Since the DCEU is rebooting, I’m pitching my own reboot here. I’ll likely continue on with my older pitches, too, but given that the Snyderverse is as dead as Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent (um, spoilers, I guess, if you somehow missed the first movie in the Snyderverse), my focus will likely shift to these. To differentiate continuities, the new ones will be given a DCNu tag.
I think I’m going to continue to ladle out details of my overarching plans, but I’m scheduling things to take advantage of the fact that we have a lot of well-known, even successful franchises and also a lot of question marks. By padding the more questionable stories between more known quantities, you aren’t going to accidentally derail the entire project if say Martian Manhunter doesn’t catch on with the public- because it might not, for the same reason that projects like “Black Adam” might not.
This will draw on the write-up I did for John as an Unsuck Hero, but will hew more towards narrative.
We start on Mars. The man who will eventually be called the Martian Manhunter is just called John. He’s preparing to leave again, and his wife is uneasy. For years he’s been on the trail of a White Martian terrorist responsible for a genocide that nearly wiped the Green Martians out, igniting a civil war between Green and White Martians that’s still raging. John hopes that by bringing the terrorist to justice, the war can finally end, and their family can be finally safe. His wife shifts, her skin turning White. She’s afraid, afraid his efforts could see them targeted, afraid of being exposed as a White Martian, afraid for their son and daughter. John shifts into his uniform; it’s not quite the one we know, and is somewhere between that and the Oan Manhunters.
In this continuity, the Oan Manhunters spread as far as Mars. However, they were ill-equipped to deal with a civilization that had no spoken language or even body language, relying entirely on telepathy, and so recruited locals to interface with the population, which eventually became a Martian Manhunter Corps., essentially their police force. The Oan machines have since been recalled, but the Manhunter Corps. continues in the same tradition, even keeping the name for its protectors.
John’s wife is an extra skilled telepath; the Manhunters usually employ them for long-range recon, but because she’s a White Martian she couldn’t pass their security checks, so she scans for John under the table. She’s the one who found the terrorist, hiding on Earth.
Manhunter pilots a ship from Mars. He talks to his superior in the Manhunters, who tells him he’s going out on a limb, because there haven’t been any unauthorized launches since the terrorist was last seen on Mars. John feels confident, which leads to the superior probing for information on his CI, but John plays coy, saying only that he trusts the informant with his life- and the superior warns that he could be- John wouldn’t be the first Manhunter caught in a separatist trap, tortured for intel then set on fire.
John lands, and scans the local population for information on what they look like, eventually settling on a detective, blue trench coat with an exceedingly high collar and a hat (I think his eventual uniform will incorporate elements of this disguise and his Manhunter uniform; you could even give him a red vest and a red belt). The people in his immediate area are predominantly watching a detective movie on the TV, the lead played by the actor playing John, so when he makes himself look human, he resembles that actor (I’d probably have the TV version wearing some prosthetics, just so it’s not too 1:1, otherwise he’d be in disguise as relatively well-known actor- someone likely to draw attention).
We’re going to do a riff on a noir story, here. There’s a femme fatale waiting in his office, and she pounces on him, kissing him passionately. He pulls her away,. “Shiera, I said this can’t happen.” She corrects him, that he said it can’t happen again. “I know what I said,” he says coldly. She softens, asks if things are okay at home. He remains cold, because he’s angry at himself, and snaps at her that he didn’t go back home for gossip, he went to find a lead- and he did. She asks if she should get her wings, or even call in her people.
He tells her this is his fight- that if his intel is good, he’ll call for backup- that it’s too dangerous a fight for her- or really anyone who isn’t Martian.
John can’t just scan for his target; the separatists have developed a method of hiding from telepathy, something that is strictly illegal in their society. But his wife’s scan puts him on the trail. He finds an apartment the White Martian had been using, which gets him known associates, leading eventually to the discovery of the terrorist himself- unfortunately he ‘feels’ John at that moment, so he pursues him on foot for a fun little chase through the rain, before their confrontation.
Their fight appears to be a massive shapeshifting battle, until the terrorist realizes the entire thing is happening in their minds, that John is trying to limit the fallout and exposure to the native Terrans. The terrorist tries to lash out in the real world, but splitting his concentrating just makes him vulnerable in his own mind, and John’s able to subdue him.
John stops back at his office to say goodbye, to Shiera, to Earth, to this whole assignment. Shiera doesn’t want him to stay gone, and tries to justify their affair, largely to herself; deployed so far from home, she has an agreement with Katar. John says he doesn’t have that kind of relationship, nor is Mars as distant as her home world; he understands how all of this is different for her, but he’s betrayed the woman he loves. Shiera is smart, though; she tells him some part of him felt betrayed by his wife. If it wasn’t for her White Martian heritage, for her ties to the terrorist he’s been hunting- his eyes flash red and she doesn’t finish.
On his ship, the terrorist teases John. I think I’d make them both rivals for John’s wife’s affections- that before she married John, she was in a relationship with the terrorist, finally leaving when his extremism and the danger that placed them in became clear. He reads John’s guilt over the affair, something John takes as a threat to tell her. “John, she has one of the strongest minds I’ve ever encountered. She already knows. She’s just waiting for you to be honest with her. She deserves at least that.” John says he doesn’t think he should be taking relationship advice from a terrorist. “Remember, I know her at least as well as you do.” John delivers him.
John confronts his wife with the truth of his affair. She’s… very understanding, all things considered. She knows their life together was never easy, but as the civil war mounted, she became consumed with her fear. She knew hiding her put a strain on him, but she could barely contain her own fears over their children. She left him alone in their relationship, just as surely as he left her on his missions. It’s not a justification, but she is keenly aware of the circumstances.
