REVIEW: Manhunter #31

Manhunter #31 coverWriter: Marc Andreyko

Artist: Michael Gaydos

Colorist: Jose Villarrubia

Publisher: DC Comics

“Forgotten: Part One”

Marc Andreyko’s Manhunter occupies a rare spot in the comic book canon. There’s been plenty of series that have been considered cult favorites, many with devoted fanbases, but very few books have ever been resurrected from cancellation. Especially impressive is how staggeringly low the odds were for the book’s success from the start – little in the way of hype or support from DC coupled with a re-imagining of a character concept that few had much affection for in the first place. However, the excellent writing, including an interestingly complicated protagonist and a diverse, unique supporting cast, elevated the book from just another DC franchise revamp to possibly the biggest cause célèbre in comics this decade.

Of course, when any franchise is revived, there are going to be accompanying fears over whether or not it can equal up to the standard the creators originally set. Reading Manhunter #31, however, one might get the impression that absolutely no time has passed since the previous issue. After a quick, two-page recap of the basic concept and significant events of the series – lawyer Kate Spencer tires of loopholes in justice system, becomes vigilante – the story dives into a fight scene between Kate and the Atomic Skull at a movie premiere that’s chaotic and darkly funny. Michael Gaydos’s art shines here with its tightly-packed panels full of panicked crowds that resonate with a tense energy. What’s most compelling, however, is how deeply realized Kate’s voice is – both her dialogue and narration balance witty, self-deprecating humor with a tough-minded, quick analysis of the fight. For anyone just tuning in, she’s immediately an engaging character with a mindset distinct from most superheroes. She’s wryly funny in a way that’s natural and human, and she’s world-weary in a way that’s more realistic and complex than any number of painfully dull anti-heroes suffering from Generic Angst Syndrome.

The rest of the book is mainly divided between Kate’s discomfort at her grandparents’ – Golden Age superheroes Iron Munroe and Phantom Lady Sandra Knight – involvement in her son’s life, and her investigation of the murders of young women near Ciudad Juárez. The latter is an incredibly precarious real-life situation that’s handled an in entirely straightforward manner in the book, probably the best way to approach it in a superhero title without it seeming exploitative or tacky. There’s also some moody coloring work by Jose Villarrubia that makes good use of the dissonance between the deep red of the Manhunter costume and the somber, dull earth tones that surround her. The scenes that revolve around Kate’s family are handled just as deftly as those centered on her investigation; Kate’s resentment towards her grandparents clashing with her grudging acceptance of their interest in her son feels absolutely authentic. Estrangement is always a complex situation, and Andreyko writes it gracefully, without melodrama, while portraying Kate as tough, frustrated and vulnerable all at once. Gaydos’s art is also notable in these scenes, as he reverts to a rigidly organized panel layout and a more reserved artistic style that’s effective in mirroring the lingering, subdued pain that’s the undercurrent of this part of the story. Here he gives his characters stoic faces and extremely expressive eyes, and the contrast between the two is a nicely subtle touch that really does a lot towards conveying the emotion of the scene.

Anyone reading this has probably noticed that this entire review has spoken of the book’s protagonist as Kate Spencer, rather than Manhunter. It’s much the same with most fans of the book, as this is the kind of intensely personal, character-driven narrative that’s always been rare in superhero comics and inspires deep loyalty among readers. After all, most of us refer to Jack Knight rather than Starman, and it’s easy to see Robinson’s work on that series as Andreyko’s spiritual predecessor. Much like Starman, this is a book full of unique characters with strong, distinct personalities, characters that are compelling, frustrating, and genuine. It’s a series that seems destined to inspire the next generation of comics creators, and it’s one that deserves a look from every comics fan now that it’s been given a second chance.

Rating: 8/10