The Martian Manhunter is a tragic figure and his origin is far more brutal than fans realize. In 1998’s Martian Manhunter #0, J’onn relives his last days on Mars, as the planet died a violent death. A plague of madness had overtaken the planet, and in a bid to protect himself, the Martian Manhunter cut himself off telepathically from the rest of his species; furthermore, he watched his family be consumed by the plague.

J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, first appeared in 1955’s Detective Comics #225, shortly before the dawn of comics’ Silver Age. Although the exact specifics of the Martian Manhunter’s origin have changed over the last 68 years, the general gist remains the same: he is the last survivor of the planet Mars. He was brought to Earth in a teleporter accident and was thus spared the fate of his home world. The Martian Manhunter suffered an unspeakable tragedy, but in his pain and suffering he found the strength to become one of Earth’s greatest heroes and a charter member of the Justice League. Yet, his past continues to haunt him and Martian Manhunter #0 offers an unprecedented look at his last days on Mars–and the price he paid for his survival.

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Fate Dealt the Martian Manhunter a Bad Hand

Martian Manhunter Origin 2

In the story “Pilgrimage,” written by John Ostrander and illustrated by Tom Mandrake, the Martian Manhunter flashes back to Mars’ final days. A non-telepathic Martian has unleashed a plague, called Hronmeers Curse, upon his fellow Martians, and it is tearing through the planet, killing indiscriminately. J’onn cuts himself off telepathically from his people so that he will not hear their death screams. He returns to his house, and both his wife and daughter are showing signs of the Curse. J’onn’s wife begs him to meld with her, but he must refuse as that is how the plague is spread; he then watches them die, bursting into flames in front of his eyes. Angered beyond belief, the Martian Manhunter takes off to confront Ma’alefa’ak, the Martian responsible. He is astounded that J’onn has survived Hronmeer’s Curse. Deducing that J’onn cut himself off from the rest of Mars, he asks what J’onn lost so that he may survive, to which he replies, “Everything.”

Many superheroes, from Superman to Iron Man, are born in some form of tragedy, but as seen here the Martian Manhunter may have suffered the biggest of them all. He witnessed the death of an entire race, and was forced to cut himself off from them in order to preserve his own existence. In her literal last minutes, J’onn’s wife was denied intimacy at a time when she needed it the most; then he watched her and his child die right in front of him. While the Martian Manhunter was able to defeat Ma’alefa’ak, it was a hollow victory, as there was no one left alive to save. The Martian Manhunter could have died there and perhaps found peace, but even that was denied him, as Professor Erdel ripped him from Mars and brought him to Earth.

The Martian Manhunter Rose from the Ashes of Tragedy

Martian Manhunter Origin 1

At this point, the Martian Manhunter could have forsaken the path of peace and justice and become that which he hated. However, Earth instead gave him a second home, and allowed his wounds to somewhat heal and in time he would become one of the planet’s greatest champions and a member of the Justice League. Earth’s heroic community embraced him with open arms, giving J’onn a new family to call his own. Yet forever will the Martian Manhunter’s past haunt him, showing fans his origin is far more brutal than they imagined.

More: Even DC Has Forgotten How Powerful Martian Manhunter Really Is

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