Martian Manhunter (MM)is easily one of my Top 5 favorite superheroes. The problem I have with MM is tied directly to Superman (SM). MM is stronger and has less weaknesses, but has never gotten the same respect as SM. They are two aliens with similar powers and capabilities, but treated differently. They dress similarly – both have trunks and capes, but they have one main visual difference. SM looks like most average humans, while MM looks human’ish, but obviously different. And because of this, it affects his popularity in our world, and his credibility in his world. This came to me years ago while reading the initial Injustice: Gods Among Us comic run. In “Year 1“, MM is fighting SM and Wonder Woman (WW). During the fight, he let’s both SM and WW know how he feels in regards to his place in the Justice League, and directly tells WW she treats SM differently because of how he looks. Despite being able to do virtually anything, such as turn himself into a molecule of Kryptonite and kill SM from inside his own body anytime he feels like it, he is never treated as SM’s equal. He let’s them know it’s because SM looks like everyone else on the planet and he doesn’t, yet SM is just as alien and different from the human world as he is.
You never trusted me. Two aliens and you always followed the one who looked like you. And you both underestimated me. You see yourselves as invulnerable. But right now I’m inside you. I’m in your lungs. I can strangle organs.Martian Manhunter, speaking to Wonder Woman
“Injustice: Gods Among Us” #29
The reason this moment was so impactful, is because WW is not human, she is Greek demigod. Depending on the origin story is in use, she was either sculpted from clay by her mother and was given a life to live as an Amazon, along with superhuman powers, or she is the daughter of Zeus and Queen Hippolyta of Themyscira. HOWEVER, despite being shielded from the rest of the world until she was an adult, she still carries the same social ideas as the rest of the world. Different is bad, dangerous, and should be feared.
This idea that different is less trustworthy is a learned behavior, and a social construct that everyone is affected by. Learned behaviors are just a fancy way of labeling the experiences we have and the lessons we are taught by our environment and social groups. Without getting into a grander conversation about race or nationalism, this conversation can be centered on the greater concept that we fear different, even if it’s better.
People have a tendency to fear changes – to routines, to surroundings, to people, to almost everything. Once we have a comfort built, we rarely move on willingly, typically it’s a forced (or semi-forced) decision, such as going to college, taking a new job, joining the military, starting a new relationship, etc. But all those examples are situations that can improve your life. SM looks familiar, so he feels safer. MM looks different, so he feels less safe. People know he’s a superhero, but he looks more alien, thus must be less trustworthy or somehow not as good. When in actuality, he’s more powerful than SM, and more objective in his decision making. SM’s view of the world is based on how he was raised by his Earth parents that found him in Kansas, while MM’s decisions are based on having faith in humanity and wanting to protect it. In the Superman: Red Son comic, SM landed in Soviet Russia, and defends Communism, and the Soviet way of life, and is suddenly a “thing” to be feared. His learning history was changed, but was not feared during his rise to power. You could argue that SM could have rose to power regardless, but his learning history made him desire that rise. Meanwhile, MM would not have been given that chance because of how he looks.
MM is the perfect example of humans having learned behaviors that were beneficial at some point in our history, but can hinder us now. Yes, at some point, we needed to fear “things” that looked different from us, but once we learned what was safe he worked with it. We went from fearing wolves to domesticating them and breeding them into dogs. Yet our pop culture has taught us that no matter how good something alien seems, never trust it. Whether it’s the aliens in The Twilight Zone with a chance at paradise and a secret serving man cookbook, or big headed round eyed aliens/martians snatching and probing random people. BUT, what about the aliens from They Live, who make us think they look like us just to control us.
Why do we not trust or appreciate Martian Manhunter as much as SM, when he’s more powerful, more objective, and more altruistic?
… All men are created equal. All MEN are created equal. All MEN. You are NOT a MAN …Lex Luthor, while looking at video of Superman
“Luthor” by Brian Azzarello