Monday, January 26, 2009

Manhunter #38

Federal prosecutor Kate Spencer has seen enough guilty men walk free on technicalities to fill a bus two miles long. When one particularly unsettling villain enjoys the same treatment, skipping out on a mass murder conviction and celebrating by slaughtering a pair of prison guards, Kate decides she's finally seen enough. Using equipment “borrowed” from an evidence room, she tracks and kills the man, inadvertently launching her own career as the costumed Manhunter along the way.

Sadly, this month marks the final issue of this third Manhunter series at DC. Though the title had dodged two previous threats of cancellation, low sales number have finally caught up with Kate and her friends. To his credit, writer Marc Andreyko doesn't allow the issue to read like an epilogue. It's business as usual for Kate, her ex-husband, their son and the bad guys out on the street, and the story casually cruises along without any real sense of urgency.

Andreyko's goal seems to be a balance between the insignificant drama of Kate's personal life and the sudden physicality of the hours she spends in-costume. And, so long as her two lives are kept isolated from one another, that works just fine. It's only when they begin to intertwine this month that the story loses its focus. The dry humor and casual indecision shared by her supporting cast may be charming over dinner, but when a pair of super villains literally crash into her son's graduation party, I'd expect a different set of emotions. Instead, the guests confront the intruders with bad puns and false bravado while Kate changes into her Manhunter costume. What's the point in wearing a costume when every spectator will be able to recognize you? Why is granny squaring off with that bad guy? Why doesn't the FedEx truck parked in the fountain disturb anyone? I have no idea, and the plot isn't exactly forthcoming with explanations.

Michael Gaydos, Dennis Calero and Fernando Blanco each have a hand in the artwork this month. Gaydos, who's been the book's primary artist since its return from hiatus, handles the first half of the issue and showcases a strong familiarity with its cast. If you're aware of his contributions to Marvel's Alias or The Pulse, it should be easy to imagine what his interiors look like in Manhunter. His style includes a lot of rough, jagged edges, an armload of shadows and an amazingly light touch. Although his lines are selectively limited, his work is never lacking in detail or realism. He's one of the few artists who can deliver near-photorealism without drowning the page in ink. Gaydos's characters look human and wear their emotions on their sleeve, whether they're scuffling in an alleyway or chatting on the phone at 6:30 in the morning.

When the other artists climb into the picture, the drop in quality is both harsh and swift. Calero tries to emulate the style that Gaydos has brought to the series, but his approach is too sterile and vacant. Although he doesn't make the same attempt to shift his artwork to match his big-name contemporary, Blanco's pages don't fare much better. Next to the moody, dark-veiled efforts of the other artists, his more expressive, cartoonish efforts are a huge mismatch.

I can see why this series is being cancelled. While the concept of an angry Fed hunting the guilty with a suit of armor may sound serious, Manhunter never offers more depth than an episode of a bad ‘80s sitcom. While Michael Gaydos contributes artwork that's best suited to a somber tone, Marc Andreyko is writing a story that's more goofy than gritty. This is a weird blend of styles, flavors and directions, and while sometimes great things can come from unexpected combinations, Manhunter completely misses the boat. Skip it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 2

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