J’onn J’onzz, in his secret identity of Jean St. Jean, stood on a hilltop outside the city limits of a small New England city called Middletown. Looking up at the starry night sky, he felt a powerful sense of déjà vu as old memories came rushing back to him.
How I always loved this tranquil spot, he thought. It was my first oasis upon being stranded in the figurative desert of what was then a strange new world to me!
There was a small wooded area behind him, but it was this open mountain glade that appealed to him now, as it did many years before when he had first discovered the peaceful refuge.
Mars is thirty-seven million miles away, but it still seems a bit closer to me when I return here to where I first made a life for myself on this planet, he thought.
A beautiful black woman in a green dress and boots walked up to him with the quiet grace of a warrior. She smiled lovingly at him, for a moment merely enjoying how happy he seemed to be.
J’onn’s first years on Earth were spent here in Middletown, and I can see how much he loves it, she thought. It does not speak to my own battle-hardened spirit, but it could very well soothe that part of me that came into being after I left the service of dread Mars and embraced the ways of Paradise Island.
Turning to her, J’onn took his lover’s outstretched hand in his own. “Nubia, I am pleased you were able to join me,” he said. “Showing you this special place means a great deal to me. I would gladly share every aspect of myself with you, and there could be no better starting place than this town. It was where John Jones was born, in a manner of speaking.”
Nubia knew that he referred to the name he had taken when he first created a human identity for himself back in the 1950s by using his shape-shifting powers to assume the form of a handsome but otherwise typical Earthling. “J’onn, I know that you were brought here by accident when a scientist named Dr. Erdel experimented with what he called the Robot-Brain. It teleported you from Mars to this community, and the shock of it all killed him before he could either send you back or explain how it worked to you! I know you saw it all as a scientific fluke, but I rather think the poets of my mother’s old worshipers would have called it fate or destiny, and not mere whim or chance!”
“There is much to what you say,” replied J’onn. “I certainly encountered plenty of excitement in this community during my years as Police Detective John Jones. I’ve often wondered if things were as strange here after my second departure from this small city.”
Leading her toward the wooden area, J’onn explained, “The exact date that Dr. Mark Erdel transported me to Earth was April 24, 1954. Since I was trapped here on this planet, I vowed to make the best of it. I explored your world for a few months before returning to this city, where I eventually managed to get a job as a police detective in September of 1955. (*) Some of my friends in the Justice League seem to be under the impression that I merely used my mental powers to gain a position I wasn’t qualified for, or even took a deceased police detective’s identity as my own. But they’ve never asked for the entire story.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel,” Detective Comics #225 (November, 1955).]
“Then neither of those are true?” asked Nubia, having heard both theories.
“No. In fact, I did use my telepathy to help me create my identity, but I also put in the work. After six months at Police Academy, I graduated and joined the department as a regular patrolman. It took a few more months before I was qualified to be promoted to detective in 1955, though it helped that there was a shortage of detectives at the time, and my powers enabled me to progress much faster than a regular patrolman would have.
“I worked under Lieutenant Henry Saunders at first, and then under Captain Ed Harding. I enjoyed the work and came to realize that my Martian powers could do a great deal of good on this world. All the while, though, I was — as Heinlein put it — a stranger in a strange land, and I longed to return home!
“In 1961, I decided to take a leave of absence from the Middletown Police Department, an absence that ended up lasting for over a decade. (*) I longed to experience human connections in different ways as people from all walks of life, and so I left my John Jones identity behind and took on a series of short-lived identities, both male and female, young and old, from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. I even once posed as someone’s pet cat. It was my way of exploring humanity through disparate roles, and throughout it all I did my best to help people in my travels.”
[(*) Editor’s note: This occurs after “The Phantom Fire Alarms,” Detective Comics #245 (July, 1957).]
“I never knew that about you!” said Nubia, astonished. “You’ve always been so guarded about your past. To think that you, of all people, have posed not only as men, but also as women, children… animals — it boggles the mind!”
“All of those identities were merely disguises and nothing else,” admitted J’onn. “Those years of posing as a human made me realize that my true self could only be hidden by a façade of humanity, and eventually I’d need to walk in the light of day as a Martian once more. Yet that would not happen for some time.
“In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I even participated in the hippie movement under a few identities, and began to see gradual progress in humanity to move past its warlike nature, though at the same time I worried that all the experimenting with drugs and promiscuity, combined with the naïveté of that generation, would end badly. Finally, at the end of that tumultuous era, I decided to abandon my experiment in multiple roles and return to law enforcement as Detective John Jones. I suppose I needed to regain some stability in my life by returning to that bedrock of law enforcement.
“Thus, in 1973, I returned to Middletown and contacted Captain Henry Harding, who re-hired me as a police detective, despite being away for so long. Captain Harding had a few more gray hairs and was heavier-set than he’d been a decade earlier, and fashions had progressed, but things hadn’t really changed all that much here. Without too much difficulty, I quickly fell back into my old John Jones role as before. I watched as my fellow officers grew older and were promoted, got married, and had families of their own.” He sighed and turned to face Nubia once more. “Among other brave officers, I also met a patrolwoman named Diane Meade, who despite having suspicions that there was something strange about me, was quite enamored of my human identity.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “John Jones’ Female Nemesis,” Detective Comics #246 (August, 1957).]
“Oh, really?” Nubia said with a smirk. “So I’m not your first dalliance with an Earth woman?”
