I assume that when seeing the title to this post, most fans of DC Comics immediately think of the shapeshifting, fire-hating martian, J’onn J’onzz who made hist first appearance in Detective Comics #225 (November 1955). Indeed, some call this character DC’s first Silver Age superhero. Other DC fans might think back a couple of years earlier to the August-September 1953 issue of Batman (#78) featuring “The Manhunter from Mars”. While this character was not exactly the same as J’onzz, DC has for years touted the similarities and even combined the stories in their Showcase Presents volume of Martian Manhunter tales.
Would it surprise you to learn that ten years before Batman #78 hit the stands, MLJ Comics (best known for Archie Andrews) introduced a shapeshifting man from Mars in the pages of Pep Comics?
It happened in the Shield and Dusty story in Pep Comics 40 (July 1943), with the action continuing in Pep Comics #41 (August 1943). This Martian was called “Monstro, the Monster from Mars”.
Now, before you start thinking that I am going to tell you that DC swiped the character from MLJ, think again. This Man from Mars was not green skinned nor was he a “Martian Manhunter”. His skin was more a yellow color and he did not have the “human” appearance prevalent in DC’s Martian Manhunter characters. However, there were a number of interesting similarities such as super strength, x-ray vision, the ability to read minds and the ability to shape shift into human or any other form. His ship even resembled the rocket of Roh Kar, the Martian from Batman #78.
As it turns out, this Martian really did not live up to his name at all. After a fight with the Shield and Dusty, he crumbles and admits he is a “timid” Martian! Needless to say, as a timid Martian, he is not much help in a fight and becomes more of a hinderance to the Shield and Dusty, al la Mr. Mxyzptlk of Superman fame. In the end, Monstro decides Earth is not the place for him, jumps in his rocket ship and heads back to Mars, to the relief of The Shield and Dusty. As far as I know, he never appears again in the Golden Age of comic books.
I won’t recount the entire two-part story here, as it is in the public domain and you can download it here and read it for yourself (right-click and save the file to your computer). You will need a reader that can handle CBR files, such as Comic Zeal for the iPhone and iPad. The file is a little over 6 mb in size.