Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Leviathan Wednesday: Manhunter 16 and 17

 With announcement of a June Checkmate comic, it looks like Leviathan Wednesdays will be cutting it close to when a new Leviathan comic is on the racks. Manhunter volume 1 ran 24 issues. There is a handful of the Kate Spencer Manhunter book I'll need to cover as well. The timing might be perfectly right. I love it when an ad hoc plan comes together.

Today I'll review Manhunter #16 and Manhunter #17, two 'done in one' issues both which play into my deep dive into Mark Shaw nicely. Both issues build on this significant ongoing narrative I have been uncovering as I try to decipher why Shaw turned into Leviathan. 

In Manhunter #16, Shaw is again faced with a case where lies and misinformation have led to tragedy. But it also shows Shaw's passion for justice. We are reminded of his history as a public defender and how that passion led him to the Manhunter cult to begin with.

In Manhunter #17, Shaw and Batman tangle. And while Shaw has a thirst for justice, he definitely has a thirst for cash. And that life as a bounty hunter isn't going to endear him to Batman. No wonder these two have issues in Event Leviathan.

Two more significant steps on the way to Leviathan. 

On to the books.

Manhunter #16's story is titled Outlaw, plotted by John Ostrander and Kim Yale and scripted by Yale alone. Art is by Grant Miehm. 

We start with career criminal John Henry Martin (or just Martin) heading down the road on a motorcycle.

Martin knew his life of crime would have him on the wrong side of the law. But there is some honor among thieves. He won't stand for being accused of something he didn't do. And so he is looking to even that score.

This was an interesting time in DC Comics.

Martin is jail, on Death Row for killing a policemen, a crime he says he didn't commit, when the Gene Bomb from Invasion goes off, giving him powers. He has limited invulnerability and some enhanced strength. 

Wanting to get the men who framed him, Martin uses his new powers to break out of his cell.

His powers aren't too fantastic though. He is eventually caught.

In the infirmary he suppresses his powers. Thinking he is harmless, the cops try to transfer him to another prison. But once the van gets going, Martin powers back up.

Now look, Martin is not a nice guy. He kills cops in the prison. He kills the cops in this transport.

He isn't a good guy.

He heads to a friend's where he gets fitted with some gear and a motor bike.

While there, he hears a broadcast that he is being tracked. And it isn't just the cops after him. So is Manhunter.

Turns out Martin did time in stir with Shaw when our hero was locked up. Even then, even there, Shaw had a reputation of being tough and smart.

I like that Ostrander and Yale didn't shy away from Shaw's criminal past. 

Turns out that Martin was framed for killing a cop.

A dirty cop named Weckler was running drugs. Another cop was going to turn evidence. Weckler killed the cop and framed Martin. So Martin is out to kill Weckler. He won't do time for that crime.

I love how Shaw tells Martin that he can help him. Sure, Martin will have to stand up in court to deal with the litter of bodies he actually has left behind. But Shaw can clear him of some of the time. He can bring this injustice to light.

But Martin wants no part of it.

So once more Shaw is faced with a corrupt agency holding back information which leads to crime and death. As I have said, no wonder he became Leviathan.

Weckler was making a run for it.

Martin and Shaw have caught up to him. 

Shaw still hopes to hold back Martin but Weckler ups the ante. He'll kill both Martin and Shaw; say it was a bloodbath.

No wonder Shaw thinks so little of agencies like the DEO and Spyral. If small time agencies are corrupt, than absolute agencies are corrupt absolutely.

At least this time, Shaw has brought backup. Good cops who heard everything.

Another chase ensues with Weckler making a run for it and the other cops and Martin giving chase again.

Shaw, hoping to stay a part of the action, jumps on to the roof of one of the cruisers.

One part about Leviathan that was a clue was his occasional quippy response. Thought like 'didn't Doc Savage travel this way' is consistent. This jokiness was a clue that made me think Leviathan was Ted Kord.

In the end Martin kills Weckler and makes a run for it only to be apparently killed in a hail of gunfire.

This whole story was sort of a microcosm of all of Leviathan's motivations. So this fit very well in a complete Mark Shaw timeline.

Manhunter #17 was title 'Turf' and had the same creative team.

Mark is invited to Gotham by his brother Jamie to attend a benefit.

Here Jamie brings up all of Shaw's past - Manhunter, Privateer, Star-Tsar, and now Manhunter again. 

But given the mystery of who was behind Leviathan's mask, Jaime's line that he doesn't want Mark to turn into a 'stranger wearing a mask' is pretty heavy with portent.

The party is being thrown to celebrate Wayne Foundations opening of homeless shelters. Tom Melcher, owner of the Gotham Wildcats is concerned because Victor Gover, a star player and spokesperson for the shelters has just come up positive for steroids. Gover is going to be removed from the team and from the fundraiser.

In fact, Melcher is convinced even super-heroes use steroids.

Bruce Wayne is in attendance and refutes that claim, as does Shaw.

When Gover shows up to cause a scene, Shaw is able to send him packing. 

It impresses Batman. But you know Batman. He is a bit paranoid. He isn't trusting. He remembers all of Shaw's villain time. He'll keep a close eye on Shaw while the Manhunter is in Gotham.

But the incident is enough to get both heroes to start investigations.

Whether via Oracle or from personal detective work, both see that Victor Gover is most likely the new Sportsmaster. And his grudge against Tom Melcher has already started to bubble over.

Throughout the issue we see pages and panels like this showing just how similar the two heroes are, even if their motivations are different.

Both head to Melcher's. There Melcher and the Wildcats GM are talking about Gover being removed from the team.

Sure enough, Sportsmaster is there trying to kill Melcher.

First Manhunter tries to tangle with him but this Gover is a tough nut and gains the upper hand.

In classic comic fashion, the two heroes end up fighting each other.

But this isn't because they confuse each other for someone else. This is about motivations.

Shaw wants the collar so he can get the bounty. Batman wants justice.

I'll remind you Manhunter in  Justice League #140, Shaw easily defeated Batman. Here the fight is more even ... for a while. Batman eventually puts Manhunter down and heads into the house to stop Sportsmaster.

Once again, Gover turns out to be tougher than expected and incapacitates Batman with an exploding discus.

Now it is up to a recovered Manhunter to stop the villain.

Using his baton's anti-gravity pulse, Manhunter crashes through the upper floor window.

I know I haven't mentioned Grant Miehm's art much. It is pretty straightforward fare. But this panel is brilliant. You really feel the action here. And Melcher wielding the gun in the foreground is great.

Really cool art here.

But once again, Batman needs to step in. It takes both heroes to take down the Sportsmaster.

Neither hero is happy. Neither likes the other. Whether it is Batman's clenched jaw or Shaw's clenched fist, it is clear these two aren't buddies.

While Shaw gets the collar, it is clear that he'll stay away from Gotham.

Knowing that Leviathan and Batman spar, I love this issue. This is important history.

We see why Leviathan enlists Babs. He worked with Oracle. We know why he dislikes Batman. 

So more foundation laid!

This has certainly has been an interesting series to visit for the first time.

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