Review: Manhunter: Forgotten trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The final collection of the Manhunter ongoing series, Manhunter: Forgotten, provides an interesting snapshot of this series as a whole. Forgotten is not the best collection of this series by far, but the story within is one that writer Marc Andreyko presented when the title has already been almost cancelled twice and was on limited reprieve. As such, it's far more self-contained than the Manhunter volumes so far, and knowingly spotlights the best (and worst, which are often even better) attributes of the characters.

Andreyko caps the final current story here (leaving aside the two-part epilogue set in the future) with the two best aspects of the Manhunter series. First, Manhunter Kate Spencer offers a remarkable closing statement in the trial of a drug company that's been experimenting on kidnapped women, and I appreciated this ending much more than Andreyko's other endings to Manhunter when it faced cancellation before. Previously, Andreyko's endings focused on Kate's relationships with her friends, in whom she inspires a fierce loyalty despite (or perhaps because) of how curmudgeonly Kate is; it's sweet, but the closing statement gets more to the core of Kate's power, and the power of the series -- even as Kate prosecutes this drug company, Andreyko flashes to all the lives in the DC Universe affected by the company, from the villain Bane's Venom drug to the hero Speedy's HIV medicine. It's a "shades of gray" moment -- the drug company does bad, but also good -- that hits just the right morally complicated note to end this book.

Second, Andreyko brings Kate home to where her young son Ramsey has just discovered burgeoning super-powers -- and Kate proceeds to ignore him. At times, I've lamented that Andreyko has made Kate too "good," especially post-Infinite Crisis -- when we started this series, Kate was a chain smoking, negligent mother on the outs with her ex-husband; that Kate subsequently miscarried a new baby during a fight with a super-villain but harbored no jealousy of her ex-husband's new wife's baby, and even gave up smoking, seemed too far removed from the self-destructive behavior that originally made Kate so engaging. I don't by any stretch advocate ignoring children, but I liked this final hint from Andreyko that Kate wasn't 100% redeemed; DC Comics is filled with heroes who by popular pressure can hardly say a cross word, and it's these aspects that made Manhunter unique.

Forgotten includes a bunch of guest stars, and the sense they give of Manhunter finally finding her place in the DC Universe is both welcome and strange given the end of this series. Blue Beetle, star of a forthright teen superhero book, might seem an odd match for Manhunter, but both are "non-traditional" characters in the historically white male DC Universe, and both represented a new beginning in the Identity Crisis/Infinite Crisis era; I was glad for them to meet (and for Andreyko to use some of Beetle's supporting cast, too) before each series was cancelled. The "both sides of the law" Suicide Squad is a natural pairing with Manhunter and firmly places her in the Checkmate/Outsiders/Suicide Squad camp (my favorite corner of the DCU); I would have been curious, had Manhunter continued, to see how the Manhunter/DEO Director Bones/Amanda Waller triangle had worked out. Finally, Andreyko repays Birds of Prey's use of Kate with a cameo; amazingly, the formerly-violent Huntress comes off as tame here compared to Manhunter, and Ray Tate at Comic Bulletin's Silver Soapbox makes a good point that pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Huntress and Manhunter actually had quite a bit in common character-wise.

Though Forgotten is relatively self-contained as compared to previous Manhunter volumes (each of which suffered from endings right in the middle of arcs), the book's cancellation leaves many plotlines up in the air, which casual comics readers might find offputting. I very much appreciate the richness of the supporting characters with which Andreyko populates this book, but the title's fits and starts obviously took its toll; former Manhunter Mark Shaw reappears midway through this book having left and returned previously in an unresolved story about the Azrael cult of St. Dumas. Kate's assistant Dylan Battles arrives in Gotham City to face down the Joker, of all people, only to have the series end; Andreyko offers a bit of controversy when fan-favorite Cameron Chase considers aborting she and Dylan's baby, but this too remains unresolved. Manhunter stories continue as a back-up to Paul Dini's Streets of Gotham, and I'd be eager to see some or all of this to be addressed there.

Andreyko ends, as I mentioned, with a two-part story set in the future. In a note, he describes the story as more carefree than normal Manhunter fare, but as ending on one of the book's central themes, the mother-son relationship between Kate and Ramsey. In comparison to Kate's ignoring Ramsey in the past, the story obviously speaks well for Kate's future, in addition to the new, stable relationship we find Kate in. I felt these issues lacked a bit of the punch of the present ending (in addition to a rotating art team that made it difficult at times to see who was doing what), but I enjoyed that Andreyko referenced Sweeny Todd, one of Manhunter's first villains, and as such it's a fair ending to a book that's faced this same cancellation scenario one too many times.

[Contains full covers, character bios]

Manhunter was a welcome addition to the DC line and I'm sorry to see it go, but obviously all the false endings affected the book, and its cancellation is probably for the best. I'm looking forward to the collection of the Manhunter co-feature, and I'll be curious to see how it's similar or different from the ongoing series.

Thanks for reading!
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1 comment:

  1. I have just finished reading all the Manhunter trades and I loved them and want to thank you for doing your reviews that convinced me to get street justice, and eventually splurging on the other Manhunter trades. My one and only problem is the last two issues that although decent didn’t cap the run as well as they could have, and I feel it’s unfair that Marc wasn’t given a chance to wrap up his Manhunter story in more than two issues because this run is so much better than some comics that get dragged out because of who’s in it. Overall after finishing Manhunter it left me wanting more witch is a credit to the writer and the artist(s) whose work is superb, so it was disappointing to find that the trade that consisted of Kate’s adventures in Batman: streets of Gotham had been cancelled due to low pre orders.

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