Caretakers of Mars (DC)
Where: Final Crisis: Requiem #1 When: September 2008 Why: Peter J. Tomasi How: Doug Mahnke
The Story So Far...
When an abusive childhood ended with his father's accidental death, Justin Ballantine accepted the value of balance in all things across the universe.
His cosmic philosophy, and aspirations of godhood, would lead him to accept employment as an adult to form a group called the Injustice Gang, and attempt to construct a weapon based upon the cosmic rod of Ted Knight.
His resulting "Transmortifier" proved capable of stealing a portion of energy from it's target, making a valuable weapon when turned against the superhuman might of the Justice League. As Libra, Ballantine received the powers of the combined JLA, before turning his weapon on the cosmos itself. The resulting influx of power seemingly destroyed his physical form, but Libra was reconceived on the planet Apokolips by his mystery benefactor, Glorious Godfrey.
As a prophet of Darkseid; Libra returned to Earth after the Death of the New Gods, promising to lead evil to salvation if The Society would entrust in him their leadership. Requiring the organized hordes for his own malicious ends, Libra set about bringing doom to the Earth as part of Darkseid's plot to create the Fifth World upon his resurrection as man. To distract the Society from the detail of his goals, he offers an act of good faith to one of their lowliest number. Thus, at the request of the Human Flame, Libra promises the death of Martian Manhunter...
Tale of the Tape...
Strength: M. Manhunter 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Lex Luthor 6 (Genius)
Speed: M. Manhunter 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Vandal Savage 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Gorilla Grodd 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Talia al Ghul 5 (Martial Arts)
Energy: Libra 6 (Mass Destruction)
- The Society are: Libra, Lex Luthor, Dr. Light, Effigy, Dr. Sivana, Vandal Savage, Gorilla Grodd, Talia al Ghul, Ocean Master, & Human Flame.
The first incarnation of self-confessed "Super Villains" was gathered by the evil New God, Darkseid, in an effort to pool the group's efforts against their mutual heroic enemies. Typically rife with internal conflict, the collective rarely achieved any success in their battles with their counterparts in the Justice League.
When the revelation of a history of mind-altering intrusions perpetrated by by the JLA was uncovered, the strength of the criminal community was galvanized under the leadership of Crisis on Infinite Earths survivor Alexander Luthor Jr, who was disguised as the version of this universe's version of his father, Lex. Luthor Jr succeeded in unionizing all but a select few criminals, organizing their efforts to further his own reality-altering goals. Upon his death, members of the Society operated in smaller groups, such as the Injustice League, before the mysterious villain Libra sought leadership during the return of the New Gods on Earth and Darkseid's attempt to created the Fifth World [Final Crisis].
- Experiments with teleportation technology developed by one Dr. Erdel were, by accident, responsible for plucking J'onn J'onnz from his home on Mars. Traversing the gulf of space by unknown means, the unannounced arrival of a lurching Martian figure was enough to startle the aging scientist to his death. Alone in a strange world, the accident forced the Martian to at first adopt the scientist's identity by means of shapeshifting, before he absorbed enough understanding through the observation of television programming to assume his own identity.
Finding aspirational figures in the gumshoe detectives popular on television, the Martian adopts the fictitious identity of Detective John Jones. For a time he was to do as he had on Mars, delivering justice with unwavering moral and character, but eventually circumstances would force a reveal upon the Martian Manhunter.
Though resistant at first to expose himself to humanity's judgment, his unique Martian abilities quickly earned him status with the Justice League of America.
Along with the ability to transform his appearance and form, J'onn J'onnz also possesses fantastic super-human strength, speed, durability, energy vision, vast telepathic skill, and the ability to become invisible and intangible. While these many abilities quickly rank him among the most powerful figures in the DCU, the sole survivor of catastrophe on Mars has a single mundane weakness -- fire!
Math: The Society (Ttl) Martian Manhunter (Avg)
Ranking: Martian Manhunter (#32)
What Went Down...
