Sunday, 28 June 2020

The New Manhunter in Detective Comics #440. One man's battle with the council.

Thanks to Charlie Horse 47 and Killdumpster for their sponsorship of this post, via the magic of Patreon.

Detective Comics #440, Ghost Mountain Midnight
When I was young, there were a hundred good reasons to read Detective Comics #440.

And every one of those reasons was a page.

But some pages were more reasony than others - and the final seven were the most reasony of them all.

For they were the ones which contained the all-new, all-improved Manhunter.

I say, "all -improved," but, for all I knew, he wasn't anything of the sort, as, up until this issue, I'd never read any tales of the old Manhunter who was, of course, one of DC's stable of Golden Age adventurers.

I did, however, know that - as delivered by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson - Paul Kirk's latest incarnation was a splendid character, armed to the teeth, equipped with a magnificent costume and capable of dealing with any threat life could throw at a man, whether it be tigers, multiple copies of himself or lunatic conspirators.

So, clearly, I loved it in my salad days but what of now?

Detective Comics #440, Manhunter and Christine St Clair
As we join the action, Manhunter and his newly recruited accomplice Interpol agent Christine St. Clair are strolling down a street, for reasons that are never made clear, when her old boss Damon Nostrand tries to run them over. 

That is, of course, no more than a minor inconvenience to our hero who simply stabs Nostrand's car and then sets it on fire, blowing its driver up in the process.

This leads Manhunter to stroll into flashback mode and tell of how the secret organisation known as The Council recruited and trained him to be their assassin and how Nostrand had been the first victim they'd sent him out to kill.

Lest we think too unkindly of The Council, they did, at least, tell our hero of their mission to create a better world and that the removal of men like Nostrand is the only way to achieve it.

But, being a man of conscience, Manhunter had, instead, warned his intended victim - only for it to turn out Nostrand was in on it all and the mission was merely a test of Manhunter's loyalty.

Detective Comics #440, Manhunter and his clones
After a quick battle with his own clones, Manhunter fled the scene and set about arming himself for his new life as an adversary of The Council.

The whole thing is a masterclass in concentrated story-telling as we get through a startling amount of plot and information in just seven pages, without it ever feeling rushed or any element ever feeling perfunctory. In fact, it really does feel like a twenty-page story until you make the effort to count the pages.

Detective Comics #440, Manhunter meets the man from the Council
Everything about the thing works. Manhunter is a kind of dark Captain America, a 1940s one-man army revived in the modern world and having to find a new course for himself in this brave new era. The Council are sinister, grotesque and pathetic, a bunch of old men on life support, trying to reinvent humanity, and the fact that Paul Kirk is a man at war with an army of his own clones is a stroke of genius. Why on Earth have they not made a movie of this?

What did quickly strike me, re-reading it for the first time since the 1970s, is how similar Kirk's backstory also is to that of Shang-Chi, with a well-intentioned man being trained to kill by those who claim to have pure intentions, before recognising the sinister nature of his masters and turning against them.

But Manhunter's a very different kettle of fish to Shang-Chi, having lived a full and adventurous life long before he encountered The Council and having a less philosophical and more matter-of-fact nature. 

At face value, in his modern form, he's another of those ruthless, death-dealing characters who were suddenly all the rage in the era but what sets him apart from the likes of the Punisher, Hangman and myriad others is he doesn't seem to be insane and has a clear handle on right and wrong, meaning you can enjoy the sight of him killing people, without feeling uncomfortable about it.

The one thing that does feel like a letdown is that Manhunter's armoury of weapons feels nothing like as awesome now as it did back then, consisting, as it does, of two throwing stars, an antique pistol, a knife and a pair of shoulder pads. Thus, it is odd to see him travelling all the way to Nairobi to acquire it from one of the world's leading experts in the field, when you would have thought he could have got better tooled-up just by going to Walmart.

Detective Comics #440, Manhunter - wanted!


Killdumpster said...

Man, Steve, You must really love this book.

Steve W. said...

KD, I love each and every comic that has 100 pages.

Anonymous said...

