Manhunter #1 Review

Reviewer: John Babos
Story Title: Shedding Skin

Written by: Marc Andreyko
Penciled by: Jesus Saiz
Inked by: Jimmy Palmiotti
Colored by: Steve Buccellato
Lettered by: Jared K. Fletcher
Assistant Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Joan Hilty
Publisher: DC

On the heels of the new Bloodhound series from DC, the first in a line of new “darker” books, a new Manhunter is unleashed on an unsuspecting DC Universe (DCU). While Bloodhound is a new property, Manhunters have been around the DCU for many years. However, none of that backstory is prerequisite reading for Manhunter #1.

This new Manhunter series is the first such series to be anchored by a female lead. Like her 1980’s counterpart, 2004’s Manhunter alter ego is a disenfranchised lawyer – Kate Spencer works for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. However, while the 1988-debuting Manhunter series was the story of Mark Shaw, a character with a long and tainted DCU history, Kate is a fresh face wearing the familiar mantle of Manhunter.

There have been many Manhunters beyond Mark and Kate, most recently Kirk DePaul (a clone of the Simonson/Goodwin Paul Kirk Manhunter) of the short-lived Power Company series. However, after reading Manhunter #1, I was thrown back a bit by how it felt like the spiritual inheritor of the 1980’s series. It has the darkness and edge of that book, although amped up a bit without the “restrictions” of the Comics Code Authority.

2004’s Manhunter #1 opens with a story about DCU super-serial-killer Cooperhead on trial. His acquittal on grounds of “genetic anomaly”, meaning he never asked for the metahuman abilities that he’s “plagued” with, is one of the catalysts for Kate’s descent into vigilantism.

The story also puts a darker face on the perpetual capture and escape of DCU super-villains such as Cooperhead. It really indicts DC’s super-heroes and its judicial system for not being able to keep these villains behind bars. Perhaps a hero should kill for the greater good? Perhaps not, but Manhunter #1 throws an interesting salvo into that fanboy debate.

Kate Spencer raids the evidence locker at the courthouse and equips herself with the gadgetry of DC’s east coast super-villains. I don’t recognize who some of her weapons belong to or where her actual costume was cobbled together from, but the electric baton she uses and the “red” that she sports as part of her costume are clear nods by the creative team to the Mark Shaw Manhunter.

[Although, that baton could belong to Mark Shaw and set up a future confrontation. Hmm. Is Mark Shaw in jail? This could be some interesting foreshadowing… or not.]

Writer Marc Andreyko delivers some engaging courtroom drama that had me channeling my frustration from the first Law & Order TV episode I saw, when I was younger, where the criminal in the show got off. Its a formula that Law & Order has used to perfection to show the reality of the court system – sometimes the “good guys” win, and other times they don’t. Its a formula they’ve used to spawn numerous spin-offs. Hopefully, this bodes well for this Manhunter series.

[Interestingly a Law & Order scribe will be penning a new Deadshot mini-series for later this year.]

Manhunter is no super-hero. She’s a vigilante that makes Batman look like Superman in comparison. It’ll be interesting to see if the police force in Los Angeles view her as a necessary tool or as a costumed villain.

Penciller Jesus Saiz and veteran inker Jimmy Palmiotti mesh well together and deliver some powerful action moments. The lack of the Comics Code Authority allows them to stretch their artistic muscles. They make Cooperhead a serial killer from look to deed.

The mix of shock and frustration that Kate feels when Cooperhead is acquitted is brilliantly rendered by the art team. They also make Kate look feminine and tough when not in her vigilante gear.

The pacing of the in-costume action is quite well done as is the silhouette precursor to Manhunter’s grand reveal… baton in hand. Excellent!

The Jae Lee cover captures the darkness of the book, but I’m not a fan of covers that have no connection to the story inside. Great Lee art though.

The story firmly establishes the world of Kate Spencer and introduces us to Manhunter. Not sure if the cliffhanger ending works story-wise, but it did succeed in having me eagerly awaiting issue #2.

Well done.