Secret Origins #22: The Manhunters

Ryan Daly and guest Jeff Nettleton review the origins of the Manhunter robots, as well as three heroes who have taken the name over the years from Secret Origins #22.

Listen to Episode 22!

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Sample pages from Secret Origins #22, written by Roy and Dann Thomas with art by Howard Simpson, and a cover by Walt Simonson.

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Plus, sample images from Police Comics #8 by Tex Blaisdell and Alex Kotzky, and Detective Comics #437 by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson.

Police#8 Police#8.2 Tec#437

“Premonition” (Theme for Secret Origins Podcast) written and performed by Neil Daly.

Additional music this episode: “Robots” by Flight of the Conchords; “Die Hard the Hunter” by Def Leppard; “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks; “Every Breath You Take” by The Police.

Leave a comment, Secret Admirers!

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20 thoughts on “Secret Origins #22: The Manhunters

  1. I like this issue a lot – as pointed out, Roy Thomas does a great job of weaving together the various strands of Manhunter in service to Millennium & Simpson’s art proved very versatile in illustrating the various eras of history. I’ve become something of a Millennium defender of late – having recently re-read the series & the not quite complete set of tie-in issues that I own.

    It no doubt has its problems, but I’ve always admired the execution of this weekly series, and the editorial coordination it must have taken to crank out dozens of pretty tightly tied x-over issues. I actually find the issues of the core mini to be a more engrossing read than, say, Legends, which suffered from near constant recap. What Legends has that Millennium doesn’t, though, is a fantastic art team in John Byrne & Karl Kesel. I love Joe Staton but he’s not an ‘event’ artist and it was a bad pairing between him & Ian Gibson on Millennium.

    I also loved the levels of threat in Millennium, how the Manhunters not only presented a cosmic level menace, but also made it personal for Earth’s heroes with the infiltration of their sleeper agents.

    The Manhunters stuff this issue of SO was a real education & set me on a quest to collect Mark Shaw’s appearances in his various guises (his identity crisis I found quite compelling), though his solo series left me a little cold.

    Jeff is right, the Kate Spencer series was quite excellent – Mark Andreyko did as good a job as Roy Thomas in creating a cohesive Manhunters mythology. It’s a shame that character was killed off in Arrow (Mark Shaw appears as well in season 3).

    I’ve got a question for the knowledge base here – between the Manhunters & the Green Lantern Corps. the Guardians had their other peacekeeping force, sentient beings with batteries & guns – I think I 1st saw them referenced in History of the DCU. Were there ever any stories detailing the history or adventures of this crew?

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    1. That’s a good question. I wasn’t reading much Green Lantern, in this era (or most of my comic reading life; just now and again); so, I don’t really know.

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      1. Here’s an answer from my notes:

        Between the time the Guardians of the Universe abandoned the Manhunters to the time they came up with the power rings of the Green Lanterns, the Guardians created a police organization composed of humanoid agents, equipping them with spaceships and ray-guns energized by power batteries. This proto-Green Lantern Corps is never named, but only pictured. It is possible that this original intergalactic police organization served as the basis for several other such organizations in the centuries to follow, such as the Interplanetary Vigilantes and the Intergalactic Patrol. See “Those Who Worship Evil’s Might,” Green Lantern v2 #90 (August-September, 1976).

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  2. First off, best music selections for the podcast so far, kudos.
    It’s a toss up on issues about characters I’ve got very little familiarity with being interesting or being dull (though the podcast itself is thankfully never dull.) This fell into the dull category for me just for how thinly spread the thing was. If I’d had a hook into at least one of these characters already then it probably would have worked better for me, but as the only version I knew before was the robot version and they never much interested me, the whole issue left me a bit cold. And am I the only one who kept expecting the Grand Master to start talking about the difficulties of living with diabetus?

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  3. I had NO IDEA my former Kubert School instructor Tex Blaisdell co-created the first Manhunter! The SECRET ORIGINS PODCAST: Learning is fun!

    For an issue tied into such a dismal crossover event, this episode was pretty good. Props to Ryan and Jeff for taking on what much have been a real uphill climb.

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  4. I always liked this issue, because it was so chock-full of DC history. Millennium was a mess, with the whole thing really being the launch of a lackluster team book no one wanted. But as Jeff pointed out, the parts were greater than the sum, and this issue isn’t bad! Thomas does do a good job of weaving all this together, but then he’s a master of that. It’s true that he often doesn’t know when to quit, but he did it nicely here.

    I recall the two Golden Age Manhunters first met in Thomas’ All-Star Squadron #31 a few years earlier (Pre-Crisis, of course). The Dan Richards Manhunter takes issue with Paul Kirk for stealing his name, and later they share barbs about it while Liberty Belle is doing Roll Call!!! I have to say I like Richards’ first costume from the splash page scan Ryan provided. The footprint is a little weird, but at least it’s sleek and far less generic than a blue leotard with trunks.