Me too. Odds are, there's gonna be something appealing in there somewhere.
Something about them makes me think of a summer day in the '70's.
There were some nifty Justice League hundred pagers. Even the old reprinted material in them was interesting to look at. As a small kid I really dug the Golden Age heroes.
Heck, who doesn't?


Charlie Horse 47 said...

Steve-O! What's shakin baby?

Love this write up! And like you, I loved each and every 100-pager! Though, I may have loved some differently than others.

M.P. - You express my sediments exactly! In fact I have a 100-pager JLA that I always keep handy when I need a Golden Age / DC / JLA quick fix. It's the one with a dead Santa Claus on the cover. I've read that thing pretty much every year for like the last 45 years!

Oddly though, I recall not digging the Manhunter. I just didn't care for the costume. And I was always confused as to why DC would use the same name on two characters (excluding the crazy arguments about and Earth 1 and 2 duplicates).

Lou Fine or Reed Crandall were the likely Doll Man artists in this issue and, well, they set the bar really frickin high for this medium. Being able to see that in the 1970s, pre-internet, was golden!!!

Anonymous said...

I loved it when the JSA showed up in the Justice League comic, which they were doing on a regular basis in the early '70's. I didn't completely grasp the "multiple Earths" concept because I was a little kid who had to nag his Ma to buy him comics off the spinner rack at the grocery store.
But I was nuts about superheroes. The more, the better. Dr. Fate and Wildcat were among my favorites.


Fantastic Four follower said...

Loved those 100 page DC's and particularly loved the Marvel double sized issues in November 1971(also October and December to a lesser degree)! Would I be correct in saying that Neal Adams only drew one story in that 100 page format which seems amazing considering his output at that time! Batman #255,but you knew that anyway. A werewolf story with a subtle nod to the 3 Stooges. The Manhunter series was reprinted by DC many times and it won numerous awards. Quite rightly too, a highlight from the 70's.Great Post. Stay well everybody.

Redartz said...

Being mostly a Marvel zuvembie in the 70's, I missed out on DC's 100 pages. Picked them up later, though. Also picked up (much more recently, like last year) a Special Edition collection of the Manhunter series. Greatly enjoyed it, art and story. Well deserving of the praises which led me to give it a try...

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Red, FFF, et al...

So the Manhunter series got awards and such? Didn't know that. Old Charlie is always on the hunt for some great silver / bronze runs to read.

How was it collected? Like a "Manhunter Archive" or ...? I want to google my library and see if I can get it!

We are now allowed to check out materials from the library. Curb side service! Call it in, they bring it out! No one allowed inside yet. Now that's what I call putting your tax $ to a good benefit, lol!

Steve W. said...

FFF, that Batman/werewolf story is certainly the only Neal Adams work I can remember ever encountering in one of DC's 100-page comics.

MP, I never understood the DC multiple Earth stuff either.

Charlie, DC certainly do seem to have had a lot of characters called, "Manhunter," over the years.

Red, I think I bought every 100-pager I ever encountered. It was a chance to catch up with DC's mysterious (to me) past, in a way I otherwise wouldn't have been able to.

Anonymous said...

Redartz, my Brother From Another Mother , I never bought any of DC’s 100-pagers off the spinner rack back in the day, either. Not one. I was a good little Face-Frontin’ True Believer and did buy EVERY Marvel Giant-Size title — even crap like GIANT-SIZE SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP 2 and GIANT-SIZE WEREWOLF (every single issue of which is garbage — well, the 50s reprints in the back are pretty good).

I’ve since Seen The Light and have bought just about all the DC 100-pagers over the past few decades. I have just one of the Romance books (they’re CRAZY expensive now) and I might be missing one of the JUSTICE LEAGUES. The Golden Age reprints are a huge part of the appeal for me now (they didn’t interest me at all in my younger days).

Charlie —

The Manhunter stuff was collected twice that I know of, both as extra-long comics — one Baxter “Complete Manhunter” thing , back when Baxter Books were all the rage, and a later “Special Edition” in a gold-foil card stock cover, that included a previously unpublished story plotted by Archie, drawn by Walter and left unscripted (it’s pretty cool). Neither is really a “book” so I don’t know if any library would have them, but it’s sure worth a try. Good luck!

- b.t.

Charlie Horse 47 said...


