Monday, November 24, 2008
Word Balloon: Manhunter
For November's installment of the column, I thought a return to mainstream super heroics was in order. I've already highlighted Spider-Man from Marvel, this month i thought I would turn to my favorite DC super hero, Manhunter by Marc Andreyko, Javier Pina, Jesus Siaz and Michael Gaydos.
Manhunter stars a female protagonist by the name of Kate Spencer, a trial attorney by day, and street vigilante by night. With a failed marriage under her belt and raising a young son, Spencer turns to vigilantism in the instances where the legal system that she loves can't do it's job.
The character of Manhunter has had several incarnations over the years at DC, with Kate being the eighth person to take up the mantle. What sets this book apart from the rest of the DC universe is the books tone. DC is mostly known for its larger than life superheroes, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash. Even it's mid tier characters are usually more powerful, guys like The Green Lantern, Hawkman, Shazam, are all big time heroes. Manhunter is a book with a very "Marvel" feel. Kate is a street level hero who faces real problems in her everyday life. Her life is a mixture of failed romance, smoking addictions, parental issues, super powered villains, and a history richly involved with the DC universe itself.
The book goes through several artists over the current course of its run. The art, by Saiz, Pina, and Gaydos, is gritty and urban, re-enforcing the books approachability. Each artist has his own style, but throughout the book is the gritty and dark look. There is no mistaking Kate for Wonder Woman, she has not the shine or polish, she is her own woman willing to make the hard choice. Gaydos, the series current artist, is a great fit to give the book its street level approachability.
Andreyko provides a bit of a "Marvel Comics" feel to a very DC book. Manhunter is immersed in DC lore, linking the back stories of the previous men who took the name Manhunter, but he provides a reality in which the reader can gain real attachment. Places like Gotham City or Metropolis have clear identities to the reader. By setting his book in a real city, Los Angles, you don't have that same clear cut expectation. It can be the best and worst of whatever you want. As a writer, Andreyko keeps the book moving with great characters and villains, constantly upping the ante in Kate's personal life to keep both aspects of the book engaging and not another villain of the week slug fest.
The basic premise is that attorney Kate Spencer, divorced federal prosecutor, takes up the mantle of Manhunter when a case she is trying is turns against her. A super powered villain is found not guilty due to his genetic anomaly and gets free to kill again. Taking the law into her own hands, Kate takes a uniform, gauntlets, and a staff confiscated from a evidence locker, and sets out to right the wrongs of a legal system not designed to protect people from the villains of the world, permanently. Along the way she teams up with Dylan Battles, a former henchmen for hire to the various criminal elements of the DC Verse, a man she put into witness protection for his evidence. As she continues her crusade, she learns the origins of her equipment, and meets some of DC's heaviest hitters, creating both new allies and new enemies along the way.
Kate faces not just the legal trials of her day job, but the trials of raising a young son, the trials of facing people trying to kill her, and the trials of quitting smoking. She faces challenges in the origins of her family roots, and in the changes her new job brings out in her son. The book is fun, action packed, smart, and funny, and it is what I feel to be the best book in the DC Universe proper.
That being said, January will see the series draw to a close with issue 38. Manhunter, which started out strong, fell behind in terms of volume and was canceled. Unfortunately this is not the first time the book has been cancelled. It was canceled at issue #26, and issue #30. Both time fervent fans of the book have campaigned to save the book from cancellation and have done so successfully. This may be the books swan song though. Despite critical acclaim from both comics websites and from many notable comic book creators like Brian Michael Bendis, Brian K. Vaughn and Joss Whedon, the book may have seen its last issue. I wanted to take the time to turn the spotlight on this great series before it was gone.
Hopefully, strong trade paperback sales can prop the book for a fourth comeback, but regardless, Manhunter has been a truly surprising read for me, a noted Marvel Comics reader. I never got DC characters, they always seemed to perfect, to unrelatable. Marc Andreyko changed that for me. Do yourself a favor, and me one too, by checking out the first volume of DC Comics Manhunter: Street Justice, by Marc Andreyko and Jesus Saiz. Its really good stuff.
End of Line.