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SYFY WIRE Interviews

Supergirl: David Harewood's Martian Manhunter struggles with violence over peace

By Bryan Cairns

When Supergirl returns tonight, the Martian Manhunter is forced to make a life-altering decision.

J'onn J'onzz previously promised his father to start leading a non-violent existence. So far this season, he's kept his word. J'onn stepped down as head of the DEO. His focus shifted from Supergirl's battles to aiding National City's alien population. However, when Manchester Black orchestrates a prison break and joins a team of supervillains called the Elite, J'onn must re-evaluate his peaceful philosophy in order to stand by his Super Friends and squash this new threat.

Ahead of the episode "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?" J'onn J'onzz's David Harewood spoke with SYFY WIRE about Martian Manhunter's moral dilemma, his soft spot for Manchester Black, the escalating situation involving Ben Lockwood, and the fallout from mindwiping Alex.

Why do you feel J'onn J'onzz has a soft spot for Manchester Black?

I think because Manchester lost a dear one. Manchester lost Fiona at the start of the season. J'onn knows what it is like to lose people. He's lost his wife, his children. J'onn understands Manchester. He understands loss. He understands grief. And, more importantly, he understands the rage that can create. The two characters are actually very similar.

Manchester has been locked away in prison. What brings J'onn to visit him at this point?

In the script, we play it that J'onn has been writing to Manchester and he is wanting to see him. But Manchester has been refusing. Suddenly, he says he wants to see me. I think J'onn just has a soft spot for Manchester. He is the soul that can be saved. Whether or not that's true is to be decided.

In what ways do Manchester and this new group of supervillains, The Elite, force J'onn to question his new spiritual and peaceful philosophy?

Manchester and this group administer a new and very violent retribution on racists, fascists … people who hurt aliens, people who hurt people … They are enacting revenge in the most violent and ruthless way. That is obviously a threat to law and order, which J'onn understands. But it's also a threat to J'onn in that it is awakening a rage in J'onn. Manchester seems to be reveling in the violence and really having a great time dispensing it. There's something about that sort of joy that … J'onn is the Martian Manhunter. He crosses the universe dispensing justice. He knows all about bringing justice to people and ending them. I think perhaps in this new body, it's a wake-up call for J'onn. He understands what that urge to exact revenge is all about. It's a real threat to J'onn, and a real threat to his passive feelings.

Looking at the other end of the extreme, there's Ben Lockwood and the Children of Liberty. What does J'onn make of them?

The Children of Liberty are very popular. Ben Lockwood is very popular. People are inspired by him. It's a very difficult position for us to be in, because normally on Supergirl, we are faced with adversaries that we can punch, and our strength can get the better of them. Lockwood is a very complex character because he has support. He's very popular and he's not someone we can defeat by sending him to another universe. This is a very complex character to take down.

How rewarding has it been to have the TV series tackle such politically and racially charged issues this year?

Supergirl never shied away from issues that affect race or color, which is why it's such a pleasure working on the show. But I think the showrunners this year are taking it to a whole new level. It's really grounded the show. Not to be disparaging on other seasons, but there aren't many capes in sight this year. It's really about the politics of now. That's what makes it incredibly relevant and grounded. It's very exciting. We haven't gotten the finale yet, but I find myself reading each new episode as it arrives because I'm keen to know what happens. It's great to be involved in a show that has a certain modern relevance, as well as being an entertaining superhero TV show.

The Elite's rampage must have consequences. What can you preview about how the situation further escalates in the following episode, "Stand and Deliver"?

Again, the propensity for violence. Manchester doesn't understand the hurt that his violent actions are bringing. Even though he may be justified in attacking racists and fascists and the Children of Liberty and taking out the bad guys, the collateral damage is often the civilians standing on the sidelines. For J'onn and Supergirl, the main worry is Manchester's violent tendencies will begin to hurt innocent people.

Outside of those two factions, Supergirl's been having problems dealing with her mindwiped sister, Alex, and the new head of the DEO, Colonel Haley. How much does J'onn butt heads with them?

The new head of the DEO hates me. In our first episode, she said it was great having a human in charge instead of "that alien J'onn J'onzz." It's a great line. J'onn is an alien. This new anti-alien sentiment that is running throughout the land puts him on the wrong side. Even though we know him as a hero, it's very difficult for us to operate these days because people aren't necessarily buying into the notion of aliens being heroes. Kara, Alex and I have always had each other, that we could rely on and talk to. Because of the mindwipe, that crutch isn't there. It's created a ripple effect that none of us could have foreseen. It's definitely created conflict, because whereas we'd all be on the same page, one of us is slightly behind the eight ball, as it were.