Review: Manhunter: Unleashed trade paperback (DC Comics)

Friday, April 25, 2008

[Contains spoilers for Manhunter: Unleashed]

Manhunter: Unleased offers a more comprehensive story than that of the looser preceeding volume, Manhunter: Origins, as attorney Kate Spencer must defend Wonder Woman from new charges regarding her killing of Maxwell Lord. This is an intriguing premise, and I enjoyed this straightforward superhero law drama far more than Kate's previous DEO-mandated defense of Dr. Psycho. Though the direction of the story isn't always clear--likely due to behind-the-scenes editorial issues--there are any of a number of great moments in this newest collection of the award-winning series.

In the course of Unleased, Kate Spencer meets DC Comic's Big Three, and I enjoyed writer Marc Andreyko's continued placing of Kate squarely in the middle of the DC Universe. In a way, Kate represents aspects of all three of the heroes: she calls on Superman, the heart of the DCU, to bail out Wonder Woman when the Amazon won't sacrifice Superman to save herself; similarly, Kate's intimidating methods often rival the Dark Knight's own. But one of the best parts of this story was Wonder Woman's immediate acceptance of Manhunter--I don't necessarily accept the comparison that Wonder Woman's killing of Maxwell Lord (to immediately save Superman) is like Manhunter's murder of Copperhead (as he's escaping), but the new friendship between these characters, after all the animosity of the pre-Infinite Crisis era, is nice to see.

Let me spoil this story by saying it turns out Circe is the main bad guy--though whether Circe is behind the renewed prosecution of Wonder Woman, or just behind the surprise appearance by a Blue Beetle look-alike, is never quite clear. Indeed, there's a cut scene about half-way through this trade where a shadowy villain--who's not Circe--swears to take revenge on Wonder Woman for her murder of Maxwell Lord. What's going on here is not clear, unless the stilted post-Infinite Crisis restart of Wonder Woman ultimately required a change in the culprit half-way through. Maybe this will play out later in the Wonder Woman title, but I wish we'd had more of a sense of the conclusion here in Manhunter.

Over the course of Unleashed, Andreyko sends the rest of the Manhunter supporting cast--Cameron Chase, Dylan Battles, and Manhunter Mark Shaw--out on separate adventures. I'm not familiar enough with the Chase story to really get the full weight of Cameron facing off against the Trapp villain that killed her father, though I imagine Chase fans enjoyed seeing her back in Gotham City. Even better, however, was the suggestion that Mark Shaw might become the new Azrael, even perhaps taking on Jean Paul Valley's old costume. I didn't realize until now how much Manhunter lore writer Dennis O'Neill put into the Azrael series, but with all the connections Andreyko is making, I may vey well have to go back and read those books again.

Unleashed ends on a high note, with Kate's friends and family gathered to celebrate her courtroom victory. It's a strangely happy moment in a book with such a hard-luck hero, and as with the end of Manhunter: Trial by Fire, I feel good for Kate even as I know that any coming misfortune will just make for interesting reading later on. Manhunter is a strange book--as dark as Checkmate and others, but with a cast that seems to love and enjoy one another more than in any other comic book out there. It makes for great but sometimes disarming reading--we enjoy the good times even as we long for the controversy that the bad times will bring.

Manhunter remains a great, challenging comic book, and I encourage again all the Collected Editions readers to give it a try. And let me not forget to mention the fantastic art by Javier Pina throughout the first four volumes; he draws not only the definitive Kate Spencer, but also a beautiful, realistic Wonder Woman in this trade.

[Contains full covers.]

Thought we might delve back into Superman pretty soon, but before we get there, how 'bout a couple volumes of Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus?
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