Reviewer: Tim Stevens
Story Title: Trial by Fire
Written by: Marc Andreyko
Pencilled by: Jesus Saiz
Inked by: Jimmy Palmiotti
Colored by: Steve Buccellato
Lettered by: Rob Leigh
Editor: Joan Hilty
Publisher: DC Comics
An interesting pattern had developed in the first 5 issues of Manhunter. Andreyko was balancing issues of high action (1: killing Copperhead, 3:Shadow Thief looking for revenge, 5: rematch with Shadow Thief and Copperhead (eww)) with quieter, more “talky” issues (2: day out with her son, 4: meeting and hiring Dylan Battles). Issue #6 has the distinction of being the first issue to break this pattern. While I have enjoyed the alternating issue approach, I hardly would consider this a bad thing. Why? Because it shows a move toward integrating both aspects of Kate’s life into the same story and the brief flashes of those previously have proven most interesting (her son finding and activating the staff, the JLA showing up at her office).
This time out, Kate’s superhero and career world meet as she is gearing up to prosecute the Shadow Thief, after taking him down last issue. Unable to slay him because of the timely (or untimely, depending on which side you’re on) arrival of the JLA, she figures she can still accomplish it the “legal” way by getting a sentence of death in his trial. The villain community is concerned with this case not because they are sticking up for one of their own (as Shadow Thief was when he came to town), but because they fear Carl cracking under pressure. Andreyko’s script and Saiz/Palmiotti’s art lend credence to this theory as Sands’ twists and babbles in his shadowless cell. He is like a junky jonesing for a fix, not the kind of condition you’d want to be in when going up against the scariest prosecutor in California. So the villains, through Calculator, are doing the smart thing. They’re going to make sure Sands never has a chance to talk.
This main plotline is compelling enough in and of itself, but there are some great moments along the way that bear mentioning. Andreyko writes an intense JLA that still manages to have a sense of humor at times. For those decrying the brooding mentality of a lot of heroes these days, this book delivers, rather ironically (considering it is a “darker” DCU book) a more balanced JLA. In particular, it is a treat to see the dual kings of brooding, Hawkman and Batman, having a bit of a joke.
On the personal side of things, the issues of custody of Kate’s son reaches a sort of conclusion. Kate shows an unexpected burst of maturity and vulnerability when talking to her ex and the result is not only limited visitation rights for Kate, but a bit of three dimensionality for a character that can sometimes come across as almost wholly unlikable. There is also another layer revealed when a possible crank caller refers to himself as Kate’s father, an idea that Kate finds next to impossible to believe. A flashback montage reveals why the prospect of her father calling her might make her nervous, but it remains unclear how or why he would be.
As eluded to earlier, the art continues to be top notch. The Saiz/Palmiotti team handles both the scenes of super powered mayhem and everyday living with equal skill. With the parade of heroes and villains the duo has had to portray thus far, I don’t think they have hit a sour note.