So Tucker is definitely liking these more than me, which is to say, he is liking them at all. In Man Thing 9 and 10 he provides a really reasonable defense of Mike Ploog, whose work nonetheless continues to leave me almost entirely indifferent. Tucker even has affection for the geezers in the swamp and their thwarted love affair and their hillbilly hi-jinks and the improbable and yet nonetheless totally predictable tale of jealousy and stupidity and….
Aw, fuck it. I just want it to be over. I begged Tucker…please, man, let’s stop. It’s not worth it. But he was like, no, no we can’t admit defeat. So I’m trudging on…but everyone will suffer for it, damn it.
Anyway, for this round I waded my way through Giant Sized Man-Thing #2 and Man-Thing 11, 12, and 13.
For some time now I’ve been hoping that Steve Gerber would stop writing like a putz and suddenly show me why he’s so well-beloved. It hasn’t happened though. I have come to the end of my portion of the blogging, and, if anything, Gerber has only gotten worse. Giant-Sized Man-Thing #2 is at least blessed with some nice pulp art by John Buscema; his obligatory hot female actually looks cuter than his Man-Thing, which is, as Tucker points out, something that is not really in Mike Ploog’s skill set. As far as the scripting on these issues goes though….you got your tortured scientist with a conscience; you got your wounded Vietnam vets trying to draw attention to their plight; you got your monster who behaves like a big friendly puppy dog. I guess somebody could go through and point out all the moments of egregious idiocy (A museum is going to expose its patrons to a giant monster with unknown attributes as a money-raising gimmick? Really? Their insurance company is cool with that, huh?) But it’s hardly worth the effort. Sneering at this book doesn’t even rise to the level of shooting fish in a barrel. It’s more like dropping dynamite into a fishbowl. And the lone fish was already dead to begin with.
Still, I suppore Man-Thing 12, entitled “Song-Cry…,” merits special mention. This is probably the worst effort of the book so far. Indeed, even amidst the many egregious, shambling mounds of slime that make up mainstream comics, this issue is a noticeably repulsive specimen. I know Gerber is only 25 or something here, and many commenters have promised that he gets better. But I think I’m more or less determined never to find out. You write something like this, your audience is entitled to leave and never come back.
We start off, inevitably enough, with Man Thing mooning around, a helpless slave to the contrivances of plot and the ominous, low-hanging blocks of narration. He empathically feels someone in pain and discovers a poor schlub (named Brian) writing portentous prose at a table. “The time was coming,” writes Brian, “when I’d just stop functioning like a burned-out machine…a dead computer, which was, I think, what I’d become.” Wow, man. Heavy. But Brian can’t finish his blindingly poetic effusion because he’s being attacked by ghostly bill collectors! Man-Thing is sympathetic…when he was a man, bill collectors came after him too, and he still remembers the pain, the horror, which was, after all, comparable in many ways to being betrayed by your fiance, injecting an experimental formula, being transformed into a shambling mockery of a man, and then being forced to serve as a dripping nanny to a series of self-pitying baby-men who, for reasons best known to themselves, insist on doing their whining in the middle of your swamp.
Anyway, as I said, Man-Thing feels bad for the guy, and saves him, and there’s a more or less pointless confrontation where Brian yammers on about how he needs to get down the words to stop the hurt and Man-Thing just sort of stands there, flagrantly refusing to disembowel him. Fucking Man-Thing. What good are you anyway? Jason would have killed him for me, god damn it.
So, having not been disemboweled, Brian wanders off and…
Oh, holy crap. I just realized that his name is “Brian Lazarus.” Because he’s going to be rejuvenated and rise from his “dead computerness”. That’s just peachy. Way to go Steve. No wonder everyone thinks you’re a genius.
So we cut now to loose ends from last issue. There’s this hot dancer named Sybil who you can tell is a dancer because she’s wearing leotards in the swamp. You can tell she’s hot because she’s wearing leotards in the swamp. Otherwise you wouldn’t know; all the hideous things that I’d hoped would happen to Brian seem to have spared him, and been inflicted instead upon the unsuspecting and defenseless art. Poor, sad art. Klaus Janson took John Buscema’s layouts, then hit himself in the head with a large heavy hammer, spun himself around three times, and then drew the entire issue using a pencil shoved far enough up his nose to cause brain injury.
All right, it’s not that bad. But it’s not good, either.
Where was I? Oh, right, Sybil. Unfortunate things happened to her last issue; her brother kidnapped her because the plot said so, but he seemed sorry. Still, she was stung…or maybe she had other problems. Anyway, she says, “I make it a practice not to involve myself too deeply with anyone…ever.” Ooooo. That’s so, so sad. Pretty girl like that (well, wearing leotards anyway)…that’s a darn shame. What happened to her to harden her heart like that? Thank God we’ll never know, because she’s a girl, and only guys rate extended explorations of their tragic backstories. Sexist? Sure. But if my choice is between sexism and twice as many tragic backstories, I know which way I’m going to vote.
As fate would have it, the hard-hearted Sybil and the too, too tender-hearted Brian run into each other. Sybil takes Brian in and Brian repays her by telling her about the deep meaningfulness of Beatles albums. No, he really does. Then he shows her his poetry. “Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man” is the title, so you can see it’s sure to wow the chicks. Here’s just a taste: “I work for a living. I live to work. Every morn at six a.m. the grating clangor of the orange clockwork drives a spike into my ear, and I rise from not-sleep and prepare to confront a new demon-day.”
This is perhaps a good time to mention that Steve Gerber, like Brian Lazarus, was an advertising writer. And Brian’s song-cry is, of course, Gerber’s song-cry, inasmuch as Gerber wrote it. So when Gerber has Sybil’s hard heart just melt right through her leotards upon hearing this drivel, it is difficult to see it as anything but the most self-indulgent of adolescent wish-fulfillment fantasies. “Th-there’s such terrible pain in these words…” Sybil stammers. “I never dreamed anyone could feel so…so…” and then she babbles on “You touched something in me…that I wasn’t even sure was there. I think…I care about you.” Yep, Steve, your poetry is so true, so powerful, so raw, that random babes will fall in love with you after a single recitation. Your pain is so deep, so fascinating, that all the shallow people (“I’ve always been a pretty happy person myself” Sybil gushes) would have to acknowledge your genius if only they would listen to you…I mean, really listen. You’re beautiful Steve Gerber; you’ve seen the true underbelly of capitalism, and you’ve risen above all that. Money? Hah! All you desire in return for your utterly pedestrian creative effusions and grinding self-pity is the abject adulation of some boring fantasy honey. Who could possibly begrudge you that?
Not the mindless Man-Thing. Oh sure, he takes a swipe at Brian at the end, but only so Sybil can interpose herself and make Brian see that someone cares about him. “It took something as unhumans as that monster…to show us both our humanity.” Sybil earnestly declares. And so Man-Thing wanders off, to touch other worthy, poorly-drawn souls with his sodden transcendence.
Tucker will have to deal with that, though. I’m done.