“Not exactly, though Diane wasn’t really, either,” explained J’onn. “She and I did have our moments, but we were never serious. In truth, my secrets would always prevent us from becoming close.” Turning away, he stared up at the night sky once more. “I used to come here to gaze up at the stars and think of my lost planet, my parents and brother T’omm, and our old home,” he said. “I did not know at that time if I would ever see them again!”
“And yet,” added Nubia, “even on Mars you were already separated from them because of your exile to the Martian desert by the tyrant Commander Blanx!”
J’onn nodded tersely and said, “Of course. However, being stranded on this world was quite a shock to me, and that made the previous exile seem less of a hardship in comparison. At least during my lonely time of exile during the Martian Civil War, I was still on the world of my birth! I was very close to my parents and younger sibling, and any separation from them was painful.”
“I didn’t truly come to know my mother until I was an adult,” said Nubia, moving closer to him. She tried to see his shrouded eyes beneath his heavy brow, which had always made him look so mysterious, and was indeed one the reasons she had become attracted to him in the first place. She couldn’t help but wonder if he had any other secrets hidden there. “You were very fortunate to have grown up with a loving family.”
Putting his arm around her, J’onn said, “Perhaps someday you and I will have a family, if that same fate that brought me here continues to smile upon me.”
Moved by his words, Nubia kissed him tenderly, and he held her close for a few moments.
Releasing her, J’onn gestured to a trail that led to a small cavern. “I used that hallowed-out space as a base for a time as well, my own mountain hideaway,” he said. “My little friend Zook stayed there when we weren’t working together on some case. He was a wonderful little fellow, so full of childlike glee and affection. He was an alien refugee here as well, though from another dimension, not just another planet. (*) I was truly blessed to find so many friends during my time on this world! Seeing Captain Harding again recently made me recall how fond I was of the people of Middletown.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Invaders from the Space Warp,” Detective Comics #311 (January, 1963), “J’onn J’onzz’s Pesky Partner,” Detective Comics #312 (February, 1963), and Justice League of America: Games.]
“Ed Harding is a noble lawman,” said Nubia. “I admire the fact that he deduced your secret and never told it to anyone in spite of the fact that you eventually allowed the locals to believe your John Jones identity had died!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Death of John Jones, Detective,” Detective Comics #326 (April, 1964).]
J’onn nodded and said, “My career here was a varied one. I fought aliens, criminals, and super-villains, both solo and with the Justice League, and Zook and I also spent some time batting a supernatural menace known as the Idol-Head of Diabolu. It was at the beginning of that crusade that I was forced to allow my friends to believe John Jones had perished. Thankfully, I managed to get to the bottom of that Diabolu mystery and put an end to it once and for all.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Origin of the Diabolu Idol-Head,” The House of Mystery #158 (April, 1966).]
“And yet, from what I’ve been told, none of your Justice League teammates were at all aware of the danger that the Idol-Head posed to the world,” said Nubia tentatively.
“No, I considered the matter my own personal responsibility, and not a case for the JLA,” replied J’onn. “Shortly after, I battled an international criminal organization called Vulture, which required going undercover under the assumed identity of international playboy Marco Xavier. (*) In those days I rarely saw Zook at all, since my undercover work demanded that Xavier could not be associated with the Manhunter in any way.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Manhunter’s New Secret Identity,” The House of Mystery #160 (July, 1966).]
“I supposed poor Zook was lonely much of that time, since he was forced to stay here at our hideaway most of the time, even as I tried to navigate my way in the criminal underworld,” continued J’onn. “Still, I was able to shut down the threat of Vulture once and for all. (*) In recent years, I even learned that the organization had previously operated under the name of the Criminal Alliance of the World, or C.A.W., and even encountered our teammates Hawkman and Hawkwoman a couple of times shortly before I first encountered the group. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Hawkman Clips the Claws of C.A.W.,” Hawkman #10 (October-November 1965) and “The Treasure of the Talking Head,” Hawkman #14 (June-July, 1966).]
“That information certainly could have helped you in your undercover work,” suggested Nubia, “if you had been more open about your activities with your fellow Justice Leaguers.”
“While that’s true,” agreed J’onn, “in those early days few of us knew much about one another. It wasn’t until after I’d left the team, in fact, that the Justice Leaguers first shared their identities with one another. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Great Identity Crisis,” Justice League of America #122 (September, 1975), which takes place between issues #74 and #75.]
“Anyway, my life as John Jones was over, the Idol-Head of Diabolu was destroyed, and Vulture was crushed. A chapter of my life had ended, and I realized that my long exile on Earth could at last also come to an end. I’d long possessed Professor Erdel’s Robot-Brain, and though I’d spent years repairing it, I previously only used it to teleport to my homeworld for short jaunts. Now, however, I was able to make my first prolonged return to Mars.”
The Martian’s face became grim. “Unfortunately, that long-awaited happy reunion was not to be. For, upon my return, I learned that Commander Blanx had almost completely destroyed our civilization! You know the rest from the JLA case files and from what I’ve told you. The destruction of Mars led to my seemingly permanent departure from Earth, followed by several years spent helping my people build a new life for ourselves on Mars II.”
At that moment, the couple’s tranquility was interrupted by an alarm from their respective JLA signal devices.
“We are needed aboard the satellite!” said J’onn.
Nubia nodded. “My robot plane can take us to the nearest transporter station.”