PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Manhunter: Street Justice

Ryan Day

If a man can be found not guilty by reason of insanity after he finds his wife sleeping with the mailman, surely he's got a free pass on acts he committed after turning into a giant lizard.


Publisher: DC Comics
Subtitle: Street Justice
Contributors: Jesus Saiz (Artist), Jimmy Palmiotti (Artist), Steve Buccellato (Artist)
Price: $12.99
Writer: Marc Andreyko
Item Type: Comic
Length: 128
Publication Date: 2005-12

Examinations of superhero morality have been pretty trendy for nearly 20 years now. As with many things, we can probably blame Alan Moore and Frank Miller. Ever since they wrote Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, respectively, it's seemed fair to ask, "why superheroes aren't doing everything they can to fight crime?"

How many times does the Joker break out of jail, go on a kill crazy rampage, get arrested by Batman, and then go right back to step one? How many times can Batman look the Joker in the eye, think of all the people the madman has killed, and let him walk away? Of course, one can also ask, "why is this man dressed up like a bat," so perhaps the question doesn't bear too much in-depth examination.

Marc Andreyko's Manunter begins its look at the problem from within the legal system. Kate Spencer, a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, has watched yet another super criminal escape justice. When the reptilian Copperhead starts yet another murderous rampage, Kate does what any good lawyer would do: She steals a bunch of high-tech equipment from a high-security evidence locker and hunts him down like the vermin he is.

It's an understandable reaction. Many people, no matter how liberal or pacifist their leanings, have contemplated inflicting an Old Testament brand of justice on a rapist, murderer, or child molester who lucked out on a legal technicality or lenient judge. A naive judge sits behind a desk administering laws written by politicians trying not to upset anyone... surely these people cannot contemplate true justice.

The reality of a superhero comic book complicates things even more. When society can't even dispense proper justice to movie stars and corporate executives, how is it supposed deal with mutants, aliens and robots? If a man can be found not guilty by reason of insanity after he finds his wife sleeping with the mailman, surely he's got a free pass on acts he committed after turning into a giant lizard. That sort of thing leaves deep emotional scars.

But while it may be understandable to want to punish the guilty, it's also true that very few people ever get around to doing it. There are relatively few vigilantes roaming the streets these days, and even fewer are joining forces to form justice-oriented posses. Here, too, the DC Universe complicates things: If a Los Angeles attorney has reached the breaking point, surely there must be crazed gangs of lawyers and paralegals protecting the streets of Superman's Metropolis and Batman's Gotham.

One concludes, then, that Kate Spencer is a pretty unique individual. Out of the dozens, if not hundreds, who want to make sure the one that got away doesn't get away any more, it is only Kate who goes to the extreme of actually doing it. What is it that pushed her over the edge?

It's here that Manhunter falters, and it falters quite badly. Andreyko fails to give Kate any real motivation for donning a mask and pummelling bad guys, nor does he offer much in the way of hints beyond "something bad may have happened once". And while infusing a character with an air of mystery can be effective, Manhunter just leaves the reader wondering why its protagonist is a) running around in spandex fighting crime; and b) kind of a bitch.

Not that anyone needs a reason to be a bitch. Indeed, it seems that most of the really unpleasant people one meets on a day-to-day basis have little or no reason for being that way. But that's not a very good explanation for a character in an ongoing series. It's telling that the only likable character is a career supervillain henchman whom Kate bullies into helping her on her crusade. That wouldn't be an entirely bad thing -- Dylan Battles, a smart underachiever who's always ended up on the wrong side of a fight, does add an interesting dynamic to the book -- but it's disappointing that it doesn't show up until the final third of the book.

Manhunter ultimately doesn't do much more than skim the ideas of justice and morality, leaving us with yet another tough, take-no-prisoners vigilante. She'd blend right in with all the other macho crimefighters if not for the fact she's a she; the most interesting thing about the book may be that it's about a female superhero who doesn't include large breasts and a thong among her weapons of choice.

That's something, but it's not much of a substitute for depth. We know Kate's doing everything she can to fight evil. We just don't know why, nor do we particularly care whether she succeeds.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.