence. But the one sequence that really stood out for me is when Meade and J’onnz go into his mind in order to help him fight his inner demons so he can be strong enough to take down the antagonist.

And I will finish this off by saying one more thing about Orlando. I believe he is really the only author out there that tackles issues related to mental health head on. He doesn’t hold back and he doesn’t pull punches. He throws his characters into the deep end and really makes them struggle. It’s in your face and Orlando does it so well. I really admire him as an author for that and I really hope he keeps talking about these important issues.

What more is there to say? A lot more. But instead of reading me talking about it, buy the book. And be wowed.

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