You better watch out, you better not cry, or someone’ll get stabbed right through the eye…! No? How about: ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, er, just one creature was stirring, and he had a Mauser! There, that one’s a little better. Anyway, today’s Reason is about an excellent comic run I’ve discovered recently. (Archive.)
Back in July, I wrote a column about Walter Simonson, and mentioned I’d never read his breakthrough work, Manhunter. The man himself was gracious enough to send me a copy shortly afterward, for which I’m extremely grateful. Naturally, the comic was so good, it has ended up as a Reason.
Manhunter was a short series of back-ups by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson for Detective Comics back in the ’70s. It served as a revitalization of the Joe Simon/Jack Kirby Manhunter from the Golden Age, in which big game hunter Paul Kirk decides to hunt the most dangerous game of all– criminals. The Goodwin/Simonson version followed Paul Kirk thirty years later, having been in suspended animation since his supposed demise in the ’40s. The Council that resurrected him turns out to be evil, naturally, and they’ve got an army of Paul Kirk clones sent out to kill him.
The story was excellent, and included a variety of characters and angles, having Manhunter cross paths with Interpol agent Christine St. Clair, tracking Manhunter from target to target and diving further into the conspiracy surrounding Paul Kirk. The plot jumped about a lot with the use of different perspectives and multiple flashbacks in order to reveal the story. In the end, they all teamed up with Batman and kicked some butt, and the story reached a definitive end, back when complete, finished stories were quite a novelty. Paul Kirk proved to be a great character, fleshed out as a man who had everything taken away from him, even his own identity and death, and who seeks to gain everything back through one last manhunt.
Walt’s art was fantastic as well, and quite different from his later work. I’d say the pencils are tighter and “tougher,” in a way– more lines, more grit. The storytelling is incredibly well done, and the page layouts– my God! Dense, elaborate, and beautiful. These are super-compressed stories, fitting 20 pages of material into 8 or 9 page, cramming information into every available spot. It makes for a very nice page aesthetic, and also a brilliant lesson in story compression. The guys doing Slimline titles for Image could learn a lot from Manhunter– I know I did.
Oh, and the coloring here is by the great Klaus Janson, if you can believe it.
The story ran through six back-ups and one feature-length tale and then came to an end, but the Manhunter legacy has continued on. The original story is available in a fine trade paperback collection, and I urge you to seek it out if you haven’t read it. The trade also includes one final Manhunter story by Goodwin and Simonson. This one was completed after Archie Goodwin passed away, so there is no dialogue, no effort to replace the wordsmith. The plot he constructed with Walt unfolds silently, and still makes for a great tale. The story, and Walt’s afterword, make a lovely tribute to the man who was Archie Goodwin.
A pair of comics professionals collaborated on a damn fine story and called it Manhunter– and it catapulted them towards greatness. Read it.
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