Friday, June 11, 2010

"Listen to them, Manhunter. My heads never lie . . . Even if they speak with recording tape.

1st Issue Special #5

Written, Drawn and Edited by Jack Kirby

Inked and Lettered by D. Bruce Berry

Ok, so it's been quite a while since I last posted and I strongly felt the urge to get SOMETHING posted in the month of June so here it is.

The first appearance of Manhunter takes place over 3 chapters. The first chapter unfolds with Manhunter tracking his quarry to "The Cave of the Talking Heads"(though it should be noted David Byrne was nowhere to be found so maybe this takes place after he left the band). The place still lives up to its' name though, with bizarre, otherworldly heads mounted on the wall hurling taunts to our hero. In triple quick time(actually, page 2-3 as it's a strangely illustrated double splash page), Manhunter finds his man: a purple helmet/green robe-clad individual calling the shots from what can only be called a pope mobile. Manhunter takes down the energy spewing head with a blast from his own electric baton.
Chapter 2 finds Manhunter in trouble as the vaguely alien looking adversary drops the "electric head" on Manhunter. Death seems certain, but a lucky blind shot from Manhunter breaks through the villain's pope mobile. Buying him some time as he struggles with the contraption on his head, Manhunter manages to get the helmet off in the nick of time as the alien pope figure it revealed to be human and he comes at Manhunter with an axe! Manhunter thrusts the electric helmet into harm's way and the mad genius/alien/religious figure perishes by his own invention. The irony of it all! After the battle, it is time for introspection as the Manhunter strips off his chrome face only to reveal an old man hiding underneath. "Meanwhile, in a quiet suburb of a small college town . . ."(it actually says this in the caption on the following page), a frustrated, young public defender named Mark Shaw vents to his uncle how he is of no use to anyone as he can't help the people he is appointed to represent as they are victims and pawns of the powerful. Hearing this, his uncle reveals a secret door to an amazing artifact collection the uncle has beein quietly hoarding from his time as an archeologist. His uncle is the proud owner of a full Manhunter suit kept under glass. He tells his nephew a bit about the "Shan" sect and how they basically fight crime. This all leads to a medallion that will allow his nephew to contact the Shan and obviously become the next manhunter. Which brings us to chapter 3 . . .
We return to the elderly manhunter having an audience with his master. Here, we learn he is the last warrior of his race and he wishes to retire, but there is no one to take his place. His master assures him there is and leads him over to a gigantic lion totem that is apparently the other end of the medallion held by Mark Shaw. A brief exchange occurs and Shaw is granted the powers of the Shan. And none too soon, either! Right at this time, Mark learns the client he was currently representing was slain by the mob and it's at this precise moment, too that the mob shows up to tie up all their loose ends by icing Shaw as well. Clearly, they were ill prepared for the fisticuffs that would commence with the newly invigorated Manhunter! Shaw looks to destroy half his home in the ensuing melee, but he gets a name he's been looking for and is soon hot on the trail of his quarry! We cut to a scene in which we see this shall be Shaw's first test and if he succeeds, he shall receive his baton, thus releasing the old Manhunter from his servitude. The final panel reveals Shaw's target, and he looks more like a frog than a person. Talk about a cliff-hanger.
I know this character has turned up in various series, but I'm pretty sure Kirby never returned to him. I knew nothing about the character going into this, but this debut tale pretty much tells me everything I need to know. There's a fine mix of Kirby's bizarre and entertaining ideas on display here. Kirby's art was pretty consistent throughout and I thought Berry's inks on this issue worked better than on the Atlas story. It's definitely worth checking out.