Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Back Issue Box: Justice League Of America #140

I continue my little trek through Mark Shaw's history by looking at Justice League of America #140 cover dated March 1970.

This book came out just about 2 years after 1st Issue Special #5 and I believe marks just the second appearance of this Manhunter.

I grew up trying to buy the JLA book of this era as much as I could. Even as a kid, I could differentiate Dick Dillin's art from others. And since I imprinted on the book around this point, Dillin is the quintessential Justice League artist for me.

What I truly love about this story is that writer Steve Englehart really folds a lot of DC continuity, making that Kirby one-shot into something intergalactic. I had always assumed that in comics the robot Manhunters predated Mark Shaw but it turns out I was wrong. 

I do wonder if Kirby would have been happy with the thing Englehart twisted his 'Shan' into. The text piece in 1st Issue Special #5 talks about the unwavering ethics of the Manhunter in pursuit of justice. Here, his organization becomes something different.

And as a fan who is doing this deep dive because of Leviathan, I was happy to read this issue and (at least in my own canon) carry some of it forward.

On to the book.

It all starts off with a bang!

'No Man Escapes the Manhunter!' was written by Steve Englehart with art by Dick Dillin.

And we start out at, of all places, Wayne Foundation!

Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Green Lantern are waiting for an emergency JLA meeting with Batman when the Manhunter busts in to get Green Lantern.

In an impressive display, the Manhunter quickly dispatches Arrow and Canary. Green Lantern doesn't fight back saying he deserves to be taken in and allows Manhunter to knock him out.

The Manhunter scoops up the three unconscious bodies and takes them to the roof of the building.

Now honestly, why would Batman convene an emergency meeting at the Wayne foundation when everyone can teleport up to the satellite? Isn't it a bit risky to have JLA members having a conversation in the Wayne building?

And even more impressive, when confronted by the Dark Knight Detective, Manhunter takes out Batman too. And pretty easily I might add! He tosses Batman off the building, seemingly to his death ... if not for a handy dandy flagpole.

That last panel is pretty weird. It looks like Manhunter suddenly grows in size even though we know he is just a normal human in a suit.

But this level of power and discipline is interesting to apply to Leviathan.

Manhunter throws the three unconscious JLAers into his ship. But Batman had triggered the alarm. Now the big guns of Superman and Wonder Woman show up.

Amazingly, the ship is able to teleport away without even Superman being able to stop it or figure out where they went.

Now this really leans into the current Leviathan storylines where the Leviathan army being able to teleport in and out of places with ease and without being followed is a huge part of their strategy.

Back at the Manhunter headquarters, the Manhunter agent, Mark Shaw, apologizes to his Grandmaster for not following the edicts of the Manhunters. He should have been able to grab Green Lantern without Arrow or Canary seeing him, let alone being stuck taking them along. 

This is quite a mission for the Manhunters as well, as they have been asked to bring in Green Lantern from a group outside the solar system, a far cry from Public Defender Shaw using his Manhunter powers to stop organized crime.

But the Leaguers are thrown into a cell, captive for now.

Interestingly, the rest of the JLA meet and Flash is able to use his ability to sense vibrations to figure out that the Manhunter teleported the other Leaguers to the Himalayas.

But once there, even this vaunted set of super-heroes are also quickly subdued and thrown into a cell.

Perhaps most impressive is that when Superman tries to break out he is battered by a concussive blast strong enough to floor him. The Grandmaster talks about how secretive and hidden the sect is. And how they also have power beyond measure, even things call annihilogram.

Again, this all just lends credence to the Event Leviathan story where this organization was able to exist without anyone knowing it and strike with great power, enough to floor Superman. 

I did like this sequence where Superman and Flash realize the need to double vibrate the Flash to allow him to escape the crystal cell. 

Nicely drawn by Dillin.

Once free, the Manhunter Grand Master yields. 

We then get a little bit of their back history, much of which leans into Kirby's imagery.

