Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Leviathan Wednesday: Manhunter #22

Welcome to Leviathan Wednesday where I look at Mark Shaw's history to try and see how he eventually becomes the mega-villain (or mega-hero depending on your viewpoint) Leviathan.

I have been reviewing the 1980s Manhunter series recently and have been intrigued about how much of it revolves around honor, masks and hidden identities, stolen technology, and cult behavior. It has really been a good foundation on why Shaw would take the turn he did.

Based on the perceived importance of the storyline in this series, I have reviewed several issues or just one.

Manhunter #22 is an issue that demands being viewed upon on its own. Written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale with art by Grant Miehm, this issue is, in a word, crazy. I have read it several times and I am not sure I follow exactly what is going on. We get a new retelling of the Manhunter army origin, a new wrinkle added into the mix explaining the Lionhead Shan which is key to their organization, and a sort of revamp/polishing of Shaw's character.

To be honest, using retrospect, I actually wonder if this story takes place mostly in Shaw's mind, which would dovetail nicely into the Leviathan history. 

Buckle up for a psychedelic, hallucinogenic ride! Here comes Saints and Sinners part 5!

'Negative Capability' starts out right where last issue left us.

Shaw is basically a mentally broken man. His family is in danger from the new Dumas. He thinks he has killed an innocent woman during his escape from Japan. He is an internationally wanted man, something he had to do to himself to stop Dumas from using his face. Weaponless, he heads back to the place of his origin, the Manhunter temple, in hopes of finding something he can use.

And there he is confronted by this anthropomorphic, technology-enhanced, lion-like being.

What does it all mean?

This being says he has been waiting for Shaw, a 'child of Oa', to return to the temple. Because it wants to help Shaw.

I have always wondered about the Lionhead symbol of the Manhunters. 

We'll head back there in a bit.

First though, in the real world, things are getting ugly.

In Japan, Shaw's family basically has to hold a press conference to try and clear his name.

And in Australia, the Southern Cross Salvage Company, the friends who brought Shaw to the temple, are attacked by Dumas. He wants to know where Shaw is. 

But the meat of the story is the temple.

Here we learn the lion-beings name is N'Lasa. (I see what you are doing there Ostrander and Yale. N'Lasa is Aslan spelled sideways!)

He addresses Shaw as Manhunter Prime. And N'Lasa says he is the teacher Shaw should've had. Now is the time for Shaw to learn the real lessons of the Manhunters!

When Shaw tries to storm out, he is blocked by Manhunter androids or agents.

But they are only in his mind.

First lesson, the impossible becomes possible. 

I don't know about you. But in a story if one thing is only in the character's mind, I begin to wonder if everything only exists in their mind. 

After all, this N'Lasa is new to Shaw. And he was neck deep in the Manhunters forever. 

While Dumas wings his way to confront Shaw, our Manhunter continues his lessons.

Shaw is so  despondent, crushed by feelings of guilt, that he is near suicidal. Anger, fear, and pride are all fueling this even more.

And so N'Lasa decides to share his own story within the Manhunters to show Mark that redemption is possible.

First, a one page primer about the creation of the Manhunters and their corruption.

What once was 'no evil shall escape the Manhunters' became 'no man escapes the Manhunters'!

And N'Lasa was part of that corruption.

When the Manhunter attack on Oa was rebuffed (as first described way back in Justice League of America #141), N'Lasa was there. 

Understanding his role, N'Lasa offered his life in return. 

But instead .... and I don't really know if I follow this ... the Oans experimented on him, adding technology, making him immortal, and banishing him to Earth. 

Remember, this is hundreds of years ago, the time of the first Manhunter attack on Oa.

Why would the Oans do that? Why operate on him? Why send him to Earth of all places?

I guess the wisdom of the Guardians is beyond us normal humans.

Alas, we never hear the one condition the Guardians had for N'Lasa explicitly stated.

But apparently, it was to head to Earth and try to get the burgeoning Manhunter cult there back in line with their original goals. Or maybe to defeat them.