    I do think the Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter would make a great TV mini-series or movie, but yes, the costume would have to change. It’s the perfect example of a costume that works in comics, but probably wouldn’t make much sense outside of the medium. Like Jeff I was a big fan of the early issues of the Ostrander/Yale/Rice run on Manhunter. Loved Mark Shaw’s costume in that one. Too bad it fizzled out after Rice jumped ship.

    Great to hear Jeff bring the knowledge again. Great job fellas!

    Chris

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  5. Long-winded cuss, ain’t I?

    Cudos to Ryan for bringing my digressions back on track and the excellent music choices (Def Leppard!!!! Whoooooooooooo!!!!!!!)

    Thanks again for the opportunity to join the fun.

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  6. Another great episode Ryan and Jeff (I get extra excited when you do issues I own).

    My disdain for Millennium is all around the sleeper agents. That was a hook with no pull once you saw how there was no follow through with characters with an extensive history.

    My affection for Millennium is principally grounded in the tie in issues set in Louisiana: Suicide Squad, Detective Comics, Spectre, Captain Atom and Firestorm. As my comic collection has aged I find I’m cherishing the 80’s Ostrander Suicide Squad and the titles connected to it more and more. This recently led me to begin reacquiring the Mark Shaw Manhunter run.

    I wonder why no one ever created an alpha predator for the Manhunters. I would really like to hear the cry “No Manhunter escapes the Manhunter hunters”.

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  7. One element of Paul Kirk not brought up in the story, and which we skipped, was that he actually started as a detective character, who specialized in missing persons. It was called Paul Kirk, Manhunter. That actually predates Dan Richards as Manhunter, though Paul Kirk is not yet a costumed adventurer. In the debut of the Simon & Kirby version, Manhunter is named Rick Nelson. Apparently, after his first mission, he went to a garden party, to reminisce with his old friends, and Paul Kirk had to take over. Either that or Ozzy objected to his new life and he had to give it up. Manhunter became Paul Kirk with the second issue of the run.

    There was also a Showcase issue, with a character called Manhunter 2070, who is an intergalactic bounty hunter.

    A great read, with Paul Kirk as a major character, is James Robinson and Paul Smith’s The Golden Age. Paul Kirk holds a major key to the story and is used wonderfully in it, linking to his Golden Age history and setting up, perfectly, his future.

    When I met Doug Rice, I asked him about the inspiration for his Manhunter costume design, for Mark Shaw. Rice was a big fan of the Japanese tokusatsu shows, especially Kamen Rider, Kikaider, and the Super Sentai shows (the foundation of the Power Rangers series); especially how they created realistic but superheroic costumes for the heroes. There is a lot of Kamen Rider in the design of the mask, the scarf, and the pants and boots. I got a sketch from Rice, at that convention: Mark Shaw, Manhunter. It’s pretty darn cool.

    Mark Shaw turned up in that Beware the Batman cartoon, in the old red and blue costume.

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    1. I got that Rick Nelson reference. That was brilliant. 🙂

      I had no idea Mark Shaw showed up on Beware the Batman. Since Cartoon Network buried the later episodes in the pre-dawn graveyard, that’s not surprising.

      Chris

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  8. Wow.
    I had avoided this issue because of the tie-in to Millenium, a crossover I think is best left forgotten.
    I didn’t think this would include all the Manhunters, especially the Paul Kirk version. I feel very lucky to have found the one-issue baxter reprinting of that Goodwin/Simonson run in the dollar box!

    Like Ryan, I want to not love Kirk’s costume, especially the ridiculous boots. And yet somehow it all works. Amazed he hasn’t been brought back. Was he zombified in the Blackest Night books?

    Now that I know this includes all these other more legit Manhunters, I think I need to find this issue. I did collect the Shaw Manhunter book (the Ostrander/Rice one) for about half a year back then and thought it was pretty cool. Those issues have been lost from my collection. Anyone think they are worth finding?

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    1. Honestly, no. I like the Mark Shaw character a lot, and I typically like the writing of John Ostrander/Kim Yale, but this series never really lived up to the cool concept/really cool costume. As mentioned earlier the Doug Rice art in the 1st 14 issues was often very pretty to look at, but the Grant Miehm stuff later on was OK, too. Just didn’t do it for me, despite me really wanting it to.

      Does anyone have the mask that came with the earliest subscription offer?

