Manhunter really wishes you'd start something

Moments after the jury voted to acquit, Kate Spencer broke into a Los Angeles evidence locker. She stole herself a costume and some weapons and hit the streets. By issue end, she had killed the criminal she failed to convict. And so was born Manhunter.

And so was captured my attention.

I confess: I picked up the first issue of MANHUNTER purely because I loved Jae Lee’s art and I found the cover therefore irresistible. However, from nearly that first jump, I knew I had made the right choice. Marc Andreyko’s scripts combined crackling dialogue with a strong instinct for knowing when to let the action talk instead. Jesus Saiz, the book’s first artist, proved more than capable of delivering spectacle without slacking when words took center stage. The book was smart, witty, dark without being maudlin, and well-realized. I had found myself a new favorite DC book right there and then.

Moreover, I loved Kate as Manhunter dead away. She felt lived-in the way only the best characters feel and she felt that way in the first 24 pages.

So, yes, I’m biased when I make this request to bring Manhunter back some 13 plus years later. However, I think by essay’s end you will agree that my request is sensible.

DC, the time has come to return the Kate Spencer Manhunter to the DC Universe.

Manhunter stalks the most dangerous game
Courtesy of Comic Vine

Manhunter is a Woman

It is probably gauche to state the above so blatantly, but I don’t see much point to being vague about it. Last month, DC published 7 solo titles with female leads, although several of them double ship. Add to that three team books that are populated predominantly to completely with women. So that’s 10 books roughly every four weeks or about 2.5 books a week. On average, DC publishes about 20 books a week. Based on those statistics, about 12.5% of the books they publish feature either a solo woman or teams in which at least a  majority of members are women.

But DC could certainly use a few more.

Another issue with the women in the DCU involves the fact that many of them are connected to existing male heroes: SUPERgirl, BATwoman, BATgirl, and so. While all these are great characters, that they share a name with an existing hero creates a natural hierarchy, one that places the women below the marquee man.

While Spencer is/would be a legacy character—there have been three male Manhunters before her. Still, none of them are currently active. Additionally, most of the previous Manhunters were cult favorites at most. Thus, there is no giant shadow to work under. A new Manhunter, in other words, does not immediately seem to be playing second fiddle to a man.

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More Importantly, Manhunter Is A Unique Woman

Within the DC Universe, Manhunter’s commitment to violent justice makes her a hero apart.

For one thing, she is unquestionably a hero. In the DCU, there tends to be two kinds of female characters who will kill in the name of doing good. One group is reformed villains; the other consists of villains who are just doing something for a change of pace. The former group currently includes the likes of Catwoman or Silencer; the latter, Talia Al Ghul. Spencer, on the other hand, is never portrayed as anything but a hero. She views herself to be a “good guy” for sure, but the gaze of the book feels the same.

The closest character I can come up with that occupies similar ground in the universe is the pre-new 52 Huntress. Helena Bertinelli struggled with her violent tendencies for years, especially during the late-90s through mid-2000s. She consistently had the role of Bat-family black sheep, the one Batman labeled the problem child. However, the struggle for her was against becoming a killer vigilante. Meanwhile, for Spencer, the “journey” is inverted. She started as a killer vigilante, but will she move towards a more traditional DC vigilante? Can she? Does she even have any interest in doing so?

 

Manhunter battles Copperhead
Courtesy of DC Comics

Manhunter is Professionally Complicated

Manhunter’s professional complications are one of the delights you notice almost immediately in her debut issue. She is a prosecutor who spends her days dedicated the law. She shows no signs of being corrupt. There is no evidence of her cutting corners or ignoring evidence just to score a conviction. All indications point to her being good, driven, and playing by the rules.

For years, clearly, she has seen people she knew—or at least believed—to be guilty evade the law. It may have been one a year. Five. Ten. We don’t know. All we do know for sure is that Copperhead becomes a breaking point. It may have been his crime. It may just be that he ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back. Either way, Spencer could no longer ignore her desire for street justice and found a way to get it.

What is fascinating is that, in the daytime public, Spencer does not seem to change. She remains a good prosecutor who does not manipulate the law. She continues to uphold her oaths and play cases straight up.

And yet at night she continues to don a red and black suit and claws, carry a power staff, and tangle with criminals. She works outside the law to deliver punishment to those that deserve it. The daytime oaths and rules fall away and her tools become her body and her weapons.

