By: Matt Kindt (story), Tom Derenick & Eddy Barrows (pencils), Tom Nguyen & Allen Martinez (inks), Hi-Fi (colors)

The Story: Martian Manhunter is the conscience that won’t quit.

The Review: I feel quite safe in assuming that we all like praise as much as the next person, but having a real thirst for it can lead to all sorts of problems.  The compliment-fishers are bad enough as they are, but at least they have the grace to be passive-aggressive about it.  People who brag on themselves, either humbly or through the backdoor (“This filet mignon is excellent—just like the one I make at home!”), take things to a more gag-inducing level.

But the absolute worst is when folks start dragging others to do their dirty work for them.  To spare themselves the effort of proving anything, they just get someone else to talk about it lavishly.  That’s exactly what Kindt has been doing with Courtney since last issue, which would have been bad enough.  Here he stoops to have Courtney’s best friend push her past a moment of doubt over her budding superhero career with the most blatantly self-serving lines I’ve read in a while: “You’re honestly the most genuine, purest girl I know, Courtney.  This is your calling.”

What’s even more fictionally despicable about the move is that Kindt basically creates this best-friend character* for, apparently, the sole purpose of hyping Courtney up.  This reflects badly on Kindt, mainly, but also on Courtney by association.  At least in Arrow, when Oliver Queen is hallucinating his late best friend absolving him of his past misdeeds and encouraging him to fight on, you can excuse the scene as his own wishful thinking.  Here, we have sycophantism, plain and simple.

Even getting past this moment, there are a lot of problems with the way Kindt tries to build up Courtney’s character.  Constantly flashing back and forth between her memories of the past and her battle with a bunch of Secret Society criminals in the present gets tiresome very quickly, not to mention repetitive.  Rather than developing the people in Courtney’s life or even fleshing out the contours of their relationship with her, Kindt just uses them as obstacles for her unbeatable spirit.  At no point do we actually get to see her changing feelings towards step-dad Pat or even her mom’s discovery/acceptance of her vigilante life.  This just does a disservice to Courtney’s origin story in addition to breaking up the flow of the issue.

Kindt would have had an easier time of it (and a more digestible issue as a result) had he simply left the story at J’onn trapped in Courtney’s head, lending her some of his powers, and them having to figure out how to bypass Deathstroke’s wandering band of villains.  As is, J’onn and Courtney’s psychic mix-up seems random and ill-used, with Courtney extricating him from her mind with only an obligatory minimum of effort.  And certainly, it’s a big blot on Deathstroke and his peers that they couldn’t collectively take down a distracted teenage girl not fully in control of any of her powers.

It doesn’t help matters that between Derenick and Barrows, we get little more than the most typical of DC’s house art.  I have personally never been all that impressed with Barrow’s work, especially without an excellent inker and colorist finishing off his pencils.  There’s no such thing as subtlety or restraint him; he has a painful habit of overdramatizing.  At least he can redeem himself with a decent action sequence.  Derenick can make no such claim, with merely passable and rather dull linework throughout the flashbacks he has charge of.

Conclusion: From the start, this title has never made a very good case for its existence, and even after reducing its character load to two, it seems incapable of producing a distinctive or memorable story.  Dropped.

Grade: C-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Named Tuan, by the way—just so that we can be reasonably assured Courtney is progressive in addition to being genuine and pure.

– Acknowledging the existence of Sylvester Pemberton seems like a dicey move.  Does he predate Superman?  Would that make him the true first superhero?