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Manhunter is the name given to several different DC Comics superheroes/antiheroes, as well as the Manhunters, an entire race of androids created by the Guardians of the Universe as a forerunner to the Green Lantern Corps. (Note: None of these should be confused with the more well-known DC Comics superhero called the Martian Manhunter, who is sometimes addressed as Manhunter).
The first Manhunter's first appearance was in the Quality Comics title Police Comics #8 and his solo stories ended in issue #101. The Quality Comics characters were purchased by DC Comics when Quality went out of business in 1956. Dan Richards would eventually be featured in Young All-Stars and All-Star Squadron. His origin was retold in Secret Origins (vol. 2) #22.
Donald "Dan" Richards attended the police academy with his girlfriend's brother, Jim, who was at the top of the class, while Dan was at the very bottom. After Jim was framed for a crime he didn't commit, Dan took up the identity of Manhunter to track down the actual killer. He caught the perpetrator and cleared Jim's name. Afterwards, however, he continued to operate as Manhunter. His sidekick was a dog named Thor, who was later retconned to be a robotic sentry operating under the auspices of the Manhunter cult.<ref name="Secret Origins #22">Secret Origins #22* Dan's granddaughter, Marcie Cooper, became the third Harlequin after he convinced her to join the Manhunters.
Dan Richards was later killed by Mark Shaw, who had fallen back into his Dumas persona.*Manhunter (vol. 3) #7*
The first of DC's Manhunters was a non-costumed independent investigator, Paul Kirk, who helped police solve crimes during the early 1940s. Though the series was entitled "Paul Kirk, Manhunter", Kirk didn't use the Manhunter name as an alias. He appeared in Adventure Comics #58-72.
Beginning with Adventure Comics #73, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby established a new Manhunter, Rick Nelson, big game hunter turned crimefighter. Though he was obviously a different character than the first DC Manhunter, the name Rick Nelson was quickly changed to Paul Kirk in Adventure Comics #74 by an unknown editor. The Simon/Kirby team left the feature after #80, November 1944, although Kirby wrote a few more scripts. The Paul Kirk Manhunter appeared in Adventure Comics until #92 in 1944, when wartime paper shortages caused DC to drop page counts and thus his strip.
Kirk decides to become a crimefighter when his friend, Empire City police inspector Donovan, was murdered by the supervillain known as the Buzzard. He wore a superhero-like red costume with a blue mask. While he had no superpowers, he was an above average athlete and possessed superior tracking skills.
Although Dan Richards and Paul Kirk never met in Golden Age stories, being as they were published by different companies, they have been retconned in DC continuity as having met, and arguing over who should get the Manhunter name.*All-Star Squadron #31* They resolved the dilemma by joining different teams: Dan Richards became a member of the Freedom Fighters, while Paul Kirk stayed as a member of the All-Star Squadron.
Many years later, in 1973, the names of Manhunter and Paul Kirk were resurrected in a story by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson.*Detective Comics #437* Simonson noted that: "He [Archie Goodwin] had this idea for doing a back-up story for Detective Comics which he was editing. He was going to do a lead Batman story and then have an eight-page short story in the back. He thought he would try to invent a character and do him in a way that contrasted with Batman. While Batman was dark and grim and very urban, this would be a guy in brighter colors and the whole world would be his stage. Where Batman was more or less an empty hand combatant, this guy would carry weaponry.
Contrary to popular belief, although the name was chosen as an acknowledgement of the 1940s character, it was not the original intent of the creators for this to be the same character. However, this link was later established within the series to quickly provide backstory within the limited eight-page structure.
Kirk carried and used primarily three weapons: a Bolo Mauser, "bundhi dagger" (more commonly known as a katar]), and two shuriken "throwing stars". These are carried by Kirk as part of his costume, on the chest. Said Simonson of his costume design, "I did a bunch of preliminary designs and I think Archie thought my first costume was a little complex, but then I did a bunch of variations. They were just simpler and not as a good, so we went with the original design. The only difference was originally I’d given him nine throwing stars. Archie wanted to include martial arts in the strip and I came across something that said nine was a mystical number in some of the martial arts cultures. But somewhere along the way I realized that drawing nine throwing stars in every damn panel was going to be a big problem. So we fixed that!"
Paul Kirk had been killed by an elephant on safari in the 1940s, but his body had been cryogenically preserved and eventually resurrected by the Council, a secret society dedicated to controlling the world. After his return from death, Kirk was given a healing factor devised by a geneticist-member of the Council (it was later retconned that the healing factor was due to nanobots injected into him) and was trained extensively in the martial arts by Asano Nitobe. He was also the genetic source for many clones, which the Council intended to use as their paramilitary arm, with the original Paul Kirk as their leader.
The Council underestimated Kirk's morals, though, and when he was assigned to kill an Interpol official, he instead attempted to warn him. Unfortunately, this was but a test; the man was actually a Council agent, and Kirk barely escaped from a group of clones waiting there should he not perform according to expectations. Realizing Kirk couldn't be their assassin, the Council ordered him terminated.