The Martian Manhunter's initial defeat comes at the hands of Dr. Light and Effigy, who are deployed by Libra to retrieve their target. Specially designed "pyro-tranq darts" conceived by the mad Dr. Sivana pump the Martian's body full of paralyzing agent, while Effigy's mastery of flame ensures he remains subdued.
The dastardly duo drag the Martian's body to an elevator that takes them upstairs to their waiting master. The gathered inner-circle of the Society watch as their pledging leader, Libra, lords over the weakened hero. Noting no desire to battle the Martian in a fair fight, Libra plunges his spiked staff through the alien's chest, bathing the hero in flames once more.
The pain of the blow shocks the Martian out of his stunned state, resulting in a squirm and bending flailing of transforming limbs. He tosses Libra across the room into an abandoned bar, contorting to pull the impalement from his chest!
He clutches Light by the throat while Gorrilla Grodd takes the brunt of his Martian vision blasts, and Sivana inconsequentially swings off of his free arm. Talia al Ghul lurks with a blade drawn while the two fire wielding villains attempt to quash the Martian's rage, but their numerical superiority inspires a challenge.
The Justice League appears to crash through the ceiling to come to their teammate's aid, a member for every villainous counterpart!
Superman drives his fist into Lex Luthor's heart; the Green Lantern encases Effigy in a liquid filled energy construct; Flash vibrates his way through Gorilla Grodd's skull; Captain Marvel crams worms into Dr. Sivana's mouth; Batman silences Talia al Ghul with a kiss and embrace; Aquaman drives Ocean Master's own trident into his chest; and Elongated Man wraps around Dr. Light's body, promising revenge for the crimes he committed against his deceased wife.
Just as the tide appears to be taking a nightmarish turn for the villains, Libra's word clears the confused minds of his Society fellows. With his staff again driven through the Martian Manhunter's gut, he pins the hero to the ground, forcing his telepathic crusade into remission.
Clinging to the staff as desperately as he does to life, the Martian Manhunter defiantly pulls himself toward Libra. Through grit teeth he maintains a brave face, even as Effigy and Dr. Light descend upon him in a swirl of flame.
His body smouldering, the defeated Martian makes a final prophecy of doom for the forces of evil. As the Society gathers in a circle around him, J'onn J'onnz sends out a final telepathic cry to the real League, giving each an opportunity to glimpse the sprawling story. It is not enough to protect them from the crisis to come, but when the heroes of Earth return J'onn J'onnz to the barren soil of Mars, they remember him fondly.
Led by Libra, The Society emerge with one of the defining victories that led to the day that "evil won." Effigy and Dr. Light should be included in the win stats, for anybody playing at home.
One of the few drawbacks of focusing on the releases of the week is the many stories that are overlooked, or forgotten. Final Crisis; a story that thrilled in the early parts of the year; is a prime example of this loss. Fortunately, a slow week and impending significance grants us reprieve to go back to the event that changed the way we look at the DCU.
Martian Manhunter was a character dangling over the comics dead pool for quite some time. Though beloved as a stalwart of the JLA, the character had struggled to sustain any viability as a solo or headlining property, making him the perfect balancing act of significance and expendability in a corporate structure. Or at least, that's one interpretation of a story that managed to have much more soul than many of the recent deaths that have plagued superhero comics.
First confirmation of the death came from a brief sequence in the now classic first issue of Final Crisis. There; JG Jones (and Grant Morrison) merely confirmed the kill, alluded to with a single shot of the impaled and burning figure. Requiem, as you might have gathered, elaborates on the final plot against Martian Manhunter and the way in which the heroes mourn and remember him.
As a tie-in with an obvious purpose, Requiem excells not just for elaborating on details from the core-series, but also telling a startlingly powerful tale. Despite the bravado of the Martian Manhunter character, his death lingers as a pathetic final moment for such a powerful character. The famous fire weakness has always lent itself to this, most recently recognised for it's recent reference as a threat in DC: The New Frontier, delivered by Batman to MM's alias, Det. John Jones.
