Monday, May 7, 2007

manhunter 2

DC Comics
Writer: Marc Andreyko
Pencils: Jesus Saiz
Inks: Jimmy Palmiotti
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Letters: Phil Balsman
Editor: Joan Hilty

While issue one opened with two unknown cops, issue two opens with the far more famous Batman's rouges gallery, Joker, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Scarecrow, Zsasz, and Two-Face causing much carnage. Nothing in the 1st issue suggests a Batman appearance, but he is all tied up and about to be opened up like a "pinata." Joker, as he is oft to do, has a killer line when he wonders aloud "What sort of candy do you think will spill put?" as he attempts to open Batman's secrets with a scalpel. Yet another comic book convention is upheld, right before Batman is 'sliced and diced', he is saved by Manhunter. Only Andreyko shows how Kate Spenser is not beholden to normal comic book conventions as she proceeds to slaughter Batman's foils, riding comicdom of them is 5 simple panels, far quicker than they are even able to escape Arkham.

Batman then becomes the moral conscious of DC comics (quite funny what with the downward moral spiral he was on prior to OYL) by attacking Manhunter and stating what it means to be a hero by nearly giving the verbatim premise of DC heroism: "What makes you think you're any different from those beasts you murdered? Who gave you the right to take a life? At least these villains acknowledge their bloodlust and don't pretend to play hero!" Again here Andreyko plays with the notion of being a hero. He has the most visible DC hero (yet one that is all but an urban legend in his books at the time - DC often times has a far too schizophrenic relationship to Batman wanting to pigeon hole him into a specific role, thanks Frank Miller, wasting much of his potential. But this is a story for another day...) 'teach' her that her way is not the way DC heroes act - that he will not allow a Punisher style hero to pollute the pool. To this Manhunter can only respond by saying: "B-but I'm a good guy -- I'm --." We see Spenser react to the admonishment rather than Manhunter in the same way she questioned the need to steal the Manhunter gear in issue one.

While this four page scene is quite gripping, though the art is not nearly as clean as it was in the 1st issue. In fact muddled would be a good descriptor. The next page pulls the stage curtain away as the reader realizes that s/he just sat through an eye-opening, taunt replaying of the Dallas shower scene. It was all a dream.... But rather than fall down and worship at the alter of Batman, Spenser just wants to light her cigarette. This is a very compelling way to show her distance from the 'normal' hero. She shows how green she is by noting that she needs a place to put her costume and wondering how other heroes do it. Andreyko tries too hard to deconstruct the image of a hero here. Rather than just present Spenser as her own brand of hero, he must compare her to Black Canary: "How does Black Canary do this in Fishnets and heels?" Yet she asks this when she is wearing skimpy sleeping attire and pretty much forgoing the 'different kind of female hero' attitude expressed in the book's introduction. But the scene in question does help establish Spenser as a seriously flawed character, unfortunately only in pitting her as diametrically opposed to other DC heroes, rather than through actual character development.

I also hate to say that the rest of the book sort of takes on an auto pilot vibe. And frankly I think this is because the lack of questions about the future it generates. The 1st issue really grabbed readers with hanging plot features making them wonder what would happen next. In issue 2, this is not explored in the same fashion, and is worse off for it. What we get is an acknowledgement that Copperhead had friends, well at least one: Shadowthief (which unless you are a long time DC reader you would have no idea of who this was or exactly what his power is). And the introduction is interspersed with a media talking head, yet another comic book convention and yet another thank you to The Dark Knight, discussing Manhunter's arrival on the scene. And frankly, Shadowthief's introduction is overshadowed by the news report. And for someone that demands retribution for Copperhead's death, this is just an abysmal way of highlighting his threat. And of course since he is a villain he must hang out in a dank, musty bar. This does not play to Andreyko's strength as a writer. Spenser is interesting because of her attitude and how she is not compelled to fall into the conventions of heroism. A guy who sticks his fork in a table seems quite a lazy way of saying he is bad.

And to follow more conventions (just not comic book conventions) we are next introduced to Ramsey, Spenser's shuttled child of divorce. How many times have we seen this on TV or in the movies. I remember watching (Bad Movie Alert) Little Giants over 10 years ago and one of the kid's absentee fathers was shown as a suit wearing, briefcase carrying, running late to the big game man. He had no dialogue, but you knew instantly who and what he was. So while it is fairly new for comics, Ramsey's introduction just fell flat. Spenser's ex, and one would only know his name was Peter if they read carefully, challenges her and her work-a-holic lifestyle: "Way to show your son he's a priority, Kate. This is the fourth time you have forgotten to pick him up." So Andreyko tries to change up who the 'bad' parent is, but it just falls flat. And while we can see that Spenser cares about Ramsey in her inner monologue about killing Copperhead: "And you can't convince me what I did was wrong. Dozens of families can sleep at night," it is quite obvious she is clueless in relating to him. She is all about work, positioning their day together only in ways that she can work straight through her weekend. And even suggests it would be fun for a child in the video game era to curl up with books that she likely enjoyed when she was young, Dr. Seuss and Judy Blume. Her narcissism quite evident, but is not enough to compel the story forward and the scenes with Ramsey are as awkward to read as it is likely to witness, but compelling comics this does not make.

We next come back to Shadowthief and get some proper characterization of him. He steals into the morgue where Copperhead's body is being held. After attacking and knocking out a mortician, he peals back Copperhead's strange metal tomb and views the carcass. He remarks with disgust and obvious bloodlust for Manhunter: "Good God. What did this 'Manhunter' do to you. Let's take your fangs to remember you by... And to plunge into your killer's temple after the Shadowthief beats him to a thick, bloody paste." Andreyko captures his need for revenge quite well and the reader wants to come back to see the fight that will ensue. Add this to the cliffhanger, Ramsey finding Manhunter's Staff (nicely following up the earlier set up of Spenser's wondering were to keep her tools), and it bursting with an explosive charge in his hands, and the reader should feel compelled to return for the next issue. But with the down tracking of this script and the art seeming less fluid and clunkier from issue 1, the next issue must be good to keep most coming back.

The pacing of this issue is odd (cramming in too much perhaps), and for it to start with such an eye popping dream sequence, the rest of this issue really seems a let down. And while I took issue with the last issue's fight scene, this issue could have used more action. And since this was by and large an issue to advance plot the reader should have a better clue where the story is going. Spenser's inner dialogue also dominated and while we did find out quite a bit about her, it was mostly once again from her being different than others, not simple strong characterization that the series is known for.

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