Well there is a Manhunter book on Amazon for like $17 of Goodwin Simonson.

Frugal Charlie checked his local library. They have Martian Manhunters, a female DC comic Manhunter from 2005, but not Goodwin / Simonson Manhunter.

What the heck... What is that library wasting my tax $ on!!! LOL!

Charlie Horse 47 said...

I just read the $1 "True Believers" reprint of Thor that introduces Beta Ray Bill by Simonson.

Though compelling reading, I found the art disappointing (in the same sense as much of Chaykin's) because the drawings are sort of sketchy and not clear, especially faces.

Whereas I look at the pages above and Simonson's art does seem more solid / detailed / identifiable as to what the hell's going on.

Was it just a gradual transition in his art or did he just start drawing like that with Thor?

Killdumpster said...

I loved Marvel Giant-Sized books also.
In my opinion the Avengers Had the best ones.

While I never bought DC's 100 page books, I did read them when friends would lend them/give them to me. Always a fun read, and an interduction to 2 of my favorite DC characters, Eclypso & Metamorpho.

Killdumpster said...

While I enjoyed Simonson, Beta Ray Bill was one of the turning points for me shying away from the Thor title.

That, and "Thor-frog".

Anonymous said...

Simonson was an original, distinctive stylist - not only was his run on Thor the best regular Marvel of its era, but he also managed to write and draw the only worthwhile post-Kirby Fourth World comic, Orion.
Manhunter was early days for him, so the artwork is a bit rough in places but you can still see something fresh and different in it.

Steve, as ever, that was a great review. Its nice that you enjoyed reading about people killing each other without feeling uncomfortable. There should be more sane mayhem in comics!

I would have been interested in your thoughts on the old Simon and Kirby Manhunter story in the same issue, and how it compared with the Goodwin/Simonson version but I guess that could be another post.
Actually, you could get several more posts out of this comic if you review all of it...


Killdumpster said...

Hokey Smokes, Back issue-winkle!!

Guess I'll have to pickup this book, seeing it maybe a SDC reaccurance.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

KD - it looks like you can score Detective 440 on ebay for $10 all day long in VG condition as a "buy it now."

I'd offer some guy $5 and see?

Anonymous said...

I thought Simonson was a pretty good writer, despite Thor-frog and Beta Ray Bill, both of which made me groan.
He took over Thor when it was in a very moribund, crappy period and kicked it into overdrive. A few dopey concepts along the way can be forgiven, I guess. At least he was doing SOMETHING with the character.
I liked his handling of Thor's showdown with the Midgard Serpent. They spent most of the comic trying to out-insult each other, which I thought was hilarious.


Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong with Beta Ray Bill (as I recall, he was a Corbinite - yes, really - which is ok with me).
Ad as for Thor-frog, it was good that Simonson didn't always take Thor so seriously, And anyway, even his worse ideas were still a big improvement on the Eternals crossover, endless conversations with a disembodied eyeball about Wagner or whatever, and all that nonsense.


Anonymous said...

I happened to have liked the talking eyeball, Sean.
The idea that Odin's severed eyeball might retain it's own sentience and work to it's own purpose is not too much out of line with some of the other things in Norse mythology.
Plus, it's kinda cool! Giant sentient eyeball...Grant Morrison did that in JLA.


Anonymous said...

A giant sentient eyeball could be a cool idea M.P., but when its just a device for Roy Thomas to dump seemingly endless amounts of info on the reader - about the Celestials, trying to make the Eternals consistent with Marvel Universe cosmology, and on top of that loads of new background material on Norse legends derived from Wagner's Ring cycle - it doesn't work for me.


Anonymous said...

Well, Thomas was weirdly obsessive in the respect that he was trying to shoehorn all the random aspects of Marvel Comics history into a neat, coherent narrative (not just the Eternals and Thor, but also the Kree-Srull war epic) and he did this at D.C. as well, after he left Marvel. There was something going on with that guy.
My favorite floating giant eyeball (with due respect to Sauron) would be the Decreator, from the Doom Patrol comic, an apparently mindless cosmic entity otherwise known as the Eye of Horus or Shiva, wakened by a cult, whose job it was to, well, de-create the universe.
The Doom Patrol couldn't stop it, but they slowed it way down.
It's still, ah, "de-creating" the universe, only now very slowly.
This is why you only found one sock in the dryer. This is where your cigarette lighter went. This explains why your cat never came home.


