Saturday, November 15, 2014
Manhunter And Other Stories!
The 70's was a fertile time for American comic books. The original generation of comic creators, who had given birth to the form, and who in some cases had made a lifetime's work of the genre were beginning to retire. This paved the way for a wave of new talents, almost all of them having grown up reading comic books as opposed to the earlier generation which was reared on the classic comic strips and magazine illustrators of an earlier era. Many of these fresh talents saw comics with a somewhat less jaundiced eye than their mature and seasoned predecessors and so brought a new energy to the pages which while rough had enough evident enthusiasm to often be compelling.
Walter Simonson was in that wave of fresh talent, showing up in the early 70's at DC he first made his mark in tandem with the veteran editor and writer Archie Goodwin. Goodwin had just gotten the brief to bring a new tone to Detective Comics starring the Batman who at the time was still recovering from the creative and perception limitations imposed by the momentarily successful television show. Goodwin brought Jim Aparo aboard on the main Batman feature and teamed up with Simonson on a brand new (sort of) character in the back up position. That back up was Manhunter.
Technically of course Manhunter is a vintage Golden Age Joe Simon and Jack Kirby series from Adventure Comics. Paul Kirk was an adventurer turned crimebuster who wore a bright red costume and a fascinating blue face mask. He'd recently gotten some modern exposure in the back pages of The Forever People. Taking the concept and then infusing elements of James Bond-like espionage, Bruce Lee-like martial arts, and Hitchcockian-like intrigue, the back up quickly fascinated fans who felt something was different. It was.
Manhunter is a series with a direction and a momentum. It is a series with a fascinating beginning and a most palpable ending. This was a rare thing in a comics industry in which ongoing episodic stories were the industry standard. Whatever danger Batman or Spider-Man faced today, we were certain despite everything they faced, they'd survive and fight another day. Not so with Manhunter.
Not unlike the current series The Walking Dead, much of the fascination is that there's a real sense that things can change, for good or ill, but forever. The decision by the powers at DC to largely leave this story alone after its finale has in large part been responsible for not mitigating its initial impact. The results are what they were, and while there have been some red herrings over the years, Paul Kirk remains (to my knowledge) a hero of legend.
Now those stories have been released again, in the lovely but costly Artist's Edition series from IDW Publishing. It's all here in the glorious original, with blemishes intact, the whole heroic saga. Simonson's artwork was very pinched on the original comics page, almost so fine and wispy it disappeared in the industrial printing of its day. Here there's a chance for this art to breathe a bit more.
There are other early DC stories included in this volume (it really feels like two volumes in one). Included alongside Manhunter are stories featuring Batman, Metal Men, Dr.Fate, and Captain Fear. Despite being at original art size, that size is relatively small compared to other volumes of this type, making it surprisingly readable.
It's a fantastic addition to the library, a truly beautiful work. I've bought almost every incarnation of this story over the decades (I don't own the Excalibur reprint from 1979). I have the original stories, the Baxter reprint from the 80's, the gold-cover reprint with the silent Manhunter story from the 90's, and now this one. I'd say my long manhunt is nearly over and a very satisfying find it is too.