Thursday, 9 June 2016

Martian Manhunter, Volume 1: The Epiphany Review (Rob Williams, Eddy Barrows)

J’onn J’onzz is the Martian Manhunter, the last of his kind - or is he? J’onn discovers the shocking truth behind his origin and faces a terrible choice: save his adopted home, Earth, or resurrect his long-lost home planet, Mars? 

J’onn’s knocked around various titles for a good few years now appearing in New 52 titles Stormwatch, Justice League of America, and Justice League United (all turrible). It’s clear DC didn’t know what to do with the character even though most fans knew the solution for years: GIVE HIM HIS OWN FUCKING BOOK! Finally they have - and it’s great! 

Writer Rob Williams cleverly addresses the way J’onn has jumped from one team to another by making identity the theme of the book – where does J’onn belong? And “cleverly” describes this book to a T - Rob Williams does some Grant Morrison-level thinking with his Martian Manhunter. He’s a character much like Superman who is one of the few in the DCU who could kill the Man of Steel if he wanted - his power level is that high - but his abilities far exceed strength and Williams takes full advantage of that mysterious potential, spinning a mind-bending storyline out of it. 

I’m going to keep spoilsies out of this review but if you find yourself wondering who all of these new characters being introduced in the first half of the book are, stick with it because it goes somewhere brilliant. The characters play into the theme of identity and go a way to defining J’onn’s core character for the audience, old and new, while also showing them that his character can never be comprehensively nailed down. Like the shape-shifter he is, his character has changed over the decades and that change is essentially the most consistent thing about him - that and his innate heroism/goodness. 

Williams also touches on the power of memories on people despite their inherent fragility and our own fallibility in remembering them accurately. It’s such an unexpectedly abstract and deep read. I also liked the subversive/playful scene when J’onn snogs Aquaman – gives a whole new meaning to the term “Manhunter”! 

All of this sounding lofty and inaccessible? It’s really not, it’s just because I’m tiptoeing around the reveals - if you read the book yourself, you’ll definitely be able to follow along. It’s also full of the usual superhero stuff with monsters and heroes going at it, car chases, J’onn saving a falling plane, etc. to keep things from getting too intellectual - Williams manages a fine balancing act between the two approaches here. 

Eddy Barrows’ art is fine - he’s not doing anything especially outstanding like Williams is with his script, and it’s very much the DC house style. I liked his design of Mr Biscuits though, the strange stick insect creature who enjoys sweets and Adam Sandler movies, and Eric Canete’s covers were interesting. 

Until recently I’d only read Rob Williams’ comics from Marvel which ranged from middling to poor, but with his great Vertigo series Unfollow and his Martian Manhunter, he looks to have found his place with DC. He’s given one of DC’s best-loved characters an awesome storyline in The Epiphany, as well as an inspired ground-up makeover of the Martian Manhunter for a new audience. I loved the ending to this one too - Williams went there and gave us a fantastic cliffhanger; I’m definitely in for the next volume! 

For all of J’onn’s fans who’ve been patiently waiting to read a great Martian Manhunter comic these last few years, the wait is finally over - check out this excellent book!

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