A light snow falls as a group of children peer into a rundown building. They chatter about the weird being inside, an eight-foot tall alien named Mr. Biscuits. A young girl named Alicia bravely enters the room where the alien rests and offers him biscuits, not knowing just what will happen when the alien awakens from his slumber.
This eerie opening sets the tone for Martian Manhunter #1, a sci-fi tale that focuses on one of the most enigmatic superheroes within DC’s pantheon. The issue segues into a brighter but more dangerous scene as the titular Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onnz, saves a passenger plane from crashing. This sequence provides a great opportunity to show off J’onn’s powers, and the issue delivers with aplomb. But even as the Martian Manhunter makes his move to save the plane, it becomes apparent that there is something larger at work here.
In Dubai, a young thief named Pearl prepares to make a move to rob a Prince in his decadent skyrise home, only to have her plans foiled by the arrival of a shapeshifting alien that butchers him. And though Pearl tries to remain as hidden as she can, the monstrous being telepathically calls out to her and tells her to run. And in Washington, D.C., FBI Agent Daryl Wessel discovers that a young murderer is not what he seems.
Martian Manhunter #1 is at its best in its more intimate moments. The scene that bookends the issue is a highlight, an eerie scene that balances the humanity of the young girl and the horrifying mystery of the unknown. Writer Rob Williams gives a great sci-fi thriller tone to the entire issue, but it really shines here.
The artwork in Martian Manhunter #1 is some of the tonally darkest that DC readers will find outside of a Batman book. The lines of Eddy Barrows are crisp and clean, but inker Eber Ferreira embellishes the world in deep shadows that evoke tones that are closer to horror than they are superheroes. Gabe Eltaeb’s color palette is full of greens and blues that help to establish the colder tone to the book, and this contrasts nicely with some of the oranges and yellows that make even familiar settings seem alien. It’s nice to have a book that’s so visually committed to a science fiction tone.
Though it’s strong in both developing mood and artwork, the scenes of the issue don’t always come together. As striking as the issue’s bookends are, it’s not entirely clear to the readers if this is meant to be a flashback of J’onn in an alien form or a new character. I suspect the latter, but being relatively new to the Manhunter mythos myself, it’s hard to know with the context provided in the issue. And while the sequences with Pearl and Agent Wessel add nicely to the scale of the events occurring, it would have been nice to get a sense of their connection to J’onn. For a book titled Martian Manhunter, readers don’t get all that much of him, which makes his actions at the end of the issue fall flat.
Providing a jumping on point for new readers, Martian Manhunter #1 is a fine debut for the shapeshifting alien. Rob Williams and Eddy Barrows have crafted a science fiction tale with a nice hook. While the characters take the back seat to establishing the stakes, there’s plenty of room for this series to grow. Martian Manhunter #1 is definitely worth a look for sci-fi fans.