A less romantic examination of the Martian Manhunter death reveals a beloved character desperately attempting to overcome the inevitable in an effort to cling to life a little longer. His telepathic resistance is a feeble attempt against the overwhelming odds posed by The Society's powerful number -- Human Flame and Effigy qualified to rival the hero solo, let alone in the company of powerhouses like Gorilla Grodd, Lex Luthor, and Vandal Savage. Even in his final moments, Martian Manhunter tries to turn Libra's condemnation against him, "It is you... that will no longer pose a viable threat." (I know you are, but what am I?)
Granted, the latter example could be interpreted several ways, more positively as in our previous summary section as a foreboding moment of satisfaction for a character telepathically reaching out to his fellows. Ultimately, no substantial warning appears to be delivered, certainly nothing sufficient enough to inform the heroes of the coming destruction wrought by the Society and Darkseid's New Gods reborn on Earth.
This mixed interpretation shouldn't be mistaken for weakness in the writing, as Peter Tomasi delivers a respectful eulogy for the character often described as the soul of the Justice League. It might not have been the moment fans wanted to be the character's last, but that is the nature of the lives delt to men and women who choose to put themselves in the line of danger in the name of justice.
Doug Mahnke handles the action superbly, but it's his treatment of the emotional second half of the story that emphasises why he's one of the Infinite Wars' favourite artists in superhero comics. A scene featuring a mourning Hal Jordan, and Oliver Queen, maskless, is of particular sentimentality, expertly exuding the gammut of emotions, positive and negative, expressed by the pair.
The story does particularly well to deliver a brief tour through the most recent incarnations of Martian Manhunter's complicated backstory. Longtime fans might notice the glaring absence of their own favourite moments, but as a moment of sentimentality and functionality, it's a great way to induct the uninformed into some of the details that defined the otherwise undeveloped supporting character.
In a moment typically overlooked in comics, J'onn J'onnz is privvy to a funeral tailored to his unique character. Ferried by all four human Green Lanterns, almost the entire recnognisable superhero community join the core Justice League for a ceremony on Mars, complete with relocated artifacts from Martian society that had been rematerialized on Earth by the Spectre (in a previous story).
It would be hard to imagine the moxxy of the story being lost, even on the most uninitiated fan. After fifty years of publication, it's sad to say that this might just about be the most definitive publication in the character's long history.
Maybe a little sadder is that such a poignant tale will be essentially undone when the Martian Manhunter returns from the grave as one of the first confirmed Black Lanterns in Geoff Johns' upcoming space epic, Blackest Night. For critics, however, it is important to remember the machinery of the superhero universe, not just for it's creative and corporate cogs, but the in-fiction plausibility of it's constant flux. Like the ominous reference in Final Crisis to the heroes praying for a resurrection for their friend, we should appreciate the grander picture of the Black Lanterns, rather than dwelling on the moments perceived as being undone.
Confirmed thus far for the Black Lantern Corps are also deceased heroes; Earth-2 Superman, Aquaman, and former-Firestorm, Ronnie Raymond. Possible allusions also include Superboy, Mirror Master, Blue Beetle, Sue Dibny, Elongated Man, and Dr. Light, but these would only be guesses based on recently release promotional art [via DC: The Source]. For some of our early predictions (some right), check out our predictions entry from October 2008!
For more on the Martian Manhunter and his wonderful history, also consider checking out our previous Double Feature entry, Men are from Mars!
The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 6.5
If somehow you missed out on the Final Crisis epic, you'll be able to catch-up in one fowl swoop with the complete collected edition. For more of the story, including Final Crisis: Requiem, you'll also want to pick-up the Final Crisis Companion, which features various connected tie-ins. Some of the best examples of tie-in issues by any company in recent years! PLUS -- by using purchase links provided on the Infinite Wars, you help sponsor future entries! You'll find plenty more on offer in the Amazon Gift Shoppe, including collections featuring most single issues reviewed in the Secret Archives!