Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Martian Manhunter #9 Review

Down, Down, Deeper and Down

Written by: Steve Orlando

Art by: Riley Rossmo
Colors by: Ivan Plascencia
Letters by: Deron Bennett
Price: $3.99

Ashley Addams is pissed. And who can blame her? She’s been abducted by an alien, experimented on, turned into a Martian-human hybrid and, after 8 issues of this comic book, its titular character still hasn’t actually found her. Poor girl. Still, there’s every chance she’ll be rescued this time around, isn’t there? Don’t be silly. Of course, there isn’t.

This issue is one in which our two main characters find things out separately and then join forces at the end to do something which might be absolutely vital to the plot (and definitely is vital to what writer Steve Orlando wants to do with J’Onn J’Onnz) but will still feel like the series dragging its heels. As structures for single issues of much longer narratives go, it actually ain’t too bad. The one problem is that J’Onn (who gets most of the panel time here) is finding something out that the reader already knows and consequently it all feels a bit… flat.

That’s not to say that J’Onn’s ‘thoughtopsy’ (one of the few neologisms Orlando introduces in this series that doesn’t sound ridiculous) of one of evil (and ancient) Martian Charnn’s failed experiments isn’t without its moments. Ella Marchant worked in a restaurant kitchen and the initial thoughtscape encountered by J’Onn is a Dali-esque vision of pepper- and mushroom-headed chefs, all lovingly rendered by artist Riley Rossmo in his unique, subtly unsettling manner. Why J’Onn finds it so “beautiful” is not entirely clear, but he’s not from around here and, as we’ve seen elsewhere in this series, Martian standards of attractiveness are not exactly synonymous with ours, so I’ll give him a pass. There then follows what you might expect from a journey through a surreal dreamscape infected by the psychic residue of rotting alien flesh. Things get… gnarly. Because this is a dreamscape, J’Onn gets to make connections intuitively (that’s ‘conveniently’ for you and me), connecting the deceased Ella to the missing Ashley, and then taking a bizarre Fantastic Journey-style trip into Ella’s cell structure to work out what the reader’s known for some time – that Charnn has been working (very slowly – he’s been here since the stone age) on hybridising human biology by implanting his own cells into human beings and seeing what happens. It’s only worked on Ashley because she’s young. (And, really, it’s taken Charnn an awfully long time to work that out.)

In order to make things a little more exciting, Orlando has the dreamscape begin to collapse around J’Onn, necessitating a swift and dramatic exit. While he’s doing that, Meade takes a call from Sasky – the disheveled, bearded ne’er-do-well from a couple of issues ago – who’s in the process of jumping bail because the Vultures are gathering and planning some kind of all-out assault on Midleton. Cripes! Meade rushes back to the pathology lab where she’d left J’Onn and the two decide that the best way to combat the coming threat is to take a deep dive into J’Onn’s head and confront his guilt (or something) about how terrible he was back on Mars, so that he can become the Martian Manhunter and unlock his full potential and overcome the bad guy. Which I can kind of buy. Sort of.

Whenever discussing an Orlando-penned book, one question remains paramount: How’s the dialogue? Well, while the information conveyed to Meade is done so in a more or less naturalistic manner through conversation, the information J’Onn finds out is necessarily conveyed through monologue and it’s thus unsurprising that it’s this long section that suffers from some notable Orlandoisms. But, they’re not actually all that offensive (“frozen in a single morphoplastic structure” is a particular favorite) and the overall pace of the issue is relatively good. Rossmo’s art continues to be the love-it-or-hate-it mix of dynamism, exaggerated figure work and frequently bizarre creativity that it has been all series, and I continue to rather like it.

Bits and Pieces:

The end is near. But, not just yet. This is an enjoyable enough issue with surreal dreamscapes, occasional body horror and a pretty clear indication of how the next three issues are going to go. Orlando’s script is intelligent enough and Rossmo’s art is as compellingly strange as it’s been all series. What is clear is that his path for the character of J’Onn J’Onnz is well-planned and has, at its heart, a conception of heroism which I can wholeheartedly endorse. This series shows every sign of ending strongly. Fingers crossed.


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