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Manhunter: Street Justice TPB

Manhunter #1–5 by Marc Andreyko and Jesus Saiz

I just don’t just buy Marvel trades, honest; I know that the last week of posts (and previous posts about trades) might suggest otherwise, but I’m not a Marvel zombie. I have a Marvel tendency because of growing up reading Chris Claremont’s The Uncanny X-Men – my affections will always be influenced by first impressions. But I do read a wide variety of different publishers.

Today’s entry is the result of a recent half-price sale of collections from Gosh! (the greatest comic shop in the world) – there’s nothing like money off to tempt me to try something out. In fact, I’d previously tried to acquire this to read via my local library’s reservation system, but it seemed that the only copy in London had either disappeared or been destroyed, because they couldn’t get it for me. C’est la vie.

I’d been trying to get this book because the comic book blogosphere had mentioned the quality of the series, usually an indicator of at least a good read. Also, the concept of a non-superpowered woman as the lead character in an ongoing series, who is a novel creation (albeit using the name of a DC franchise) in the DC universe sounds very interesting.

Kate Spencer is a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles who loses a murder trial against Copperhead, a meta-villain, on the grounds of his suffering from a ‘genetic anomaly’, so she decides to take a power-enhancing suit and a power rod of some sort from the special evidence room and dispense justice for herself. The stories are quite realistic and brutal – Copperhead kills and eats his victims, and Kate kills Copperhead after he escapes from custody. And there is a point to the story: in a world where villains keep getting away with murder and escaping from prisons to commit the same atrocities again and again, where does it end? I like the idea, I like the setting and I like the choice of using Kate as the protagonist.

The main draw to the book is the character of Kate, because she’s a real person – she is divorced, has a son she doesn’t see enough, smokes too many cigarettes and who is dedicated to her job (perhaps to the detriment of her outside life). She is a fully realised woman with flaws and attitude and troubles. However, for me, the balance between character flaws and being an annoyance is a very fine one, one that this book veers into the latter. I don’t like Kate, and I don’t want to read stories about her. I enjoyed the scenario that Andreyko is building up for the character, with the introduction of Dylan, the former ‘most sought-after “go-to” tech guy for psychotic killers’ who went into witness protection but now acts as Kate’s technical advisor. The fact that the story was set in LA was also a draw: a DC book set in a real city, away from the main fictional cities of the other heroes, is definitely a unique selling point. But Kate just irked me, so much so that I don’t care about her presumed journey towards being a better person.

The other main draw is the art of Saiz – he’s really good, without being unduly flashy. Kate looks like a real woman, even when she’s wearing the suit; there’s no cheesecake, and there’s a grounded realism to the artwork, which means that it can live in the real world of LA but not lose the atmosphere when superheroes and supervillains appear for the dynamic action.

I can see why this book had its fans – it’s very good and different and interesting – but I’m not really bothered to read any more (which is seemingly something that happened to the low-selling series itself when it was cancelled, twice). Sorry, Manhunter.

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