Spoilers ahead for February 6's Justice League #17.
Not only did Martian Manhunter have a secret history on Earth as a child, but young J’onn also interacted with Lex Luthor when he was a child.
In fact, young Martian Manhunter and young Lex Luthor were friends, and they pretended to save the world together as superheroes.
Justice League #17 by Scott Snyder and artist Jim Cheung continues the ongoing conflict between Lex Luthor’s Legion of Doom and the Justice League.
In the last issue, it was revealed that Martian Manhunter was abducted as a child by a group of Earth scientists so they could extract his DNA. Their purpose was to build half-human/half-Martian creatures like the ones who existed in a previous universe.
That memory is important because the previous universe was created by an entity named Perpetua, and she used these creatures to rule. And although her universe fell and was replaced, she’s now returning via the Singularity over which the Legion and League are fighting.
So what’s J’onn J’onzz going to do with this information?
Well, he’s going to invite Lex Luthor to Mars and share all his memories of Earth.
And what he tells Lex is a doozy, and it adds yet another bit of continuity to the history of the DCU — and the history of Martian Manhunter and Lex Luthor in particular.
Let’s take a look at spoilers for Justice League #17 and discover how Lex and J’onn met when they were kids, how they forgot the whole thing, and how this all ties into the doorknob, Perpetua and the future of the DCU.
Why J’onn Invited Lex
J’onn’s hanging out on Mars, reliving some good times from his past. But Lex Luthor shows up wearing a green and purple armor that blocks J’onn’s telepathy and shape-shifting powers.
It turns out that J’onn invited Lex there. He says he needs Lex’s help finding a person that was part of the Legionnaires Club that Lex was investigating.
“I can’t find a record of him,” J’onn says.
Lex isn’t amused, as he discovers that J’onn has something in his pocket. It’s Jarro (the small Starro). Lex assumes J’onn is going to use the creature as a weapon and Lex uses a psychic toxin to poison Starro.
That’s a problem, because the DCU Mars has these dragon-type, flying monsters called Quonars. J’onn was actually using Starro to subdue them.
Now that Starro’s knocked out, and J’onn can’t use his powers, the Quonars attack.
And what are Quonars, you ask?
Well, J’onn explains that they nest in moons and planets where they can feed on psychic energy, especially longing and regret. So J’onn’s a particular delicacy.
Anyway, they’re hungry, so Lex and J’onn have to run for their lives.
Back in the Lab
Then there’s another flashback. This time we’re many years earlier, and little toddler J’onn is a captive in a laboratory on Earth.
(Last issue, J’onn learned that he was abducted from Mars by a group of Earth scientists when he was a child. They used baby J’onn’s DNA to recreate half-human/half-Martian creatures like the ones that used to police the universe for Perpetua. Presumably, these scientists were connected to the Legionnaires who had the doorknob that Lex later found.)
A group of people watch young J’onn in the Lab (including a woman and red-haired child). One of the people, a red-haired man in a purple suit, tells the Martian boy that he’s not only far from home, but has been “pulled across time.” And he says the people are all taking neurological blockers.
The boy, it turns out, has a secret message on his shirt that only J’onn can read using infrared light.
The boy’s shirt says, “Hi, my name is Albie.”
Little J’onn tries to say “hi” back, but the adults are ticked off and just start torturing him.
Later, the young Albie sneaks back into the lab and apologizes for what the people are doing to J’onn. The two establish a bond, with Albie explaining what he knows. His uncle is running the program, they need J’onn’s DNA to make something ancient, and the Blackhawks will be there soon to shut them down and probably arrest or kill them all.
Albie tells J’onn that he should let them take his DNA.
Why J’onn Forgot
Back in the present, J’onn brings Lex to a sacred place to hide from the Quonars. The room where they’re standing has a giant symbol on the wall. It’s the “doom” symbol that is on Lex’s doorknob and, as readers found out last issue, is the symbol of the evil entity known as Perpetua.
Lex points a gun at J’onn, who’s explaining the symbol on the wall. It was part of Martian rituals and beliefs related to letting go of regret. The Martians would come to this sacred place and release their memories - he actually says the memories would “disappear.” And the Quonars would feed on them.
They would chant “Sh’Anne…Sh’Anne…” as the memories floating away.
So…the implication is that J’onn forgot about being an Earth lab-rat when he was a kid because he released those memories in this room.
So who does J’onn want Lex to help him find?
Albie, the boy from the lab.
Who is Albie?
J’onn shares more memories of Albie. The boy used to visit J’onn in the lab a lot, and the two would share mental adventures, acting like superheroes together within their telepathically-linked minds. (And hey, Albie would wear a purple and green jacket in those adventures. Hmm…)
Anyway, young Albie is about to be captured by the Blackhawks when he ends up helping J’onn escape. He tells young J’onn that even though the scientists used him for experiments, he wants J’onn to remember him. “Remember we all weren’t bad,” he says to him telepathically.
As his last message to J’onn, Albie uses their infrared light trick to send him one last message on his shirt.
He tells him his real name.
His real name is Alex.
J’onn tells Lex that he figured out the boy’s identity. The “Albie” actually stood for “L-B.” That meant “L-2,” or “Luthor-2.”
“Luthor 1 was Lionel, your father,” J’onn says. “They told you to tell me he was your uncle so I would trust you. You’re Albie, Lex.”
Lex tells him to shut up and hits him.
But the Quonars show up, hungry for the psychic energy they sense in the two of them.
J’onn says their only chance to escape is Starro. J’onn tosses him onto one of the Quonars and the little mind-controlling starfish takes control of it. Lex and J’onn hop on the back of the flying creatures.
Why Lex Forgot
As the two fly on the back of a dragon (seriously), J’onn tells Lex that the Blackhawks captured Lionel after that final day in the lab.
But they didn’t kill him. They just erased his memory.
That’s why Lex only remembers Lionel Luthor as a drunken, broken man.
However, Lionel left Lex a clue. And that’s how Lex found the doorknob. “A piece of the Totality found in the past,” J’onn says.
J’onn tells Lex to remember what he said on that final day in the lab, to remember that he wanted J’onn to see humanity as good, to remember Lex as good.
The two fly toward two portals that will take them to Earth. One of the portals leads to the Legion of Doom headquarters. The other one leads to the Hall of Justice.
“Come with me,” J’onn says to Lex. “We can do this side by side.”
Lex actually thinks about it for a moment, struggling. But he pushes J’onn away.
As J’onn falls through the portal to the Hall of Justice, Lex lands in the Doom HQ.
Brainiac and Sinestro are surprised that Lex didn’t bring Martian Manhunter back with him. Brainiac says, “You were going to bring him here so I could gather information from his…”
“He possessed nothing worth learning,” Lex says.
As he walks through the corridors of the building, it’s clear that Lex is bothered. He sits on his bed, then looks at his doorknob, its symbol beginning to glow.
The issue finishes with Lex making his decision as he chants, “Sh’Anne…Sh’Anne…”
The story continues with February 20's Justice League #18.