Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Manhunter in Detective Comics #437 (October-November, 1973)


Katmandu, Nepal. Haj the Ancient collected the sights and sounds of the city, and was the best available source for all of its goings on. Interpol agent Christine St. Clair had use of his services in her investigation of Manhunter. Haj had heard this unusual name increasingly over the previous two weeks. "Law agencies all over the world have a growing interest in this man, Haj... Whatever you can tell us will not go unappreciated."

Manhunter had appeared in the Alley of Shadows, the sanctuary of the Cult of Thieves, searching for a man under their protection. Once given, said protection was honored to the death, and so it was. With sai and a Mauser, Manhunter cut these specialists in killing down with swift precision. Only one was left alive for information.

Christine St. Clair offered a photograph of a middle aged man with brown hair. "Haj, this man is called Paul Kirk. Could he have been the stranger in the Alley of Shadows?" Haj did not know, but a similar man was said to have shouted his intentions to find a certain individual to sherpas in the Himalayan foothills. Warned of such pursuit, the sherpas rushed out to kill the man, but he was gone without a trace. A rider was sent to the Pendrang Monastery to offer warning, while Manhunter followed in secret to the hidden valley, deep in the Himalayas.

The rider appeared at the monastery slung over his horse, unconscious, with slight bruises near a nerve cluster at the base of the neck. The monastery was protected by the legendary Blind Zen Archers of Pendragon, capable of detecting the slightest sound. That night, firecrackers proved a distraction. Miraculously, Manhunter managed to take down two of the skilled archers, but a third was an impossibility. Two arrows penetrated Manhunter's breast.

Dharmata had been raised in the monastery, and touched many in his wanderings abroad before returning home for sanctuary. Manhunter had finally caught up with him, pulling arrows from his breastpiece after disabling three good men for days to come. "I die a little less easily than most..." Dharmata was seen as a dangerous individual after rousing a revolution that could eventually make waves to pound China or India. To avoid this potentiality, some believed a calmer voice need be heard by Dharmata's followers, and the man himself silenced forever.

Monks arrived in the courtyard for their morning meditation, and Dharmata asked that he might observe them one last time. Manhunter refused, as he began killing the monks by numbers. As an unfortunate side note pointed out, "Monks are Caucasian (white-skin) not Oriental." As Dharmata pulled back the hood of a dead monk, he saw that they were not only imposters, but impossibly all had the same face-- Manhunter's! Dharmata was at a loss, and when he tried to question Manhunter, found that he was gone.

Christine St. Clair needed to know more, but "I cannot tell, Memsahib. Such a man is like the breeze in hottest summer..." The Interpol agent accepted this, but as she walked away, Haj disrobed. The disguised Manhunter was pleased with himself.

"The Manhunter File Chapter 1: The Himalayan Incident" was by Archie Goodwin & Walter Simonson. Goodwin had been asked to take over editing the poorly selling Detective Comics, which came with it a license to tinker. Batman was in two other titles every month, so there wasn't much room for experimentation on the lead feature, so any innovation fell to the back-up strip. Goodwin always favored the less traveled character, and after exposure to Golden Age Simon & Kirby Manhunter reprints in New Gods, decided he wanted to revive Paul Kirk, a famed hunter who turned his skill set from animals to men. While the book's sales didn't improve, the new Manhunter proved a well remembered artistic success that helped launch the career of collaborator Walt Simonson.

The Bronze Age

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