Friday, May 11, 2007

manhunter 5

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

The JLA. What. Are. They. Doing. In. This. Issue???

I can not blame Andreyko on this one, as it has all the look of editorial interference, but still it bugs the crap out of me. Yet after seeing the sales for JLA titles, I presume a little Martian Manhunter is bound to help sales, but it just felt inorganic. That said, the introduction of the JLA was very inspired.

Issue 5 opens quite nicely, with Manhunter training on an old movie set with Dylan made robots. That her 'danger room' is an old movie set is quite a nice nod to this book taking place in Los Angeles. We get 6 pages of action from the start. And while last issue seemed to set up a block of stories, we do not lose this element even though we see Manhunter kick robot ass. The self referential nature of her fighting a male Cheetah is both quite humorous and over the top. While fighting this oddly sexed robot, Manhunter - without any irony, i might add - thinks "The Cheetah? Thought she was a, well, a she. Hard to keep up with all the gender switching in the villain community." And yet two pages later she faces off with a Mark Shaw era Manhunter doppelganger. Now, I enjoyed the laugh, but it makes Spenser come off as someone who can see no further than herself to not see the problem with her sentiment.

The scene really works though, as it refers to her previous adventures, as it looks like she is falling off a roof again, Manhunter thinks "Way to stay focused, Kate. I friggin' hate getting knocked off roofs." That Andreyko pays so much attention to past actions makes this series ever more enjoyable. The series also is starting at a time where DC seems to be making a real effort to tie their world together in much the same way. And while the continuity police can be a real drag, this effort hearkens back to the comics i grew up on (and assume Andreyko did as well). Yet Andreyko really pushes his forward thinking in his writing, not just rehashing past plots/characters/wtfever as other notable creators are known to do.

Dylan and Manhunter's problematic dynamic also rears its head in this scene. The facial expression Dylan exhibits really show how much he had missed his niche. He is simply thrilled to be back in the game. And Spenser is quite happy to have his expertise guiding improvements to her equipment: "I can feel the difference. Its like a second skin. Nice." And for someone who is not seen giving anything resembling a compliment this is high praise indeed. Yet while she enjoys what Dylan can do for her, she still does not trust/like him, as we see when she sternly tells him that her "personal life is not a topic of discussion. Ever. Got it?" This is prompted when Dylan makes a crack about why she needs to put on the suit and go man hunting and tosses out a quip about her father. Hmmm, foreshadowing maybe....

We next see Spenser getting her ass handed to her by her ex. He got a temporary restraining order against her seeing Ramsey and she is less than pleased about it. And once again we see the control freak Spenser not able to control a situation. And she just seems like she is about to break. And since the Shadowthief is still out there, you don't think... Nah. But of course Round 2 is going to happen, but what would make him return to LA, as he normally stays at home in St. Rochs (DC analogue for New Orleans). Well it appears he returns to LA to be with his "only friend," who of course is not seen due to his shadows taking over. So will Manhunter have to face two villains in trying to spear Shadowthief? Well if she does, you would think she could use some help --- and enter the JLA. And really this is just sloppy storytelling. Provide a threat larger than ever - he did just kill Firestorm - and show that he has at least one person backing him up. And rather than Manhunter being able to go in for the kill and prove herself, just bring in the JLA to LA - who have not seen the city since Early in Grant Morrison's run when they fought angles (in Los Angeles, get it...). But again I can see this as an editorial mandate. And really it hurts for the reasons he is so good. It is just so unnatural and differs so much from the organic story telling that Andreyko excels at.

But, the introduction is at least written in a way that seems novel. Rather than have them crash through a window, we are given them through the perspective of a starstruck window shopper, Spenser's assistant. We find that the JLA - none of the big guns, just Hawkman, Martian Manhunter, Vixen, and the Green Lantern, here John Stewart - are in town to find Shadowthief and are letting all law enforcement personal know of their presence. And while it was an inventive way (though not much different than the idea of JLA as ambassadors in the JLI era) of highlighting the JLA, it just seems out of place for a group that has shown it has carte blanche to intervene where needed anywhere in the country. Wouldn't it be more beneficial and efficient to have Martian Manhunter contact all law enforcement telepathically and have the team out searching for Shadowthief? But then we would not get the wonderful scene of the Green Lantern saving Spenser's coffee that she drops when she sees the team walking into her office: "Don't worry. Ms. Spenser, I've got it. I know how expensive those Lattes can be." And while that is funny it just seems out of character for the JLA to be acting this way.

So as Spenser knows the JLA are after Shadowthief as well, she must find and slay him quickly. And so we see a race between her and the team to get to Shadowthief. And as this is Manhunter's book, of course she gets to him 1st, but not before adding some light hearted barbs at her city, all the while distancing herself from Batman: "Now I know why there are so few active Metahumans in LA. Everything is so damn spread out. It's not like I can swing from skyscraper to skyscraper." If she were more self conscious she could see that this might be a point where she would question her sanity. But she is on a mission and needs to find Shadowthief fast. And she does, in a cemetery. If only the book could play some ominous music to go along with yet another ridiculously predictable locations for Round 2. And even though Andreyko uses a tried a true local for this fight he is able to make it interesting by having Shadowthief re-animate Copperhead's corpse with his shadows to fight Manhunter. And with this we find that his only friend was indeed Copperhead. Yeah, he is totally balanced and stable....

And so a quick fight ensues. Manhunter is attacked with shadows entering her nose and mouth, but defends herself with a knife made of light and essentially a flash grenade. And while it looks like she is winning, she issurreptitiously knocked into a mausoleum. At which time the JLA rain down and capture him, after getting a few shots in for Firestorm. And so once again Spenser 'fails'. She was out for blood. But rather the see it as a pure failure she sees it as an opportunity to bring the end to Shadowthief "the old-fashioned way. A trial. A verdict of death." I find it interesting that she sees her day job as old-fashioned. It is like she views her Manhunter identity as the ultimate upgrade, Prosecutor 2.0.

But that is the end of the TPB. And really, as I mentioned before, Andreyko is not writing for the trade, but it is just so abrupt a closure, really a lack of one, that you are left wanting more. And maybe that is the marketing angle, to get the reader to search out the single copies or the next trade, but I find the lack of any of the story lines unsettling and pretty poor form. This of course is a criticism of DC, as i am sure Andreyko was just happy to see his book get the trade treatment. But I do not want to get to much into a discussion about the 1st five issues as a whole here. I will explore them tomorrow in a recap of the trade.

On the whole this issue has problems galore. But the 1st scene alone makes up for these. Spenser is really growing into her role of Manhunter, even if she was not able to squash Shadowthief like she wanted. And the Ramsey subplot continues to click along quite well. I just wish we had more motivation from Spenser's ex. I just had to look up his name again - Peter - which should tell you enough about how slow and poor his development is. There is so much left unresolved and so many questions about what happens next that even a misplaced JLA appearance can not take the focus off a nicely running ongoing story. In fact the pacing of the series so far makes me wonder if Andreyko has spent anytime in TV. He really brings a cinematic perspective, noir in particular, to the page.

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