Friday, October 13, 2006

Manhunter #1 (Cover Date October 2004)

Cast of Characters

Main Hero: Kate Spencer (Manhunter)
Minor Heroes: Damon, L.A.P.D.

Main Villain: Copperhead


Kate Spencer is a hard-nosed district attorney in Los Angeles, trying to earn a conviction and death sentence against Copperhead, who was captured after killing many people during a bank robbery. His defense attorney tries to convince the jury that he is not guilty due to his metagenes, that control him to the extent that he is not responsible for his actions.

The jury finds him "Not Guilty by Reason of Genetic Anomoly" and he is ordered transferred to the Death Valley Metahuman Research Facility, instead of death row. On the way, Copperhead escapes and kills the transport drivers. Kate, frustrated with her defeat, is arguing with her ex-husband over custody issues when she hears on the news that Copperhead has escaped.

Kate goes into the room where the D.A.s store the confiscated criminal parephernalia, takes a costume and weapon, and becomes Manhunter.

Out on the streets of Los Angeles, Manhunter tracks Copperhead into the sewers where they fight. When the police arrive, Copperhead is found dead, with a wound from Manhunter's staff through his head, and the name "Manhunter" carved above his body.


Manhunter gets a lot of credit for living up to many feminist ideals. Kate Spencer is a well developed character, isn't anorexic, doesn't have a skimpy costume, and is a good fighter. I largely agree, but:

Is Kate a good lawyer? In "Underworld Unleashed", Copperhead (who had, until then, just been a contortionist in a snake suit), sold his soul to the Demon Neron, and became a human/snake hybrid thingie. Is Copperhead entitled to a Genetic Anomoly defense when he freely chose his genetic anomoly? Not likely.

What's the politics here? Kate seems to believe that giving Copperhead the death penalty would save lives. But Copperhead could have escaped just as easily on his way to prison as to the Death Valley Metahuman Research Facility. It's not clear how things would have gone differently if Kate had won her case.

It's a general pet peeve of mine that the fact that prisoners often escape (so they can be criminals again in future issues!) makes comic books inherently pro-death penalty. I have absolutely no problem with Kate being pro-death penalty (I'm not, but I can still love characters I disagree with). My problem is that the book ITSELF is pro-death penalty, with the underlying message of "See, killing criminals is the only way to prevent stuff like this from happening."

Still, there is much to love about Manhunter, and I currently own all 25 of them (and am looking forward to #26 in December!)

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