On Mars a psychic disease quickly becomes a pandemic. The infection pattern first makes the Manhunters believe it’s a deliberate attack, until they isolate it down to psychic contact with John’s prisoner- but given the nearly constant contact of Martian telepathy, universal spread occurs quickly. Most horrifically, the disease burns out the Martian host- literally using the Martian’s powers to set fire to the body, utilizing the species long-standing fear of their vulnerability to fire as the catalyst.
John’s wife starts to smoke first, but their son is behind her only a moment. John holds them, and their daughter, and as they burst into flames, he screams out.
We cut to later, John walking onto the planet’s surface. Every building has fire and smoke rising out of it. He flies to his headquarters, smashing through the walls and into the cell of the terrorist. At first the terrorist is confused, then reads it on John’s face, and says he would never do anything to harm John’s wife. Then he makes the mistake of asking John what he did. John flips out, and punches him a few miles, catching him even before he can impact the surface and tackling him into a mountain. The terrorist is grief-stricken in his own way, and as John hits him tells him about his time on Earth, working with a scientist who created their telepathic blocks, who was working with them on a weapon to kill Green Martians- horrified at the realization that he was that weapon- that his hubris was used to infect his own people, too.
The only Martian population untouched by the plague are the separatists living underground in hiding. John tells the White Martian that suspended animation is the only plausible cure- that he knows they have the tech, and the separatist agrees to safeguard his people while John deals with the double-crossing scientist.
John goes to Earth, to hunt down the man he now believes responsible. First he stops back at his office, and talks to Shiera. This is where we reveal that his daughter survived- though technically, while he raised her, she’s the separatist’s spawn. He tells Shiera to protect Megan with her life, and she agrees to. After he leaves, Megan asks if she’s going to die like her mother and brother. Shiera tells her that according to her scans, both she and John have a subtle mutation- one she learned from him, that made them impervious to the psychic virus- but that they’re carriers, that the disease could mutate itself and attack them anew at any moment.
John tracks down our mad scientist. I know in my previous write-up I suggested creating someone new, but I may have a more elegant solution, here: the mad scientist is Vandal Savage. At first he tried to partner with the White Martian separatist, thinking he could use them as his own army of supermen, but it quickly became obvious that the White Martians viewed the Greens as their inferiors- that if they ever came to Earth it would be as conquerors. So he decided to wipe the Martians off the board completely, aware that he had an easy scapegoat in the separatist, and very little likelihood of blowback.
He and John have a quick dust-up, but the nature of the fight changes when Vandal discovers John was exposed and survived, as Vandal’s curiosity leads him to ask questions even as he’s using a combination of science and magic to keep John (barely) at bay- and John realizes Vandal might be able to cure Megan, so she isn’t a ticking time bomb, and he starts counter-interrogating to that effect, and it starts to look like they might be able to come to some kind of agreement- until the White Martian bursts through the wall, his fury dwarfing John’s. A desperate three way fight ensues, John and Vandal barely able to hold back the White Martian’s assault. He’s hurt and confused by John’s intervention, cursing the fact that he’s the other last Martian projecting his guilt onto John for failing to save the woman they both loved.
“We are not the last,” John says, and telepathically connects the Separatist to Megan, and the antagonist drops to his knees, whispering his daughter’s name. “He lives, so she can.”
So now the White Martian is going to play bad cop with Savage. “You heard the Manhunter. You’re going to develop a cure, and give us two doses, which we’ll administer at random, so if your cure doesn’t work, or harms us, there will be one of us left to end you. And if it’s me, I’m killing everyone sharing even a single strand of your DNA- your line burned off the face of the planet. And the ones who knew you, remembered you fondly, they’ll die screaming.”
“Okay,” John says, “I think he gets the idea.”
“So you’re the good cop, then?” Savage asks.
John spins on him, predatory and alien. “I am a father. You killed one of my children, and the mother to both. And the authority that might have checked my anger died when you killed my world.”
“So you’re both terrorists, now?” Savage asks with a smile. “No judgment. I’ve been the weaker end of a conflict; you use the tools you have at your disposal. Your proposal is acceptable. And…. for whatever it is worth, I, too, have been on the losing side of genocide. I am truly sorry to have given you that pain.”
After they leave, John tells the White Martian Megan isn’t getting either dose- they’re going to synthesize it and test it on the White Martians in suspended animation. The Separatist bristles, at first; but John points out two things: one, they’re not using their daughter as a guinea pig, and two, the White Martian survivors survived only because they were terrorists hiding out. He offers it as their penance- that as far as he’s concerned they’re still at war, and the war ends once the White Martians ensure it is safe for them to be released from their suspended animation.
“The other option,” John says, “is that the war continues. That you and I fight, here and now, and if I win, I’ll put you into suspension with the others, and I’ll ensure you never wake up.”
“My mind is open. Tell me I’m lying.”
“You would.” He stops. “You’re right. Not about all of it. With Savage we have to be strategic… and I couldn’t be the reason Megan lost her father, too.”
John flies back to Megan and Shiera. “I need to tell you something, something your mother and I hoped to tell you together one day. About your father.”
“I’ll… make tea,” Shiera says, as an excuse to leave.
“The only thing I’ve ever needed to know about my father was that you loved me.” She grabs onto him. “You kicked his ass, right?”
“I did. But things have changed. You and I are the last Green Martians, and the only White Martians who survived were terrorists. I’m sorry. I hoped to give you a better, safer world.”
“It’s okay,” she says. “It just means I get to help you make it, instead.”