Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Manhunter by Goodwin & Simonson: A Look Back

Here I am wasting perfectly good bandwidth discussing a comic strip that has received more than its fair share of kudos over the years. You may be asking yourself – what more can this moron say about Manhunter that hasn’t already been said? Well, at the very least, I can present my opinions on this series punctuated with quirky Canadian spelling.

I had read most if not all of the Manhunter back-ups at one time or another via various back issues, but when I saw this Special Edition TPB on sale at an LCS not too long ago, I thought that it would be great to have the whole thing in a single package. Due to a heavy work and parenting loan, my quality comic book reading time has been somewhat limited as of late, but I finally did get the chance to dive into this book.

As it turns out, it certainly does lend itself to being read in one sitting. You really get a sense of where Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson were headed with this character. Although it has been said before, this really is groundbreaking stuff; at least as far as mainstream superhero books were concerned. Goodwin’s obvious love of pulps is apparent here, as our hero operates in the shadows and reveals himself on a ‘need to know’ basis. The storytelling has a great more cinematic approach, as the plot unfolds in a slightly kinetic way, forcing the reader to pay very close attention.

The storyline contains so many great elements (shadowy secret society, clones, serious globetrotting) that we have come to know and love as members of the ‘24/Alias’ generation. In some ways, this storyline was so far ahead of the pack in the early 70s that it doesn’t feel at all dated today. It’s really incredible how much the creative team was able to squeeze into each short back-up tale.

Upon re-reading these tales, there are two things that really strike me today. The first is Simonson’s work here. I know he was pretty new to the industry at the time of the original stories, but he demonstrated that he had his own voice and would be telling stories in his own way. Working with Goodwin, Simonson was able to use some creative layouts that are riveting – they are absolutely Krigsteinesque in spots. The look Simonson have his figures changed over the years – morphing into a Kirby-style chunkiness. I much prefer these earlier, lean figures, as they are able to move more fluidly in the action sequences.

The second aspect of this series that really impresses me is Goodwin’s writing. Of course, he was a wonderful writer but he certainly falls into the ‘don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’ camp. At a time when the likes of Roy Thomas and Don McGregor were demanding larger and larger word balloons, Goodwin was able to convey a wonderful story in surprisingly few words. It’s an impressive feat.

The really great surprise in this reprint collection, which I understand won some awards upon in initial publication, is a short, silent ‘final’ Manhunter story that provides some closure regarding the clone issue. It a fun little spectacle, based on notes left by Goodwin. Although it has been applauded time and time again over the past 30 years, I just thought one more voice of praise couldn’t hurt. Thanks Archie and Walt – it was a great ride.

1 comment:

Rick said...

Agree completely.