One comic character I have grown to have a lot of respect for is the Martian Manhunter. While usually compared to Superman for their powers I think where the comparisons truly lie is in the topic of immigration. Superman was raised on Earth from infancy, never truly growing up as an alien. J’onn J’onzz meanwhile was born and raised on Mars with a job and was raising a family. In the Silver Age, Mars wasn’t yet a desolate wasteland and J’onn coming to Earth is more akin to going abroad.
Trying to fit in
Considering this was during the 50s around the time of the Cold War, blending in is a necessity for J’onn. Something that is greatly expanded upon in Martian Manhunter: American Secrets.
With the numerous “scares” taking place at the time and advancing forensic science it would’ve been just a matter of time before the truth comes to light. Imagine being LGBT and how coming out is the equivalent of being a public menace.
But sometimes hiding in plain sight can be just as bad. In the above series, another species of shapeshifters control vital parts of the world from the shadows.
They convince everyone, including themselves not to think and just follow instructions. J’onn is even given a comfortable place by the shapeshifters leader, a Martian no less. But J’onn refuses having assimilated with Earth culture but acknowledging that he is still a Martian.
Finding his place in the world
Later series find J’onn becoming more comfortable out of some form of necessity. Whether it’s to operate as a superhero or because of his more famous origin. The origin in which the Green Martian civilisation was destroyed by an affliction that wiped them out.
His identity is actually rather malleable to the Martian Manhunter. John Jones is one of several identities. For J’onn assuming different identities isn’t just to fit in or for undercover work. It’s to discover who he can be on Earth.
This plot in Rob Williams’ Martian Manhunter run fully embraces this concept as J’onn experiences both social and physiological pressures. When he becomes a woman he feels attracted to a man at one point and more than once he experiences memories he doesn’t quite recall being right.
All of which leads back to Martian Manhunter’s latest series by Steve Orlando, aptly titled Identity. The main reason he sticks so closely to the John Jones identity despite assuming a dead man’s name is because it’s the closest J’onn feels to home.
Back on Mars he was an investigator albeit a corrupt one. Being an Earth detective is the closest thing he can be to his best self as a means to start over. But even then, J’onn has his own identity and culture that he shares with his partner Ashley Adams.
Some parts of them don’t mix like the shapeshifting, some like the telepathy do. It’s all about finding being true to yourself and finding a way to integrate with the world.
Martian Manhunter is a series about how malleable an identity truly is in reaction to change. Whether you move from one place to another as a psychological coping mechanism or simply by trying to find your place, it’s important to stay true to yourself.
But in order to not make it everyone’s problem that you’re different and have an identity no one will understand, you can’t force your way of life on them. Such a character shouldn’t be overlooked.
Jake “Fracadactyl” Palermo is a comic journalist that writes about pop culture on his personal blog gutternaut.net and on Monkeys Fighting Robots.