Near Mint Memories: Manhunter


This is one of my fave Manhunter covers of all time! It generates so many fond memories for me of my comic reading and collecting in the 1980s.

Now onto this week’s column!

“Didja know there have been, like, a million Manhunters?” – from Manhunter #5 (2004)

Dylan Battles’, the current Manhunter’s weaponeer, remarks seemed like an appropriate enough start to a column that will look back at the history of the DC Universe’s Manhunters. BTW, as many Nexus staffers have been raving for months, DC’s current Manhunter series is quite possibly the best super-hero book on the shelves today!

Interestingly, DC’s first Manhunter wasn’t even a DC character at the time!

Intrigued? Read on and enjoy.

Dan Richards – A Quality Manhunter

Manhunter I

In March of 1942, the Golden Age of Comics ushered in its first Manhunter in Police Comics #8 published by Quality Comics.

Seven issues earlier in Police Comics #1, Quality’s most recognizable hero debuted in the form of Plastic Man.

Quality’s Manhunter was police officer Donald “Dan” Richards. He graduated the police academy with his girlfriend’s brother Jim. Interestingly, Dan was at the bottom of this graduation class while Jim took top honors.

Dan donned the Manhunter costume and moniker to track down a killer after Jim was framed for murder. He caught the true killer, successfully cleared Jim and continued to operate as a vigilante in the hopes that he could overcome legal obstacles, where the police couldn’t, to solve cases.

This Manhunter had a long run appearing through Police Comics from his debut to issue #101 in 1950.

As you may know, in 1956, at the beginning of the Silver Age of Comics, DC Comics acquired the rights to the stable of Quality Comics properties, but only used Plastic Man and Blackhawk initially.

Paul Kirk – A Big Game (Man-)Hunter

Manhunter II

A month after Quality’s Manhunter hit stands, DC’s Manhunter debuted in April 1942’s Adventure Comics #73.

While this was DC’s Manhunter’s first in-costume appearance, his alter ego Paul Kirk had been around since Adventure Comics #58.

Interestingly in DC’s Manhunter debut it appears that the intended a.k.a. for Manhunter was big game hunter Rick Nelson by its creators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon (yes, THAT Kirby and Simon duo). However, for some reason Manhunter’s alter ego is referred to as both Rick Nelson and Paul Kirk in Adventure Comics #73, but remained solely as Paul thereafter. This was another example of the “loose” editing of the Golden Age.

He was a rich and famous big game hunter who was no longer challenged in the hunt for animals. The lavish lifestyle of success grew tedious. At the same time, a friend of his killed. To avenge his death and slay his growing boredom he donned red tights and a blue face mask to hunt a more dangerous prey… criminals!

Paul Kirk as Manhunter was featured in Adventure Comics from issues #73 to 92 in 1944 when war time concerns over the shortage of paper caused DC to drop its page count and thus its Manhunter feature.

In 1973’s Detective Comics #437 Paul Kirk reemerged on the comics scene as a back up feature. His back story was further fleshed out since it had been many years since anyone had seen or heard from / of him.

This is the classic Paul Kirk Manhunter story and was helmed by Archie Goodwin and a young penciller in Walter Simonson. It was revealed in that series-within-a-series that Paul Kirk had died on safari by a rampaging elephant after the second world war. His body was preserved by the Council, a group with world domination on its agenda. Kirk was brought back to life with a healing factor and was also heavily cloned. He was trained in the martial arts by Ansano Nitobe to become leader of the Council’s enforcement arm made of his clones.

After he refused to kill an Interpol agent, the Council attempted to have him killed. Paul Kirk donned a new Manhunter costume and rebelled against them.

With Batman, Interpol operative Christine St. Clair, Nitobe, and a weapons expert, Manhunter defeated the Council and destroyed their headquarters, but not before he was killed for good this time. It was believed that all the Paul Kirk clones were killed, but Nitobe and St. Clair vowed to ensure that was the case. If not, they’d kill any remaining clones themselves.

Paul Kirk (Jr.?)- An often overlooked clone

Manhunter III

In the short lived Secret Society of Super Villains series that debuted in 1976 and pitted this society of villains against Captain Comet, a clone of the Paul Kirk Manhunter was revealed to be the brains of the society early on.

He seemingly perished quickly by issue #5 after a confrontation with the godlike villain Darkseid.

