Review – Martian Manhunter vol. 1: The Epiphany (DC Comics)

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Rob Williams
Artist: Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira
Release Date: 24th February, 2016

J’onn J’onzz, the last Martian, is apparently anything but.  With a coordinated attack dubbed ‘The Epiphany’ taking place on Earth, J’onn realises that his life and his memories have been a lie and that Mars has been using him to infiltrate the planet, ripening it to be conquered.  In a desperate bid to prevent himself being used as a weapon, the Martian Manhunter takes the drastic step of destroying himself, scattering his consciousness into four different vessels, each blissfully unaware of their true nature.  However, with the Martian invasion continuing unabated, it’s up to these individuals to discover who they really are and try to find a way to prevent the Earth from being destroyed.

One thing I absolutely love about this series is writer Rob Williams’ refusal to merely sit back and write another ‘easy’ superhero story.  This is a far cry from your typical ‘bad guys threaten earth, good guys stand up to them, bad guys retreat with their tails between their legs’ fare, with Williams opting to dig far deeper into the psyche of J’onn J’onzz, bringing his doubts, fears and insecurities to the fore and making for an utterly scintillating read in the process.  The different ‘vessels’ are all unique and compelling in their own right; FBI Agent Daryl Wessel; Dubai cat burglar “The Pearl”; a hilarious amnesiac alien who the local children have dubbed “Mister Biscuits”; and an odd, blanket-caped elderly wannabe superhero called Mould.  The tone is noticeably different for each one, and Williams has a blast flicking between genres and styles as he jumps from character to character.

Unfortunately, some of the guest appearances along the way – Superman, Aquaman, etc. – do feel more than a little clunky, like awkward product placement to remind us that this story is part of the bigger DC universe. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the need for these kinds of cameos from a commercial standpoint, but from a storytelling point of view, they really detract from what is an otherwise fluid, gripping narrative.  This minor niggle aside though, the story flows smoothly in spite of its unconventional nature, and the impressive balance between drama, action and humour prevents things from ever feeling dull or repetitive.

While the artwork of Eber Ferreira and Eddy Barrows is very much in the DC ‘house style’ for the most part, the storyline beats of Williams provide them with ample opportunity to flex their creative muscle, particularly with their depictions of the invading Martian horde.  With more than a passing nod to John Carpenter’s The Thing, their tentacle-flailing monstrosities of teeth and claws make for some truly impressive visual moments, with smooth-flowing, cinematic panel layouts to keeping the story surging forwards throughout.  There are also some truly impressive splash pages along the way, and some fantastic moments of scale as the gargantuan threat stalks our ‘heroes’.

Full disclosure, The Martian Manhunter isn’t a character I have much prior experience of. However, after reading this volume, I definitely have an overpowering urge to find out more about J’onn J’onzz.  For me, the character comes across as a more intriguing version of Superman, with a lot of the same characteristics – the last survivor of his kind, near-limitless power, etc. etc. –wrapped up in an altogether more captivating package.  Williams, Ferreira and Barrows have crafted a truly unique story here, one which (thankfully) requires no previous knowledge of the title character, and one which perfectly showcases the fact that quote-unquote “superhero stories” don’t have to be bland or derivative.  Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5./5.


The writer of this piece was: 576682_510764502303144_947146289_nCraig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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