Manhunter. Artist: Walt Simonson.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1973
Creators: Archie Goodwin (writer) and Walt Simonson (artist)
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DC Comics has long been enamored of bringing out new characters with the same names as old ones that had been allowed to go out of print. The practice goes back even farther than The Flash (1956) and …

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Green Lantern (1959) — the company introduced a new version of Johnny Thunder in 1948 and a new version of The Three Mouseketeers a few months earlier in '56. But by the '70s, they'd also established a habit of keeping the old ones around as well. Manhunter, who debuted in Detective Comics #437 (Oct-Nov 1973), was different from the old one in practically every way — but through suspended animation, cloning and other techniques available only in comic books, they turned out to be one and the same.

Writer Archie Goodwin (Vampirella, Luke Cage) and artist Walt Simonson (Thor, Fantastic Four) created the new/old Manhunter as one of the most impractically-dressed male superheroes ever. Whereas before, he wore sensible tights so no opponent had anything to grab, in the '70s he wore an outfit with hugely billowing sleeves and out-sized shoulder pads that, if worn by anyone in real life who did a lot of hand-to-hand combat, would probably kill the wearer. Also, his out-jutting shin guards must have made his legs very unwieldy.

Be that as it may, the premise was that as World War II progressed, Paul Kirk/Manhunter did less street fighting and more work for the U.S. government, behind enemy lines. This disgusted him to the point where he gave up superheroing altogether, and returned to big game hunting. That activity led to an injury that would have been fatal if not for the intervention of a clandestine anti-war organization called The Council, which put him into suspended animation while they worked on altering his genetic structure so he could heal quickly from most wounds. Decades later and fully restored to health, he was revived and taught Asian martial arts, with the idea of putting him in charge of The Council's Enforcement Division — incongruous as it may seem for an outfit devoted to peace to have one of those. His Enforcement Division subordinates were his own clones, which The Council had raised while he was out of commission.

When The Council ordered him to assassinate an uncooperative politician, he realized they weren't the good guys, and rebelled. Most of his subsequent career consisted of trying to stay alive while The Council attempted to kill him, and striving to put an end to its influence on the world. In Detective Comics #443 (Oct-Nov 1974), in a crossover with the title's long-time cover-featured star, Batman, he succeeded in permanently neutralizing his enemies — but at the cost of his own life. Thereafter, The Elongated Man, whom he'd originally displaced, returned as the star of Detective's back pages.

But some of the clones survived. One of them turned up a couple of years later, as the apparent organizer of The Secret Society of Super-Villains. Others have been seen in the years since, and there seem to be as many still out there as writers need for story props. At DC, old superheroes never quite go away.


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Text ©2006 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.