Manhunter defeated the Council, deliberately sacrificing his life to do so. Interpol agent Christine St. Clair and Nitobe believed that all the clones were dead, but swore to kill any they found in the future.*Detective Comics #437-443 (#443's finale, co-opting the Batman lead strip, featured an appearance from the latter hero); Manhunter: The Special Edition 1999.*
The 1970s Paul Kirk/Manhunter stories appeared primarily as 8-page backups in Batman's Detective Comics, at the time going through an incarnation as a "100-Page Super Spectacular" featuring mostly reprints of non-Batman stories. Only with the last episode of the series did Manhunter move to the front of the book, in a full-length team-up with Batman. The stories were all written by Goodwin, and were the breakout work for future fan favorite artist Simonson. Goodwin's work on Manhunter, in which he both updated an obscure Golden Age hero, and, in the series' last episode, took the daring approach of killing him off (one of the few comic book deaths that has actually "taken" and not been reversed or retconned away in the decades since it occurred) is very well-regarded by both fans and other comics professionals.
Mark Shaw was a public defender, unhappy about how easily criminals manipulated the system and got off without punishment. Shaw's uncle Desmond introduced him to an ancient sect of crime fighters called the Manhunters. Shaw contacted the Grand Master, the sect's leader, through a magical lion medallion. Shortly, he assumed the Manhunter name and costume from a previous Manhunter.*1st Issue Special #5**The unnamed Manhunter was created by Jack Kirby and first appeared in 1st Issue Special #5. He reappeared in Justice League of America #140 and in a flashback in Secret Origins (vol. 2), #22. This Manhunter wore a costume similar to Paul Kirk's 1940's outfit.*
The Manhunter sect was comprised of androids, created billions of years before by the Guardians of Oa to police the galaxy. For millennia, they served the Guardians well. However, the Manhunters became obsessed with the act of 'hunting' criminals. Their code, "No Man Escapes The Manhunters", became more important to them than seeing justice done. Eventually, the androids rebelled against the Guardians, but were swiftly defeated by their creators. Those that survived went into hiding.*Justice League of America (vol. 1) #140*
The latter-day Manhunters attempted to disgrace the Guardians with Mark Shaw at their side. They were opposed by the JLA, especially by League member Green Lantern. Shaw realized that he had been duped by the Manhunters and turned on them, killing the Grand Master, who was revealed to be a robot. Mark Shaw quickly returned as a new hero called the Privateer, but it was soon revealed that he was also working as a villain called the Star-Tsar, in league with the Key. The Red Tornado discovered this deception and Shaw went to prison.*Justice League of America (vol. 1) #143*
While in the midst of serving his sentence, Shaw was offered the chance to accompany the Suicide Squad on a mission as the Privateer, and was released when the mission was completed.*Suicide Squad (vol. 1) #8-10* In the wake of the Millennium crisis, he donned a new costume to distance himself from the Manhunter cult, and had his own adventures. Shaw now hunted costumed criminals for the bounty. He kept insisting that he was just operating for the money, but he kept finding himself doing the right thing.
During this time, he and his family were threatened by two shape-shifters named Dumas. Shaw killed the first Dumas and his battle with the second led him to give up the Manhunter identity at the end of his series. It was later revealed that Mark Shaw was actually himself Dumas and much of his history was actually the result of mental programming by the US Government.Manhunter (vol. 3) #13* Shaw joined the Shadow Fighters in order to battle the supervillan Eclipso. It was assumed that Mark Shaw was killed opposing Eclipso alongside his other team members in the Shadow Fighters. This was soon revealed not to be the case.Eclipso #11-13*
He was actually undercover at the time he was facing Eclipso, masquerading as his old enemy Dumas at the behest of Sarge Steel. When the call went out for heroes to fight Eclipso, Sarge Steel believed that it would raise too many questions as to where Mark Shaw was if he did not answer the call, and Sarge Steel sent along a ringer in Mark's place. The ringer thus only appeared once and is not known to have done anything but attack Eclipso and die.
In the Manhunter comic featuring Kate Spencer in the title role, Mark Shaw was approached by the Order of Saint Dumas to take up the mantle of Azrael. It remains to be seen if he will follow up on the offer.
Clone of Paul Kirk
One of Paul Kirk's remaining clones, claiming the Manhunter identity and wearing Paul Kirk's Council-created uniform, masterminded the creation of the Secret Society of Super Villains. However, he died trying to kill Darkseid.*Secrety Society of Super-Villains #s 1-5, 1976-1977*
A new Manhunter title (by Steven Grant and Vince Giarrano), unrelated to any of the previous Manhunters, was created in the aftermath of the Zero Hour limited series in 1994. Chase Lawler was a musician who summoned the Wild Huntsman to save himself and his girlfriend from harm. He did not understand the commitment he was making to the Wild Huntsman and found himself compelled to hunt the lonely. He tried to resist the urge by hunting villains, with limited success.
