Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Review: Manhunter #6 & Suicide Squad Annual #1

Why did Mark Shaw become Leviathan? 

I have been looking at his history and trying to find clues in his background that twisted him into the commander of Leviathan. I know hindsight is 20/20 and I am picking out the things that make sense given the present. But in doing this deep dive, I am more and more impressed with Brian Michael Bendis choosing the character to head this new organization.

That brings me to Manhunter #6 and Suicide Squad Annual #1, a two part story which shows how shadowy organizations which keep secrets destroy lives and hinder humanity. These are important foundations to the Leviathan credo. So while this story has been pretty much forgotten, it is one more brick in the building of Mark Shaw, Leviathan.

Manhunter #6 is written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale with art by Pablo Marcos and Romeo Tanghal. Suicide Squad Annual #1 is written by Ostrander with art by Graham Nolan and Tim Dzon.

Let's just dive in!

'Prelude to Havoc' starts out with Shaw tracking down some street thugs who rob his deli. Initially, Shaw seems callous to the problem, witnessing the robbery inside the store and allowing the crooks to leave because he is a mercenary. He doesn't work for free. He then tracks down the robbers and brings them to justice. He is complex.

Back home, we get a slice of Shaw's life by listening to his messages.

Amanda Waller, head of the shadowy Task Force X, demands Shaw continue to track down a group called Argent. So he owes something to that group.

His father says all the mess that happened in Japan where Mark was falsely accused of murder, has been cleared up.

And then the business call. A mobster named Falcone wants to hire Shaw.

I love how Shaw is still under the thumb of the Suicide Squad. I am sure that irks him.

Falcone asks Shaw to track down Anna-Marie Vere. She has gone missing and her grandfather wants her found. 

Vere is an adult and has committed no crime. There is no evidence she has been kidnapped or coerced in some way. So Shaw declines the job. Why would he track down a free person who doesn't want to be found?

In the room is Falcone's back up plan, Pikara.

Pikara is a bounty hunter like Shaw but with less scruples. He brings home his targets, but often bloodied and battered. 

But if Shaw won't take the job, Falcone will hire the person who will. 

Disgusted, Shaw leaves.

It is interesting to see this since Shaw has killed and wished he had killed people he has tracked recently.

Realizing that Pikara will be tracking down Van Dere and knowing the young woman is now in danger, Shaw decides to track her down himself. This isn't necessarily to bring Van Dere to Falcone. It is to protect her.

But the plot thickens. Anna-Marie's grandfather is trying to arrange a forced marriage that she wants no part of. And this marriage is to shore up power in her grand-father's 'family', the organization called Argent. 

Hmmm, this case somehow crosses with the very thing Waller wants Shaw to find. Coincidence?

The story deepens.

Van Dere's grandfather is Control, the head of Argent. This marriage is to consolidate some power within Argent.

And more importantly, her Grandfather's last message to her was how dangerous he thought Task Force X/Suicide Squad is a danger to the free world and needs to be taken down.
Given this new information, Shaw decides he needs to bring Anna-Marie to Belle Reve.
Once more, Shaw bears witness to layers on layers of spy organizations, keeping secrets and eating themselves.

But you would think that someone like Shaw might be a bit more wary of such a coincidence.

Pikara shows up to bring Anna-Marie to Falcone and seems to have some level of super-power. Shaw gets thrashed in combat. 

Just when it looks like Shaw will be killed and Van Dere dragged off, Pikara is shot with a tranq dart by someone and collapses.

It makes me wonder if these losses made Shaw want to increase his powers, both personally and with those he surrounds himself with. The Leviathan Shaw is laced with implants.

The mystery shooter turns out to be Falcone himself.

He is part of Argent. He knew how Shaw would react. He knew Shaw would try to save Van Dere and would bring her to the Suicide Squad. Argent wants to destroy Suicide Squad for the threat it is. And as Argent is the 'court of last resort' for the world, they will use Manhunter to lead them right to the team.

Shaw, deceived again, by another spy organization. No wonder he hates them.

But things get worse.

But things get worse.

Suicide Squad Annual #1 is titled 'Ghosts and Shadows' and picks up where Manhunter left off.

In flashback, we see the origins of both the Suicide Squad and Argent. When the JSA disappeared rather than name names in the McCarthy era, the President knew they would need some sort of black ops teams to help shore up bigger threats. Thus, Task Force X and Argent were created. Task Force X was the military side of these operations. Argent took care of civilian actions.
Layers and layers and layers.

We see how in 1963, Argent discovered that Cuba, with the backing of Russia, was behind the assassination of JFK. Cuba did this because America had tried to kill Castro. These Castro attacks were funded by the CIA. (To be fair, Cuba, Castro, and Russia are never specifically named but it is implied.)

Interestingly enough, Control of Argent knows that release of all this information could bring about World War III and nuclear armageddon. So he decides to off the CIA leader to tie up a loose end. And he goes rogue. Argent no longer works for America. They make decisions to safeguard the world.

This is how power in shadowy groups grows, how their scopes creep beyond their missions. This is what Shaw hates.

Anna-Marie talks about how effective her grandfather's group is. They act quickly, quietly, and rarely. But they need to be stopped.

She gives the Suicide Squad the site of Argent's headquarters, a sleepy and small college campus used as a front.
The Squad members and Manhunter head off to fight while Anna-Marie stays in Belle Reve for her own safety.

But then we get several twists.

As Amanda Waller drives home, her car is ambushed. And she is seemingly shot to death by ... Anna-Marie!

You know how Shaw hates secrets. Now we see how he was deceived. Another brick.

And then we see how the college campus isn't an Argent headquarters, it is a Kobra den.

Our heroes bash their way through but realize they have been duped.

Thankfully, Waller was suspecting a double cross. The Waller that was shot? Nemesis in disguise with bullet-proof gear. Nightshade assumed shadow form and followed Anna-Marie to the real Argent stronghold.

Manhunter and Shade the Changing Man also arrive to shut the place down.

This is Argent. 

And Control is dead, propped in his chair like Norman Bates' mother.

Anna-Marie was trying to continue her family's vision. This small cabal, a handful of people, is all that is left of Argent. The group continued to thrive by pitting two groups against each other, like the Squad and Kobra. 

But now it is clear, Argent is no more.

If you are Mark Shaw, look at what this whole caper showed you.
One, even small spy organizations can bring about major chaos.
Two, he can be deceived by spies who can manipulate him into doing what they want.
Three, the more spy organizations there are, the more chance of division and destruction.
Four, he almost died over this fool's mission. 
Five, these missions and loyalties and layers can lead to madness, like a skeleton propped in a chair with a cigar.

How could this not impact his world view? This one small mission probably soured him on the whole environment of spies and secrets.

More bricks in the Leviathan wall.

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