Martian Manhunter #3: Steve Orlando finds his feet on Earth
Last year, at the inaugural Keystone Comic Con, I had the opportunity to sit down with writer Steve Orlando and chat about Martian Manhunter. His enthusiasm was infectious, and as he showed me unlettered pages of Riley Rossmo’s artwork, I couldn’t help but get excited. After all, J’onn J’onzz has been one of my favorite characters in comics since before I knew much about him. To see Steve’s passion expressed through Rossmo’s bizarre forms—forms that have found perhaps their most natural home in a story about the Martian Manhunter—it was a beautiful thing. I preordered the first issue, and I looked towards its release with great anticipation.
Once #1 dropped, however, I felt some disappointment. It seemed to me that the virtues of the Last Son of Mars were obscured by a great deal of Martian world-building and esoterica. In an effort to illustrate just how other Martian culture was, Orlando had made the mistake of blurring the human tethers that would allow us to connect with his characters. Instead of taking us into J’onn’s world, he set us up as unaccompanied, third-party observers of it, with all of the cultural confusion that comes along with such an experience. #2 was a definite improvement—particularly as we saw J’onn’s situation with his human partner deteriorate in the book’s present day—but I still didn’t love it as much as I so desperately wanted.
Well, it’s February, Martian Manhunter #3 is here, and let me tell you—this series has finally arrived. With Mars in the rearview (or at least on the back burner), the central interactions occur between J’onn and his partner, Diane; in this human context, the story isn’t tripping over Martian jargon, and it’s much easier to invest. What’s more, the bulk of this issue’s narrative occurs in flashback, with the Manhunter’s stirring narration over top. We get a view into the persistent pain that J’onn feels, flowing out of both loss in his past and empathy for human suffering and anguish in his present. This is the stuff that made me a Martian Manhunter fan in the first place, and I’m loving it here.
Rossmo’s artwork manages to hold up quite well with the transition to a predominantly Earth-based setting. He’s a perfect fit for the crazy Martian stuff we saw in the previous two issues, but I’ve always been a little cold on his stuff when it’s focused on normal people. Yet, the mood of this book is still mingled with horror, and Rossmo’s distorted anatomy and nutso hairstyles (see: Diane) still feel authentic. And the visual storytelling continues to deliver, as well.
Ivan Plascencia colors Rossmo’s work beautifully. There’s a lot of subtle rendering work—both in the spacious and intricate portions of Rossmo’s panels—and quite a bit of variety from page to page. And Deron Bennett’s lettering looks great in general, but I’m especially fond of the typography. The SFX aren’t half bad, either!
Overall, Martian Manhunter #3 at last delivers what I’ve been waiting for since this series was announced. I’m moved by Orlando’s J’onn J’onzz in much the same way that I was when I first saw him in some animated film years ago. Rossmo, Plascencia, and Bennett continue to deliver the same high quality they’ve brought from the start, and with Orlando’s work at last finding parity with that of his collaborators, Martian Manhunter is suddenly one of my favorite books on the rack.