Manhunter: Déjà Vu, Chapter 1: Masks

by Libbylawrence

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Mark Shaw watched the crowd in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel in Paris, France, as he waited for his family. It felt good to be able to say that he still had a family after years of difficulty and suffering. His stepfather Eliot Shaw was really more like a true father, since the wealthy lawyer and businessman had always insisted that Mark was as much his child as the children he had with Mark’s mother Rose. He had adopted Mark and had been as proud of his rise to the role of crusading defense attorney, and he had been hurt and disappointed by Mark’s later mental troubles and brush with the law.

These events had occurred after he’d been brainwashed by the secret cult of robotic beings called the Manhunters. Mark had known many roles in his time. He had been a hero. He had been a pawn. Now he hoped to forge some new role of his own choosing. It would not be easy, since he felt that he was still being defined by his past, at least in the eyes of some.

He included his brother James in that group. The younger lawyer saw himself as the good son, and he disapproved of Mark’s past. Mark knew James loved him. However, James Shaw was fiercely concerned with things like image and social status, and he felt embarrassed by his sibling’s criminal past.

Mark thought about his family, his past, and his future. However, all the while his mind was occupied, he also noticed everything about those around him. He had been trained well by the Manhunters, and he retained all those old skills. He was a keen observer with an analytical mind and a detective’s eye for detail.

He was also a superb martial artist and a skilled actor. The Manhunters prided themselves on their ability to keep out of the public eye. Deception, duplicity, and role-playing were all traits that applied to the select band of robotic agents and their human pawns. Thus, Mark could assume roles as easily as he could discard them.

Discarding roles was paramount on his mind now. He had served his time and paid the price for his crimes. He had received extensive psychiatric help and had broken free of the mental conditioning that had turned him from a hero into a villain. He’d also had his sentence commuted due to secret service he had rendered as part of a governmental team called Task Force X.

Mark Shaw remembered how that service had nearly cost him his life even as it tested his regained principals. He had triumphed, and the woman who ran the covert team had asked him to serve as leader. After his refusal, she had made some comment about having another equally good choice in mind. He had never cared enough to try to learn more about the team.

He knew the more public branch of the team, the Rehab Squad, had been led well by Captain Comet. (*) He also knew that it was the very public nature of Comet’s team and Comet’s own unshaken sense of morality that had led the government to create a second, more covert version of the group. (*) That was why Mark had been approached by Amanda Waller. He had accepted her offer of service for one case, and he received the benefits of that service, becoming a free man. Still, he would not remain with that project. He had no desire to have his role defined by others; he would select his mask himself this time.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Suicide Mission and Showcase: Task Force X: Extreme Justice.]

Spotting his distinguished stepfather Eliot and his blond sibling James as they appeared, he crossed the hotel lobby to join them, welcoming them with a greeting.

“Sorry to keep you, son,” said Eliot. “We took a bit longer getting ready.”

James adjusted his thin wire glasses and said, “You know how Mark is. He doesn’t care a fig about appearances!”

Mark stifled a reply as he considered the truth of the statement. In many ways the young man cared more passionately about appearances than his sibling knew. Mark couldn’t help but define himself as the son of a failed super-villain. He knew his late father had been a petty costumed thug named Outlaw, and he could only shudder as remembered how his poor mother had taken him and fled into the uncertain night to escape the abusive man. She had eventually met Eliot Shaw, and he had married her and adopted her son. Rose had subsequently given birth to James and Eleanor. Life had been good.

Still, all of Mark’s youth had been spent in an effort to justify himself to his new father. Mark couldn’t shake the sense that, in spite of all the love and acceptance his family had given him, he had always been thought of as the son of a criminal. Outlaw, alias Hugh Mark Fletcher, had died in prison, and Mark had never made any effort to see him. He had been a small boy, of course, but he had been old enough to know exactly what shame and regret accompanied his real father’s troubled career. Mark wanted to regain his family’s trust and reclaim his own self-respect.

“Sorry, Jamie,” he said. “We can’t all be as big a clotheshorse as you are!” Inwardly he added, Or as big a horse’s end, either!

“Nonsense!” said Eliot. “Mark’s just used to dressing quickly. We’ve got plenty of time before my dinner with Richard Reynolds of the French Trade Bureau. I expect we can fit in a bit of touring as well. I’m so glad you both could come. It is good to have a bit of male bonding, as those talk show experts call it!”

Mark smiled and followed them outside. He was very appreciative of the chance to be with them. He’d long wanted to mend some damaged relationships, and he knew taking this kind of time was necessary in order to create some natural healing.

