Words: Marc Andreyko
Images: Jesus Saiz
Issue Number: 1-5
Format: Trade Paperback
I am a little late to the Manhunter party. And for those of you familiar with the Manhunter mythos I am talking about Kate Spenser. For those of you who aren't familiar with the name let me just say that the D.C. universe had more Manhunter's then it knew what to do with.
I want to get one thing out there. Manhunter is not perfect. I have read criticisms by others about both the character, her body type and the art work are not the step forward people present it as. Curled Up With a Good Book summarizes the criticisms well especially about how the main character is still overtly sexualized through out the series. And while I do agree with the reviewer from Curled Up With a Good Book that Manhunter is not a perfect feminist character, I do still think she is a step forward.
Her costume is functional and while tight is not overtly sexualized in design. There are no short skirts, there are no boob windows. There are no painfully high heels. Beyond what she wears both Kate Spenser and Manhunter have actual depth to them and actual flaws that they develop and grow beyond. By day she’s a high powered prosecution attorney fed up defendants escaping justice on technicalities. She is driven. She is assertive. She is failing horribly to balance her life. She deals with the realistic pressures of trying to be a good mother and trying to be a professional working woman. And I like that she does not get everything perfect. There is this very fine balance between making a developed female character who is someone I can relate to and starting to break down and disempowering female characters. I felt that Marc Andreyko balanced her fairly well.
There is some great witty banter in the comic that directly pokes at some of the depictions of other women in the D.C. universe. Especially in terms of how impractical a lot of the female costumes can be for running and fighting.
Also it features back ground LGBTQ characters in a fairly positive (for the most part) and friendly way. Kate’s assistant while a little stereotypical (at points) and not as developed as Kate eventually ends up in a relationship with another D.C. character. I like that it is a happy, healthy and functional relationship. I like that some of the issues around family and their lack of understanding are touched on. It is by far one of the more realistic portrayals of a gay male relationship that I have read in comics.
This series was also my introduction really to the Department of Extranormal Operations. I am not entirely sure why but I adore the DEO. This is odd because I typically end up disliking the government organizations whose goal is to monitor, control and contain. At times there is some great interactions between the department head Bones and Kate especially in terms of race. Bones (if it wasn’t for his skin and organs being translucent) would be a person of colour. Kate at times tries to use that to pressure Bones into helping her dig into areas that he has clearly ordered her to stay well away from. The play out of a liberal white woman essentially bullying someone of colour to get her way in terms of creating what she thinks should be social change for people of colour (and the consequences) are interesting. Personally I found it slightly reflective of second wave feminisms and some branches of feminism that have come out of that where feminists of power and feminists of privilege try to force their values inappropriately. Like most of the social issues touched on in Manhunter it is very briefly done and it is not perfectly executed but I am pleased to see these conversations start to appear. I am hopeful that we will continue to see more of them.
As a generic comic reader one of the biggest issues that I had with Manhunter was the pacing. In some cases I found that there were huge gaps of time in between the story lines of each trade paper back. During these gaps there are some pretty big shifts and changes. If you are going to pick up the trades keep that in mind going into the story. Manhunter was cancelled by DC in 2006 and issue 2) was supposed to be the end of her run. Due to fan pressure D.C. pushed that back to issue 30 (end of vol. 4). I get the impression that volume 5 of the graphic novel is mostly wrapping up a lot of extra loose ends. It is mostly a look at the characters in the distant future with her son’s graduation. While I was glad to have more things resolved I just felt that it was rushed. I am a little sad that we did not get to slowly explore the stories that got them to that point. However, I am pleased to see that Manhunter will be appearing in some of the post relaunch teams.
I found the strongest volumes to be the first trade and the fourth. I have to admit my love of the fourth may be how heavily it featured Wonder Woman and some outside D.C. storylines that I am familiar with. I probably would not suggest Manhunter as a D.C. starting point. While not essential having back ground knowledge of what is going on in the D.C. universe is helpful. Certainly to get the most out of Volume 4 I would suggest having already read Infinite Crisis
If you are familiar with D.C. and want some stronger female leads then I suggest Manhunter may be a good addition to your collection. Overall I will be keeping my eyes open for this author’s future works.