Coming this June is DC Rebirth, DC’s latest relaunch that’s going “back to the basics” with more traditional books. It’s a bit disheartening since DC just launched DCYou last year, which introduced new types of books that weren’t the usual superhero fare and allowed the creative teams more creative freedom. One such book was Martian Manhunter, which saw its adventures recently collected in a trade collection.
Is it good?
Martian Manhunter Vol. 1: The Epiphany (DC Comics)
Terrorist attacks, brutal murders and other acts of mayhem are taking place across the globe. Why? How? Whatever is going on is connected to a series of very different people all over the world — including J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter. Something bad is coming…
The first six issues of the series collected in this volume present us with an interesting tale: White Martians have returned to Earth and are planning on destroying the world from within using paranoia, terrorism, and even implanting disguised Martians into positions of power. The Martian Manhunter ties into this because he seems like he has the potential to bring about the destruction of Earth as some sort of weapon created by the White Martians. All in all, it’s a very intriguing, mysterious, and creepy thriller that reminds me of old school science fiction movies where aliens invade and walk among the people.
The story is an unnerving one, thanks primarily due to the Martians — from their eerie smiles to their inhuman confidence to their ability to disguise themselves as humans, which oftentimes makes it difficult to tell friend from foe, the aliens are wonderfully creepy through and through — and they’re even more frightening once their true forms are revealed. Though the overall story is disturbing, Martian Manhunter Vol. 1 isn’t without its funny, heartwarming moments: scenes which feature the odd character of Mr. Biscuit and a young girl named Alicia are particular highlights — following the two’s growing friendship is one of the volume’s more enjoyable moments.
Remember kids, stranger danger is important.
The downside of all of this is in the story’s execution and the way the history of Martian Manhunter is revealed. While I personally didn’t mind the change, it’s more than understandable if there are fans of the character who do not like what Rob Williams did. The whole idea of making him this White Martian superweapon and that everything you’ve ever known about him is wrong may rub some people the wrong way. The other is in the storytelling, which is really hard to follow sometimes. The story early on really likes jumping around a lot from point to point with little in the way of transitional periods or even letting you know what point in time certain scenes are taking place. It makes the experience rather baffling and you have to stop and think about what just happened — albeit not in a good way. While the story does improve in transitioning a bit later and things do feel like they come together in the end, the timescale of the story remains confusing.
William’s writing on the series is decent, but not without its problems; his pacing is very fast and quick, which means on one hand the story rarely drags and there’s always something happening with the plot. On the other hand, this frenetic pace means the story never really lets us settle in and reflect on moments like we should. For instance, this whole invasion plan doesn’t feel like it has the scope it should, since we really don’t see much of the Martians’ attacks outside of early on, maybe a news report, and anything in relation with Martian Manhunter. In a way, I almost wish that the first arc maybe was one issue longer so things could settle down and let us see what is going on.
In terms of characterization, there are some characters that don’t get a lot of growth (the big bad villain being one of them surprisingly enough), but for the most part, everyone else is fairly memorable. There’s of course, the Martian Manhunter himself — whose dread and horror we share as his dark past begins catching up to him; the upbeat and biscuit obsessed figure known as Mr. Biscuit, who is very strange but also rather friendly; an FBI agent named Wessel, who acts as an everyman character and is constantly in over his head and continues to play this part even after he figures out who he really is. The weakest characters are Leo, who just remains a static, extremely untrustworthy individual from start to finish and the villain that pops up around the third issue — he’s set up as this major force and foe to be reckoned with, but he doesn’t appear much after the initial introduction sadly.
The artwork for this book overall is great. Most of it is drawn by Eddy Barrows (first artist for the New 52’s Nightwing comic) with one or two others helping out, like Diogenes Neves. While Neves and any other backups are nice, Barrows steals the show easily with his fantastic line work. The characters are fantastic and distinct looking, particularly in their designs and body language. The detail and emphasis put into every little bit of background, scenery, and depiction of horror is wonderful as well. Speaking of which, the sci-fi horror elements are incredible and very effective. You can really sense the dread and total alien-like nature of the imagery, from Mr. Biscuit’s introduction to the huge monstrosity that chases the ambulance in the middle of the volume. It’s frightening and stunning, but beautifully depicted in how nasty it all is. I really hope Barrows gets to draw more issues of the series before its end.
Is It Good?
Martian Manhunter Vol. 1: The Epiphany is a good science fiction/horror story with a few flaws that drag it down. Ignoring Williams’ polarizing approach to the main character, the plot suffers from storytelling problems and pacing. However, the story itself is very engaging with its creepy and suspenseful story, great twists and enjoyable set of characters as our leads and supporting cast. Plus, the artwork really sells the sci-fi horror aspect of this book incredibly well. If you’re looking for something other than your usual superhero fare, Martian Manhunter is worth a shot.