“Trial by Fire”
Writer: Marc Andreyko
Artists: Jesus Saiz (p), Jimmy Palmiotti (i)
Plot: It’s like the cover shows. The scales of justice swing wildly, trying to balance our resident DA Kate Spencer and her aggressive alter-ego, the vigilante Manhunter. Inside, we finally learn about more about what makes her tick.
What’s interesting: Not that this title has lacked for action, but it’s clear now that Andreyko has been doing a slow burn with his anti-heroine, crusading DA Kate Spencer. She’s aggressive and cold-blooded, whether in costume or out, and refreshingly free of self-doubt or concerns of propriety. She knows she’s on the side of the law by day (taking advantage, probably, of the current climate not being so bleeding-heart liberal right now), and she doesn’t sweat the consequences of breaking the law by night. Because, as it turns out, she’s as much a crusader as any picketer, community activist or rape victim advocate.
Most interesting: Yeah, that one page where we finally see into Kate’s psyche could read as the little more than cliché. Guess what, she had an abusive childhood? Quelle surprise. But just because a story’s old doesn’t mean it’s stopped being relevant, and this little glimpse into Kate’s childhood hell (triggered by a mysterious crank phone call) is all the more powerful for being wordless, and lit in lurid shades of bruised purple and red. Andreyko lets the artists do their work in this passage, and when you realize that Kate’s dad killed her mom before her eyes, you get a good handle on her own confused gender issues.
Also interesting: Saiz does the best guest Justice League this side of JH Williams III, and he’s none too shabby on DC’s gallery of minor super-villains, either. Shrapnel is used to chilling effect in this story, sent by the Calculator to take out the Shadow Thief, whose impending trial (since Kate caught him) is the motivating force of this arc. In fact, if there have to be Identity Crisis tie-ins, this dark little book is the most perfect fit for the increased humanity and corruption brought to the DC rogues gallery in that series. Andreyko is all over seedy, and the mix of police procedural with superheroes and the impending involvement of the judicial system promises to be a fascinating read.
Final word: This title is a sleeper. It deserves a wider audience. Andreyko’s look at an unpleasant flawed character is deeper than it first appeared, evidenced here by a tender passage where she and her ex start acting like adults regarding the welfare of the child she put in danger. This is a unique spin on a solo female title, miles away from Wonder Woman, more like some odd mix of (mortal enemies) Ms. Marvel and Mystique.
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