- Action Comics #861, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
- Countdown to Final Crisis #13 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
- Countdown to Adventure #6 of 8, by Adam Beechen, Allan Goldman & Julio Ferreira, and Justin Gray, Fabrizio Fiorentino & Adam Dekraker (DC)
- The Death of the New Gods #5 of 8, by Jim Starlin, Matt Banning & Art Thibert (DC)
- Manhunter: Unleashed vol 4 TPB, by Marc Andreyko, Javier Pina, Fernando Blanco, Brad Walker & Robin Riggs (DC)
- Fantastic Four #553, by Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
- Project Superpowers #0 of 6, by Alex, Ross, Jim Krueger, Doug Klauba & Stephen Sadowski (Dynamite)
Unleashed is the final of four collections of Marc Andreyko’s Manhunter, about a prosecutor who becomes a superhero who’s willing to kill the villains who escape the legal system. The series was acclaimed for its strong female hero who also had realistic flaws, such as being a chain smoker and divorced. But it didn’t sell very well and was cancelled. Fan outcry led to it being un-cancelled for a few more issues, which are collected here, but as of this writing it looks like its day really is over.
The main story in this volume involves Wonder Woman hiring Kate Spencer – Manhunter’s civilian identity – to defend her in a grand jury trial regarding her killing of Maxwell Lord. The motivation behind the killing is part of the ongoing brouhaha surrounding DC continually trying to reinvent itself this decade, and I won’t go into the details here. Fortunately, I don’t need to, since the story is nicely self-contained, and used as a vehicle for Manhunter to gain a better understanding of her place in the superhero community. The “B” story is about Manhunter’s friend and ally Cameron Chase dealing with an old enemy of her father’s kidnapping her sister, which is also fun.
The book definitely hit its stride in the third and fourth volumes, having seemed rather disjointed and heavy-handed in the first. I still wouldn’t characterize it as more than average superheroics, albeit with a little more reality injected into the story (Kate’s bad at keeping her identity a secret, and gets the stuffing beat out of her in some of the fights, for instance). Still, average has plenty of value and I’d probably read it if a new series came out. Which it could, since there are all sorts of loose threads at the end of this volume. But I’m doubtful that DC will give it another shot.
It seems like everyone wants to bring back a team of obscure heroes from yesteryear and put them in a modern context. J. Michael Straczynski’s doing The Twelve over at Marvel, and now Alex Ross is working the same angle, this time using many of the Nedor Comics characters that Alan Moore did in his Terra Obscura series of a few years back, as well as the original Daredevil.
The premise begins with the notion that Pandora’s Box was responsible for releasing both the evil of the Nazis in World War II, and the many superheroes who sprang up to fight it. One hero, the Fighting Yank, is charged with returning all the heroes to the box in the hopes that the evil with follow. Decades later, in the present day, he learns that he was apparently tricked, which I presume sets the stage for the release of the heroes from the box into the present day.
Like Straczynski’s comics, I’ve been disappointed with Ross’ books since Kingdom Come, mainly because of his stories’ tendencies to have very “uncompressed” storytelling – i.e., they’re slow-moving. And the payoff often doesn’t seem to live up to the grandiose set-up. While Ross’ art is always lovely, he often leaves the art chores to others. Project Superpowers leaves the art to Stephen Sadowski who’s got the skills to pull this off, but the textured feel of his pencils – which appear not to have been inked – and the bizarre coloring job which leaves every character with some peculiar highlights seem to undercut the four-color feel of the characters.
The story’s okay, with the feel of a tragedy unfolding in slow motion as the Fighting Yank essentially betrays his friends. But this issue’s just the prologue – presumably once the heroes are released the real story starts. The question is: What will it be, and will it be worth it?