Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 178: <i>Detective Comics</i> #439

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week's decade: the 1970s! Today's page is from Detective Comics #439 and was published by DC and is cover dated February/March 1974. This scan is from Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson's Manhunter #1, which was published in 1984. Enjoy!

I honestly forgot that I found the compilation of this that DC published in 1984, but I did. I can't remember where I found it, but it was only two dollars, which is less than cover price, so that's nice. And damn, it's a cool-ass comic.

Goodwin and Simonson's Manhunter was one of the back-up strips in seven Detective Comics (issues #437-443), and its reputation has far outpaced its relatively obscure beginnings. It's not hard to see why - a quick flip through this book shows us that the not-yet-thirty-year-old Simonson was already well on his way to being one of the best comic book artists we've ever seen, and this first page gives us a nice taste of Goodwin's overheated but exciting prose. Just the tagline - "he stalks the world's most dangerous game" - is a good one. So we're in Morocco, and "Interpol agent Christine St. Clair" - a wonderful comic-booky name, if you ask me - has arrived to search for Manhunter. I love the international flavor Goodwin gives the book just from a couple of lines - she's been in Rangoon and Capetown and is now here, in the "sprawling maze of connected alleyways, courtyards, and rooftops," when suddenly she finds who she's looking for. It's DRAMA! (He does this kind of thing in a few other installments, with the location announced dramatically and then a description of what's going on above the first row of panels. This isn't unusual.)

Simonson does most of the heavy lifting after the first, breathless introduction. In Panel 1, we get a close-up on Ms. St. Clair, presumably to humanize the chase - we're so close to her we can't help but be drawn into her plight. Simonson also shows us the "alleyways, courtyards, and rooftops" in the background, so we can see the exotic nature of the city. According to the credits, our old pal Klaus Janson colored this, although I'm not sure if the credits refer to the original series or this reprint (the GCD lists no colorist for this story). Whenever the blue was added, it's a good touch - it's night, of course, so it needs to be dark, and the blue helps us see the line work without lessening the effect.

Panels 2, 3, and 4 are interesting, because there doesn't seem to be any reason for Simonson to make them three panels, unless it was part of some editorial mandate about how a page should be laid out. It's also possible that Simonson put the borders in to slow us up, so that we linger over the many bodies lying on the ground and appreciate the battle that was fought there. He frames Christine in the archway in the first panel, while the caption box (Joe Letterese lettered this, according to the GCD) with "... it ends!" in it hovers above her, a good place for it. Obviously, our eye follows the wall and the ground, which form a funnel to push us toward the right edge of the page, so we start by seeing the few bodies and then the lettering on the wall (which is by Simonson). It's a grand composition, and leads us to the barrel with the body stuffed inside and the credits written on the side (ignoring the colorist and letterer, of course, but that's the way it was back then). Simonson then re-establishes Christine in the scene, showing her taking it all in, before showing us what she sees - the bodies leading to a man sitting against a wall. Simonson pulls in and reveals Paul Kirk, looking somewhat worse for wear. Finally, Goodwin gives us a nice payoff panel, as Paul has been expecting St. Clair, and he manages to make a joke. It's a nice progression of panels to the close-up of Paul, and Simonson musses his hair slightly and puts some beads of sweat on his brow. It's enough to suggest that he's not doing too well. Goodwin, I think, gives us enough that turning the page is an intriguing proposition. Or maybe a reader just wanted to see more of Simonson's gorgeous artwork!

Simonson still had a lot of wonderful artwork ahead of him, and as you look at this entire run, you can see he does have to improve on some things. But it's still a beautiful comic, and that's what matters!

Next: The Godfather of Cosmic Marvel Stuff in the 1970s and beyond! Chad Nevett should enjoy this entry! Until then, be sure to give the archives a whirl!

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