An unnamed old Manhunter

Manhunter IV

In 1975’s First Issue Special #5 that introduced readers to Mark Shaw, an aged Manhunter was also introduced to readers. Mark Shaw replaced this Manhunter and assumed his mantle.

Mark Shaw – A Reformed Hunter of Men

Manhunter V

Readers were introduced to a new Manhunter, Mark Shaw, written and pencilled by Jack Kirby (yes, him again) in 1975’s First Issue Special #5.

Mark Shaw was a frustrated public defender. It seemed that the criminals manipulated the system and always got off easily. Shaw’s uncle Desmond introduced him a centuries-old sect of incorruptible and lifelong crime fighters. Each generation had its own “Manhunter” through this sect and the current one had gotten too old. Shaw contacted the sect’s leader the Grand Master through a mystical lion medallion. Soon, days later, he assumed the Manhunter mantle, red and blue costume and all. The costume seemed to enhance his physical strengths.

After a client was killed, Shaw quickly went to action as Manhunter to seek justice. He caught the thugs responsible, but went to hunt their boss, the Hog.

Since First Issue Specials were sample introductory issues, readers were given a chance to mail in a request to see more of Manhunter and his quest to capture “The Hog”.

Mark Shaw returned in March 1977’s Justice League of America #140 for a 2-part story that fleshed out the Manhunter sect further and established its familiar ties to DC’s Silver Age Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) mythology.

The sect that Shaw was part of was revealed to be group of rejected robots. That had been created billions of years earlier by the Guardians of the Galaxy to fight evil. As time wore on, the robots while successful in delivering justice across the universe, and rebelled against the Guardians for some unexplained reason.

They began to recruit humans to do their bidding hence explaining Mark Shaw’s link.

The Manhunters launched a plan to discredit the Guardians with Mark Shaw at their side. However, they were challenged by the Justice League of America (JLA) and Green Lantern (the Green Lantern Corps was the Guardians second attempt at cosmic policing). Shaw soon realized that the Manhunters had duped him and he turned on them killing the now-revealed-to-be-a-robot Grand Master.

A reformed Mark Shaw battled alongside the JLA as a new hero called in Privateer that debuted in June 1977’s JLA #143.

However, it was later revealed that he was still influenced by the evil of the Mahunters. Shaw sought to extort a large sum of money from the U.S. Government and fought against the JLA as the villain Star- Tsar (working with the Key) as revealed in December 1977’s JLA #149 and January 1978’s JLA #150. The JLA’s own Red Tornado discovered Shaw’s duplicitous behavior – posing as hero and villain – and Shaw was sent to prison.

Scribe extraordinaire John Ostrander redeemed Mark Shaw in the 1980s. In 1987’s Suicide Squad #8 through 10, a rehabilitated Mark Shaw, thanks to Belle Reve prison psychiatrist Simon LaGrieve, served alongside the Suivide Squad as the Privateer and was released once the mission was completed.

He donned a new costume and was the lead in the cult classic Manhunter series that debuted in 1988 penned by Ostrander. Shaw had hoped to redeem the Manhunter name and kept said nom de guerre.

Shaw was now a bounty hunter of costumed criminals. His Manhunter series lasted 24 issues until 1990.

In 1993’s Eclipso #13 it appeared that the Mark Shaw Manhunter perished in battled alongside other heroes who perished to thwart a scheme by Eclipso.

Chase Lawler – A Very Forgettable Manhunter

Manhunter VII (What? Isn’t this supposed to be Manhunter VI? Is there a “missing” Manhunter? Hold tight. I’ll explain that in a moment.)

As result of DC’s 1994 cross-over “event” called Zero Hour: A Crisis in Time, a few new books hit the shelves. A Manhunter not steeped in the established lore was in the offing. It started with Manhunter #0 and what followed was the traditionally numbered Manhunter #1.

(Although, technically, this new Manhunter’s first appearance is probably in Zero Hour #0.)

Readers were introduced to Chase Lawler. He was a musician who invoked an ancient being called the Wild Huntsman to help save his girlfriend from harm. The Huntsman was an elemental force that stalked the lonely and vulnerable. Chase didn’t realize the ramifications of his decision and turned his back on the Huntsman, but they were inadvertently connected. This bond between the two caused Chase to acquire an uncanny tracking ability. He tried to harness this power and resist the urge to hunt the lonely by going after villains. This had mixed success.

In that series’ last issue in 1995, Manhunter #12, during battle, Chase Lawler suffered a massive heart attack. The connection with the Huntsman and related powers shifted to the man that tried to resuscitate Lawler. That man was a now very alive Mark Shaw. Huh?

