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Friday, August 21, 2015

Panel Vision - Top 10 Martian Manhunter Covers

Edited by Robert Beach

I’ve been on something of a Martian Manhunter kick lately. There’s no real reason for it; sometimes things just work out that way. Regardless, I thought for this week’s cover collection I’d focus on the best covers that predominately feature J’onn J’onzz, the Manhunter from Mars. In case you don’t know who J’onn Jonzz is, he’s basically green Superman, and if you want more than basically, read my “History of Martian Manhunter” article.  He’s one of my favorite comic book characters, and I almost guarantee this won’t be the last time I talk about him. For now, I'm counting down the top 10 Martian Manhunter comic covers.

This cover comes from the 1998 Martian Manhunter ongoing series, one of only 2 ongoing comics the character ever enjoyed. It was also part of the event comic Day of Judgment, a goofy but still enjoyable DC comic event that I don’t have the room to summarize. What I like about this cover is how well it plays off of J’onn’s history as a character.  Manhunter has more or less been a constant member of the Justice League since its inception, standing tall alongside the titans of the team and its forgotten members. 

That’s what this cover is playing off of, having J’onn get attacked by the various JLA members who died and were left forgotten. It’s a cool idea and a nice way to dig into J’onn’s psyche without resorting to bringing up his dead race and family. I also really like that he’s shape shifted to have 4 arms here; it’s rare to see him use his shape-shifting powers offensively like this.

From the ‘90s, we jump way back to the mid-60s when Martian Manhunter was still undefined as a hero.  During this period, he ran around with a weird orange sidekick named Zook and fought an evil Tiki head.  Because Manhunter started in the era when weird tales were so popular, that strange iconography followed him throughout most of his solo appearances despite this comic coming out nearly 10 years after the character first appeared. What I really love about this cover is the far-out designs of the orchestra of doom with their weird face/mask things. It’s an imaginative concept and thoroughly in the style of the comics that spawned Martian Manhunter in the first place. 

Another ‘60s classic, this one I bring up mainly because I love caveman covers from the classic days. Back in the silver age of comics, caveman villains were actually very common, mainly due to the success of Captain Marvel and his multiple caveman foes. I like that this caveman antagonist is both the dumbest looking and smartest acting I’ve seen in a classic cover. Even though his face is this wonderfully grotesque mask of dumb, animalistic stupidity, he’s actually being very smart in how he attacks Martian Manhunter. I also just love the coloring on this cover: from the stark aquatic blue sky to the purple mountains to the bright red sun. If this was a more modern comic, that trippy coloring would be considered a mistake, but here it makes perfect sense. 

Another ’98 cover, this one also playing up the evocative nature of the artwork. The image of Manhunter in a casket is already a pretty evocative one, and I really like the visual image of him in an Egyptian sarcophagus complete with mummy wrappings. In real life, the idea of Mars as a possible home for extraterrestrial life that has somehow impacted Earth’s development goes back to the ‘70s with the discover of the Face on Mars; this cover really taps into that.  

Blending alien bodies with Egyptian iconography fits perfectly into the stark, monolithic imaginings of the Martian culture along with a heavy desert emphasis.  Additionally I like how skeletal J’onn’s corpse is here making it look all the more alien, especially in his weird, freaky brow. Best of all, I like how much this cover harkens back to the classic style of Silver Age covers that featured an outrageous, eye-catching image to entice passersby.

As you’ve probably already gathered, not all of these covers will be from Martian Manhunter comics. There just aren’t enough, but those mentioned here will all feature him predominately. I love this cover for just a ton of reasons, and a major reason is how rooted it is in the Bronze Age of comics. Premiering one year prior to DC’s redefining Crisis on Infinite Earths event, this cover actually comes from the continuity when J’onn wasn’t the last of his kind. Even though J’onn was originally not an extinct species, we rarely saw other Green Martians in the old comics, so getting one right on the cover is a real rarity. 

