When you see just how ... wonderfully wrong Kate Spencer's relationship is with her son in the middle of Manhunter #2, you'll find you can't help but enjoy this series. And then when you reach the issue 2 cliffhanger ... you'll be hooked. After reading this quirky, challenging trade, I can say without a doubt: Viva le Manhunter! Here's wishing this series a long and successful life.
Kate Spencer, who cameos in Identity Crisis #5, is a federal prosecutor tired of the revolving door on the DCU's prison system. When a convicted Copperhead escapes custody, she decides to go after him, stealing weapons and armor from federal lock-up. Her actions bring her to the attention of the Shadow Thief and, after Shadow Thief kills Firestorm in Identity Crisis, the JLA. Meanwhile, Kate blackmails a reformed crook to help upkeep her weapons, and deals with a custody battle over her young son.
I don't think I spoil too much when I state one of the driving concepts of this story: Kate kills. And this has the danger, perhaps, to make for a short-lived, or at least one-note, series: Kate kills, and we all know killing is wrong, so at some point Kate will have to learn the error of her ways. From there, perhaps, she reforms, dons a cape, and becomes like every other super-hero out there. But if we agree that no writer creates a character with the intention of making them boring, and if we also agree that the strength of Mark Andreyko's writing is such that it's obvious he knows what he's doing, then we have another possibility: Kate never learns, and keeps on killing.
In this, we find the delightfully disturbing charm of Manhunter: we like Kate, despite all her flaws--or perhaps because she handles all her flaws with such sarcastic aplomb--and to an extent, we like her violence--even though we know it's wrong, and even though we know there's a better way. Kate is not Superman, nor is she even Batman--a point well-made through the trade's dream sequence--and yet we instinctively know that she has a place in the DC Universe, even though we already have a Superman, and even though we already have a Batman. That Kate should fit so well despite her flaws and despite her "wrongness" is concerning--it speaks to a vacuum in the DC Universe that this too-short trade (and at five issues, it leaves you very much hungry for more)--but also makes the series that much more compelling.
Wonder Woman killed Maxwell Lord while he held Superman in thrall, an act that seems much more justified--and yet has earned Wonder Woman more flak--than any of Manhunter's attempted murders. Guy Gardner killed Major Force back in 1995, as Force threatened to go after Gardner and Kyle Rayner's families. The differences in both these cases, perhaps, is that Wonder Woman and Guy Gardner killed their enemies in battle, under arguably direct threat; Manhunter goes after villains when they might otherwise leave her personally alone. Additionally, for Wonder Woman and Gardner the killings were one-time, special actions, whereas Manhunter makes killing her goal. While Kate could therefore argue that her actions aren't unprecedented, the length to which she takes them likely is. For this trade, at least, Manhunter remains mostly under the JLA's radar; should they notice her, however, we can guess from similar situations that they'll immediately be trying to stop her. This also creates an interesting, ambiguous situation, as the JLA sides with their enemies against the "hero" Manhunter. As hero/villain relationships change in Identity Crisis, JLA: Crisis of Conscience and elsewhere, I'd be eager to see this play out.
Humor does a large part to drive this trade. I especially liked the exchange between Kate and her "sidekick" Dylan (My favorite line: "... A federal prosecutor is gonna blackmail a protected witness into re-breaking the law?"). There's also a great amount of tripping-and-falling, literally, that Kate does in her first nights on the job, both endearing us to the character and cementing the more realistic tone. Jesus Saiz pencils clear, fast, moody action sequences, but seems to shift easily to Pete Woods-type dialogue sequences. I look forward to seeing more of his work when I read The OMAC Project trade.
So read Manhunter, and then start a campaign--from what I understand, they need you (yes, you!) if there's going to be a second trade produced. Me, I'm on to a big ol' Legion-Titans-Outsiders-present-future-Identity-Infinite smorgasbord--maybe we'll see reviews before the beginning of next year, maybe not. But what we will see--BIG ANNOUNCEMENT TIME--is the 2005 Collected Editions Trade Paperback Year in Review. It's new, it's big, it's coming soon, so whatever you do, watch this space!