Manhunter #31-32

Written by Marc Andreyko
Art by Michael Gaydos
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

If there’s a book that has the proverbial nine lives, it’s Manhunter. By my count it’s been cancelled twice now due to low sales—and then saved both times at the last minute. Clearly, DC’s editorial has a lot of faith in this book. And you know what? You should too. Marc Andreyko’s new addition to the long line of characters named Manhunter is one of the smarter super-hero books on the block, and now’s the best time ever to try it out for yourself.

Kate Spencer was a federal prosecutor who was regularly brought in to go up against supervillains in court. Unable to stand watching guilty criminals go free due to vagaries of the law, she took pieces of super-powered weaponry from federal evidence lockers and became Manhunter. Now, things are distinctly more difficult. Her grandfather (and former World War II super-hero) is trying to become part of her life, even though a year ago he didn’t know she even existed. She’s raising her son Ramsey by herself. She’s working for the sometimes-dubious Department of Extranormal Operations. And young Latino women are vanishing near the Texas/Mexico border without a trace. Yes, it was definitely easier when all she had to worry about was the courtroom.

We’re two issues into the return of Manhunter, and I’ve been surprised at how much I’m enjoying this book being back on the shelves. That’s not to say that I didn’t like it in the past—it’s always been a very solid comic—but Andreyko took the hiatus to really ramp up his writing to a new level. He’s juggling a large cast of characters really easily, moving their stories and subplots forward while never making the reader feel like the main storyline is suffering as a result. More happens in just two issues of Manhunter than six issues of a lot of other comics, and I must say it’s a lot more clever to boot. The current story has placed Kate along the southern border near Juarez, so Andreyko has used the new Blue Beetle as a guest-star since he’s based out of the immediate area. At the same time, though, he’s able to add in bits of dialogue and recognition that they’re both legacy heroes (with a long line of both Manhunters and Blue Beetles that came before). Even better, he’s also used bits of back story about Kate’s armor being from the former Darkstar space police force to add an additional connection between her and Blue Beetle’s alien armor. It’s an attention to detail, it’s a smart way of thinking about the smaller pieces of the story, and best of all it’s laid out in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s dumping exposition on the new reader and it all comes across very smoothly. And with tensions over United States/Mexico border crossings at an all-time high these days, a story situated in that region is a smart move, the perfect location for where women could go missing and the news wouldn’t pick it up in the slightest.

I can’t remember when I’ve seen Gaydos’s art since the end of Alias, but it is nice to see him back. What I appreciate the most in Gaydos’s art is how well he’s able to lay out his drawings. The latest issue opens with a splash of Manhunter being confronted by Blue Beetle—but the only part of Blue Beetle that we actually see is the outline of his hands, framing Manhunter’s body between them. It’s a great opening page; with just the glowing hands on either side of Kate, you get a real sense of menace as well as seeing her look fairly helpless from his perspective. It sets up the scene without having to actually put both of them on the page, and does so in a way that makes it feel threatening. That skill goes throughout Manhunter, with characters moving and flowing from panel to panel, feeling and looking extremely natural and realistic. You can almost see the motion of a character fumbling for her gun, or hammering on the glass of the car door as they’re attacked. It makes Manhunter feel that much more believable, a great match for Andreyko’s writing.

I suppose it’s too much to hope that a book that slipped below the normal sales threshold twice will survive a third time, but this is a really great book that deserves more readers. The first two pages of Manhunter #31 bring you up to speed on everything you need to know about the characters. It’s got great writing and art. And if you really feel like you’d be lost without it, all previous 30 issues are even collected into four volumes. In a market that generally doesn’t support new characters (even as readers complain that we don’t get any), Manhunter is a book I want to succeed. I bet if you read it, you will want it to as well. Come on, check it out. I bet you’ll be really happy with what you find.

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