Armchair Screenwriter: The Martian Manhunter
So, let me think about this a little. I feel like, because we don’t have the “hero discovers his powers” option available to us (actually we do, but let me save that for a minute), then this is another “superhero” movie that needs to not have the superhero be the protagonist (see: Aquaman). And we also kind of need to scale the Martian Manhunter back a little bit, too, because his powers are: flight, super-strength, invincibility, super-speed, laser eyes, shapechangeing, telepathy, intangibility…it is a lot of powers. It’s basically “all the powers,” and it’s hard to sell drama when your main character is a guy with all the powers.
Hm. Okay, here’s what I think: no one cares about the Martian Manhunter. I mean, 90% of the people who you’d want to watch this movie have never even heard of the Martian Manhunter. Batman, people know. Superman, the Flash. Green Lantern (as the Onion pointed out) just barely. Some of the Marvel guys are lesser-known heroes, but they all have really good hooks, and you basically know what you’re getting from them right away: Iron Man is a man…of iron! Spider-Man is a man with the powers…of a spider! The X-men are fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them. The Hulk is a huge hulking monster. ET CETERA.
But Martian Manhunter? He doesn’t even do that much manhunting in the comics, and pointing out that he’s Martian means you have to explain, right away, where the hell all the other Martians went.
So….and here’s the point I’m getting to…despite the fact that Time Warner owns a DC property with a trademarked name, there’s actually no reason to call a movie like this “The Martian Manhunter,” or even to use that name (or J’onn J’onzz because I mean come on) in the movie. Or to treat the Manhunter as a superhero, or to even really pretend this is a superhero movie at all.
Hah. Okay, so if it’s not a superhero movie, what is it? Let’s take what Holland said yesterday in the comments and run with it: Mad Men + My Favorite Martian + the X-Files + The Day the Earth Stood Still. Let’s say that the government has captured an alien, with the power to read minds and change its shape, and use that to fuel a thematic undercurrent of paranoia and identity crises. Maybe more Invasion of the Body Snatchers than Day the Earth Stood Still.
It’s the late 1950s, maybe the early-to-mid 1960s, right in the middle of the Cold War hysteria. There’s a government agent who is the main character (I always want to make characters like these female, because I want there to be more parts for women to do in movies, but maybe it’s not feasible here, maybe I should just relax). Anyway, he gets home one day to find himself murdered. He is about to be inducted into a top-secret agency (for fun, let’s have this be the precursor to Checkmate), and so they’ve erased his previous identity.
The agency takes him in and shows him that they’ve caught an alien and are keeping it prisoner. Good so far. The alien is the forerunner of an alien invasion. For some reason (let’s say latent psychic powers?) this particular agent is the one with the best chance of communicating with the alien.
Only, obviously, the alien is J’onn and he’s come to warn about the invasion, but actually the invasion has already happened and Checkmate ARE the aliens, they’ve brought the agent in to get some other kind of information out of J’onn. Maybe he’s got access to some kind of weapon? Better, I think, is that they don’t know that there aren’t any other Green Martians, and they want to know the location of the rest of J’onn’s race. I like this, because it let’s us punch up the “last of my kind” reveal — not only am I the last Green Martian, but also there’s no Green Martian fleet coming to save you.
The agent helps J’onn escape, J’onn finds a young Amanda Waller and, with a nascent Suicide Squad, infiltrates the White Martian mothership and self-destructs the invasion fleet, something something something.
That’s okay, but I want it to be crazier, actually. If we’re going to do psychics and shapechangers and paranoia, let’s just DO it, you know?
So, actually the agent IS J’onn, only he doesn’t know it because he’s imprinted himself with an artificial personality so that he can walk freely among humans. And the alien that Checkmate has is a hoax they’re using to draw him out. In this, Checkmate is a human organization, like the Architects of Fear in that Outer Limits episode — only it turns out that they HAVE been infiltrated by aliens, so once J’onn comes in contact with them, his alien personality starts manifesting, trying to get him to remember — only THIS isn’t his real personality either, it’s a fake personality that the White Martians have made to trick him into remembering the location of the rest of his fleet.
This doesn’t work, of course, because there is no fleet for him to remember, but it does cause him to recall his actual personality. That’s when he discovers that the Checkmate that found him isn’t the real Checkmate — it’s a fake Checkmate created by Amanda Waller that was designed to be infiltrated by the White Martians, full of people with mind-wiped personalities so that no on would catch on, and the REAL Checkmate actually is working against the White Martians, but they need J’onn’s help to destroy the alien spacecraft.
You could probably even throw another reversal in there, when it seems like J’onn actually reveals himself as a spy for the White Martians, only to turn out to be a double-agent. Maybe put a prototype Suicide Squad in there, too.
The thing is, you could put all of this together in a movie and leave all of these Easter Eggs in it, references to things that show up later in Green Lantern, on the for instance, and just not make a big deal about it, because who cares? The handful of people who know about the Martian Manhunter will get it right away; for everyone else, it’s all meaningless, and this is just an insanely awesome, telepathic shapechanging alien paranoia movie.