I read the first couple of issues of “Manhunter” when they were originally released, and I thought, “not bad — I like this Kate Spencer character, and writer Marc Andreyko has a distinctive voice, but I don’t think this series will be around long.” So I dropped it from my regular reading list. Then I kept looking at those Jae Lee covers, and thinking about how much I missed reading “Manhunter,” and by issue #7 I was back on board. I quickly scooped up the issues I missed, and I’ve been enjoying this series ever since. Even as DC has taunted audiences with cancellation, uncancellation, recancellation, and now, postponed relaunch, I’ve considered “Manhunter” to be one of the best regular ongoing series from DC.
With issue #31, Marc Andreyko returns to Kate Spencer and company, and with only a two-page recap quickly gets readers, both new and old, up to speed. One of the things I like about this issue is how quickly, and clearly, Andreyko gets the exposition out of the way. It’s been a while since an issue of “Manhunter” was on the stands, and a we’ve all read a lot of other comics in that time. It’s nice to be reminded of the big stuff that’s already happened in this series. And it’s a nice introduction to new readers. The recap pages show us how Kate Spencer decided to become “Manhunter,” how she was a prosecutor frustrated with the loopholes in the legal system, and now she’s a defense attorney for the Department of Extranormal Affairs. The two opening pages also show how much of the DC Universe has been used in this series, from Spencer’s own relationship to past Manhunters, to her run-ins with C-list rogues, and her link to Wonder Woman.
“Manhunter” is one of the few street-level superhero books in the DC stable, and what’s so interesting about it is that Andreyko doesn’t stick to the normal street-level villains. In issue #31, he shows crazed, nuclear-powered villains, like the Atomic Skull, from the point-of-view of the street — of Kate Spencer, who literally beats him by repeatedly punching him in the face. It’s basically a comic about a lawyer who moonlights as a costumed vigilante, and the comparisons to Marvel’s “Daredevil” can’t be avoided. But unlike “Daredevil,” which, even when it’s been good, has wallowed in despair and self-pity, “Manhunter” is a much more active, aggressive book. Things happen with speed and force in “Manhunter,” while in “Daredevil,” under Brian Michael Bendis, especially, but also under Ed Brubaker, the plot has inched along, slowly building toward inevitability. You might say that “Manhunter” is a more superhero-centric, old-school “Daredevil,” but done in a contemporary style. But that’s not all “Manhunter” is.
It’s also a tour through the behind-the-scenes activities of the DC Universe. A look into the questions other writers tend to ignore: what happens when a supervillain stands on trial? How does a hero really feel about the civilians? How does a hero juggle professional responsibilities and family obligations? And “Manhunter” deals with these questions not by lingering on them, but by naturally incorporating them into the superhero-heavy melodrama and fisticuffs.
By the way, the art in this issue is by Michael Gaydos, and he is the perfect choice for this type of comic. He can do the awkward at-home moments and street-level perspective as well as anyone in the industry, but he can also pull of those science-fiction hero shots that mainstream comics are fond of. He spots blacks like a madman, adding weight to this troubled world of Kate Spencer’s, and he draws a mean Atomic Skull.
If you haven’t been reading “Manhunter,” now’s the time to start.