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Monday night’s episode of Supergirl, “Human For a Day,” revealed a surprising truth about Hank Henshaw: he’s been dead for years. In his place since the pilot episode of the series has been none other than the Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz, a character very near and dear to my heart. However, I didn’t discover this news through watching the episode. After “Livewire,” I stopped reviewing Supergirl because I wasn’t willing to sit through what I saw as a poorly constructed and uninteresting story. But at Jean Henegan’s suggestion, I decided I wanted to write about J’onn’s appearance, catching up on the series so I had a better idea of what I was talking about. So has my opinion of Supergirl changed in three episodes? And what does Martian Manhunter’s presence mean for the future of the show?
My immediate answer to both of the above questions is that not much is going to change. While I like that Supergirl didn’t go the Gotham route and plant characters who are for sure, no doubt about it, going to become the characters we know from the comics, the series was quick to limit the ramifications of Martian Manhunter revealing himself. “You can’t share this with anyone. Not even Kara,” he says, shooting down my idea that he could teach Kara a thing or two about using her powers.
As it stands, he would only really be able to empathize with her situation better than anyone else (with the exception of Superman), which won’t be possible until Kara eventually finds out about him. What will Alex even say to satiate Kara’s need to know the truth about Hank Henshaw? The most interesting thing about this storyline right now is the identity of the other person who knows his secret (if it’s Superman and his difficulty communicating vital information almost caused more trouble…), but I don’t want to understate how pleased I am with this move. This is the first bit of DC mythology that Supergirl has really made its own, and I hope to see more of it in the future… Crap, am I back to watching the show again?
Another thing that almost definitively shows that the Martian Manhunter in the room has been tabled is the reintroduction of the purely boring Kryptonian threat. Supergirl has really grown in the absence of General Astra (with “Human For a Day” giving Kara a substantial lesson in what it means to be a hero), and this coming right after Hank revealed his true form was a reminder the series hasn’t strayed too far from the path of mediocrity. Thankfully, “Hostile Takeover” looks like it’s going to go full Superman vs. Zod, so maybe the Kryptonians will be scattered after Kara snaps Astra’s neck (allowing the series to get back on track with J’onn J’onzz).
Reassuring about the fact that Martian Manhunter is unknown to Supergirl is that he can’t be the Superman surrogate I thought he would be. Maxwell Lord is already a very obvious Lex Luthor substitute (so much so that he’s basically Luthor with a Tony Stark skin), and that borrowed dynamic is enough to make me want to go back and rewatch Smallville or Superman: The Animated Series, rather than moving forward with Supergirl.
Projecting Martian Manhunter’s role on the series going forward, I can see him acting as surprise backup for Supergirl during a particularly dire moment. People forget that Martian Manhunter is insanely strong, with a suite of powers that rivals Superman’s. If they hadn’t already done the “build up a villain so that he seems impossible to beat” thing with Reactron (sigh), they could have easily had Supergirl rescued by Martian Manhunter instead of Superman.
Since they have, though, J’onn could be used as a way of transitioning into my top contenders for who Kara should face next: the ones responsible for the green martian genocide, the white martians. It would be incredible if we got some version of the Hyperclan (a team of white martians masquerading as superheroes) on TV, which would allow the show to chronicle Kara falling out of the public’s favor in a more tangible way than we’ve seen. At the same time, a Hyperclan appearance might be better suited to The Flash, as it would allow for a depiction of Züm’s planet-wide race with Barry Allen (even though it’s Wally West who faces him in the comics).
If white martians are on the way, there’s also a golden opportunity to introduce viewers to Miss Martian, a white martian who disguises herself as a green martian (like Martian Manhunter). Miss Martian’s story has already been seen on the excellent Young Justice, but her insecurity about what she is would be a natural fit for the messages Supergirl is trying to send. In lieu of Batgirl stopping by National City, Miss Martian would also be able to provide Kara with a best friend on the job. And because Miss Martian hasn’t been seen in live-action before, it would be an opportunity for Supergirl to further differentiate itself from Smallville and its contemporary DC superhero shows. It’s almost to the advantage of the series that so many high profile characters are locked in for movies, preventing their appearance on the small screen (remember Arrow‘s “Harley Quinn”?).
Supergirl still has some pretty shoddy construction (the sound of Hank’s gun falling to the floor in “Human For a Day” came noticeably late), and it certainly still hasn’t figured out how to naturally transition into talking about gender issues, but the show has made some progress. Hank Henshaw not being Cyborg Superman (or at least not a bad guy) was telegraphed pretty early, but his identity is a sign the series can move beyond its cheap adherence to the Superman canon. Their execution of the time between this revelation and Kara finding out will be quite telling of how they intend to use the character, and whether or not people should be invested in the show once the Kryptonian storyline is largely resolved, so it’ll be interesting to see what’s covered in the episode following next week’s fall finale.