Infernal Man-Thing #1
“The Screenplay of the Living Dead Man”
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artist: Kevin Nowlan
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Ralph Macchio & Mark Paniccia
“Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man!”
Writer: Steve Gerber
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Klaus Janson
Colors: Glynis Wein
Letters: John Costanza
Editor: Roy Thomas
Cover artist: Arthur Adams (regular)/Nowlan & Gil Kane (variants)
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US
I haven’t read a lot of the late Steve Gerber’s Man-Thing comics, but I have enjoyed and been challenged by some of his work in the past. Furthermore, his work from the 1970s and ‘80s has certainly been heralded as some of the most avant-garde and finely crafted comics of the era by stalwarts of the industry and the medium. Ultimately, what drew me to this comic book wasn’t Gerber’s reputation, but rather the incredibly skill and artistry of Kevin Nowlan. All I had to do was glance at the first page of his art in this comic book, and I was committed to this first issue. The story is one Gerber crafted decades ago, and while it shows its age with the omission of 21st century we all take for granted, the message nevertheless resonates. There’s a serious problem with this comic book, but it’s not one that stems from the efforts of the creators. Instead, the problem lies with the packaging; Marvel got it wrong. This never should’ve been offered as a three-part limited series.
Brian Lazarus is a tortured soul, tormented by his own imagination and the expectations society thrusts on each and every one of us. The ideas in his head manifest as real, and unfortunately, that includes every frustration and insecurity lurking inside his skull as well. Desperate to be rid of his demons, he seeks solitude in an old house in a remote swamp so he can write an opus he believes will resolve his issues, but the intensity of his emotions and ideas attract the unwanted attention of the Man-Thing. The monster’s empathic nature means Lazarus’s pain becomes his own. