“How do we know one day you won’t act against America’s interests?” That’s what Harry Lennix’s General Calvin Swanwick tells Superman in the 2013 movie Man of Steel. Seven years later in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, it seems that Swanwick was also talking about himself.
Warning: Spoilers for Zack Snyder’s Justice League ahead.
In one of the biggest reveals from the long-awaited “Snyder Cut,” Swanwick’s true nature is revealed: he is secretly the Martian Manhunter, a shape-shifting, psychic superhero from Mars — not to mention one of the founding members of the Justice League in the comic books.
While the Martian Manhunter doesn’t join the Justice League in the movie, he does inform Bruce Wayne that he will be available the next time the Justice League needs him.
The future of the DC Extended Universe is as unknown to us as Metropolis is oblivious to Clark Kent’s other job, but we can at least guess that the Martian Manhunter will matter to the future of the DC film franchise going forward.
But who is the Martian Manhunter? And how will his presence actually shape the future of DC movies, if we actually see them? Here’s a newbie’s guide to the Martian Manhunter and where the DC movies are going next.
Who is the Martian Manhunter?
The Martian Manhunter is J’onn J’onnz, a DC superhero created by Joseph Samachson and Joe Certa who made his debut in 1955’s Detective Comics #225. In the history of DC, J’onn is a charter member of the Justice League of America, forming it with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Green Lantern.
The last survivor of the extinct “Green Martians” of Mars, J’onn is capable of similar powers as Superman with some distinct differences. He’s got the typical array of powers, including super-strength, flight, durability, heat vision, and regenerative healing.
Unlike Superman, the Martian Manhunter is psionic, capable of telepathy and telekinesis. He can also make his whole body intangible or even invisible. He isn’t invulnerable though, and has a weakness to fire. (In the New 52 canon, his “weakness” was more of a personal pyrophobia due to his trauma of seeing the fiery death of his people.)
As far as his personality, he also differs from the Man of Steel in key ways. The Martian Manhunter is like a “quiet guardian.” While not mute, he is monk-like in demeanor. He is thoughtful, stern, maybe even cold, but never heartless. In his live-action adaptations, such as in the TV shows Smallville (played by Phil Morris), Supergirl (played by David Harwood) and now in the DCEU, his alter-egos tend to be Black men in positions of some government authority.
(Just because it’s my personal favorite depiction of Martian Manhunter: I implore you to watch the Christmas episode of the Justice League animated series where J’onn spends the holidays with Clark Kent and his family in Kansas. It’s an all-time classic.)
Martian Manhunter’s DCEU history
What’s extra fun about Martian Manhunter in Justice League is that it was retconned at the suggestion of a fan. The idea that the Martian Manhunter was General Swanwick, a supporting character of the DCEU who appeared in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was just a fan theory that director Zack Snyder himself liked a lot. In a tweet from October 2016, Lennix confirmed his character was not the Martian Manhunter.
In 2019, months before the “Snyder Cut” had a confirmed HBO Max release, Snyder published on his Vero page a storyboard of Martha Kent (played by Diane Lane) turning into the Martian Manhunter before reverting back into Swanwick. Snyder revealed on Vero he shot most of the scene except for Harry Lennix’s part before leaving Justice League. The final version of the movie, directed by Joss Whedon, did not include the reveal of Martian Manhunter.
With Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Snyder finally had time (and money) to complete the scene, allowing Harry Lennix’s U.S. military general with a visible distrust of space aliens to be an alien himself. One must wonder whether J’onn J’onnz/Calvin Swanwick is simply trying to keep his cover as airtight as possible, or if J’onn actually feels protective of the people of Earth.
The future of Martian Manhunter in the DCEU
It is no accident Martian Manhunter appears before Bruce Wayne as he wakes up from a bad dream. (A “Knightmare,” if you will.) While J’onn doesn’t address the dream to Bruce — which he probably could as a psychic — J’onn is positioned to be the Justice League’s next glimpse of hope should any of the events of the Knightmare come true. But even if a Knightmare doesn’t ever happen, the League will be relieved to have another superhuman alien on their side.
Besides, Martian Manhunter’s future will only depend on whether Justice League 2 and Justice League 3 are in the cards, which at this stage seems unlikely. But the door is open. As Bruce Wayne mentions to Alfred in his plans for a round table in the Hall of Justice, there’s always room for more.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is streaming now on HBO Max.