Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Back Issue Box: Justice League #141

I continue my deep dive into Mark Shaw Leviathan by looking at his second major story in Justice League #141.

Last week I reviewed JLA #140 in which Mark Shaw, Manhunter brought Green Lantern into custody. It seemed Hal had destroyed the planet Orinda and that galaxy was demanding justice. With GL, Green Arrow, and Black Canary held at the Manhunter stronghold as hostages, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash went out to see if the claims against GL were true.

Out of this crazy story spins a pretty important piece of DC history. The Green Lantern Corps was not the Guardians first attempt at an inter-galactic peace force. Instead it was the android Manhunters they sent out with small green energy batteries and stun pistols. These guys have been plaguing DC for as long as I have been reading comics so it was truly fascinating for me to read this issue for the first time.

I assumed these android Manhunters predated the 1st Issue Special Manhunter issue. I thought Kirby was tweaking a known property. I also didn't realize that the Paul Kirk Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter even predated that. In my head, the Manhunters created by the Oans were created somewhere in the early GL issues.

So for me this was a true revelation. 

And it shouldn't surprise me that Steve Englehart is the writer here, forming this new legend for DC. After all, he was the writer for Millennium, the mega-crossover which brought the Manhunters and their agents back in a big way. 

But how does all this reveal impact Mark Shaw? Well, this might redefine the Manhunters but it is only the first chapter in Englehart's look at Shaw. So more to come ... for sure.

'No World Escapes the Manhunter' is written by Steve Englehart with art by Dick Dillin. 

We get a sneak peek at the three ongoing storylines for our divided team. Batman and Superman are on the moon orbiting the supposedly destroyed Orinda. Flash and Wonder Woman are headed back to Earth to try and exonerate Green Lanter. And GL/GA/BC are trying to escape the grasp of the Manhunters after being freed by a Guardian who warned them the Manhunters are not what they claim to be.

All this while the Manhunter leans out of the top panel, looking down on all them. This is an excellent page construction by Dillin, emphasizing the threat and presence of the Manhunter.

On Earth, the Leaguers trying to escape Mark Shaw struggle at first.

The Manhunter's armor and 'ten centuries' of training techniques make him formidable, able to fight blind, shake off Canary's cry, and almost defeat these three.

It is only when Green Lantern decides to create a giant green fist that Shaw finally falls. 

Again, I am looking at these stories to help inform the current Leviathan threat (even though we are countless reboots in the past). If Brian Michael Bendis is using these stories as a template, the Manhunter organization has formidable tech and fighting prowess.

Flying back to relay the news about Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Flash dock on the JLA satellite to then teleport Earthside.

However when they enter the satellite, they are met by an illusion of the Manhunter Grandmaster.

Knowing the two would return, he rigged the satellite with the same impenetrable force field that he had captured them in last issue. This time, Superman isn't there to lend a hand. Plus, he basically has turned off life support. 

Now think about this, the Manhunters have the ability to not only break into the JLA satellite but also to make it an inescapable death trap. No wonder Shaw can take out Spyral, the DEO, et al in the current day.

Now obviously the two escape. But it is so crazy and relies heavily on an odd JLA story from the past that I am just going to skip that part of the book. Besides more important stuff is coming up.

Batman and Superman are still on the moon of Orinda with the Guardian they rescued from a nearby world last issue. Even though they know that the planet Orinda hasn't been destroyed, they can't pierce the tech which is hiding the world. When Superman thinks he is flying straight to the planet, Batman observes he is actually flying in a circle, skirting the world. This Manhunter tech is strong enough to fool even Superman's senses.

Baffled by this, the Guardian finally opens up about the history of the Manhunters. 

When Oa was first established, they decided to create a police force for the universe. Their first creation were powerful Manhunter androids, robots who look indistinguishable from our Mark Shaw Manhunter.

Sent out, they indeed bring peace and order ...

That is, until their own programming became corrupted. The Manhunters decide to become a controlling dictatorial force. The only way to obtain all that power would be to return to Oa and defeat their masters.

The Manhunters invade Oa and almost defeat the Guardians. But the hubris of their leader, to charge his stun gun from the main Power Battery, backfires, short circuiting all the Manhunters weapons. Helpless, the androids think they will be melted down for scrap. Maybe they should have been!!

Learning from their mistakes, the Guardians decide sentient life will be a better workforce, creating the Green Lantern Corps.

As for the Manhunters, the Guardians returned the now weaponless androids back to the planets they were living on.


I don't understand this at all. There is no good reason to plop these androids back on inhabited planets.

Of course, things take a turn. 

The Manhunters programming was already misguided. Now, living on planets without much purpose or connection to the worlds, they revert to becoming ... well ... Manhunters. Their concepts of justice and honor continue to warp. Until finally, dilapidated, faded, and overly zealous, they form the cult of the Manhunters.

