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Last week in celebration of his tenth anniversary with DC, Dan Didio posted his ten favorite projects of his reign. There are some things on his list that I like (52) and some (a lot actually) I don’t like. However, I noticed there was only one project focused on a female character and it is not one I would have picked. So I have taken it upon myself to decide the best thing that Dan DiDio has done as far as female characters over the last ten years. That’s right — the best thing.
I’m sure he’ll be pleased.
As I compiled my list and gathered suggestions via Twitter there were some interesting things to choose from - the Power Girl title, the nurturing of Batwoman through development to book, support for Gail OSimone and even the decision to make Stephanie Brown Batgirl. But as I reviewed the candidates there was one thing that stood out for me as a project that DiDio should be noted for …
For those of you not familiar with this series, it is the story of Kate Spencer, lawyer by day and vigilante by night. For me the great thing about Manhunter was that it was the antithesis of so much of what I hate about about the way DC Comics presents female characters (or actually many characters) and epitomizes what I love. The art avoided much of the t &a artwork of many female-led books through the work of an amazing array of artists including Jesus Saiz, Sean Phillips and Michael Gaydos.
Andreyko’s writing was smart and funny and filled with the kind of snark that I love and only a few writers can do well. The lead character was intelligent, tough and, at times, not even that likable. The book opens with her killing someone. And the relationships among the characters were complex and adult. She was divorced and had a child. That didn’t die! I think one of the telling quotes I recall by writer Marc Andreyko was his wanting her to be a “great character not just a great female character.”
And if that wasn’t enough the supporting cast included two male gay characters who were in a relationship. And her best friend was Cameron Chase another DC female character whose book, Chase, offered the same “great character” vs. “great female character” storytelling.
Kate Spencer is, quite simply, one of the best female characters that DC has ever produced and Manhunter was one of the best titles that just happened to have a female lead.
And Dan DiDio was responsible for it coming to print.
And not just once, but again and again as the book was cancelled and revived twice. When the book debuted in 2004 it had great critical acclaim but few sales. So after two years the book was canceled. But readers wrote letters and DC brought it back. For five issues. And then it disappeared for a year. And then it came back after the trades sold well. But, after 7 more issues, it was finally canceled. But even then the character and title was revived again as a back-up in Streets of Gotham. And then that was canceled one final time.
You can’t say they and, by they I mean DiDio, didn’t try. Now I could go on about how the book should have been marketed outside of the traditional base. But back to the positivity!
I spoke to the book’s editor Joan Hilty and the book’s writer Marc Andreyko about DiDio’s involvement and support for Manhunter.
DCWKA :Who greenlighted the project? Was it Dan? If not what role did he play in it?
JH: If I remember right, the remake took shape when Marc and Dan talked at a con…and since I was expanding my DCU portfolio at the time, and obviously extra-interested in crafting more female characters, I came aboard to fine-tune a written pitch with Marc, which Dan green lit.
MA: Well, we had been working together on a Thunder Agents book that fell apart due to unforeseen circumstances and a few weeks later Dan called and said “I want a new ‘Manhunter’ - a female one. You in?” and the rest was history :)
DCWKA: What was thinking around the project at the time? Great character? We need a chick?
JH: Well, when does comics not need more chicks? ;) But seriously, there also were too many reasons not to do a new, cool Manhunter….the character’s so fundamentally cool and has such a rich history to draw on. A ridiculously complicated history too, so Marc was the perfect guy to tackle it. I think he’s one of the best (and most underused) writers out there for spinning fresh takes on classic characters and doing it with just the right kind of nod to what’s gone before.
DCWKA: The project was cancelled and then Dan announced it was coming back after the letter writing. What went on at that time? What swung the decision to keep the series going?
JH: Man, we got cancelled so often, I can’t even remember how many times it happened. It’s the curse of being a cult favorite — your fan base is amazing, but the enthusiasm just doesn’t translate to enough money in the bank. But I’m proud of how loyal the fans were and of how much work Dan and all my DCU colleagues put into helping us come back each time and find new ways to cement Kate Spencer’s role in the universe. A first appearance in Identity Crisis, a key role in Infinite Crisis, a top slot in Birds of Prey…you couldn’t ask for much else.
I’m biased, but I think she’s one of the coolest, fully-fleshed-out, most cutting-edge new characters to come out of DC in the last 10 years, with the most potential to break out of comics. I watch The Good Wife and I totally think of Kate Spencer. That’s where I think her future really is.
DCWKA: What role did Dan play in the book’s reprieve?
MA: A huge role. Dan has always been an incredibly vocal supporter and fan of Kate and, after each cancellation, after a few weeks i would get a call from Dan prefaced with “you’re not going to believe this, but….”
DCWKA: Did he have anything to do with the back up in Streets of Gotham?
MA: Absolutely. Dan wanted to make Kate a part of the DCU firmament and came up with the idea of making her Gotham’s latest (and longest lived, i think) district attorney. I want to add just a heartfelt thanks to Dan, for taking the chance on me and giving me one of the most creatively satisfying jobs I’ll ever have.
Andreyko told me he assumes the character is still the DA in Gotham so he hopes he gets to write her again. I hope that’s true. The last time we saw Kate Spencer in comics she was with the JSA which made some sense given the character’s connections to Golden Age. And while some changes in the new 52 will change the character’s history, I think she would still be a great fit for the Batbooks and, particularly given the connection to Cameron Chase, Batwoman. I hope she gets one more shot.
The Manhunter trades are all still in print. Give the book a try and let me know what you think.
And what is your choice for the best thing DiDio’s done for a female character?