Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Back Issue Box: First Issue Special #5

 I was riding high on the Event Leviathan wave when the world turned.

Whether it was the pause in comic production because of COVID or the regime change at DC which led to a massive decrease in editors, the Event Leviathan:Checkmate mini-series that was supposed to come out this summer has been delayed ... hopefully not shelved.

I have heard interviews with Brian Michael Bendis in which he has said it is going to come out. But because of something it was 'building to' has changed, he has had to alter it. 

Now you probably know if you come here that I was obsessed with solving the Event Leviathan mystery, posting Leviathan Theory articles and laying odds on the suspects. I was all in. And this delay for a book I was looking forward to was disappointing.

During that same downtime, I tried to support my comic store by buying supplies and trades. One thing I ordered was the 1st Issue Special hardcover, collecting that offbeat series. And 1st Issue Special #5 was the first appearance of Jack Kirby's Manhunter ... that is Mark Shaw ... that is Leviathan.

I read that issue for the first time and it once again whet my appetite for the Leviathan series. So I figured I would do a brief look at the history of Shaw and the Manhunters. Please note that the screen shots of panels here are from a digital version.

On to the book! Prepare to meet Leviathan!

Jack Kirby in the 70s was just a font of crazy ideas. His books are like roller coasters where you better strap yourself in because it is all going to go by fast. And don't think that all will be explained. Sometimes a visual is just a visual. 

We start with a splash page which is basically another take on the cover. 

Our hero, Manhunter, enters the Cave of the Talking Heads.

And yes, like on the cover, they do look like the skinned faces of humanoids and monsters. There are plenty of them stuck the the walls. They talk. And they can spit fire.

In the cave is the creator of these heads, the fearsome Chopper who stands within a protective dome.

Kirby wasn't the best writer of dialogue. But this book's words are just as bombastic as the art. Manhunter wants justice and always gets his man. Armed with his power baton, he has never failed.

The Chopper briefly gets the upper hand when he drops an electric cage over Manhunter's head. Thinking the hero defeated, the Chopper wades in, axe drawn. I guess if his name is the Chopper, he chops heads.

But Manhunter turns the tables, removing the electric drum and putting it in the way of the axe. The Chopper is electrocuted dead.

So we know some things off the bat. Manhunter is committed to justice. He isn't against killing per se. He is well trained and well armed. And his villains are bizarre.

Now this was a surprise to me.

Outside, the Manhunter removes his mask to reveal ... an old man!

He knows he was lucky to survive this battle.

But again, that flowery speech. 'If justice fails ... civilization fails.'

Talking flayed faces? The Chopper? An older hero?

All fascinating.

Back in the city, we see the Manhunter in his secret identity talking to his nephew Mark Shaw. 

Shaw is an idealistic public defender wishing for justice. He has to defend the 'little people' who are often pawns to the big criminals. He simply won't rest until he sees justice served.

He does seem a bit impetuous here.

But steadfast.

His uncle takes him into a secret area of the house filled with artifacts.

There he begins to reveal some of the Manhunter culture to Mark. That a 'Shan' was incorruptible. They dedicate themselves to being a Manhunter and upholding justice!

He even gets to see a version of the Manhunter suit.

Now we can discuss how incorruptible Mark is later. But the idea is there. The Manhunters are a group who work outside the law to make sure justice is served.

Later we see the uncle now in the Manhunter temple, all tricked out in Kirby gear.

He reveals to his Grandmaster that he is old and he feels that perhaps he knows of someone who can be the latest agent for the Manhunter cause.

I think I stared at this panel for 2 minutes trying to drink it all in. One crazy altar.

And the lion is in a lot of their symbolism.

Before someone can be indoctrinated, the mystic lion head must speak in the voice of the new agent.

Fate has it Mark Shaw is such a man. The lion speaks.

Next time we see Shaw he is decked out in the Manhunter gear, surprising even his uncle.

I love the lion head stone. Crazy.

But there is no time to relax. 

A killer enters the home to kill Shaw who is trying to take down organized crime.

The mob boss is Al Beefer, The Hog!

Again, we see some of the inherent violence in Shaw here as he threatens to drop this man out a high window if he doesn't talk. Even that masked expression is pretty unhinged.

Hmmm ...

 But this was First Issue Special, one and done appetizers to see if anything stuck. Shaw heads out to fight Beefer. But he is still a neophyte. He has no baton yet.

Will he win this fight?

I don't know if we ever saw it.

But you can see how the Manhunter clan, so bold in its pursuit of justice, could entice someone like Shaw. But where did it all go wrong? How did he become Leviathan?

I am going to hope to track down more appearances to help fill in the gaps!


H said...

Aka … another identity that you'll find out when you find more of his 70's appearances (I don't want to spoil it, but look to the JLA).

For some reason, Kirby's shorter and one-shot series tend to appeal to me more. The whole Fourth World/Eternals stuff doesn't do anything for me but OMAC is great. The only real exception is Kamandi, which is probably the most episodic of the long running Kirby series.

Martin Gray said...

I’ve never read this, I first came across Mark Shaw in those very JLA issues. What a fun comic this looks to have been!

William Ashley Vaughan said...

I was lucky enough to buy this issue off the rack when it came out. I loved it and having the Manhunter at the beginning of the issue reveal himself as an old man was a shock. Kirby definitely played by his own rules. I also read Mark Shaw's Justice League appearances during Steve Englehart's amazing run.

Bostondreams said...

Unrelated to the thread, but wanted to make sure you saw this. A one shot as part of DC's 'Future State' titles early next year. Kara Zor-el, Superwoman!

Love this look.

Looks like she gets into conflict with the new Superman, Jon, when he bottles Metropolis...

Anonymous said...

I wish Kirby's Fourth World Run at DC had been handled differently, by the time Him and Carmine Infantino were done negotiating Jack had fairly signed off on penciling and writing four different books at once. To me, that is a fatal dispersion of talent and of the four captioned books really only two seemed like likely headliners from the git go. I like the idea though, of Kirby giving one of the low selling Superman books a makeover, (we've already discussed how much fun it'd be if he took over Supergirl instead of Jimmy Olsen), so maybe that commitment would only run a year regardless of sales. So in my alternate reality Kirby is working on "Mister Miracle" and "Jimmy Olsen" with a sunset date on Jimmy Olsen and a commitment to a second Fourth World at the end of "Year One". After that we segue into "Mister Miracle" and "The New Gods" with the "Forever People" as frequent supporting guest stars (to me the Forever People are the DCU's "Inhumans" with potential for their own book given time and fan interest). In all Kirby should've been encouraged to consolidate and tantalize the reader, make them want more of the Fourth World Milieu. I also think Kirby would need either a highly sympathetic editor with which to work or else a writing assistant to plane down some of his storytelling rough spots. On DC's side, despite the fact this is Kirby, they needed to be patient, keep expectations manageable and to above all, be patient with Kirby's process. The most important thing an artist like Jack Kirby needs is time to make his case to the readers to pull in and consolidate his audience.