Ryan Bodenheim left us far too soon in 2021.

His artwork seemed almost fully formed even when he started out at Marvel after winning one of their talent searches. With a style that brought to mind to me the simple elegance of the Legion of Super-Heroes that went through variations from Stuart Immonen and Chris Sprouse, and more mixed with an interesting attention to detail for textures like a Geof Darrow or Frank Quitely. It’s truly beautiful work and Bodenheim just seemed to get better and better with each subsequent project.

He left us with stunning work on Black Panther, Immortal Hulk, X-O Manowar, many covers for Valiant, and more. Though I think that some of his greatest contributions were on creator owned books from Image, like Halcyon with Mark Guggenheim and Tara Butters, and his numerous collaborations with Jonathan Hickman.

…We were obsessed with our own extinction.”

Red Mass for Mars

Red Mass for Mars by Hickman, Bodenheim, Marty Shelley, and Michael Garland could be considered an alternative Superman tale. Justice League even. Fighting against Starro. You could probably argue a bit by way of The Authority too. A hundred years in the future, humanity has transcended many of its issues. Several have evolved with powers to protect the planet, but one of the superpowered who can see the future sees an oncoming host of aliens. An inevitability that will destroy everything.

Mars, the Superman analogue, isn’t exactly a Superman Gone Bad instance. Rather one shaped from having landed in medieval Europe, by dynasties of kings, of an entirely different system of government and distribution of power. It’s an interesting exploration of the nature vs. nurture dynamic, leading to a rather flawed superhuman. Not evil, just not exactly a shining beacon. This informs the overall world, where the heroes aren’t always necessarily heroic. One even going on a racist tirade and slaughter in England.

The choices for the designs of the characters is interesting. Bodenheim didn’t take the route to make them visually obvious analogues, instead giving them an almost more science fiction, streamlined suit approach. Coupled with colour washes from Hickman, Shelley, and Garland, somewhat similar to what Hickman used earlier in Pax Romana, enhance that feel. It gives the story a different perspective than just being a superhero riff.

Something always goes wrong… And I’ll be waiting.”

Inevitability. Destiny. Fate. All of these are core themes in Red Mass for Mars by Hickman, Bodenheim, Shelley, and Garland. They shape the direction of our core protagonist, Mars, and manipulation of the streams by our narrator help form the survival of the world as a whole. There’s a fascinating exploration of if you can see the future coming can you change it or does it even really matter. All wrapped up in a look at the trajectory of a Superman analogue.

Red Mass For Mars

Classic Comic Compendium: RED MASS FOR MARS

Red Mass for Mars
Writer, Colourist & Letterer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Ryan Bodenheim
Colour Assists: Marty Shelley & Michael Garland
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: June 11 2008 – July 21 2010

Also available collected in Test Pattern: Jonathan Hickman Collection

Read past entries in the Classic Comic Compendium!