What really sells this cover for me is the coloring and posing going on. The green on the J’onn and his Martian opponent is astounding, a great pop of color that never feels harsh no matter how much you look at it. What’s more, I love how much of a brawl this seems to be with the two Martians clawing and beating at each other savagely. Additionally the framing of the Earth in the upper corner is rock solid, and the setting on the JLA Satellite is a neat backdrop. Also, bonus point for the giant floating JLA heads. 

This one, a lot like #10, gets on the list because of how much meaning it holds within the context and canon of DC Comics. In case you aren’t up on your Green Lantern lore, the character sharing the stage with Martian Manhunter on this cover is Abin Sur. Abin Sur was the Green Lantern of our space sector prior to Hal Jordan taking the role. I love the idea that Martian Manhunter and he collaborated at some point in the past, especially because it makes the universe seem more fleshed out. 

A lot of the time, DC continuity only tends to work forward, so we never get to see ancient organizations like the Green Lantern Corp operate in previous periods of history. The Green Lanterns were eventually revealed to have major history with the Martians, and I like the set-up of that here, especially the idea that J’onn is old enough to have been an active hero prior to the Hal Jordan or the Justice League.  It helps give him the sense of a more seasoned, veteran hero even amongst titans like Batman and Superman. 

Cards on the table, I don’t know anything about Martian Manhunter American Secrets, but it looks amazing. I stumbled across the cover image by accident and instantly fell in love with it. I love the beautifully sketchy and heavy lines that form Manhunter’s silhouette on the cover. I love the faded texturing of the cover and the way it looks like a pulp dime store novel cover more than a comic cover. 

I love the way the background block color is the same steely blue taupe of Manhunter’s cape. I especially love the detail put into J’onn’s face and how well the inking forms his features without truly defining them. I love the stylized woman standing in his shadow, the broken nature of his name and logo, and the flinty, red gaze of his eyes. It’s one of the most striking and memorable covers I’ve ever seen mainly because of its powerhouse use of minimalism, a unique style outside standard comic book construction. 

Another Justice League cover, this one hailing from the early ‘80s when Martian Manhunter had been fazed out of the team. This is a great cover; an iconic image featuring a classic villain that also harkens back to the team’s first appearance. The first Justice League cover featured the Flash playing a game of chess against the villain Despero with his team as game pieces.  Here, Despero is still the featured villain and chess the activity only the style has shifted to be more indicative of Bronze Age comics. 

I really like the struggling heroes in their weird chess bottles as Manhunter maneuvers his pieces. This was also one of the last iterations of Despero in his classic depiction as a skinny, horizontally finned, cerebral villain before he became a hulking alien menace in the post-Crisis era. Additionally, I’m an absolute sucker for covers with speech balloons. 

What, you thought Batman was the only hero who could make Superman bleed? If ever there was a perfect visualization for Martian Manhunter’s troubled relationship to the man of steel, this is it. Despite being every bit as powerful of Superman with even more abilities, J’onn can’t help but always end up playing second fiddle. 

The chance to see him really cut loose on the big blue boy scout is really satisfying, and that haymaker punch is spectacular. I like how this cover doesn’t even need any backgrounds or more description of the story, just one co-star slamming the other as hard as Martianly possible.  This is another example of the far out and crazy covers that punctuated the Silver Age of comics. Covers that grab the reader and says “come on, you’ve gotta know how this happens, right?”

I admit, this is a goofy cover, but it remains my absolute favorite. It harkens back to the Justice League International days of Martian Manhunter where he was at his absolute best and most human as a character. I also really love how it plays off the character’s dopey of love of Oreo cookies, completely embracing it rather than trying to bury it like a lot of modern versions of the character do. 

Best of all, I love that J’onn seems to have smothered Booster Gold and Blue Beetle in Oreos on this cover. They’re basically built into the foundations of his Oreo throne. In the JLI days, those two always gave him an incredibly hard time with their shenanigans and all he ever really did was sigh and roll his eyes, so I love seeing him get his payback. The best part is that smug expression on J’onn’s face over the situation, complete with the fancy, extended pinky on his Oreo-holding hand. 

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