The Martian Manhunter has been a staple of the DC Universe for quite a while, headlining in most, if not all, definitive Justice League runs. However, despite how pervasive his presence has been, his origin story has never had a deep exploration. There’s been plenty of references to H’ronmeer’s Curse and the Martians all being burned alive, but Steve Orlando, Riley Rossmo, and Ivan Plascencia have dived further and deeper into the origin than ever before. This issue, the reader finally gets to see the Martian Manhunter hit rock bottom as the exploration of J’onn’s backstory reaches its midpoint.
This issue is bookended by the present day plot; it begins with J’onn deciding to tell Diane of his darkest hour, and it ends with Diane asking J’onn for help. It’s the story between these two pages that make up the majority of the issue, and it is one of the most gripping stories in this series so far. As H’ronmeer’s Curse begins to take hold of Mars, J’onn banks on his dealings with the underworld to secure a safe escape for his wife and child. However, with the entire city crumbling around him, J’onn is betrayed, just as he betrayed his fellow officers. His wife and child’s last memories are that of J’onn at his lowest, his secrets and shame come to light, and neither of them lasts long enough to even consider forgiving him. J’onn’s lowest moment is given the weight it deserves, as a whole civilization collapses around him.
This issue is the emotional climax of the flashback story. It shows J’onn’s fall juxtaposed with the fall of Mars, and makes it abundantly clear how low he truly fell. The beginning of the flashback contains a flashback even further in time, back when J’onn and M’yri’ah had their child, showing what was the happiest moment of his life. The pacing of this descent is masterful, as well. The final moments of J’onn’s family take 5 panels over 3 pages, as each moment slows to a crawl for the reader just as it does for J’onn. Rossmo’s layouts on each page are delightful, as each page on Mars is just slightly unconventional and rounded, while the pages on Earth are laid out much more conventionally. As a whole this issue is a marvel in visual storytelling.
Rossmo’s art and Ivan Plascencia’s colors are just incredible together. The carnage on Mars is visceral, and the characters’ facial expressions and body language do an excellent job conveying the terror and desperation they feel. As mentioned above, the layouts on Mars compared to those on Earth are just slightly off kilter, and the colors provide a stark tone to each scene. The scene of K’hym’s birth is joyous, and the scenes of the carnage are horrifying. The scenes on Earth, comparatively, look far more subdued. Even with Rossmo’s more cartoony style, they just feel more realistic than the scenes on Mars, which works wonders for setting the tone of the issue. As a whole, the art does a superb job evoking emotion and adding flavor to the story.
Even while the reader knows what’s going to happen, the creative team evokes incredibly visceral emotions in their depiction of the fall of Mars. The writing and art come together beautifully to depict something horribly tragic, as well as to connect the readers to a character at his lowest. Orlando, Rossmo, and Plascencia are doing a wonderful job on this series, and adding something wholly unique to the Martian Manhunter’s story.