DC has put increasing focus on creator driven and standalone projects, both in their new Black Label line and with various mini and maxiseries. Martian Manhunter by Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo is one of many engaging stories to come out of this trend, and with issue #10 it approaches its ending. Joining them is Ivan Plascencia on colors and Deron Bennett on letters. Thus far, the story has discussed themes of identity, queerness, and how you can learn to love yourself. It’s a very strong set of themes, and this issue wastes no time diving right in.
The issue covers Diane and J’onn’s journey into J’onn’s mind so he can resolve his internal conflict. This mind space draws from J’onn’s experiences as well as Earth’s depictions of Mars to form a nightmare our heroes must confront. Through this journey into the self, J’onn and Diane confront bestial incarnations of J’onn’s darkest emotions. By the end, J’onn is finally able to be his true self around Diane. It’s a beautiful moment between these characters. J’onn’s journey of self-acceptance and Diane’s struggles with queer identity have been the backbone of this story. To see them both fighting together against inner demons is a great realization of their journey thus far.
The issue is visually spectacular and Rossmo’s unique style is a perfect fit for this story. His depictions of both human characters and aliens are extremely expressive and gives this comic such a unique flavor. In this issue’s mind world, Rossmo meshes Earth, DC’s Mars, and the Mars based on human perspective into an incredible brain bending space. The design work for this world and the various creatures in it really show what makes this book special. Plascencia’s colors are also fantastic here. He meshes extremely well with Rossmo, and their vision feels totally unified. Most of the issue is visually dominated by the reds of Mars, but once J’onn assumes his manhunter form Plascencia introduces this blue that pops off the page. Together, they make a fantastic art team with a great understanding of how to use the comic page.
In addition to the art, the issue also has some stellar layouts. In the mindscape, the team does not restrain themselves to any sort of grid structure. The panels get jumbled and wild, and there’s a great sense of forward motion. There are also these sort of tv like panels showing memories from the real world and highlighting characters’ inner conflicts. These panels are a great storytelling choice. There’s some similarly well-done panel work in the issue’s final sequence with series villain Charnn. Like the art, the team’s choice in layouts give the series a distinct feel.
Beyond the visuals, there isn’t too much to say about this issue. It’s a solid plot, and the story is interesting. This is something that’s truly best experienced rather than summarized. Martian Manhunter has been a great limited series, and a perfect fit for DC’s recent focus on evergreen books. The themes of identity work exceptionally well for J’onn J’onnz, and the sense of visual style makes this book feel incredibly unique.