Regardless, he failed. 

So instead, N'Lasa headed to Japan. There he used the samurai code of honor to instill obedience and loyalty into a clan of warriors, all with the goal of defeating the Manhunters.  Alas, an army of samurai was no match for immensely powerful alien robots. 

Now there is a lot to unpack here.

The Guardians send one modified alien back to Earth to fight the remaining Manhunters instead of sending the Green Lanterns?

N'Lasa decides to create a cult of Manhunter-hating humans to fight the cult of Man-hating Manhunters?

Did N'Lasa really think guys wielding swords would have a chance against the baton-wielding Manhunter agents?

N'Lasa doesn't seem adept or cunning in any way.

If that isn't weird enough ...

When the Manhunters defeat N'Lasa this time, they instead imprison him. We don't know what N'Lasa can do. We've just met him, remember.

But Ostrander and Yale tell us he has psionic powers. Put in some stasis field and plugged into the Manhunter hive mind, N'Lasa becomes a tool for the Manhunters. Even then, he tried to rebel.

N'Lasa used his powers to try and subvert some of the converts. So we see how the assassin who is the new Dumas rejected Manhunter coercion and instead recreated the Jujin, the samurai against the Manhunters. I like how we now know why that man's costume and the new Dumas' armor seems to look like N'Lasa.

And we hear how N'Lasa was able to make Paul Kirk's training swerve to independence. I also like if you squint at Kirk's armor you might see something N'Lasa-esque.

In fact, I wonder if N'Lasa is the underlying reason for the Lionhead Shan stone.

But once again we are confronted with new mind control techniques, new technology, new masks. The history of Shaw is so convoluted and tainted, I can see why he is so angry as Leviathan. 

Regardless, N'Lasa now sees Shaw is the True Manhunter.

So who controlled Shaw? The Manhunter clan? N'Lasa? Both?

We finally hear N'Lasa's third lesson. 

Shaw is different than the Manhunters. He is has compassion, something we have seen right from the start with his life as a public defender.

N'Lasa tells Shaw that the first person he needs to show compassion to is Shaw himself. 

And then things get even weirder.

Hal Jordan shows up. He, of course, was framed by Shaw way back in JLA #140. Jordan is going to bring Shaw in. But somehow, Shaw's thoughts co-opt the ring. Suddenly nightmarish images appear.

Here is Shaw's inner mind, all the identities he has become fighting against him, trying to kill him. In the background, all the people whose lives Shaw has impacted, most of them negatively. 

The ring manifests a hangman's noose and gallows and Shaw places his head into the rope. 

One thing you can know for sure. Shaw is close to madness here, with identity issues and self-condemnation. It is becoming more and more obvious how Manhunter morphs into Leviathan.

But before the noose is tightened, Shaw realizes there is more to him than just this traitor, this criminal, this killer. 

There is something more...

And with that Jordan and all the ring constructs disappear.

Were they ever really there? Has N'Lasa ever really been there? Or is this simply madness?

At the very least, it looks like N'Lasa is real ... or was real. Because now he is dead, assassinated by Dumas. 

It's on!

So does any of this make much sense? Or is this just the maniacal visions of a lunatic mind? Even if most of it is real, Shaw is on the edge here. Once more he has to deal with the idea of not being in control of his own self. He hears how multiple secret cabals have been dealing with history behind the scenes. And now his new mentor is dead.

As for N'Lasa, he is an enigma. While I like how Ostrander melds his look into the Manhunter lore, I don't know if this issue explains enough about who he is and what his part to play was in Manhunter history to make him make a lot of sense. 

And his lessons? Inscrutable? The Impossible becomes Possible. Look At Me. Justice must be tempered by compassion; compassion must be given to oneself.  Do we think that these are profound enough to make Shaw shake off his doubts and rise up? Can we somehow meld those into Leviathan and its teachings?


Anyways, this was a doozy of an issue. Next week we will finish off this series and this chapter in Mark Shaw's life. 

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