Moreover, even as her life grows more complicated and out of her control, she maintains those separate spaces. Daytime Spencer plays by the rules and never cheats. Nighttime Manhunter violates any law she sees fit to achieve her goals.

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Manhunter is Also Personally Complicated

If you ever glance at a list of hot takes since, say, 1981, you may notice some topics repeat. One of the favorite of “big thinkers” is “Can Women Have It All?” These pieces ponder whether women can have families and careers. Is it a good idea? Should they be allowed to?

Sometimes you get really lucky and they throw in other things like: Can moms can be sexy? Can career women can be sexy? Can stay-at-home moms and career women moms exist in the same space without murdering each other? Should we allow them to murder each other? And so on. You get the idea.

Well, Manhunter lives those think pieces day in and day out. She demonstrates why those hot takes are so woeful. Kate Spencer’s life is complicated. Some days, she can have it all. She excels in the court room. Dinner is nutritious and delicious, and her son says please and thank you throughout the meal. He loves his bedtime story and doesn’t fight sleep. The babysitter shows up, so she goes out, has a decent date, and finishes the night off by cracking some skulls.

Other times, it seems she can’t have anything. Her case falls apart. Her son wants ice cream for dinner and screams when he can’t have it. The babysitter cancels at the last minute. The date paws at her awkwardly and won’t stop talking about his boat. She ends the night with sternum bruised by Major Force and she totally sneaks in a cigarette.

In other words, her life is alive and messy, which makes it relatable for nearly every reader.

Manhunter: Fun Times with Wonder Woman
Courtesy of Comic Vine

Manhunter Boasts A Complex Supporting Cast

Additionally, she has lots of messy relationships with others. Her “sidekick”—such as he is—is a former henchman whom she blackmailed into helping her. But he might be reforming thanks to her. And crushing on her huge.

Her ex-husband is a pain in the way exes are. But he is also a decent guy whom she has lingering feels for and vice versa. Plus, he is an excellent dad.

Also, she turns out to be related to Golden Age heroes Iron Munro and the Phantom Lady.

Complex. Messy. Interesting.

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Manhunter Opens Up the DCU

Way back when she was introduced, Manhunter proved to be a kind catalog of DC’s past. She wore the suit of the defunct Darkstars, an intergalactic peacekeeping force. Think Green Lanterns, the b-team. Her gauntlets and claws came courtesy of Azrael during his time as Batman. Her staff was property of a previous Manhunter.

However, in the current DCU, much of this history has yet to be discovered. That makes Manhunter a way to introduce these historical elements to the universe.

First, we can look to her grandparents. They represent a bridge to the birth of superheroes in the DCU as well of the creation of the genre in our world. This does not demand that DC fully go back and revisit those tales. Instead, that connection gives the universe a richness it lacks in comparison to its earliest incarnations and reasserts DC’s role as the original superhero universe. In other words, DC can have it both ways: their marquee heroes remain young and vibrant but they can still claim the company’s long and storied history.

Each of Manhunter’s items tells the tale of the five years we missed as readers when the universe relaunched. Scott Snyder utilized that dead space to give us BATMAN: YEAR ZERO. Tom King crafted a new tale that showed Riddler and Joker clashing and the all-new, all-soul crushing origin of Kite-Man. There are storytelling opportunities in those five-years, and Manhunter is an excellent way to mine them.

Manhunter- The Last Time We Saw Her
Courtesy of DC Comics

My Closing Statement

Kate Spencer is smart, sarcastic, big-hearted, cynical, overworked, and so much more. Manhunter is learning, dangerous, ruthless, do-gooding, and a whole lot beyond that. There should always be a place in any comic book universe for a character that intriguing, that complex, that honest.

Manhunter helps DC introduce another unique complex woman to their universe, never a bad thing in comics. Additionally, she opens up all kinds of avenues to explore the DCU’s largely undocumented history. That introduces the kind of depth and shading that long-time fans love and new fans pour over by.

Finally, as hinted above, she arrives with an interesting supporting cast and interesting locales ready made. Henchmen-turned-federal witnesses-turned-blackmailed sidekicks. Golden Age superhero grandparents. Assistant DAs covering for their boss while knowing—and worrying—that something big has changed.

So, DC, I’m not here to make demands. I’m not making ultimatums. I won’t pretend I’ll stop reading your books if you don’t bring Kate Spencer back. I’m just asking. To paraphrase a Cameron Crowe movie, help me help you. Let me convince you to make your universe a more complex, dynamic, and interesting place.

Bring back Kate Spencer. Bring back Manhunter.

 

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