Lawler suffered a heart attack and Mark Shaw attempted to resuscitate him.*Manhunter (vol. 2) #13* This transferred the bond with the Wild Huntsman and the compulsion to hunt to Shaw. It was later revealed that Lawler had undergone the same mental programming as Mark Shaw and that the Wild Huntsman was actually an illusion created as a side effect.<ref name="Manhunter13"/> Lawler was drugged and then murdered by Shaw, who had fallen back into his Dumas persona.*Manhunter (vol. 3) #10*
Created by Kurt Busiek and Tom Grummett, the Kirk DePaul version of Manhunter was the last surviving Council-created clone of Paul Kirk and wore a variation of that Manhunter uniform. DePaul was roaming through Africa when his progenitor was killed. DePaul was a partner in the superhero-for-hire firm known as the Power Company. Fellow partner in the firm Skyrocket despised him for his miserly, materialistic attitude.
DePaul's role in the Power Company attracted the attention of Asano Nitobe and Christine St. Clair, who confronted him.*Power Company #5* However, they established that he was not evil and, although St. Clair continued watching DePaul, decided not to kill him. However, DePaul was later murdered by Mark Shaw who had suffered a breakdown and resumed his Dumas persona.*Manhunter (vol. 3) #11*
Kate Spencer, like Mark Shaw, is a lawyer, but instead works as a prosecutor. Outraged by the ability of supercriminals to escape justice, Spencer assembled a costume from a variety of devices left over from various heroes and villains. A Darkstar costume and Azrael's Batman gloves give Spencer enhanced strength, agility and resistance to injury while Mark Shaw's power staff allows her to fire bolts of energy. Spencer has taken on several minor league supervillains including Copperhead and the Shadow Thief.
Recently Spencer fought her father, a minor league supervillain who erroneously claimed to be the son of Al Pratt - the Golden Age Atom. Kate is in fact the granddaughter of Phantom Lady and Iron Munro. Al Pratt allowed Sandra Knight (the Phantom Lady) to use his contact information in order to enter a home for unwed mothers, which led to the mix-up.
Most recently Kate Spencer, in her heroic identity as Manhunter, began working with the US government's Department of Extranormal Operations, headed by the former criminal Mister Bones. The new Manhunter series in which she appears began in 2004. This current series has featured appearances by Dan Richards, Mark Shaw, Chase Lawler, and Kirk DePaul.
Manhunter was initially slated to be cancelled due to low sales. However, a massive and organized fan campaign, along with support from DC Comics' management, allowed for another five-issue arc to be commissioned. It was revealed at the 2007 New York Comic-Con by Dan DiDio that the series had been given a second reprieve from cancellation.: The series was meant to be restarted in July 2007, but has been put on hold until several issues have been written and drawn before the title resumes publication. The series returned in June 2008 with issue #31, written by co-creator Marc Andreyko and pencilled by Michael Gaydos.*Manhunter (Vol. 3) #31* It ended again in January 2009 with issue #38.
Kate's son, Ramsey, was also revealed to have super powers in issue #33 when the seven-year-old smashed a semi-truck while rescuing his dog. Issue #38, penned as a "future story", describes an older Kate Spencer presenting Ramsey with a man-made replica of her Darkstar exo-mantle as a graduation gift, hinting he's destined to be the next Manhunter.
Kate Spencer's Manhunter is now working out of Gotham City as the new District Attorney. Her more recent adventures can be found in the new monthly comic Batman: Streets of Gotham.
Starker, a bounty hunter in the future, was the star of Manhunter 2070. The Manhunter 2070 series was created by writer and artist Mike Sekowsky. Starker first appeared in the pages of Showcase #91 - 93 (June-September 1970).
In 2053 Starker's father was murdered by space pirates, and young Starker was taken as a galley slave. Starker took control of the pirate vessel, captured the pirates, and collected a bounty on them. Starker then decided to become a bounty hunter. He was aided by a robot named Arky.
- A version of the Starker Manhunter appears in the Twilight mini-series by Howard Chaykin and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez in 1990. In the series Starker is given the first name of John, and it is stated that he is the older brother of Silver Age hero Star Hawkins. He dies in Twilight #3.
- In the Tangent Comics print, a character named Manhunter is a member of the Secret Six. This Manhunter is female, wears a yellow and blue costume, and has a robotic dog named "Pooch". She is killed by the Tangent version of Power Girl in Tangent: Superman's Reign #4. Lori Lemaris takes on the identity in Tangent: Superman's Reign #7.
The 1973/'74 Goodwin/Simonson Paul Kirk Manhunter stories from Detective Comics have been collected several times: first in 1979 in oversized, black-and-white format by Excalibur; then in color by DC in 1984; they were reissued yet again by DC in 1999 with additional material, namely a silent story illustrated by Simonson from a plot breakdown by Goodwin and him; the new collection was dedicated to Goodwin's memory, who had died before he could write the captions and dialogue (as explained in the book's text piece). This collection, titled Manhunter: The Special Edition , won the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Reprint Graphic Album in 2000.