Martian Manhunter #6 // Review
Displaced Martian J'onn J'onzz relives a devastatingly traumatic episode from his past life on Mars in a story that sheds a bit more light on his identity and personality in as writer Steve Orlando’s Martian Manhunter reaches the mid-point of its 12-issue run. Artist Riley Rossmo continues his distinctively-drawn rendering of a visually interesting story with the aid of color artist Ivan Plascencia. With only two pages set on earth, the issue feels vividly alien in strange curves in a near-human drama that speak to the strengths of both writer and artist. An issue like this makes so much of the earthbound end of the series feel a bit weak in comparison.
J'onn J'onzz is relating a story of his past to a longtime Terran co-worker. Before just a little while ago, she knew her longtime partner as John Jones-- a competent policeman. No, he relates to her the story of his family life on Mars and the one day that everything changed for him quite vividly. The tale of life on Mars begins with conception/birth and ends with death. What happens in between reveals much about what makes J'onn J'onzz the Martian he is.
There's a great sense of balance about the sixth issue in Steve Orlando's sixth issue of Martian Manhunter. All but the first and last pages take place before the start of the series. J'onn J'onzz confronts the chaos of a cataclysm that echoes secrets he's been keeping as new life comes into the picture and the shadow of death looms large above it all. The epic-level space opera that Orlando is bringing to the series with this issue is FAR more compelling than much of the rest of the series thus far. A lot of the reason for this has to do with the alien world's excellent fusion with the art.
Riley Rossmo's curvy melted-cheese-topping art feels weird and nauseating when it is centered on earth. Place it entirely on the unique alien landscape of Mars, and it becomes relatively breathtaking. The sex/birth sequence at the beginning of the issue is also fairly breathtaking. The Martian carnage inferno feels dazzling dangerous. And yes: J'onn J'onzz's newborn is incredibly cute in a weird, wide-eyed amoeboid sort of an appearance reminiscent of Al Capp's Shmoo. An art style that feels unsettlingly unpleasant on earth feels appealingly odd in the past on Mars. As witnessed in past issues, the weird curves and angles of Rossmo's artwork would be nothing without the vivid sheens, reflections, and textures offered by Plascencia's work.
The bigger picture of Orlando's story is given further grounding and motivation with this flashback issue. Had the series as a whole started with this story, it might have lent a great deal of momentum for the 11 installments which would have followed it, but some of the impact of the story would have felt missing. The rest of the series may well end up feeling as convoluted as the first five issues. As a standalone story, Martian Manhunter #6 is vividly weird and wonderful.