Charlie Horse 47 said...

M.P. -

Would the Eye in the Sky be able to tweak ebay so KD can get this issue of Detective for $.50 instead of $5.00?

Anonymous said...

That all sounds a bit Philip K. Dick (with a touch of the better second-tier 70s Marvels) M.P., which is why I don't much care for Grant Morrison MBE. Whenever I tried his stuff it always seemed like something I'd read before, only done better.


Steve W. said...

Sean, I will look into tackling that Golden Age Manhunter tale...

Killdumpster said...

Charlie, oh my brother.

I have my local comic shop looking for a beat-copy as I type.

They got 20 shops, with a warehouse that sell comics for a buck. They're huge. Nice guys.

New Dimension Comics.

Killdumpster said...

May not be able to get a copy of Detective Comics #440 till the end of the month, by my way of thinking.

The virus, kids taking off for summer vacation, and a little thing called "The 4th Of July"

I'm not going to elaborate on that holiday, since most of my across-the-pond pals don't celebrate it.

If we did one good thing, as America, we put out some great comics!!!

Killdumpster said...

"Can't touch this...
Dur Da Da Dur...Da Dur..Da Dur..
Can't touch this!"

Charlie Horse 47 said...

KD - if you score Detective 440 for a $1 from your LCB store, let us know! I will promptly send you my want list, a fistful of #1 bills, and a pre-stamped flat rate envelope!!! LOL!

Honestly those 100 pagers are weird pricing. I've seen 'em on tables for $.50 each as "reader copies" and then... well... just look at ebay. Crazy!

But I really did the "100 Page Super Spectacular" because they usually had really cool wrap around covers with a whole bunch of DC characters, notably from the Golden Age, that you'd seldom see like Cpt Midnight, Atom, Starman, etc...

Charlie Horse 47 said...

For the life of me, I cannot find my fav 100-pager by looking at images in google. It was a JLA (I thought) with a dead / smoking Santa Claus face down in the snow.

I've boxed up all my reading stuff, due to a move, and just can't figure out the title!


Steve W. said...

Charlie, it's Justice League of America #110; "The Murder of Santa Claus, 1973."

Anonymous said...

Actually Kd, across the pond part-time PM (and full-time idiot) Boris Johnson is calling for us to celebrate the 4th of July this year.

Officially its about the ending of lock down rather than commemorating the loss of British airports in 1776, but there does seem to be something subliminal in the choice of date (funny how the loonies obsessed with "independence" from Europe seem really keen on being the de facto 51st state of the US).


Charlie Horse 47 said...

Sean - that is an interesting subliminal observation indeed. Well said.

Steve - Have you ever thought of doing a random "Steve's does politics" blog just asking a simple question like above and letting the stuff fly for a week?

Probing questions could be:

"What the hell was a Yankee Doodle Dandy?"

"Did Guy Fawkes look like the Guy Fawkes masks?"

"Would you rather eat a hotdog topped mustard and fried onions falling in your lap or a meat pie dripping gravy in your lap, at a big event?"

"Would you rather watch hot dog eating or the porridge-eating championships?"

I just think this blog has potential for numerous other sponsors e.g., entire political parties!

Steve W. said...

I think they're questions the world demands answers to.

I wonder what those answers are.

Anonymous said...

Turns out Yankee Doodle Dandy was originally a British insult aimed at American colonists.

Don't those sort of questions often fly in the comments here anyway?
Not sure why they require a specific "Steve does politics" blog. But then I'm not sure how hot dog or porridge eating contests come under the heading of "politics" anyway, so just as well it isn't up to me.


Charlie Horse 47 said...

Well Steve...

First thank you for pinpointing that JLA issue for me! #110 it is! Any chance you have a review planned?

I think a Steve Poll one of these days would right and truly answer these questions!

But honestly, I need a youtube video or something of eating a meat pie at a game. I just can't fathom it.

Steve W. said...

Charlie, I reviewed that JLA tale, way back in 2012. You can find it right here: