Who is the single most powerful being in all of the DC universe? The answer is simple, I don’t even have to think about it. Without a doubt, Martian Manhunter easily takes that title. Many will say that’s just a bunch of hullabaloo, and many may not know who J’onn J’onzz is. This is perfectly understandable. Why? Because DC doesn’t want you to. MM is too powerful for DC to handle and they don’t know what to do with him. Ever since his creation in 1955 by Joe Certa and Joseph Samachson, DC has continually placed dampers on his powers to make him easier to work with.
Martian Manhunter first appeared in Detective Comics #225: The Manhunter from Mars. He was also an original member of the Justice League.
Power Beyond Belief
MM has almost too many powers to count. He has shape-shifting powers that surpass all others, allowing him complete manipulation of his sub-molecular structure… In short, he can turn into anything. Often times he uses this as a disguise, most notably, John Jones. He uses his shapeshifting to grow extra appendages to aid him in combat, become completely stiff and unmovable, become extremely flexible and malleable, grow in size or shrink, and extend limbs or turn them into weapons. With total control over his chemical composition, he can also phase through objects and/or become invisible. He can make his skin impervious, fly, and has superhuman strength.
Mentally, MM is the most powerful telepath on Earth and perhaps in the universe. He has been able to control the minds of beings such as Dr. Fate and Spectre, make the Joker sane, connect all the minds of the Justice League-rs from a distance equal to that of Earth to the Moon, and read the minds of all inhabitants of Earth at once. He can create illusions, manipulate memories, and use telekinesis. Despite having every superpower ever, MM is an absolute genius, he has a photographic memory, and his detective skills rival that of Batman, if not surpass them. This is not a complete list of powers, but you get the point.
Vulnerability or Instability?
There is only one weakness to the Martian: Fire. Many people scoff at this, saying how can someone be so powerful and be defeated by something as simple as fire. Well, at least in most iterations, it’s not that simple. J’onn J’onzz is the last of his race, all the inhabitants of Mars were killed by a fire. Hence the name Manhunter (searching for the being that killed his race) and his fear of fire. Yes, FEAR of fire. MM’s weakness to fire is no more than a phobia. Fire in itself can do nothing to the Martian, but his fear thereof completely freezes him, he loses all molecular control and literally melts. In some cases, when there is a need, MM can surpass this mental barrier and fire does nothing to him.
Being the most powerful being to exist, even Superman is scared of him, DC doesn’t know what to do with him. Many times, he is just shoved into a team. This, however, is almost nonsensical. Martian Manhunter can single-handedly take on, and defeat, the entire Justice League. When on his own, DC puts extreme dampers on his powers, making it easier for their writers to handle him. Such as making Martian powers useless against Kryptonians. Above all, the tactic DC most employs to deal with their Martian dilemma is to forget him. MM is often hidden and forgotten.
Recently, Scott Snyder corrected the needless hiding of this character by having him return to help save the universe in Justice League: No Justice (awesome series, by the way). Finally, Martian Manhunter is receiving a solo series once more. It will be by Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo, focusing on the detective roots of the character. In this 12-issue series, J’onn investigates a murder that could have ties with the genocide of Mars. Though I do not know this for sure, it seems as though this story will take place soon after MM arrives on Earth. If this is the case, MM may display only minimal powers, if any at all. Nonetheless, I am excited for this series, if only to take the spotlight of “great detective” off of Batman.
Deciphering the Dilemma
Now are DC’s actions excusable? I don’t think so. Understandable, sure, but not excusable. Martian Manhunter, being the extremely powerful, amazingly intelligent, and highly complex entity he is, is a terribly difficult task, but certainly not impossible.
Perhaps the easiest way to do so is to give Martian Manhunter multiple titles. Each telling the same story, leading to the same climax, but each focusing on a different aspect of the character.
One, perhaps, can focus solely on his human form, John Jones, and his detective work, showcasing his ability and intelligence.
Another can look at his leadership skills. This could simply come from a Justice League title. I would be happy to see a new division of the JL, that would be more suited for MM, such as Justice League Galactic, a space based operation handling threats outside of the atmosphere, or even outside of the galaxy.
Yet another could look into his mental abilities, such as mind control, thought reading, and such.
Still another could focus on his physical abilities, i.e. shape-shifting, strength, speed, supervision, etc. This is a lot of books, but this sort of thing is not unheard of. Throughout the 90’s Superman had four intertwining titles. Batman has a bajillion. It could work.
The preferred way, at least in my eyes, to solve DC’s Martian problem is to get an extremely talented writer to effectively use all aspects of MM in one ongoing series. Not only is there so many things that need to be included, MM is so powerful most of the regularly included villains would be too easy to handle, so for there to be interesting and suspenseful stories the writer may have to create a completely new rogues gallery made especially to challenge the capabilit ies of MM.
The challenge to find a suitable obstacle for MM is similar to what many writers face with Superman, so the answer is also the same! As Grant Morrison has stated, “They say he’s too powerful; you can’t give him problems. But Superman is a metaphor. For me, Superman has the same problems we do, but on a Paul Bunyan scale.”
Another difficulty that makes MM so hard for writers is how perfect he is. As Steve Orlando notes, “In the past, J’onn has been too perfect. One of the reasons people have not connected to him is that he was a perfect upright cop on Mars, and yes, his family died but it was no fault of his own, and then he came to Earth and he was perfect. Our favorite characters, that’s not them, you know? Spider-Man let the burglar go. Bruce Wayne was too afraid to save his family.”
So, the answer is easy! All you need to make a great MM story are all-powerful villains, normal problems that are larger than life, and imperfection to a perfect creation! Easy, right?