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      1. Never got the mask. The first 4 issues, with Dumas, are worth getting. That is the highlight of the series. However, it was a tough act to follow and Ostrander spent a bit of time working on characterization and the supporting cast. Just when it seemed like it was picking up again, it ran smack into the Invasion crossover. Doug Rice said Ostrander pitched the idea to him that it would be balls-to-the-walls action, with Mark Shaw chasing after supercriminals and bringing them in; a costumed Wanted : Dead or Alive. On of the great things about those first 4 issues is that Shaw uses his underground contacts, as well as law enforcement. He had access to knowledge that the police didn’t, like when he uses his prison knowledge of Captain Cold to chase him down, on the way to a Cubs game (Cold is a fan, which fits, given both the team and the villain’s track records). However, it started getting bogged down in scenes of Shaw having long conversations with his family. Rice got bored and moved on, eventually working for Warner Brothers, on Pinky and the Brain. I kind of stuck with the series to the end, mostly on momentum and hoped that it would return to the heights of the beginning. I liked Grant Miehm on The American (Dark Horse); but, he just wasn’t clicking, here. He did much better on the Impact line Legend of the Shield.

        Re: the boots. Those funky frames are supposed to be tree-climbing spikes, like a lineman wears, to climb utility poles (or a lumberjack). He never really uses them, though there was a panel with him climbing up a building; but, he was using tekagi claws (hand spikes, used by ninja to climb up walls and trees, in the feudal periods of Japan). He starts out with white buccaneer boots, like the clones; but, trades them in when he gets his new gear, following his revolt against the Council (produced by Kolu Mbeya). His other weapons include shuriken throwing stars, a throwing knife, a 1918 model Mauser pistol, and a katar, which Archie Goodwin called a “bundi dagger.” Walt drew the thing about as big as a sword; but, real ones are actually smaller, as it is a type of Hindu ceremonial punch dagger. It would look sweet on the screen, if they ever did a movie. The throwing knife and katar slotted into the climbing spike frames, on the boots, while the shuriken were attached to the samurai vest. The Mauser was carried in a holster, at the small of his back, attached to the blue harness that Manhunter wears (not easy to see on that one page of SO).

        Even if WB passed on a movie, the Paul Kirk story would make for a great DC animated one-shot. You have Batman for the climax, so it’s still commercial.

        One last bit about the popularity of Paul Kirk. Will Jacobs and Gerard jones (creators of The Trouble with Girls) produced a reference book about comics, Comic Book Super-Heroes. They devoted an entire chapter to the Goodwin/Simonson story. That’s how great it is. (They also had a chapter devoted to the equally good Moench and Gulacy Master of Kung Fu). There are two editions of the book; the original, from 1986, and a second edition in 1996. The original is a fan history of comics, from the Silver Age to the early 80s. The second is mostly a re-written version, delving deeper in the behind the scenes aspects, and taking it into the Image era. It’s a lot more “tabloidy” in approach and I prefer the original, as it was more about the comics and characters. It’s bright and fun. The second edition is more cynical (Jones had been working for DC, by that point).

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    2. Issues 1 – 14 are worth having if you read (or one day suddenly realise what a horrible mistake you’ve made in your life choices for not reading) the Ostrander Suicide Squad. Lots of tie ins between the two books culminating in the Janus Directive crossover with side trips through the Suicide Squad Annual 1.

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  9. Really enjoyed the podcast but I find the Manhunters boring to a man/android. Isn’t every superhero a manhunter? But most others have interesting gimmicks and better costumes.

    It’s a shame the Privateer wasn’t around in the Giffen/DeMatteis period – he’d have been laughed off the page.

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  10. I really enjoyed listening to this episode, because I rather recently re-read the Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter saga for a review that’s going to be published on another comics blog some time soon. It was interesting getting some background on all of the other Manhunters, with which I am only familiar in passing (if at all).
    Mainly I just wanted to say that I totally agree with Jeff that the Goodwin/Simonson story would make an excellent movie – obviously, it could be done without the costume, or with a toned-down, film-friendly version (your suggestion for an animated feature, one that includes the Batman final chapter, is also something I fully endorse). As to the costume, I have to take exception with Ryan’s characterization of it as “hideous.” It is anything but – outlandish yes, but not hideous. And as both of you pointed it out, it just looks so damn good as rendered by Simonson.
    (Just as an aside, I always liked that Star Tsar is spelled the way it is, because in pretty much every Slavic language, the word is indeed pronounced with the “ts” (or “tz”) sound, rather than the “z” sound that’s become accepted in English.)

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  11. Not a big fan of Howard Simpson’s tiny figures generally, but giving him the WHOLE issue just feels wrong. The different Manhunters had different feels and shouldn’t all have been done in the same style.

    Great Jim Kelly reference! I did a Who’s This feature on the Dan Richards Manhunter at http://siskoid.blogspot.ca/2013/10/whos-manhunter-i.html and he had a very long career. Longer than any of the others!

