Just after Christmas, my grandmother, Mamaw, told my wife to tell me to come over and look through the comics in her basement, knowing how much I love superheroes. I knew my uncle, Rich used to work at (maybe own) a comic book store, but I had no idea any were left over from his heyday, or the number of comics she had in her basement! On the way over to visit I expected to find maybe a box or two of really bad comics no one had ever heard of or wanted. I was pleasantly surprised to much more. It was like Christmas had come again! In the collection there were some real gems, a handful worth a few bucks, but the one I was super giddy to find and prized above all the others was the Martian Manhunterfour-part mini-series published in 1988, written and drawn by J.M. DeMatteis and Mark Badger.
I was not pleased to have these comics because their monetary worth (which is none) but because when I researching and writing Heroes, Villains, and Healing, I wanted to include a chapter on Martian Manhunter, but could not find a solid source to use as a reference. What I knew about the hero came from the television shows Justice League andJustice League: Unlimited, but not enough to connect to understanding the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.The animated series, and what I had read of the hero in Justice League, Martian Manhunter loneliness and isolation appeared more intense than Superman’s because he was not raised on earth and, while both Clark Kent and J’on J’onzz are both aliens, J’on never felt as connected to the people of earth as Superman. All of this made me want to understand his origins and how he became the sole survivor of Mars. The little information I could find on a Martian Manhunter comic was the before mentioned mini-series, which I could not find. You can imagine my joy at having found all four parts in-tact and in excellent condition.
After reading the comics I knew I was right to want to include Martian Manhunter in Heroes, Villains, and Healing.These comics detail with remarkable precision the stages of the healing process survivors go through when attempting to recover from the trauma of sexual abuse. This makes them excellent material to help male survivors understand the stages of the healing process. Because I did not include them inHeroes, Villains, and Healing I will discuss and analyze the four comics in the next four blog entries over the next four weeks. However, before beginning, it is first important to know the steps of the healing process, and who the Martian Manhunter is before addressing the steps that will be analyzed in issue #1 of Martian Manhunter.
Steps of the Healing Process
In my self-help guides for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, Heroes, Villains, and Healingand How to Kill Your BatmanI explain the steps of the healing process. In these guides I explain how the healing process is similar in the stages all survivors must progress through if they wish to heal, but different in how each survivor reacts to those stages. This is because no two individuals are the same, and so, no two sexual abuses are the same. The healing process is also not meant to be a straight line, allowing the survivor to move from start to finish in a set amount of time. J’on J’onzz demonstrates this throughout the four-part series Martian Manhunter as he attempts to deny the trauma of his past while it pushes to be remembered. Although there is no definite beginning, middle, or end to the healing process, research has revealed that thirteen steps are usually associated with the healing process. According to The Courage to Healby Ellen Bass, these steps are:
- The Decision to Heal
- The Emergency Stage
- Believing It Happened
- Breaking the Silence
- Understanding It Wasn’t Your Fault
- The Child Within
- Disclosures and Truth-Telling
- Resolution and Moving On
Although the healing process is believed to have thirteen steps, from my experience, I have found some of these stages can be combined. This is not meant to streamline the healing process, but because many of the above-mentioned stages happen simultaneously, creating seven stages rather than thirteen. These seven stages are:
- The Emergency Stage and the Decision to Heal
- Remembering and Believing it Happened
- Grieving and Anger
- Understanding It Was Not Your Fault and Forgiveness
- The Child Within
- Disclosures, Truth-Telling, and Breaking the Silence
- Spirituality, Forgiveness, and Post Traumatic Growth
In this blog entry, I will be using Martian Manhunter #1 to explore the Emergency Stage and the Decision to Heal. It is also important to note that throughout all four issues there is a continuance presence of spirituality that is not fully understood until issue #3.
Martian Manhunter / J’on J’onzz
To understand this blog you must not only know the stages of the healing process, but also who the Martian Manhunter is as a hero of the DC universe.
When the Martian Manhunter appeared on the scene in Detective Comics #225“The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel”, creators Joseph Samachson and Joe Certa made one of the most interesting and powerful characters of the DC universe. During this Silver Age of comics, readers were told that J’on was the last Martian in existence who was pulled across time and space by a machine developed by scientist Dr. Saul Erdel. Unfortunately, the shock of seeing and meeting a Martian killed Dr. Erdel, preventing the hero from returning home. Trapped on Earth, the Martian decides to fight for justice as the Martian Manhunter, adopting the name J’on J’onzz as his alter ego.
J’on’s superpowers includes the ability to shape shift, fly, and telekinetic abilities. He also can become invisible with the ability to move through solid objects. His one weakness is fire. While this weakness may appear to be ridiculous in comparison to so many of his awesome super abilities, why this is his weakness is explained in the four-part mini-series. To tell you anymore would be spoilers, and everyone hates spoilers!
