Book Review: Martian Manhunter: The Epiphany

25810152I had never read Martian Manhunter before, so I was hesitant about picking this book up. I’m glad I did. Without any background going in, The Epiphany does a good job of introducing J’onn J’onnz, the titular Manhunter, who he is and what he stands for. This would be a typical superhero introduction if not for the fact that internal conflict is at the center of this graphic novel.

Without treading too deeply into spoilers (this is nearly all in the book’s description), the book begins with J’onn J’onnz on earth being called into to help NASA investigate a lunar base that has gone silent. We meet him as a superhero, already helping the people of earth, even if they don’t know quite what to make of him or if he should be trusted. What he finds there changes everything and begins a series of alien attacks on Earth that draw into question his true allegiance.

I hesitate to go much further as it will spoil some of the big questions and events of the story, but that is where we begin.

As a series newcomer, I came in without expectations and was pleasantly surprised. Knowing nothing of the Manhunter’s abilities, I was most surprised by his ability to completely transform himself, from limb to limb or completely into another creature. I was worried that it would become over the top, the kind of heroic one-upmanship that makes a hero essentially unstoppable. Instead, author Rob Williams kept J’onn grounded. In fact, the internal conflict and all of that raging guilt made him feel more human than many other characters in the DC Universe, even without his level of superpower.

The story was a page turner, and I completed it in just two short evenings (just over 160 e-pages). It’s absolutely science fiction, what with the alien invasion and all, but there are elements of horror here too. Some of the main villains, are truly horrifying and would give Cthulu a run for his money. Eber Ferreira and Eddy Barrows’ art do a great job of capturing William’s story beats and bringing them to sometimes horrifying life. The themes of Evil Among Us and the horrors just outside our vision are also present and create a looming sense of unease and, occasionally, dread.

I really enjoyed the different characters, particularly Mr. Biscuits, who provided some much needed comic relief. I was also surprised to see members of the Justice League make an appearance, right down to t-shirt and jeans Superman. Some could have stood some extra character development, however. The FBI agent, Wessel, for example, makes some questionable decisions with a young murderer that left me wondering. One second he’s running from him, the next he’s rescuing him from a hospital and taking him on along for the ride. Don’t get me wrong, I can piece together some of the motivation here, but not quite enough to clear the logic gap. A small issue overall.

Finally, I am at a loss for what to make of the ending. Suffice it to say, one of the main heroes does a complete 180 in the last pages. In the few pages that follow, Williams does a decent job of connecting the dots for why this occurs, but it doesn’t quite go far enough to explain why a character would contradict himself and the trajectory of the story arc so thoroughly. Then again, this is the stuff that cliffhangers are made of.

Even with these looming unanswered questions (and it is again worth noting that this is the first volume in a larger series predicated on cliffhangers), I very much enjoyed The Epiphany. I am a huge fan of the DC Universe but came to this book mainly as a Batman and Superman fan. What I found was an ironically human alien character – and not like Superman, J’onn J’onnz is a straight up green skin, bug eyed Martian – and a storyline that neatly hit the notes of science fiction, horror, and, of course, the world saving superhero. I noted a couple of logic gaps here, and at least the last feels intentionally vague to fuel the beginning of the next volume. Overall though, this book is a cut above many and avoids the trap of “comic book logic” that can so easily drag a graphic novel down. I will be picking up the next book.

The Epiphany made a Martian Manhunter fan out of me.

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