Wednesday, January 06, 2010

meet paul kirk

nairobi, kenya, august 1974:

archie goodwin, writer, may 1984:

in the spring of 1973 i was a freelance writer/editor for dc comics, packaging three war titles for them. the publisher, carmine infantino, wanted me to take a try at editing detective, which was then in a period of low sales. these are not bad circumstances under which to inherit a title, contrary to how it may sound. one's encouraged to tinker, to tamper, and try new things rather than preserving the status quo. if anything improves, you're a hero; if nothing works out, well ... the book wasn't selling that well anyway. to demolish any possible suspense: i didn't become a hero. there was no turnaround in detective's sales, but there was, as they say in show business, some artistic success. manhunter was responsible for most of it.

with my lead character, batman, appearing in two other titles besides mine and with an already well-established stylistic foundation, i couldn't do anything too radical. he couldn't suddenly appear in a brand-new costume, exhibit vastly different powers, or (with any credibility) burn the cape and cowl, swearing to be the batman no more; none of the standard let's-try-to-get-their-attention-and-pump-some-more-juice-in-this-rag ploys. i didn't even have that second-best option of killing off a beloved supporting character; they'd already done that to alfred years before (rest easy; death was only temporary). any big change in the book, then, had to come in the back-up feature. what i wanted was something that would fit (however loosely) within the "detective" format of the book, but contrast vividly in terms of mood, character, and artistic style with the lead stories; something that would nail the eye of the casual browser and maybe eventually develop a following of its own, bringing the book a few readers beyond the dyed-in-the-wool batman fans.

spanning only seven episodes (six 8-page back-ups and a climactic 20-page lead story team-up with series headliner batman) from july 1973 to august 1974, the "manhunter" series resurrected a WWII costumed adventurer not seen in thirty years and mashed-up superheroes, sci-fi, martial arts and international espionage during its short run, all while accumulating a fistful of top honors from the short-lived academy of comic book arts:

1973 best writer (archie goodwin)

1973 best individual short story, dramatic ("the himalayan incident")

1973 outstanding new talent (walt simonson, tied with jim starlin)

1974 best individual short story, dramatic ("cathedral perilous")

1974 best individual story ("gotterdammerung")

1974 best writer (archie goodwin)

though only at the very beginning of his career, overnight sensation walt simonson's distinctive storyboarding, composition, linework and adventuresome use of typography and sound effects had become firmly established.

(art by walt simonson, story by archie goodwin)

the series has been reprinted in whole twice: "manhunter #1" (1984) and "manhunter: the special edition" (1999).

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