Review: MARTIAN MANHUNTER #5
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Colors: Ivan Plascencia
Letters: Andworld Design
Reviewed By: Ari Bard
Cha’Rnn was a martian criminal that received one of the worst sentences on Mars: frozen in red static flesh. Now, as one of two remaining Martians in the universe, Cha’Rnn finally gets the opportunity to exact his revenge on a manhunter who helped put him away. Meanwhile Diane Meade’s lack of progress on the Addams case causes her to reach out for help and take a trip down memory lane.
“You were inches from my face and no closer to catching me.”
Since the beginning, Martian Manhunter has revolved around truth. Whether it be J’Onn struggling to come to terms with his true identity and admitting that identity to Diane Meade or the two detectives struggling to uncover the truth about Ashley Addams, the truth has haunted J’Onn J’Onzz throughout his time here on Earth. Now he’s come to an ultimatum: reach out for help from Diane or continue to let Ashley suffer at the hands of Cha’Rnn. Martian Manhunter #5 is Cha’Rnn’s debut, and he immediately has what it takes to become a classic Martian Manhunter villain (of which there aren’t many). He is a Martian who cannot shapeshift but contains telepathic powers beyond what we can even imagine, and he’s fueled by vengeance. He poses a significant threat against J’Onn and immediately makes his motivations crystal clear. This is not a villain to mess with, and it’s important to realize that.
It’s easy to think of Cha’Rnn as just another scary villain fueled by vengeance, but it’s not just that. There’s a important dichotomy between Cha’Rrn and J’Onn that musn’t be overlooked. When Cha’Rnn is in the Martian courtroom, he has no doubt about who he and who everyone else in the room is He may be a high felon, and he excepts that, but how dare the corrupt Manhunters impose this sentence when all of them are guilty of equally heinous crimes. “There are only high felons in this room,” he says. Thanks to Rossmo’s phenomenal artwork, we see Cha’Rrn’s cells and mindset freezing into place. This is a sentence which does not leave room for rehabilitation. There is no possibility for Cha’Rrn to become a better Martian, and therefore he has nothing to do but go mad or plot revenge. Meanwhile J’Onn has no idea who he’s become any more, and it’s easy to see from just a single image. He looks down and away unsure of who he is anymore. J’Onn can’t even look at Cha’Rrn because he knows he’s right.
Back on Earth in the present day, it’s become clear how much damage Cha’Rrn can do with his mind alone. Rossmo has a difficult job of trying to bring images of a Martian disease and a telepathic attack onto the page in a way that we can understand and feel what’s going on, and he does so brilliantly. Rossmo chooses to manifest H’Ronmeer’s curse in a form akin to a horrible earthly disease. Despite the damage being almost exclusively mental, we can’t help but see what looks like puss, boils, swelling, and inflammation and begin to imagine what that would physically feel like. It’s body horror that works because it looks like an illness or a plague. As the telepathic attack ramps up, Rossmo shows us what it looks like in J’Onn’s mind. It starts in the back corner of his mind like all evil thoughts due and slowly gets louder and louder until it’s impossible to ignore. At the peak of the attack Cha’Rrn stands over J’Onn while completely flooding his mind. The onslaught of pain and suffering is so loud that it’s almost impossible for J’Onn to piece thoughts together. He begins to lose his shape and resorts to actually speaking words as he begs for mercy. The panel borders begin to close in as J’Onn feels trapped within his own mind. It’s claustrophobic and all he can see as he endure’s pain and suffering are images of his wife and daughter enduring the same. It is the ultimate torture executed brilliantly by Rossmo and Plascencia. Rossmo mixes gruesome body horror with crisp images of suffering and fuzzy memories in order to inflict maximum pain. Plascencia uses a phenomenal mixture of reds and greens to convey the true feeling of a Martian on fire. One thing they don’t do it give any sign that this isn’t real, because for J’Onn it is. For J’Onn this feels as it would to us if we were actually on fire. The mind is a powerful place and can be as destructive as it is creative.
Diane’s arc in Martian Manhunter #5 is a perfect foil to J’Onn’s. J’Onn is experience a flood of thoughts and a mental onslaught. He can’t get out of his own head. Diane, however, is experience complete and utter boredom. She cannot make any headway on the case and lives completely alone. The first time we see her, Diane is talking to herself before finally reaching out to J’Onn for help on the case. She lives alone in a dark, empty house and is frequently surrounded by such emptiness. In order to find the light, Diane has to think back to a happier time in Louisiana. Diane has no one in her social life other than J’Onn whether he’s an alien or not. They need each other, and that is what this book shows.
The way this team introduces Cha’Rrn, inflicts pain upon J’Onn, and illuminates Diane’s loneliness remain flawless in Martian Manhunter #5.
Steve Orlando, Riley Rossmo, Ivan Plascenica, and Andworld Design pull off a perfect combination of horror, suffering, and loneliness in an issue that introduces a formidable villain and also brings Diane and J’Onn back together.