And now that they have some sort of ethos, they begin to recruit their own sentient life agents. People like Mark Shaw!

Englehart has to do some bit of writing legerdemain to make this all fit. The Oans have to keep the Manhunters around, intact, relatively powerless, and dispersed. He has to have the Oans not keep their eye on these Manhunters. And the Manhunters have to be able to acquire power and assets to become this universal threatening group.

He also has to somehow explain the Caucasian look of the Grandmaster, the reliance on the 'mask of the Manhunter' as a symbol, and why Orinda is important. 

So it is a little wonky but I'll roll with it.

But the overall plot ... seed concern over the power of the Green Lanterns, have societies kick out the Lanterns, and have the Manhunters swoop into the power vacuum ... that is interesting.

Back on Earth, the actual Grandmaster shows his displeasure at Shaw. How could Shaw be defeated by three Justice Leaguers!

The Grandmaster has to bring in a ringer. 

He brings back the older Manhunter! You might remember him as the hero at the beginning of 1st Issue Special #5! And there is that Leviathan teleportation again.

I do like that Englehart really embraced that Manhunter issue and brought so much of it into here, even if his Manhunter idea is pretty different from Kirby's pure heroic vision.

Meanwhile, our World's Finest heroes do figure out how to get to Orinda's surface in hopes of turning off the machinery which is keeping Orinda hidden. 

Again, you have to marvel at the technological might of the Manhunters. They have planet cloaking capabilities.

Initially, our heroes are able to simply wade through the Manhunter army (strange since just one nearly defeated all the JLA last issue). But then the Manhunters bring out their secret weapon - a Manhunter agent garbed in a suit of armor made entirely of Kryptonite. Knowing that revealing Orinda is more important than his own life, Superman tells Batman to stay on mission.

Okay, you need to remember that the Manhunters have been a truly secret organization for at least a thousand years. No one knew of them. And yet on their home planet they have in reserve a Kryptonite suit of armor just in case Superman one day both discovered the cult, figured out where they were located, and decided to fight time. It is that sort of preparation that makes Leviathan so dangerous.

But Batman is able to succeed. He smashes the Illusotron, revealing Orinda is intact.

Now everyone will know of the treachery of the Manhunters. Now everyone will know about the Manhunters. And now everyone will know Green Lantern is innocent

Back on Earth, Flash and Wonder Woman join our other heroes on the run. 

It seems like the two Manhunters are able to defeat this formidable group. But turnabout is fair play. The two 'Manhunters' are actually Flash and Green Lantern. And 'Green Lantern' is actually Mark Shaw.

He's heard the truth about the Manhunters and isn't happy.

And so it's on ... Manhunter versus Grandmaster.

But fight is shortlived. These are millennia-old robots. The young Shaw is able to give so much damage that the Grandmaster falls apart. While Batman still bears a grudge for Shaw's prior murderous intentions, the Flash realizes that the truth has changed Shaw.

Once again, Englehart brings up the fading of blue faces as some sort of metaphor for the Manhunters losing their way. So I think that is sort of weird.

But the bigger plot hole is that Batman and Superman just return. Remember, they were on a planet filled with Manhunters. Superman had been defeated by Kappa. And Batman, while turning off the Illusotron, was surrounded by an angry horde. Did the Manhunters just give up?

Shaw has changed though. He still craves justice now more than ever.

Despite being associated with a corrupt and twisted organization, he wants to make Manhunter a symbol of justice.

Hmmm ... will it stick?

In regards to Leviathan, you can see how Shaw is someone who can get swept up in pageantry and creeds and zealotry. The Manhunter group was like a cult and he fell right into step. It mirrors the sort of devotion and passion of the Leviathan group.

But will his cause of justice stay pure?

Outside of the Manhunter stuff, Englehart does bring unique voices to the Leaguers. Barry is almost timid amongst the other, talking about being a midwest kid still in awe of Diana. Clark and Bruce discuss how important the League is, as well as their friendship. And Hal and Ollie spar like brothers sometimes.

Overall, this issue really is a solid part of DC history, making Manhunters, Oan history, and Mark Shaw all longstanding pieces of continuity regardless of reboots.

Overall grade: B


H said...

Manhunters go even further back than the Goodwin/Simonson Paul Kirk. There was the original Paul Kirk (the one he was cloned from), who was written and drawn by Kirby and Simon for a bit in the 40's, and before that was Dan Richards, who was from another comics company that DC bought in the 50's. Roy Thomas did an issue of Secret Origins that tied them all together in the 80's.

It sounds like you know that Mark Shaw's adventures will continue to twist, but there are still a few twists more to go.

Anonymous said...

Hi y'all,

Apologies for being off-topic.
Thought you should know.
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Kinofreak said...

Isn't there a later Manhunter story where he betrays the Justice League?

Anj said...

Thanks for comments ...

Yes, Shaw's betrayal is coming up ... spoiler alert