It is revealed in this issue that Shaw was undercover as the villain Dumas, who Shaw had killed in his own series, for the government. When the mission to take down Eclipso came about, the government sent someone else in Manhunter regalia for the effort. That nameless man was killed by Eclipso instead of Mark Shaw. That would make this no-name DC’s Manhunter VI and cannon fodder.

Mark Shaw seemingly still shares this connection with the Wild Huntsman and has that uncanny tracking ability and urge to hunt.

Kirk DePaul – Another Paul Kirk clone, but for hire

Manhunter VIII

This Manhunter debuted as part of the Power Company team in 2002’s JLA #61.

Kirk DePaul is one the surviving clones from the classic Goodwin / Simonson Manhunter arc. As revealed in 2002’s Power Company: Manhunter and during the Power Company series, written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Tom Grummett, DePaul was roaming through Africa in the intervening years and became a mercenary in Africa.

He donned a variation of the late Paul Kirk’s revised Manhunter costume (blue and white instead of red and white). His membership in the high-profile heroes-or-hire super-problem-solvers (a.k.a. The Power Company) caught the attention of Nitobe and St. Clair who were still hunting Kirk clones. A confrontation ensues in Power Company #5. DePaul claimed that he is not a bad guy and they part ways with St. Clair vowing to keep a close eye on him.

The Power Company was a short-lived series as well.

Kate Spencer – DC’s current tough-as-nails female Mahunter

Manhunter IX

Kate Spencer is also a frustrated lawyer, but a prosecutor, who made her debut in 2004’s Manhunter #1. Like Chase Lawler, beyond the nom de guerre, she seeimingly has no ties to established Manhunter mythology.

After the villainous Copperhead is acquitted on the grounds of “genetic anomaly”, i.e. he didn’t ask for the powers and urges that he can’t control, Kate raids the courthouse’s evidence locker room for super villain weapons and other gadgets and garb. She is compelled to act on her frustrations.

In her makeshift “Manhunter” costume she tracks down a now free and killing again Copperhead. She metes out her own brand of vigilante justice and kills Copperhead sending all the villains on the East Coast of the U.S. a message. There are no longer any revolving prison doors for super villains in L.A.

This new Manhunter series is the best new series of 2004 and quite possibly the best solo character comic book on the stands today.

Do yourself a favor and check out DC’s newest Manhunter!

Odds & Ends – A Bit More Revisionist History

In 1984’s revisionist All-Star Squadron series, issue #31, Paul Kirk and Dan Richards met for the first time and bickered over who was the true Manhunter. Dan Richards eventually joined the Freedom Fighters in the same arc leaving Paul Kirk as a member of the All-Star Squadron.

During DC’s 1988 Millennium “event”, a connection between the robotic Manhunters and all the bearers of the Manhunter mantle was revealed in Secret Origins #22.

Manhunters had human agents since the beginning of humanity’s evolution. These were humans or disguised robots augmenting events of human history. The Grand Master had recruited Dan Richards purposely as Manhunter first.

Wanting to expand Manhunter power, the Grand Master next recruited Paul Kirk. Kirk was manipulated as his friend, police inspector Donovan (a Manhunter agent), was killed (sacrificed by his masters) so that Kirk would want to seek vengeance. And so, Paul Kirk assumed the mantle of Manhunter to capture his friend’s killer.

Also, a new Grand Master led the Manhunters in 1988 during the Millennium event (as the “original” had been killed / destroyed by Shaw).

In the Millennium series, Earth’s heroes basically banded together to protect a new race of beings created by the Guardians of the Galaxy and their female counterparts, the Zamarons, from an assault by Manhunters. These new beings? The forgettable New Guardians who had their own short-lived series.

Being a Manhunter on the side of good or evil is equally hazardous in the DC Universe it seems.

This is one my favourite definitive Paul Kirk Manhunter sketches by Walter Simonson!

I hope you enjoyed the column and wish you best for 2005!

John is a long-time pop culture fan, comics historian, and blogger. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief at Comics Nexus. Prior to being EIC he has produced several column series including DEMYTHIFY, NEAR MINT MEMORIES and the ONE FAN'S TRIALS at the Nexus plus a stint at Bleeding Cool producing the COMICS REALISM column. As BabosScribe, John is active on his twitter account, his facebook page, his instagram feed and welcomes any and all feedback. Bring it on!