Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Back Issue Box: Secret Origins #23

 It was the late 80's and mega-crossovers in comics were still in their infancy.

In 1985 DC had given us Crisis on Infinite Earths, redefining the DCU.

In 1986, DC gave us Legends, a wellspring of ideas and excellent new comics and characters.

In 1987, they gave us Millennium

The concept seemed sound. The Oans and the Zamarons were going to leave the universe in the hands of New Guardians. Their old foes, the Manhunters, were going to stop them and take over instead. And to go about this task, the Manhunters were going to activate sleeper agents they had sprinkled throughout the universe. Who was actually a Manhunter? It was a mystery.

Unfortunately, the actual event fell flat. How flat? Flat enough that I must have given away Millennium at some point. It is no longer in my collection. (And I still have Countdown!)

But one of the things DC must have realized is that the Manhunters as a group weren't well known. How could they be a universal threat? Who the heck were they?

So to bolster the main event along with the crossovers, Secret Origins #22 would focus on the group giving important background information. 

And this is where I come in because this was the post-Crisis reintroduction of Mark Shaw, ultimately Leviathan. With the Crisis behind us, changes could be made to continuity. Who was Shaw? Did things play out the same?

Let's find out.

This is an untitled origin story written by Roy and Dann Thomas with art by Howard Simpson. And it is a deep dive into Manhunter history throughout DC's ages. There are three separate 'heroes' who have had the name Manhunter and there is the Manhunter organization. 

There aren't any editor's notes in the issue because Thomas does a good job outlining the history and the issues in a column at the end.

But we start out with an impressive splash page of the Manhunter cult standing before the Lion Head totem and chanting "No Man Escapes the Manhunters". 

We learn that there are both android Manhunters and sleeper agent human Manhunters. We see Rocket Red #7, Lana Lang, Wally West's dad, and others mixed in the crowd.

To frame the story, the Grandmaster says they have gathered to retell their history and rededicate themselves. Nice trick by Thomas to give a reason for the flashbacks.

I do have to say that for a group founded by Androids, they do love their pageantry. The Lion Head, the Grandmaster outfit, the chants and ceremony ... it all seems wrong for robots. But we quickly learn they are a headstrong lot.

We start all the way back to Krona's peek at the beginning of the universe. With evil unleashed, the Guardians create their robot army, the Manhunters, armed with stun guns and miniature power batteries.

And for a thousand years, they did their job and did it well.

But they androids eventually developed personalities of their own. They became angry that they had to put their lives on the line while the Guardians sat back on Oa. 

The Manhunters organized and invaded Oa. But when the leader of the Manhunters tried to charge his stun gun directly from the central battery it blew out all the Manhunters weapons. They were weaponless and defeated.

Now you would think the Guardians would simply scrap the robots. Or confine them.

But the Guardians aren't really street smart, are they.

Instead of destroying them, they put each Manhunter robot back on the world they policed. 

Not wise.

Sure enough on a sweep of our solar system, the Manhunters stumble onto Earth in medieval times. 

They recognize the bloodthirsty and zealous nature of man and know that they can manipulate humanity for their own purposes.

The Manhunters set up shop, proselytizing to eager humans and creating an army of sleeper agents. In fact, the Manhunters have been guiding human history for centuries.

Nice page here by Simpson with the Grandmaster looming over Earth's timeline.

But what about the heroes who bore the name Manhunter.

In the Golden Age, it was Dan Richards, a good cop sick of the corruption around him.

He put on a blue suit and with Thor, his trusty dog, he fought crime as Manhunter.

It turns out Thor was an android dog that the Manhunters used to monitor Richards.

Later, we see Paul Kirk also brought into the fold. He fights in a more standard red Manhunter outfit.

But he is too full of the 'milk of human kindness'. He gives up on being a Manhunter to fight with the Allies in WW2. After the war he is killed while on safari.

And that links nicely into the classic Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter stories from Detective Comics.

Again, nice work by Simpson here. There is a Simonson-esque quality to this page.

Which then brings us to the next Manhunter, Mark Shaw. 

Once again we see the elder Manhunter fight the Chopper.

No denying Simpson leaning into Kirby here.

And, as in that 1st Issue special, we see his uncle tell him about the Manhunter organization.

Shaw is rapidly recruited. 

Nothing real new in this retelling. It pretty much is the cliff notes of that Kirby issue.

We continue to move forward in the timeline.

Thomas gives us a rundown of the Englehart/Dillin JLA stories.

First, the reintroduction of Mark Shaw Manhunter.

Check out that teleportation device, too fast even for Superman! And very Event Leviathan.

It was in this story that the true nature of the Manhunter Cult came to light.

We learned how the first members were androids. But sentient living beings had been recruited throughout the known universe.

And we even get a recap of his time as Privateer and Star-Tsar.

Amazingly, despite the Crisis, all those stories basically happened in the new timeline. 

As of this issue, Shaw 'languishes ... in a dark prison cell'. 

Mark Shaw .. Manhunter, Privateer, Star-Tsar ... stuck in comic book limbo for 10 years.

And so we are back to the ceremony.

The Manhunters intercepted Harbinger's history of the DCU and learned of the events which occurred. They have learned of the Guardian's plan to elevate some humans to become The Chosen, the new Guardians. And they want revenge.

It is time to activate the sleeper agents and cry havoc!!!


As usual, Roy Thomas was able to basically plagiarize a number of prior stories to create this 'new one'. But there is no doubt all the Mark Shaw is basically lifted, practically word for word, from prior stories reviewed right on this site!

It does strike me that Crisis didn't mean that things were brand new. Much of the continuity came through unscathed. We see that here. Not many details of the prior events have been tinkered with other than Manhunters being on Earth for centuries. 

But Millennium did rescue the Mark Shaw character from obscurity. 

And there a couple more turns on his road to Leviathan.


H said...

Green Lantern especially came through with similar continuity. There were a couple new GLs and Ch'p's history changed a bit but everything else was pretty much the same (GLC was another book being written by Englehart around this time, hence him writing Millennium as well). Some of them even remembered the Crisis, despite the only person who should theoretically was Psycho-Pirate.

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting, but I don't think completely the Manhunter's concept benefitted from Kirby's original concept being twisted and ignored by everyone.

Off-topic: Maybe you have heard but Mark Waid is returning to DC. He will write one story for the "Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Last Stories of the DC Universe #1" tie-in. Predictably, it is a Superman story. And, interestingly, Supergirl is mentioned in the credits.