After a quick tour of the city, the three Shaw men stopped at the elegant home of Richard Reynolds.

Eliot nodded with approval. “Reynolds has a nice place. I think we’ll be able to have a good talk before our formal sessions begin next week. This will be a real pleasure!”

“Yes,” said James. “The French do know how to live!”

Mark remained silent. He had been to France many times, and he was rather blasé about the entire experience. It was his family that occupied his mind and not the city around them.

They were ushered inside by a grim butler who led them into a well-decorated room with warm colors and attractive furnishings. Paintings from both modern and classic eras covered the walls. Richard Reynolds himself was a handsome man whose serious demeanor did nothing to reduce his generally warm manner. “Welcome! I trust your flight was not unduly turbulent?” Reynolds asked, shaking their hands and offering them drinks.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” said Eliot. “Meeting here at your lovely home will allow us to work out all the details in our presentation to the Trade Bureau. Our nations may look forward to a profitable commercial relationship.”

***

As the evening passed, Mark made small talk with Marjorie Reynolds, while her father discussed business with the elder Shaw. James hovered rather uneasily between the two groups. Mark was torn between being of use to his father and charming their hostess.

The patio doors crashed open and ended his indecision as a man in a dark purple costume and mask entered, casually backhanding James to the floor, where he remained, stunned. Marjorie screamed, and men rushed to her side even as three of the servants hurried over to try to stop the intruder.

The intruder laughed harshly and said, “You are not worth the use of my creation. I will merely deal with you with brute force. You mindless lackeys of the filthy rich expect no better, eh?”

Spinning around, he rammed one knee into the butler as his fists snaked out to stun another servant. The butler gasped and was shoved into the final servant as the masked figure brought both hands down on their necks. They collapsed to the floor, even as Mark Shaw returned after briefly falling backward into the shadows of the room.

“Stay back!” he yelled at his father and Reynolds as he confronted the intruder. He had shed his suit to reveal a high-collared bright red shirt and brown pants and boots. Moving swiftly, he jumped over a fallen chair to block the intruder’s entry.

“What have we here — a dashing swordsman?” said the masked man as he raised an odd-looking gun. “No doubt your good right arm serves the whims of the moneyed louts who support you!”

Mark Shaw sliced at his arm with a thin bladed sword and cursed as the attack failed to disarm him. The other man received a cut, but his weapon still fired three odd glass spheres. As they broke on the floor, a gas rose up from within the shells to envelop Mark, who choked as the vapor surrounded him, and his very world changed before his startled eyes.

He no longer saw the expensive manor or the stylish decorations. He saw costumed figures, knowing them to be members of the famous Justice League of America. He saw himself confronting the one called Green Arrow, who was imprisoned alongside the sexy Black Canary and the ever-stalwart Green Lantern. Mark wasn’t wearing his current costume, which identified him as the Privateer. He was instead wearing the red and blue armor of his first secret identity, that of Manhunter. He had captured the trio of heroes on behalf of his leader the Grandmaster, who had insisted that the Green Lantern was guilty of destroying an entire planet.

The cocky Green Arrow had demanded that he explain why he worked for an intergalactic goon squad.

Shaw had removed the inhumanly passive blue face mask of the Manhunter costume to reveal his own passionate features. He recalled the sting he had felt at the words of the battling bowman, and he still felt their truth.

“I was a normal human being!” he had shouted. “Mark Shaw, public defender — driving myself into the ground to gain justice for the poor, the weak — and getting nowhere! I don’t say the Manhunters are perfect! There is no perfection in this jungle we live in! But they get their man! Hell, Green Lantern is guilty, isn’t he? So get off my back! I’m proud to fight for justice, any way I can!”

Green energy had silenced him on that dark day long ago. The enigmatic Guardian of Oa, who had accompanied the heroes and eventually cleared Green Lantern of the charge of destroying a planet, had beaten him. The entire event had been a ruse created by the Grandmaster who was, in turn, revealed to be a robot with deeply flawed programming. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “No Man Escapes the Manhunter,” Justice League of America #140 (March, 1977) and “No World Escapes the Manhunters,” Justice League of America #141 (April, 1977).]

Mark Shaw’s world had been shaken that day, forcing him to face his worst fears. He was not a defender of justice — he was nothing more than a petty costumed thug, like his late father had been before him. He had truly believed that the Manhunters worked for the common good until that day’s events shattered his illusions and broke his spirit.

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