Martian Manhunter #1 “Fever Dream” (1988)
The Emergency Stage
The comic begins with Batman. While attempting to catch a criminal, J’onn appears from the shadows, screaming for help and resembling more of a demon than a hero. Batman manages to get J’on to the Batcave. While unconscious J’on says:
It’s inside me. I know it. I can almost see it. Touch it. Taste it. Yet I don’t know what it is. How many years has it lain there, twisting, like a child in the womb … turning … kicking…I’m so afraid.
If I had to describe the Emergency Stage of the healing process in the form of a comic, this is one of the closest depictions of the sheer terror, confusion, and dissociative episodes a survivor can experience (the other closest example if the “Vermon” series of The Amazing Spider-Man).
The Emergency Stage cannot be put into words. The only and best way to describe it is sheer panic. It is fear that cannot be rationalized or pushed away. I have entered the Emergency Stage twice in my life. The first was during the first week of college. After being homeless for two years, and finding a way to get out of that situation (not to mention the domestic and sexual abuse of childhood) I was finally safe. Unfortunately, the safety of my dorm room meant my mind and body believing the traumas of the past could now be addressed without going insane. This panic and fear caused such gut-wrenching pain in my stomach, making me believe I was going to die.
The second time I entered the Emergency Stage was after my daughter was born. My wife and I had just purchased our first home and I had a new English position. I was the safest I had been in all of my life, hence why I entered Emergency Stage for a second time after not fully coming to terms with my past trauma years prior. J’on’s feeling of safety and mind and body’s readiness to enter the Emergency Stage is evident when he says to himself:
I’ve been on this world for…how many years? I can’t say for sure — but long enough to be comfortable here. As comfortable as a Martian could ever be among men. I’ve been on this world, protecting her people, risking my life again and again in the name of justice. And I’ve never known fear (except in sleep). I’ve never run (except in dreams). I’ve never been gripped by terror (except in the moments when that vague, unameable something reared up in my mind). But now, awake, alive, whole — I fear, I run, I’m terrified. Now I tremble like a child by imaginary monsters.
Like J’on, you may have built yourself to be strong as an adult man, but inside you feel afraid and weak due the trauma from your childhood. Like J’on, this fear may only visit you when you sleep, making you feel like the boy who was victimized as a child. As a boy maturing into adulthood, the only option you may have had to survive was to push the pain of the trauma away and this is fine. You did what needed to be done to cope. Unfortunately, like J’on there is only so long the past can be pushed away before it rises to the surface, but not until the mind and boy know it is safe enough (consciously or unconsciously) to come to terms with the trauma of the past.
The Decision to Heal
After entering the Emergency Stage, the survivor must make the Decision to Heal. Here, the survivor can choose to either ignore the past trauma, or begin the process of recovery. Until the survivor makes the decision to heal, they will continue to return to the Emergency Stage. Many male survivors, unsure of what it happening to them and why attempt, to explain away the panic. Unfortunately, this is not only true of male survivors, but doctors and therapist who can make the mistake of misdiagnosing C-PTSD. Both survivors and their caregivers have the potential to treat the wrong symptoms causing more confusion and denial of past trauma. Rather than make the decision to heal, J’on and Batman attempt to explain the pain and the hallucinations away. J’on thinks to himself:
Of course. I understand now. The spore. The sentient cell! I absorbed it. Took it into myself to stop the plague that was spreading across the earth (from a previous Justice League comic). And it’s alive in my now. Fighting to break free. That’s why my body’s undergoing these distortions! That’s why I’m burning with fever! Then Batman was right. That thing I thought was after me. It was only a creation of my fever.
J’on does what many men do when faced with the reality of their past trauma. They attempt to fight the dissociative episodes and flashbacks by attempting to “become stronger”.
They claim the dissociative episodes in the form of flashbacks are not real and did not happen!
They become angry!
They push those they care about away.
While the survivor says this is to “keep others safe”, it is really to ensure no one sees them distorted, weak, and hurting, when all their friends want to do is help.
Until the survivors makes the decision to heal, the past will not be silenced.
Martian Manhunteris a unique comic to read. It is beautiful, producing hard lines, grit, and muted colors that can only be found in true 80s fashion. There is also an element of spirituality to the depictions of J’on’s dissociative episodes. Many graphics, while being made up of smaller images, come together to create larger pictures that resemble churches and evil demons. All of these objects make the reader feel connected to something they cannot explain, but hope to eventually understand. When entering the healing process as a survivor, it can feel unique, spiritual, and larger that life. The only option is to do as J’on does. Continue to hold on, putting it all together one piece at a time until, eventually, it all makes sense. I wish I could tell you more about the connection to spirituality throughout Martian Manhunter, but – spoilers. More will come into focus in the blog next week.
Next week, the blog entry “Burning Bright” will address remembering past trauma while continuing to examine the Emergency Stage and the Decision to Heal. For more information about my guides Heroes, Villains, and Healing, and How to Kill Your Batman, or to purchase a copy visit my website www.lostimaginations.com.