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365 Reasons to Love Comics #358

You better watch out, you better not cry, or someone’ll get stabbed right through the eye…! No? How about: ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, er, just one creature was stirring, and he had a Mauser! There, that one’s a little better. Anyway, today’s Reason is about an excellent comic run I’ve discovered recently. (Archive.)

12/24/07

358. Manhunter

Manhunter 1.jpg

Back in July, I wrote a column about Walter Simonson, and mentioned I’d never read his breakthrough work, Manhunter. The man himself was gracious enough to send me a copy shortly afterward, for which I’m extremely grateful. Naturally, the comic was so good, it has ended up as a Reason.

Manhunter was a short series of back-ups by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson for Detective Comics back in the ’70s. It served as a revitalization of the Joe Simon/Jack Kirby Manhunter from the Golden Age, in which big game hunter Paul Kirk decides to hunt the most dangerous game of all– criminals. The Goodwin/Simonson version followed Paul Kirk thirty years later, having been in suspended animation since his supposed demise in the ’40s. The Council that resurrected him turns out to be evil, naturally, and they’ve got an army of Paul Kirk clones sent out to kill him.

Manhunter 2.JPGManhunter 3.JPGManhunter 4.JPG

The story was excellent, and included a variety of characters and angles, having Manhunter cross paths with Interpol agent Christine St. Clair, tracking Manhunter from target to target and diving further into the conspiracy surrounding Paul Kirk. The plot jumped about a lot with the use of different perspectives and multiple flashbacks in order to reveal the story. In the end, they all teamed up with Batman and kicked some butt, and the story reached a definitive end, back when complete, finished stories were quite a novelty. Paul Kirk proved to be a great character, fleshed out as a man who had everything taken away from him, even his own identity and death, and who seeks to gain everything back through one last manhunt.

Walt’s art was fantastic as well, and quite different from his later work. I’d say the pencils are tighter and “tougher,” in a way– more lines, more grit. The storytelling is incredibly well done, and the page layouts– my God! Dense, elaborate, and beautiful. These are super-compressed stories, fitting 20 pages of material into 8 or 9 page, cramming information into every available spot. It makes for a very nice page aesthetic, and also a brilliant lesson in story compression. The guys doing Slimline titles for Image could learn a lot from Manhunter– I know I did.

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Oh, and the coloring here is by the great Klaus Janson, if you can believe it.

The story ran through six back-ups and one feature-length tale and then came to an end, but the Manhunter legacy has continued on. The original story is available in a fine trade paperback collection, and I urge you to seek it out if you haven’t read it. The trade also includes one final Manhunter story by Goodwin and Simonson. This one was completed after Archie Goodwin passed away, so there is no dialogue, no effort to replace the wordsmith. The plot he constructed with Walt unfolds silently, and still makes for a great tale. The story, and Walt’s afterword, make a lovely tribute to the man who was Archie Goodwin.

A pair of comics professionals collaborated on a damn fine story and called it Manhunter– and it catapulted them towards greatness. Read it.

12 Comments

I’ve always wanted to read this story. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about it, but I’ve sadly never found the chance to pick it up. I will definitely have to do so.

For what it’s worth though, Andreyko’s recent (current?) Manhunter series is one of MY reasons to love comics.

I met Walt Simonson at Heroes Con in 2001, and he’s one of the nicest guys you’d ever care to meet. Manhunter is one of my favorite comics of all time.

Tho’ you’ve got to love Simonson’s run on Thor.

That was a definitive classic.

Some of the best comics ever. Two creators at peak form.

I remember reading the first reprint trade that came out almost 20 years ago. What Goodwin and Simonson did was amazing. Much like Wil Eisner’s Spirit, they distilled a story to its bare essence and got to the point in its telling. I wish a lot of the writers, artists, and editors today would pay attention and learn a lesson before they think they need several issues to tell a story.

But evern more of an impact on me was the poignancy of Manhunter’s death, and that despite the appearance of some of his clones over the years, Paul Kirk has been allowed to remain dead with no interference and convoluted revival by DC.

One of my favorite all-time characters and story lines.

I have the original Detective series plus both the tpbs. Walt is the man, and Archie was one of the greatest writers out there.
This is a definitive turning point in comics (BTW, several of those Detectives had Toth art in them)… dark and gritty, but great storytelling.
I miss me some Unca Walt. Between Thor and Orion and this… you can’t get better.

When my students ask me what MY favortie comic is, this is the one I bring in for them.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

December 26, 2007 at 5:58 pm

I’ve always wanted to read this story. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about it, but I’ve sadly never found the chance to pick it up. I will definitely have to do so.

Do it!

It’s available cheap in trade (mine cost $7AUS), and although over 30 years old, still feels fresh, exciting and new.
Also makes you wonder how decompression caught on – this is so compressed and so much better for it.

There’s a page you didn’t include from Manhunter which is probably my all time favourite comics page, ever.

It’s one where Manhunter and Christine are being chased by a jeep and Manhunter ducks under the jeep, cuts the gas tank with his knife and then lights a match at the gas and blows it up. For me, it’s the definitive demonstration of what comics can do that no other medium can do. It’s brilliant stuff. Simonson is one of my very favourite artists, but nothing in his body of work tops the incredibleness of that page.

I read the original detective run back in the day (35 years? my God.) and have the marvelous trade paperback.
An absolute high watermark for graphic story telling that has not in my humble opinion been equaled since.
If you havent read this seek it out your in for a treat.

M. Cikander Lakhany

October 19, 2013 at 7:58 am

I always say, that if there is just one comicbook series?story you want to read then make it The Manhunter storyline. It was /is the perfect story ever.

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