In a recent interview, Supergirl’s executive producer called J’onn J’onzz “the warmest soul in the DC universe,” and heavens above if that isn’t the perfect description of the Manhunter from Mars. Ever since I truly took the plunge into the DC universe, J’onn was the character I latched onto the most.
My first introduction to Martian Manhunter was in middle school, I believe. I picked up a Justice League graphic novel on a whim and thought: a “manhunter” is a good guy? That sounded like a villainous title to me. I never made it past the first few pages of the novel, and would have to wait almost a decade before I learned exactly who this fellow was, and I wish I had known him sooner.
As it was with Superman*, my true introduction to the Manhunter was through Yale Stewart’s webcomic JL8, in which this well-spoken, shy, Martian child made me smile from the start. He didn’t quite fit with the others at first, more an addition to Barry and Hal’s friendship than integral. Nevertheless, the comic always finds him polite and eager to be nice to others. It felt like I was reading my own story growing up in middle school. Always liked by others for being quiet and polite, but never in the core of a group of friends.
Loneliness is something that I discovered would be a theme of J’onn’s story as I began watching the Justice League cartoon and its sequel series Justice League Unlimited. He feels distanced from everyone around him and thus often keeps his distance, especially emotionally, from others. Again, this is something that resonated with me as I looked back on my years growing up. I was frequently left out of friend groups, I learned to simply make sure I didn’t place myself in situations that could result in being left out.
My adult life finally found a connection with J’onn in Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier. After arriving on Earth and learning about the ongoing battle between good and evil on our planet, J’onn decides, quite simply “I’m going to be one of the good guys,” and becomes a detective. That innate desire to do good, to save others, no matter your own circumstance, is something I’ve always held tight. Furthermore, the J’onn found in New Frontier also loved stories and had a good laugh at cheesy science fiction films.
Sometimes I feel kind of like J’onn.
I still remember what J’onn did in those pages of that graphic novel I picked up all those years ago.
It opened on a plane crash, the survivors strewn across a field, mostly unconscious. J’onn was the first to arrive from the Justice League, and he took on a friendly face to start waking the survivors and comforting them. It was a gentle approach, caring for the victims before pursuing the villains, and this is true to J’onn’s heroism.
J’onn was often quietly off doing his own thing, not in the spotlight like Superman, but still making a difference. Still doing good and being kind, even if it was done unseen. In the Justice League episode “Tabula Rasa”, J’onn spends most of it off wondering about the nature of humanity before joining in a search for a lost child as the rest battle an android. When J’onn finally steps into the fight, it’s to resolve the battle by reaching out to the antagonist with a display of empathy and trust.
In the most recent series for J’onn in the comics gives us a number of scenes in which J’onn, split into different parts of his personality, almost all of whom are motivated by some form of kindness, most notably with his fragment known as Mr. Biscuits who says to a young girl, who has become his companion, in a tearful goodbye, “You are not unwanted. You are worth fighting for.”
In Supergirl we also see this, especially as we find him allowing himself to shed his Hank Henshaw personality around Kara and Alex. He works in the shadows to protect even people who would persecute him, and his reasoning for becoming Henshaw is in part to reform it from the inside out, but also to watch over the two women for whom he soon becomes a father figure.
Superman, Supergirl, they are the brightest souls of the DC universe. Their kindness is a light that shines a path out of the dark places. J’onn is warm; his kindness is the embrace that comforts even in the darkest of nights. The House of El inspires, the son of Mars encourages. It’s a gentle kindness from the warmest soul.
Always I want to be kind like J’onn.
*good heavens that blog is o-o-o-old.