Most comic book fans today are familiar with J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, who first appeared in Detective Comics #225 (cover-dated November 1955) and has gone on to become a major DC Comics character. But fewer people realize that J'onn J'onzz was not the first Martian Manhunter to debut at DC Comics. He was preceded by Roh Kar, another Manhunter from Mars who came to Earth in the pages of Batman #78. There's a copy of the first Martian Manhunter's first appearance in Batman #78 CGC 6.0 up for auction in this week's 2021 May 16-17 Sunday & Monday Comics, Animation & Art Weekly Online Auction #122120 from Heritage Auctions.
As DC Comics editor Robert Greenberger would later explain, "Inspired by public taste, editor Jack Schiff had tried a lawman from Mars in BATMAN #78. The green-skinned hero solved his case and went home, but the idea resurfaced two years later, in 1955."
Martians were indeed part of the American zeitgeist around the time that Batman #78 was published in 1953. Although it certainly wasn't the first time, Mars mania had re-invaded American pop culture in the early 1950s, most obviously in movie theaters. The likes of Flight to Mars (1951), Red Planet Mars (1952), Invaders from Mars (1953) and the first filmed version of War of the Worlds (1953) were part of this early 1950s period. Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles (1950) was another hallmark of the era. The "public taste" for Martians even seeped into the advertising of the times. Popsicle created a marketing character called Major Mars for use in advertising throughout this period, and there's even a Major Mars Popsicle ad on the page following Batman #78's "Manhunter from Mars" story.
Coincidentally, Major Mars points to the tangled web behind the origins and connections between DC Comics' two versions of Martian Manhunter. An earlier character also named Major Mars was essentially the comic book version of pulp character Captain Future. The pulp Captain Future and Popsicle's Major Mars look an awful lot alike. Edmond Hamilton (scripter of the Batman #78 Martian Manhunter story) wrote several Captain Future stories, Joe Samachson (likely the scripter of the Detective Comics #225 Martian Manhunter story) wrote at least a couple Captain Future stories, and Mort Weisinger (who may possibly figure into the second version of Martian Manhunter) co-created and edited Captain Future.
All of which means very little except that many of those involved in the two versions of the character had been professional colleagues in both the pulp field and at DC Comics for some time. Combine this with the notion that Jack Schiff was the working editor of both Batman and Detective Comics throughout this period, and the idea that the Martian Manhunter idea was recycled, refined, and revived for J'onn J'onzz is little surprise.
J'onn J'onzz is obviously the more famous and important Martian Manhunter, but he might not have happened at all — or at least in the same way — without that one-off story of Roh Kar in Batman #78. There's a copy of the first Martian Manhunter's first appearance in Batman #78 CGC 6.0 up for auction in this week's 2021 May 16-17 Sunday & Monday Comics, Animation & Art Weekly Online Auction #122120 from Heritage Auctions.
Batman #78 (DC, 1953) CGC FN 6.0 Off-white to white pages. First appearance of Roh Kar, the first lawman of Mars to come to Earth. Win Mortimer cover. Dick Sprang, Bob Kane, and Lew Schwartz art. Overstreet 2020 FN 6.0 value = $378. CGC census 5/21: 7 in 6.0, 10 higher.