John Ostrander: Why Did I Do That – Martian Manhunter
Well, David S. Goyer was busy making friends this week.
If you don’t know the name, Goyer is a big time heavy hitter writer. He’s done some comic books but mostly is known for screenplays, including Man of Steel and the upcoming Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the subsequent Justice League film as well as a score of others. This suggests he knows what he’s doing.
His comments this week might suggest differently. On the Scriptnotes podcast (which has now disappeared), he said the She-Hulk “… is the chick that you could f–k if you were Hulk… She-Hulk was the extension of the male power fantasy. So it’s like if I’m going to be this geek who becomes the Hulk then let’s create a giant green porn star that only the Hulk could f–k.”
Stan Lee, who created the She-Hulk, replied: “Only a nut would even think of that.” ‘Nuff said.
Goyer also had some choice words for J’Onn J’onzz, a.k.a. the Martian Manhunter/Manhunter from Mars. Let’s use his words, shaaaaall we?
“How many people in the audience have heard of Martian Manhunter?” Following a healthy smattering of applause, Goyer joked, “How many people that raised their hands have ever been laid?”
Goyer continued: “Well, he can’t be fucking called ‘The Martian Manhunter’ because that’s goofy. He could be called “Manhunter.” … The whole deal with Martian Manhunter is he’s an alien living amongst us, that’s the deal. He came out in the ‘50s, and he had basically all the powers of Superman, except he didn’t like fire, and he could read your mind. So here’s the best part: So he comes down to Earth and decides, unlike Superman who already exists in the world now, that he’s just going to be a homicide detective, and pretend to be a human homicide guy. … So instead of using superpowers and mind-reading and like, “Oh, I could figure out if the President’s lying or whatever,” he just decides to disguise himself as a human homicide detective. Dare to dream.
“I would set it up like The Day After Tomorrow. We discover one of those Earth-like planets… So maybe like… we get the DNA code from that planet and then grow him in a petri dish here… He’s like in Area 51 or something and we’re just basically… doing biopsies on him.”
I have some passing knowledge of the Martian Manhunter, having done (with Tom Mandrake) a series starting back in 1998 so I have a thought or two on this subject. Last week I explained some of my thinking in creating Amanda Waller so this seems a good point to explain some of my thinking on working with J’Onn J’Onzz.
Goyer and I are in small agreement: I also felt that in many ways the Martian Manhunter was a green clone of Superman. He had most of the same powers and, instead of Kryptonite, his weakness was fire. When Tom and I did our series, we wanted to focus on what made him and Superman different. The principal one was that, while born an alien, Kal-El came to earth as an infant and was raised as a human. His values are Midwestern values. J’Onn came to earth as an adult; he was raised in a Martian culture. He’s not American; he is fundamentally alien – a Martian.
Tom and I decided we would investigate and explore Martian culture in our version. He was telepathic; his race was telepathic. What did that mean? What were the societal rules? Rape, for example, would not only be physical; it could be emotional and mental. On the flip side of the coin, sex would involve a melding of minds as well as a melding of bodies. With his race dead, J’Onn would be forever denied that. He could never again experience physical love on so deep a level.
Martians could fly, levitate, and pass through walls; their houses would have no doors or windows or stairs.
J’Onn can turn invisible; we had it that, on arriving on Earth, he saw and experienced how violent and paranoid humans can be. He chose a persona that allowed him to act like a human in order to better understand who and what we were. We had him having several other human identities as well (credit where credit is due: Grant Morrison first brought up that concept).
The idea that he would be grown from a Petri dish is not an uninteresting idea for a character; it’s just not J’Onn J’Onzz. I talked last week about being true to the fundamental aspects of a character and, to my mind, Goyer’s take on the Manhunter from Mars isn’t it. (Sidenote: why is he the Martian Manhunter? Because there are already plenty of other Manhunters in the DCU.)
This might not matter but Goyer is right now the go-to writer for DC cinematic stories. If he has this little fundamental understanding of a mainstay DC character, how much will he have for other DC characters? It’s not that hard to check on what has been done; the Martian Manhunter entry on Wikipedia takes only a few minutes to read and its pretty accurate.
I also don’t understand the underlying contempt not only for J’Onn and the She-Hulk but for readers and fans of the characters. “How many who raised their hands have ever been laid?” Why did Goyer feel the need to get all William Shatner on folks? Why the snark… and sexist snark at that?
Maybe he just doesn’t like the color green. Let’s not ask him what he thinks about Kermit the Frog. I’m not sure I need his observations about Kermit and Miss Piggy.