Man Thing Part One;Man Thing Part Two;Man Thing Part Three; Man-Thing Part Four

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In his last post, Tucker refused to say anything about Man-Thing #3, preferring instead to talk about his experience caring for killer attack dogs. This was a wise move; I would rather hear about killer attack dogs than about Man-Thing #3. Nor do I want to hear about Man-Thing #4, in which we learn that Foolkiller has a tragic backstory. Even less do I want to discuss Man-Things 5 and 6, in which Steve Gerber introduces us to a sad clown, which is theoretically interesting, you see, because it is a clown who is sad, which is ironic. And also poignant. With a tragic backstory.

And yes, Man Thing #7 has a tragic backstory too. It’s the backstory of Man-Thing himself, actually. Remember, Man-Thing was once…a man! And in this issue renegade conquistadors slosh him with the water of life, causing him to almost remember his past, and to regrow one human hand. That’s kind of a squicky image….But you know, really, I look deep into my heart of hearts and…yeah, I still don’t care.

These comics suck. Not in an apocalyptic or interesting or surprising way; not in a way that’s even much fun to laugh at. They suck in a rote, boring way. They suck because Steve Gerber, like masses of other writers for television, stage, and screen, thinks the key to entertaining drama is pop psychology and predictable, feeble irony. If you’ve got a preacher, he’s got to be a hypocrite; if you’ve got a rich guy, he has to be a heartless bastard. If you’ve got a clown, he has to be sad. Put enough of these startling reversals together and you’ve got a story with a meaningful human moral. Add in suitably portentous contrivances (the sad clown is dead, but his ghost rises and makes a bunch of random passersby, including the oddly acquiescent Man-Thing, re-enact moments from his sad past) and maybe, if you’re lucky, somebody’ll even think you’re profound.

So there’s Steve Gerber for you; meaningful human morals and pretentions to profundity. Which would be fine, if Gerber had ever actually experienced a single thought about meaning or morals or, for that matter, humans. But he hasn’t. He’s got nothing to say, jack. He might as well be the mindless, shambling Man-Thing for all the brain activity you can detect in these pages. Calling a developer “F.A. Schist” is the sort of thing he passes off as clever. He’s the hectoring, droning drunk you can’t shut up, except he doesn’t even have that much character. The drunk at least tends to have a pungent urgency about him. Gerber manages to be bland even in his crankery.

It is frustrating that there are some indications (such as the Wundarr story that Gerber could write entertaining comics if he’d just chuck the serious messages and go for laughs. But what’s really annoying is that Man-Thing as a concept was originally pretty good. That first issue, and the seven-page Len Wein/Neil Adams follow-up really had something going for them. They were vicious and mean, built around revenge and senseless death and violence and bodily disfigurement. They even had good cheesecake. They were solid exploitation pulp, with some nifty ideas and whacky visuals. And Gerber took that and turned it into tired TV melodrama. All I can say is, fuck him.

I suppose I should talk about Mike Ploog now. Ploog did the art for Man-Thing 5, 6, and 7. He has a very strong reputation…but I have to say, I’m not exactly seeing what all the fuss is about. He tends to make Man-Thing thinner and more hunched. I think the ultimate result really is to make him cuter. I can’t really get worked up about it one way or the other, in any case. Ploog does have a talent for exaggerated faces, which is kind of balanced by the fact that his more ordinary faces tend to look awkward and unexpressive. Certainly, in terms of rendering and layout, he doesn’t seem anywhere near Gray Morrow’s level. If anything, I’d rate him slightly below Val Mayerik, the completely unheralded penciller who was doing Man-Thing before Ploog came on board.

I don’t know. I may be being overly harsh because I am thoroughly sick of this crap, and I’ve got what? twelve issues to go or something? Perhaps some titles were just never meant to be collected into big honking anthologies….

Update: More Tucker on Man-Thing Action!

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