They have existed for 1000 years. They use the Pride of the Lion totem to help choose their agents. And they seek out justice.

And while Batman thinks they are just bounty hunters, the Grandmaster says they only crave justice.

It is then that we learn from Green Lantern why he is being pursued. 

Traveling through space, Green Lantern saw a number of exploding meteors all placing nearby worlds in peril. The meteors were being detonated by the magnetic waves of a nearby moon circling planet Orinda.

When GL tries to quell the moon's energies, his lantern beam bounces off the moon and destroys Orinda like the Death Star.

What is up with Green Lanterns inadvertently destroying planets. This predates Jon Stewart and Xanshi by around 10 years. Reeling from guilt, Green Lantern basically allows his ring to run out of power and turns himself into the Manhunters.

The free JLAers demand the ability to do their own investigation on Hal's supposed crime. Green Arrow and Black Canary agree to stay with the Manhunters almost as hostages to ensure the JLA don't try any chicanery.

So Superman and the others head to Orinda's system. There they see a Guardian of Oa getting harassed and almost overrun by a mob.

And the governor of the planet relay that they are the ones who put out the request with the Manhunters to capture Green Lantern.  Hal destroyed their sister planet and they aren't happy.

But what the heck is this Guardian doing out there? Why does he seem so powerless such that a mob is an actual threat? 

This seems weird.

Meanwhile on Earth, another Guardian materializes in the Manhunter headquarters.

Another Guardian! Not another Lantern! But a Guardian.

He arrives with a spare battery and uses a ring to knock out the distracted Manhunter. The Guardian then demands that Hal recharge his ring and escape so that they can analyze the situation with the Manhunters.

Okay ... one Guardian I can roll with. But two??

That means this story is going to take a big leap in scope.

Also, it seems based on this issue that Manhunter needs his whole costume in place, including his mask, to have access to all his power. With the mask off, he isn't nearly as strong.

Out in space the heroes head off to the magnetic moon to again continue their investigation about Green Lantern's purported crime.

On the moon they all fight what seems to be an indestructible, all-powerful dinosaur type creature.

It is only Batman who realizes that it is an illusion! And also, what is this moon orbiting if the planet is destroyed. The whole thing is fishy. Orinda must still exist.

So Green Lantern didn't destroy it!

The alien governor had joined this team.

When this deception is uncovered, he drops his guise as well-meaning politician.

He was part of a long standing plot to discredit the Guardians. He is, in fact, another Manhunter. And knowing he has failed this piece of the plot, he teleports away.

You almost feel for Mark Shaw here. He continues to struggle with his mission. He truly sounds like he wants to help people. He wants justice. But somehow he has been consumed by the mission of the sect, not his own desires.

And now all this interplanetary, Guardians nonsense is cropping up.

But looking at this 1970's story with Event Leviathan in mind, you do get a sense for just how advanced the Manhunters were and that is before folding in all the other spy agencies with their weapons.

I look forward to sharing the next part with you all soon!


Steve said...

Englehart at DC was amazing, wasn't he? Remember the issue of Green Lantern where he used actual past scenes to totally revamp Star Sapphire? JLA was his best work for them tho'. After this I'm looking forward to reviews fo what came between Shaw's next JLA appearance and Manhunter. That happened during a period where I had stopped reading comics and I've never gotten around to reading them...

Anonymous said...

Hhhmmm...did the animated story from the JL DVD 'In blackest night' in 2001
come from this?

H said...

I gotta go with his Detective Comics run for his best DC issues but JLA was great too.

And there's still more twists even after this storyline finishes. You thought the whole robot Manhunters thing was as deep as it got? It only gets wilder from there!

Martin Gray said...

Nice look back! One of the reasons I was a tad disappointed by the Leviathan reveal - never mind the lack of fair clues - was that I’ve never found the Manhunters remotely interesting. This story was my first encounter with them and remains the low point in Englehart’s JLA run. Still, it is a marker on Mark Shaw’s unstable path.