"Manhunter" is the little book that could.
Created by writer Marc Andreyko and artist JesÃºs SaÃz, Kate Spencer is a lawyer in the DC Universe, but also the superhero Manhunter, the eighth incarnation in DC Comics history. The book features many adventures and legal cases with real-world significance, but tethered to the DC Universe, reflecting how heroes might react to variously hot-button subjects. The series premiered in 2004 to controversy, with fans upset over some departures from the established Manhunter mythos, particularly with respect to much of the gear Spencer employed.
"Manhunter" won over many of its detractors, however, and became a much-lauded book with both critics and its small but vocal fanbase. But the numbers were against the title from the beginning, and it never became a breakout hit. DC cancelled the book with 2006's issue #25. When fans mounted a huge campaign to keep the book alive, DCU Executive Editor Dan DiDio relented, continuing the book for another five issues to see if sales increased exponentially. They didn't, and the book was cancelled again with issue #30.
Amazingly, history repeated itself and, after over a year off the stands, "Manhunter" is back with a new storyline and artist in fan-favorite Michael Gaydos ("Alias"). Marc Andreyko stopped by REFLECTIONS to talk about the second relaunch-of-sorts, how fans have been reacting to the first few issues back from hiatus, and what else is in store for Kate Spencer.
CBR: After a year away from "Manhunter," did you return to the title with a different approach to the characters or concept?
Marc Andreyko: I didn't really change anything in my approach to writing the book after the second restart. We are doing a lot more with social issues and how they would be played out in the DC Universe. But mostly, it's more of the same with a little more real world relevance, but without being didactic, of course. I just wanted to bring up issues that were relevant and see how they would be handled in the superhero world.
Looking back on issues #1-30, what was your favorite story arc or issue?
I really liked issue #4 a lot -- that's the one that introduces Dylan. I liked the issue with the three stories about where the costume pieces originate from. I liked a little about every issue, really.
Aside from managing to keep the book alive, what do you think your biggest accomplishment was over those thirty issues?
I think the biggest accomplishment was that, if you went back and read issue one and issue thirty, all the characters have gone through some change in their lives. Not always for the better. Kate was a much different character when she started the book. When you are working on the big icons, you can't change that much about them because they cannot grow or change. Doing "Manhunter" was the best of both worlds: I got to use the sets and characters from the DC Universe, but since she was a character I co-created, we are able to make her change and grow.
How has Kate grown? And did you expect her to grow as much as she did?
I was not expecting her to grow like she did. It's an old writer's cliche that sometimes the characters write themselves, but I never expected Dylan and Cameron Chase to get together. I never expected Kate to have a good relationship with her ex-husband. I never expected her to grow into motherhood like she has, albeit in her own way.
Ramsey is one of my favorite characters to write, which is surprising since I'm generally not a fan of children characters. They are always too cute or too smart. My example of a writer who writes really great kids is Stephen King. I try to make Ramsey a character who happens to be six instead of just a cute little kid.
Why not relaunch "Manhunter" with a new issue #1 instead of continuing the original numbering?
I knew that a new number one didn't make a whole lot of sense. We'd get the minor bump on the first issue, and then it would drop back down to whatever it was going to be anyway. For me, it felt better to keep the book going because it was basically the same book. It was a little bit of a "thank you" to the readers, too. A relaunch can get a little tiresome, and there was no organic reason to do it. It just felt a little mercenary. I tend to feel like spreading the word of mouth is far more important than people who get every new issue #1.
But you still tried to make "Manhunter" #31 a new jumping-on point.
Yes, but besides the two-page catch-up at the beginning, issue #31 could have just been published the month after #30.
Have you made any changes to the book due to the "events" in the DCU like "Final Crisis" or "Countdown?"
No, I'm not touching "Final Crisis" at all. I will be dealing with the fallout if it affects the story, but for the most part,Â we are operating in our own little corner of the DC Universe. You don't have to read tons of other books to get the full "Manhunter" experience.
Let's talk about the book's current storyline.
This first arc is dealing with an issue I'm fascinated by, and I'm continually shocked that there is no press on it. It's about the women who are being murdered near Ciudad Juarez on the Mexican border near El Paso. In the past ten years, upwards of 400 women have been found murdered and another thousand have disappeared, depending on the estimates and who you talk to. This gets next to no coverage in America. This is fascinating since a lot of the women who were killed cross the border and go back and forth because they work for American companies.
When you watch the news and hear about Natalie Holloway or Lacie Peterson, it is tragic. But it is fascinating to me that the media will cover a blonde white woman who disappeared on spring break but when 1400 brown, illegal women are gone or murdered near El Paso, there is next to no media coverage.
We wanted to bring that story to readers' attention, but also fold in the DCU aspects of it. This has been difficult because I don't want to cheapen the real world events, but I do want people to realize it is based on reality and check it out.
Where did you get the idea to throw Blue Beetle into the mix?
It takes place in El Paso, where Blue Beetle is from, so having him not appear would be, in many ways, more conspicuous than having him appear. When Kate sees that he is just a young kid, it really sets the difference in tone between "Manhunter" and "Blue Beetle." Blue Beetle acknowledged that he was around the area, but Kate, as a mom, doesn't really want a sixteen-year-old dealing with people who are doing medical experiments and organ harvesting on illegal immigrants.
