Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Back Issue Box: Manhunter #2-4

Today I continue my deep dive into the character of Mark Shaw, looking for clues in his past that could have predicted his descent into Leviathan. I have reached his solo title, Manhunter. And as I said in a past post, I'll probably be a little loose with my coverage, not necessarily having a single post for each issue. Instead, I'll batch as feels appropriate.

Today, I'll cover Manhunter #2-#4, completing the first arc in this title. We saw the set-up in Manhunter #1. Shaw has moved on from super-heroing into bounty hunting. His family has mixed feelings about it. A reclusive actress named Olivia Vancroft has taken in interest in adding the Manhunter mask to her collection. And she has hired Dumas, a masked assassin with shape-changing abilities to procure it for her.

This storyline brings Shaw to Japan under false pretenses, has him wanted by the police, and gives us some needed backstory of his family. But most of all, for me, it begins to show how secrets, deceptions, and masks play huge roles in Shaw's personal history. You can see how his hatred of secrets and his understanding of the powers of masks is cultivated.

Writers John Ostrander and Kim Yale infuse a lot of Japanese culture into this story, a nice way to play into the shogun style costume Shaw wears. And Doug Rice and Sam Kieth bring the same energy to the book they brought to the opener. 

On to the book. 

In Manhunter #2, we start out with Shaw's father asking him to head to Japan to bring an American hiding out there back to the American Embassy where a subpoena can be served. It isn't exactly a bounty but it is work.

Before he can leave, Mark is stopped by his half-brother Jamie.

Jamie has been contacted by a dealer who wants to buy Mark's Manhunter mask. 

Shaw knows that if word gets out of what his mask can do, he loses an edge. So the answer is no. Interesting to hear Shaw defending secrets here. We know that his goal as Leviathan is to abolish all secrets.

Very nice use of surprint here to show off the mask. And that second panel sort of shows the dual nature of Shaw's character.

In Japan, Shaw tries to grab the guy but it turns out to be a set-up. When he arrives, Dumas is there waiting. A well drawn, well choreographed fight happens across the rooftops.

Finally Shaw thinks the right thing to do is surrender to the cops. After all, he can explain it all. But Dumas, shape-changed into to police officer, makes it look like Manhunter kills another cop. 

Suddenly Manhunter is wanted. 

And then Dumas doubles down. 

He takes on the form of Shaw and kills a bunch of police officers in that form. 

Now both Shaw and Manhunter are wanted. And both are trapped in Japan.

But before Shaw can find a hiding hole, the Yakuza pick him up.

Again, the art in this issue is fantastic. I remember Rice being lauded for the stylized work here. I don't think he remains on the title for long. 

And Ostrander and Yale bring in a lot of Japanese references and hot spots here, talking about the nightlife, etc. 

Manhunter #3 is where I think things get very interesting. I saw a lot of Leviathan in here.

The Yakuza boss talks about the difficulties in post-WWII Japan. The Yakuza boss was looking for a way to help Japan take control of its own affairs. Alas, the best way was to swear allegiance to the head of the mob then, the Oyabun.

The Oyabun has complete control and loyalty over the people in his service. This man left the Oyabun as a 'chivalrous citizen, a champion of the poor, the weak, those victimized' by those in power.

Now that sounds like Leviathan. Leviathan is completely loyal to Shaw. And they fight for what they believe is the welfare of the common person. 

This Yakuza boss actually tells a story of Mark's father, working in Japan in those post-WWII days, stopping a bunch of thugs from raping a woman. He then brings those men to court and has them thrown in jail. 

This woman ends up becoming the Oyabun's wife. So he feels some debt to the Shaw family.

What I like is this flashback where Shaw's father talks about the sanctity of the law and how all must be treated equally. That also sounds a bit like Leviathan too.

So role models both in the father and this Yakuza. 


The Yakuza is able to get Shaw back to California. But Dumas' contract isn't finished. He still needs to get the Manhunter mask for Vancroft.

For some reason, the Shaw family decides they will help ambush Dumas at the Shaw estate. This includes Jamie who realizes he inadvertently set up Shaw in Japan.

Somehow, all the Shaws escape alive. But Dumas escapes as well. 

Once more, very slick art in these fight sequences.

In Manhunter #4, Shaw follows the only lead he has. He has learned it is Olivia Vancroft who wants the mask. In the prior issue, he father again gives us some exposition. Vancroft was a starlet in 40s Hollywood, almost too gorgeous for reality. She had a brief but memorable career before retiring to a secluded and well-guarded estate. 

Now Shaw breaks into the Vancroft estate and confronts her.

Her wall of super-hero masks is quite prestigious. Some she has procured from battle scenes, others from donations, still more from contracts like this.

Vancroft gives a very interesting speech about the power of masks. They are symbols. They represent the best in people. They reflect the truth in people.

 I can't help but think about Leviathan in this. Shaw didn't go around with his mask of as Leviathan. The mask made him anonymous. Anyone could be Leviathan ... everyone could be Leviathan. That is the power.

When Shaw offers to give his mask to Vancroft, she refuses. It won't stop Dumas from continuing to fulfill his contract. So Shaw may as well keep it. But because she is fascinated by masks, she asks Shaw to don it before leaving.

Something he sees stuns him. He now knows Vancroft's secret.

Hmm .. another secret for Shaw to be shocked at. One more thing in his past to make him hate secrets.

And then this turn.

Vancroft is Dumas. And vice versa.

Dumas created a completely separate identity in Vancroft. But he made it too good. She was too alluring, too voluptuous. She had to drop out of site.

Moreover, in her discussion she makes it seem like Dumas is unaware of this other aspect of themselves. Vancroft seems to know the deal though. 

Another mask ... of a sorts.

Shaw agrees to walk away and not reveal the secret if Dumas cancels the contract ... the contract Dumas in essence gave themself. 

Hmmm ... Shaw dealing in secrets. 

But it backfires.

Vancroft becomes Dumas. A battle ensues, again well-crafted by Rice and Kieth.

And then another new wrinkle. Shaw kills Dumas. And he doesn't seem to broken up about it. So Shaw can be a killer if he wants to be. Another brick in the Leviathan wall.

While I know hindsight is perfect and I am looking to piece together things, the Oyabun story and the father's absolutes about equality among all people can be strongly seen in Leviathan. That alone makes this noteworthy for my purposes.

But the double dealing in secrets, the power of masks, the pain that comes from secrets ... those all play in as well. 

All in all, a very nice opening arc for Manhunter. Looking backwards from Leviathan, it is very interesting indeed.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

Interesting stuff, but I’m confused – are you saying that Dumas and the film star has always been the same person? Is he genderflipping? Is the power of Dumas why the star persona looks so young for a Forties personality?

Anj said...


Dumas was and always was Vancroft!

A one line in the book says his powers kept him rejuvenated and young.