    I became a fan of Manhunter with the Mark Shaw series, which tied into the rest of the Ostranderverse at the time, but everyone’s said it, once Rice left, it just wasn’t the same. Basically a cool mini-series that went to series without its artist. Didn’t read the gaudy 90s Manhunter series, but Kate Spencer brought me back and I loved that version of the character a LOT. Thor ended up as her kid’s robot dog too.

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  12. I was introduced to DC’s non-Martian Manhunters through Millennium, and thought the concept was keen (plus I have a longtime love of Body Snatchers, which the sleeper agents recalled.) Although I abandoned the core mini-series about halfway through, I continued to pick up tie-ins that I enjoyed. My only problems were the many narrative cheats employed to diminish the impact of seemingly major betrayals to the status quo, and that the Manhunter androids continued to be used after the event.

    You see, as evidenced by this issue, DC already had too many Manhunters that needed to be culled, and have only added more instead. The first one I had loyalty to was Mark Shaw, whose spin-off solo series had a better but more character specific take on this issue’s exposition festival. The initial four issue arc of that series hooked me in a big way, but the book never recovered from losing a perfect archenemy in Dumas, and most of the rest of the run meandered and sputtered. A few years later, still interested in Shaw and curious about references to Paul Kirk in that series, I bought this Secret Origins as a back issue, probably the only one I owned before my mid-90s deep dive into DC. From there I picked up the Baxter reprint of the Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter, then some issues of the Zero Hour Chase Lawler run as they were coming out (mostly the last few featuring Shaw) made various attempts to read the Kate Spencer run (especially the first ones that featured Shaw,) and even tried issues of Power Company and JSA featuring Paul Kirk-related characters (anyone remember the female Nemesis?) As someone who has spent a fair amount of time and money on Manhunter comics, I have come to the conclusion that all these also-rans need to die and stay dead and leave the Manhunting to the Martian who is and will always be more popular and viable than the whole rest of the lot.

    I have never particularly liked or disliked Simonson’s cover to this issue. It is serviceable and lacks much of Simonson’s style, so I’ve always just taken it for granted. Similarly, Howard Simpson’s interiors did the job without thrilling or turning me off, but I do like the crowd scenes with seas of Manhunter robots. I dig their back story and their function as Green Lantern foes, though again, I think they played themselves out and needed to be shelved in the end.

    Dan Richards has a nice enough costume, but I’ve never read any of his Golden Age stories, and the Thomases don’t seem to want me to. The insistence on tying every heroic Manhunter into the scheme of the androids renders Richards remarkable only by his stupidity in not recognizing his dog was nearly a half century old, and it’s not like his efforts reflected well on his masters, either.

    Howard Simpson didn’t do himself any favors by attempting to homage Jack Kirby’s swell (iconic even?) Manhunter splash, but he acquitted himself very nicely with that creepy Buzzard. I like Paul Kirk’s original costume the best of the ones presented here, as it’s spooky, intense, and does the best job of saying “Manhunter.” I very much dig the “hunting the world’s most dangerous game” angle, but Kirk’s origin in itself is boilerplate for the times. His revival is a good example of a “limited engagement” character who can blow people away with his finite tale, but he absolutely needs to stay dead or it all unravels. I never much appreciated attempts to extend the life of the Council, since their story was of their time. Part of what was great about Goodwin/Simonson was that they basically translated the great unfilmed Bruce Lee vehicle into comics, where it had a wide and obvious influence, and then it walked away toward a place of reverence rather than linger to derision. By extension, the Simonson costume is nifty for that one story and that is it.

    Steve Englehart’s stories are what led me to Mark Shaw, but I have serious misgivings regarding the liberties he took. Here was a decades old character concept originated under Simon/Kirby, and the resurrected body of Paul Kirk wasn’t even cold before Englehart hijacked the property for his Manhunter corps. This necessitated co-opting at least Kirk & Shaw’s origins, taking them places their creators never intended, and ultimately contaminating even a Manhunter not originally published by DC. Admittedly, Shaw was probably not going anywhere after his First Issue Special, and I like his convoluted existence as Privateer/Star-Tsar that led to his redemptive arc under Ostrander/Yale, but I still struggle with the disregard for the work of so many others in service to one man’s wonky vision.

    How is it nobody else commented on the Harlequin panel from page 37? That is one of the most ’80s things I’ve ever seen.

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  13. Great podcast. I just subscribed over a week ago and have already burned through all the episodes. It’s just that good.

    I’m far more familiar with the Pre-Crisis and Pre-2000s DC Universe than the current comics, so I was hoping Ryan would expand a bit on what he likes about the current versions of the Manhunters. He mentioned a few times that he prefers the current versions, but never explains what makes them different.

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