December 3, 2023

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #406: Ma’alefa’ak

Last week, I covered the Martian Manhunter's biggest Silver Age nemesis. But he has other, more modern ones.

For a longtime DC hero, the Martian Manhunter doesn’t seem to have many reoccurring enemies.  Last week’s Human Flame is probably more memorable for his look in a single appearance than anything else.  That is not to say there weren’t attempts made.  During the BWA-HA-HA period of the Justice League, Despero was painted as somewhat of a foe for J’onn more than the others, but when J’onn  finally got his own solo series, the creators knew he’d need a Rogues Gallery of his own.

The most memorable of those was Ma’alefa’ak, but he seems more likely to appear elsewhere…

Ma’alefa’ak’s first appearance was in Martian Manhunter #0, by writer John Ostrander and artist Tom Mandrake, in October of 1988 under his full name:  Ma’alefa’ak J’onzz.  Yes, this goober is J’onn’s brother.

Let’s forget, for a moment, that J’onn had a kid brother who came for a visit from Mars in a single Silver Age story.  Said kid’s name was T’omm J’onzz, or Tom Jones.  If that seems unlikely, it’s not that unusual as the Silver Age Mars was still heavily populated.  The idea that J’onn is the last of his kind came much later.

But there’s no T’omm J’onzz anymore.  There was Ma’alefa’ak J’onzz, and he was a rogue Martian priest given to a lot of chains and body piercings because it was the 90s.  Anyway, Ma’alefa’ak was always something of a twisted soul, so the Martian authorities basically stripped him of his telepathy.  That had an unintended side effect where Ma’alefa’ak, or Malefic in Earth-English, was no longer part of the Great Mind, something that made him crazier but also no longer susceptible to the Martian fire weakness.  Ma’alefa’ak would later use that immunity to his advantage by creating the very plague, called H’ronmeer’s Curse and spread by telepathy, that killed the rest of his kind except for his brother J’onn.

By the by, the crime he committed to be stripped of his telepathy and then led to believe he never had that ability was the mental rape of J’onn’s wife M’yri’ah.  While J’onn sealed his mind off from the rest of Martian society, including his wife and daughter, M’yri’ah willingly joined her mind to the couple’s daughter when the little girl contracted the plague so she wouldn’t die alone.  J’onn couldn’t bring himself to do the same, and their deaths have haunted him ever since.  His unintended trip to Earth likewise saved him, but that left Ma’alefa’ak alone on Mars for apparently centuries because, yes, Martians live that long.  And that sort of thing will not do anyone’s mental health much good.  When Ma’alefa’ak eventually learned his brother was alive and well on Earth, he made it his mission to follow along, ruin J’onn’s good name, and then kill him.  Even without his telepathy, Ma’alefa’ak still had all the other Martian powers and none of the weaknesses, so he managed to more or less vaporize most of his brother while infiltrating the Justice League Watchtower and manhandling (Martianhandling?) any heroes he came across.

However, J’onn still had a hand left, and he had severed it himself.  After putting his consciousness into it and teleporting the single remaining part of his body to Earth, J’onn used a lesser-known power to borrow mass from the Earth and regrow his body.  From there, he returned to the Watchtower, restored Ma’alefa’ak’s memories (and fire weakness) and left his brother to be vaporized by the sun because the fact J’onn like most Martians had been dealing with the fire weakness and Ma’alefa’ak hadn’t meant Ma’alefa’ak was even more vulnerable to fire than most Martians.  J’onn was himself saved by his Justice League teammates, and that was, for the most part, Ma’alefa’ak’s only big appearance in comics.  He did turn up again as a telepathic presence in J’onn’s mind thanks to some old Martian ceremony, but really…he had that one appearance for a multi-issue storyarc.

And yet, he has had far more appearances in other mediums.

In the direct-to-video animated movie Justice League: Doom, a movie where one of the selling points was most of the heroes were voiced by the same actors from Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, Ma’alefa’ak was there to be J’onn’s adversary in the Legion of Doom, with both brothers voiced by Carl Lumbly.

Later on, Ma’alefa’ak became a reoccurring foe in the CW’s Supergirl, but since Lumbly was already had a reoccurring role as J’onn’s father M’yrnn (and the Arrowverse loved to cast former superhero actors as the parents and forebears of their own heroes), the role of Ma’alefa’ak went to Lumbly’s Justice League/Justice League Unlimited co-star Phil LaMarr.

And most recently, a different Ma’alefa’ak turned up on the animated Young Justice series, only here he was the villainous brother of Miss Martian and not the Martian Manhunter.  But really, for a guy who got basically one big storyarc in the comics, he sure did become the go-to figure whenever someone needed an evil Martian.  So, he’s kind of a reverse Harley Quinn:  he appeared in the comics first before having a bigger impact on other mediums.