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A Tale of Two Martians} ?> The character trope of “being the last of one’s kind” is a popular one in geek culture. Whether a hero has lost his entire race, like Aang and the Doctor, or simply her family members, like Rey, many of our favourite characters are alone in the world. One of my favourites is J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, member of the Justice League and the last son of Mars.
In the CW’s new show, Supergirl, J’onn is the last Green Martian, whose family and people have been wiped out by the White Martians. Under the guise of Hank Henshaw, he works as the director of the Department of Extra-Normal Operations (D.E.O) with Kara Zor-El and Alex Danvers, Kara’s adoptive sister, to protect the Earth from malicious alien life.
In Season Two, which is currently airing, J’onn meets another Martian, M’gann M’orzz, who is more hardened than her Young Justice counterpart. Their differing responses to the war on Mars is central to Episode Four, “Survivors” (spoilers ahead).
The episode begins with J’onn questioning M’gann on how she escaped Mars. She tells him that she was in an interment camp and that a White Martian broke a kill order and smuggled her out. And when J’onn calls her a survivor, M’gann says, “I am whatever I need to be to get by.” J’onn then asks if she will take the bond with him, but M’gann evades him by saying that she has customers.
Meanwhile, Alex and Kara are investigating a secret alien fight club, which Alex infiltrates. She discovers that it is being run by a woman named Roulette and that the reining champion is Miss Martian, M’gann M’orzz herself. She tells J’onn, who confronts M’gann, and their differences come out in a heated argument.
J’onn can’t understand why she would want to fight, saying that the humans are just using her. M’gann tells him that she’s not fighting for them, but for herself, and that he can’t understand.
“Then make me understand,” J’onn says. “We’re the last of our kind, there’s no one else. It’s our responsibility to preserve everything we’ve lost.”
“That’s the difference between us,” M’gann pushes back. “I don’t want to remember. You want to still be there, you want to live it over and over. I don’t. I want to forget.”
J’onn and M’gann are polar opposites, each dealing with the trauma of war in their own way, but
It’s only later in the episode, after M’gann has betrayed J’onn to Roulette and they are forced to fight each other to the death in the ring, that he understands.
J’onn tries not to fight, and is subsequently beaten by the more ruthless M’gann. She has him on his back, her hand on his throat, ready to deal one final blow when she says, “Only one of us is walking out of here, and I told you, I’m whatever I need to be to survive.”
“And now you’ll be a killer,” J’onn says. “There’s no shame in surviving.”
“I’m not ashamed. I’m not.”
“You don’t fight for money. You do it because you think you deserve it, for surviving. But you don’t have to punish yourself anymore, M’gann. You’re forgiven. We both are.”
M’gann pulls back and tells Roulette that she won’t kill him.
J’onn has been living under the weight of memory. He wants to preserve what is left of Mars, which is why he asks M’gann to take the bond with him. The bond is a traditional way of communicating, where Martians meld minds and share thoughts, dreams, and emotions. They don’t keep secrets from one another. When J’onn explains this to Kara and Alex, he tells them that he’s grateful to have them in his life, but that with Martians it’s different: “It’s deeper, deeper than talking, fuller. With [M’gann] there’s a chance for me to live how I was meant to live.” When J’onn looks at M’gann, he sees a bit of home and the chance to be whole again.
But M’gann has been living under the weight of guilt; she thinks she’s undeserving of the life she has. And, in the last few minutes of the episode, when she reveals herself to be a White Martian masquerading as a Green to the viewers, we realize that the reasons for her guilt run deeper than simply being a survivor. She knows that she’s a disappointment to J’onn and that, if he were to discover who she really is, he might not be so forgiving; as a White Martian she is partially responsible for the destruction of his people.
In the end, J’onn and M’gann form a tentative friendship. J’onn can see where M’gann is coming from and says to her, “Like you said, the past is over and done. What matters is what happens now. If you don’t want to take the bond I’m fine with that. I’m just glad to know you…. I’m around, if you need me.”
I doubt that J’onn will ever completely get over the pain of losing his family and people, and I don’t think that M’gann will be able to give up her guilt easily. Trauma lingers, but we can support each other through it. It is my hope that we will be people who look past the differences of race, colour, gender, and class and remember that everyone has a story, everyone has something they’re dealing with. Offering kindness and support instead of judgement to those who are suffering is a step in the right direction.