This week’s Jack Kirby centennial tribute from DC Comics centers on Manhunter, a Golden Age creation from Kirby and Joe Simon who first appeared in Adventure Comics during the 1940s. The issue also includes a back-up story featuring Etrigan the Demon, which is a curious decision since The Demon is by far more recognizable than Manhunter. DC also included three Golden Age Kirby stories in the back, so aside from The Demon, the whole issue acts as a tribute to Kirby’s 1940s work.
Here’s the official synopsis from DC Comics:
Big-game hunter and private detective Paul Kirk has marshaled his skills to fight crime as the masked vigilante known as Manhunter. But now crime has reached epidemic proportions that may push him to the limits – and draw the attention of the Golden Age heroes Sandman and Sandy! Plus: a short story featuring Etrigan the Demon by writer Sam Humphries and artist Steve Rude.
Paul Kirk was a vigilante crimefighter with no superpowers, but a unique costume and an interesting backstory. He was a big game hunter who returned to Empire City and chose to capture wanted criminals while wearing a steel mask. The character would likely have been forgotten were it not for Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s 1970s revival, although their costume for Kirk was very different. In the special, Manhunter stars in “Bring Me A Dream,” with a story and layouts by Keith Giffen, art by Mark Buckingham and words by Dan Didio. Buckingham returns Kirk to the original Kirby costume.
In the story, Manhunter finds a gang of criminals in a warehouse and almost beats one of them to death. But then Sandman (no, not this Sandman) and Sandy The Golden Boy show up to explain that beating the crap out of criminals isn’t going to make you a good hero. Didio’s dialogue is written in a perfect ’40s style, when superheroes were very talky while they punched. The story provides a great introduction to the character, as Manhunter decides to describe his own origin while fighting.
Buckingham’s art is also great, with the action broken up into several panels on each page, just as they would have been if the story was written 70 years ago. But it’s also mixed with modern splash pages that move the action along and emphasize the drama. Seeing Manhunter and Sandman together in the same page is very cool.
Up next, writer Sam Humphries and artist Steve Rude (who replaced Klaus Janson) bring us a new tale with Etrigan, The Demon. Again, it’s a little surprising that The Demon would be relegated to a backup story, since he’s such a well-known character. Titled “The Demon and the Infernal Prisons,” this is a quick story where Jason Blood tries a desperate attempt to free himself of the curse of having Etrigan live inside him. But things to terribly wrong and Jason learns that the only person who can possibly save him is the Demon.
DC then provides readers with three examples of Kirby’s 1940s work, although none of them are written by Kirby and they also don’t feature Manhunter or Sandman. The stores are “The Face Behind The Mask” from Tales of the Unexpected; and “The Rocket Lanes of Tomorrow” and “A World of Thinking Robots” from Real Facts Comics. While original Manhunter stories would have been preferable, but it’s a neat look at Kirby’s non-superhero work.
While not as exciting as The Sandman Special, The Manhunter special provides two good original stories. It’s a bit of a scatterbrained book though, since The Demon certainly deserves his own tribute special. This could have been a complete Golden Age Kirby tribute with a backup that featured another one of his ’40s characters. Nevertheless, those who have been itching to see Manhunter in action again will enjoy this issue.