Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Doug Mahnke
Colorist: Nei Ruffino
Publisher: DC Comics
Here’s a bold prediction, and in the midst of all the polarization surrounding Final Crisis, it’s the one thing I’m certain of: Peter Tomasi is DC’s next marquee writer. Having been trusted with a range of mid-level, afterthought titles, Tomasi has done so much more than anyone expected with so little attention. He’s given direction to a flailing Nightwing, purpose to an unnecessary Green Lantern Corps, and he made Black Adam: The Dark Age one of DC’s most rewarding surprises last year. And even with an increasingly strong résumé to look upon, Final Crisis: Requiem may be the moment Tomasi finally reaches the top tier of DC’s creators.
In chronicling the death of the Martian Manhunter in Final Crisis, Requiem could’ve so easily been a worthless cash-in with no artistic purpose at all. It’s the kind of book that fifteen years ago would’ve come with a black armband and foil-embossed cover. But under Tomasi and artist Doug Mahnke, it’s a moving eulogy for a character that both expands on his last moments and gives a sense of his importance, while providing enough range of tone to prevent the book from becoming overly sentimental. The sequence surrounding the death of J’onn J’onnz is particularly helpful in establishing this depth of tone; Tomasi, in expanding it, still retains the immediacy and abruptness of the scene in Final Crisis #1, while at the same time presenting a particularly brutal fight scene that underscores the power of the Manhunter and the desperate nature of the moment. There’s a moment of psychic attack on the villains, in which J’onn assaults them with visions of the heroes they fear, that’s remarkably disturbing, thanks in part to Manhke’s vivid facial expressions and some smart shading by inker Christian Alamy and colorist Nei Ruffino. It’s an intense scene, but one that never compromises J’onn’s character in portraying his effectiveness – we realize the stakes of this moment, so Martian Manhunter’s reaction is completely appropriate. It’s a dark moment that doesn’t cheapen the character, a feat that similar scenes such as Wonder Woman’s killing of Maxwell Lord haven’t been able to pull off.
The rest of the book is devoted to reflections on the Martian Manhunter and what he meant to the DC Universe and its characters. Tomasi uses an excellent device to accomplish this, as J’onn implants a suggestion in the minds of some of his closest friends to write a history of Mars, dictated by him, in their sleep. The device not only serves to remind the reader of some of the Martian Manhunter’s defining moments, it also underscores his status as the last of his race, effectively conveying how much the DC mythos have lost by losing J’onn. Impressive is that throughout all this reflection, Tomasi understands the distinction between sentiment and sentimentality; a conversation between Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Green Arrow while examining J’onn’s corpse balances bitterness and mourning so well that the scene feels absolutely necessary, rather than the lead-in to James Robinson’s upcoming Justice League book that it probably is. The dialogue in the scene is stellar, even in a book with consistently natural and unique voices, and only outshined by the Martian Manhunter’s post-mortem narration. J’onn’s voice is invaluable in steadying the book, as his austere, elevated tone lends the proceedings a subdued, nostalgic melancholy that prevents the issue from becoming overbearing.
Doug Mahnke’s art is key in furthering the poignancy of the book, as his facial expressions are striking and trenchant. Witness the smug apathy on Dr. Light’s face or the pained determination Superman evinces when lifting J’onn’s ancestral home to fly to Mars; Mahnke’s an artist that communicates a lot of feeling and motivation with small details. He’s also an artist with so unobtrusive a touch that even moments of gritted-teeth anger don’t feel melodramatic or ridiculous, as they do in so much comic art. In fact, the furious look on J’onn’s face in defiance of his murder is one of the most powerful moments of the book, and Mahnke following it with an enigmatic half-smile at the point of his death is a smart, subtle touch. His art, in combination with Christian Alamy’s inks and Nei Ruffino’s colors, solidifies the mournful, moody tone of the book.
I suppose the real standard of a character’s final story is Alan Moore’s Superman classic, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” A character’s last appearance should encapsulate everything that defines him, in the same way that Moore’s book invoked everything that made Silver Age Superman stories unique. While Requiem doesn’t have the idiosyncratic nature of that work (and Martian Manhunter isn’t associated with the same kind of absurdity and weirdness that defined Silver Age Superman, anyway), it does carry with it a constant sense of J’onn as the soul and spiritual counsel of the Justice League, as he’s been so often rendered. It’s a dignified, heartfelt look at one of the longest-running, most beloved characters in the medium, and it’s a fitting, often moving send-off to one of the most important characters in DC’s history.