DC’s series of crossover comics pairing up members of the Justice League with classic Warner Bros. characters have been tributes to the good old days when comics and cartoons were lighthearted and grit-free. But in this week’s Martian Manhunter/Marvin the Martian crossover, things get deliciously dark.
In a charmingly poetic way, Marvin the Martian and J’onn J’onzz are almost like alternate reality versions of one another. Both Martians are known for their relatively calm, thoughtful exteriors and the fits of explosive rage they sometimes fly into when provoked by people around them.
Even though both of them are ostensibly committed to the betterment of their respective universes, the key difference between the two are their opinions of the earth. J’onn, a longtime Justice Leaguer, has adopted the planet as his second home. Marvin, by contrast, sees earth as a disease in need of eradication and as Martian Manhunter/Marvin the Martian begins, neither Martians can understand each other’s perspectives.
In a scene very similar to his first appearance 1955's Detective Comics #225, J’onn accidentally pulls Marvin into his universe after a strange distress signal written in Martian that only he can see is broadcast on the local news. Given that, in J’onn’s world, he is the very last Martian, he jumps at the opportunity to meet another survivor and activates the same Erdel Gate that originally brought him to Earth. But rather than a green or white Martian stepping through the gate, Marvin pokes his helmeted head through.
The pair instinctively know that they aren’t quite the same kinds of Martians, but the bond between them is immediate and undeniable. Before J’onn can get into the story of how he came to Earth, though, Marvin swiftly informs him that the “distress” call he broadcasted wasn’t seeking help from other Martians. Rather, it was a multiversal offering of help to any and all Martians trying to destroy the Earth.
J’onn is horrified at Marvin’s revelation, but Marvin dismisses his concern as garden variety “mid-millennium Martian angst” that he’ll get over once he realizes that Earth and the humans who inhabit it are a threat to all other forms of life. As heroes are wont to do, J’onn takes it upon himself to apprehend Marvin’s various attempts at blowing things up, but it’s in Marvin’s violence that writer Steve Orlando complicates the character in a way that Warner Bros. never quite got around to.
In Warner Bros.’ cartoons, Marvin originally sought to destroy earth simply because it blocked his view of Venus from Mars. In this telling of his origins, though, Marvin explains how, like J’onn, his people thought that the Earth and its inhabitants were merely in need of guidance from a more enlightened race like themselves. In time, though humans proved so much of a threat that they almost managed to destroy Mars, something that resonates with J’onn.
In typical Marvin fashion, the smaller Martian sets out to find the biggest, cartoon-iest weapon that he can use to enact his plan. But while J’onn does everything he can to minimize the damage and protect civilians, he begins to wonder whether there’s merit to Marvin’s views.
In one panel, J’onn saves a plane full of humans that Marvin nearly kills. While everyone on board survives, they attack and ridicule J’onn, despite the fact that they know he’s member of the Justice League. Marvin points out how unappreciative the humans are and uses it as a justification to continue destroying things.
The concept of an adopted earthling grappling with the evils of humanity isn’t exactly a new one but by juxtaposing the two classic Martians, Martian Manhunter/Marvin the Martian gives its titular characters a depth and gravitas that you don’t always see in their day to day adventures, but we definitely should more often in the future.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Marvin the Martian was a Hanna-Barbera character. We know, he belongs to Warner Brothers. Sorry, they sort of blend together in my head sometimes.—CPM