Was it a conscious decision to remove the book from its usual home in Los Angeles?
Not really. When DC talked about doing the book again, they wanted to do serious stories and asked for a list of stories I would like to tell. They responded to this story.
Are there any stories you've pitched that DC felt was toeing or crossing the line?
The original first storyline post-relaunch was supposed to be a continuation of the last page of issue #30, with the woman's clinic being blown up. But because that is a really detailed, in-depth story, we are pushing it back to begin with issue #37.
What is going on with our favorite supporting characters in this arc and upcoming ones?
Dylan is on the run. The question is whether he is a good guy on the run or a bad guy. In #35, there is a big Cameron Chase plot twist and I will not tell you about it.
And, of course, we'll be dealing with the Ramsey storyline much more.
When did Manhunter become part of Birds of Prey?
["Birds of Prey" writer] Gail [Simone] had used her in the arc when the Birds went to Mexico and saved some senator's daughter, and she has been a recurring character since.
Are you excited to see Kate being used much more in the bigger DC Universe?
As long as I get to take a look at it and make sure they aren't doing anything crazy with the character. The creators who have used her thus far are creators that I know and trust. Hopefully, the more readers who can see her will be interested in reading the book from whence she came.
How many more issues do readers have guaranteed past the "relaunch" with #31?
That's not a question for me. I'm writing it as if it's open ended. The first and second trades are into their second printings, which is a good thing. If you become too wrapped up in all that, you start writing for that. And when you start writing commercially it's something that is not going to sell. I just try to continue to write it in an honest voice.
Are we a huge seller? No. But I don't know what kind of leeway we have. It's also a book where sales increases are gradual because of word of mouth. This isn't "X-Men" and isn't "Superman." It's a much smaller, character-centered book. We have a lot more in common with "Starman" as opposed to "Infinite Crisis."
How has reaction been to the first four issues back?
For the most part, it's been really good. There are a few people online who are complaining that I'm a liberal and don't understand immigration. You are going to get a certain amount of snarkiness on the Internet no matter what, and my rule is that you don't post anything that you wouldn't say to someone's face. Overall, the reaction has been great. It's been pleasant to have people respond so well.
Let's talk about Michael Gaydos.
We've been friends for years, going back to Caliber in the mid-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½â‚¬Å¡ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½"90s. I saw Michael at the San Diego con in 2007, and he did a sketch of Manhunter for me, and I showed it to my editor Joan Hilty, who thought it looked good. When we were trying to get the book up and going again, Matthew Clark was supposed to be the artist, but the schedule didn't work out. Then we were looking for an artist, and I asked about Michael. Joan liked it, Dan [DiDio] liked it, and the rest is history.
I think he's a really great fit. Some fans are having some trouble because the art is a complete 180 from the first thirty issues, but I'm a firm believer that the art is more in tune with the story I'm trying to tell than it has been for a long time. I'm hoping people will give it a chance to grow on them. Every time I get pages from him, I'm thrilled.
What else are you working on in the comics universe?
Starting in October, I have a five-issue miniseries coming out from Wildstorm called "The Ferryman." It's a book that Joel Silver, the producer of "The Matrix," "Die Hard" and "Speed Racer," is coming into comics for the first time for. He has a label called Dark Castle, and produces horror movies through it like "House on Haunted Hill," "Thirteen Ghosts" and "Rocknrolla." Joel has wanted to venture into comics and develop ideas through comics to see if they might have life elsewhere. I've been friends with a guy that is a big exec over at Dark Castle, and he called me. Joel had wanted to do something contemporary with the River Styx and the ferryman of mythology, and I got to run free with it. The first issue and the second issue will be shipping in October.
How's the "Torso" movie coming along?
It's moving forward. How fast it moves forward and if it actually happens are things that are way beyond my control. With movies with big movie stars, they can fall apart the day before they start filming. Things are looking great, but until I'm on the set, I'm cautiously optimistic.
Lightning round time! If you were writing a yearlong weekly comic with three other writers, who would they be?
Depends on what company. For DC: Geoff Johns, Gail Simone and James Robinson.
For Marvel: Bendis, Ed Brubaker and Abnett & Lanning. "Nova," "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "The Authority" are great. "Nova" is the most fun comic book being published right now from a mainstream company, and I don't like cosmic stuff. It's an absolute joy to read, and those guys have done a great job of taking the cosmic and making it fun.
What is your biggest strength as a writer?
A humanity and a down-to-earth reality and grounding amid the craziness of the superhero world.
What is your biggest weakness?
Probably big ultra-cosmic stuff. "Thor" is a book I don't think I could ever write, and I love the character. I think the stuff Straczynski is doing and the stuff Matt Fraction is doing is great, and Walt Simonson's run is huge influence on me, but cosmic stuff like that is too much for me.
What's the best comic book movie of all time?
It's "The Dark Knight." It's been said before, but it is a genre-buster. It's a great movie that happens to be based on a comic book, not a great comic book movie. When my mom and dad go see a Batman movie without me forcing them, it's great stuff.