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When Did the Justice League Show Martian Manhunter’s Full Powers?


In “When We First Met”, we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore, like the first time someone said, “Avengers Assemble!” or the first appearance of Batman’s giant penny or the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth or the first time Spider-Man’s face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter. Stuff like that.

Reader Paul S. wrote in to ask:

I was raised in the ‘60’s and was a fan of the Martian Manhunter and followed him in House of Mystery whenever I could find that book. So, here is my question(s):

1. I knew from the House of Mystery books that the Martian Manhunter could change his shape/looks, turn invisible, read minds and also become intangible. I never saw those 4 abilities used in any of the Justice League stories, or did I just miss that? So, in what Justice League issue did the Martian Manhunter first use those abilities.

2. Why was the Martian Manhunter, since he was presented as more of a weaker version of Superman in those early Justice League issues, not shown to use his abilities since they were watering down Superman and Batman’s involvement as you pointed out in one of your earlier columns?

I’ll tackle these questions in the reverse order.

Before I specifically address the questions, though, let’s take a look at what Paul is talking about, in the context of the first appearance of the Justice League in Brave and the Bold #28 (by Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs)….

As you can see, the Martian Manhunter’s powers in this sample are basically how his powers were presented throughout his initial tenure with the Justice League. In effect, he was treated as a slightly less powerful version of Superman. He would use flight, super strength, martian vision (which would work like Superman’s visions) and Martian breath. And he had a weakness to fire. That would be how he was written pretty much precisely through the eight years that Gardner Fox wrote him as a regular member of the Justice League.

This, then, goes to Paul’s question, which is “Why did Gardner Fox write him this way?” And I think that it’s simply a matter of how the League (or any team-up book) was written back then. Comic book writers did not have a whole ton of reference material back in the old days. At the same time, Gardner Fox had never written an Martian Manhunter story prior to the introduction of the Justice League and it is likely that Fox did not have all that much of a familiarity with the character.

I noticed during my recent piece about how Fox handled Superman in the early issues of the Justice League that it appeared quite clear that Fox had what you would call “go-to” plot points. You know, like a list of stuff about each character that he could use in the stories. Characters that Fox was more familiar with, like Flash and Green Lantern (or Snapper Carr, a Fox creation) tended to have more diversity in how Fox depicted them. However, characters like Martian Manhunter and Superman, who Fox would only write in the pages of the Justice League, had less diversity in their depictions – they were, instead, quite rigid. So I think that Martian Manhunter was treated this way because that’s really all that Fox knew about him.

Okay, so let’s see how long it took for J’onn’s various other major abilities (his shape-shifting abilities, his telepathy, his invisibility and his intangibility) to show up in the Justice League! Some of them took literally decades!

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