The early significance of Martian Manhunter’s John Jones persona is examined in Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier series.
Darwyn Cooke’s take on the early days of Justice League explores how the Martian Manhunter came to choose John Jones’ human disguise. While he doesn’t do so often in the main DCU, his New Frontier companion’s use of disguises is an examination of how J’onn wants to fit in on Earth and contribute to his strange new home. And more importantly, it reveals his early feelings for humanity in general and how the Mars Hunters became heroes to those of their time through the experience of being human.
In DC: The New Frontier #2 by Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart, Mars Hunters are accidentally transported to Earth by Doctor Erdel’s experiments. Unfortunately, the Martian’s sudden appearance makes Erdel have a heart attack. He apologizes to J’onn, warning that humanity is not ready for someone like him and that he must hide until such time. Erdel died shortly after, but despite his brief time with John, it was the first real interaction with humanity that J’onn had ever had. In that short time, the alien sees human fear, but he also sees reason and compassion triumph over all objections.
For that reason, J’onn decides to follow Erdel’s advice, using his likeness and the little money he has to find a hiding place while he learns as much as he can about Earth. The way he does it is television. For weeks the aliens absorbed as much of Earth’s culture as they could to try and understand how this world worked. It was interesting to him, but also enlightening.
J’onn begins to understand that good and evil exist on his new planet in a gradient. There are no clear black and white answers to be found, but J’onn knew early on that he wanted to be a force for good. So he takes on the role of a police detective, both to have a source of income and to be “one of the good guys” without scaring humans. This decision reveals the true purpose of the John Jones persona he continues to use time after time in the DC mainstream universe.
From the start, John Jones’s identity was a critique of Earth. He became the Mars Hunter’s way of conveying that he saw the value of the planet, even if humans weren’t always the most moral. He saw good things that could happen.
But John Jones might as well be a stepping stone to helping Earth in a much bigger way. As time goes on and J’onn’s initial feelings about humanity prove true, the need for a secret identity diminishes. This is positive and in no way detracts from what John Jones represents. It just means that the persona is doing its job, it keeps J’onn safe until humanity is ready to accept him as he is.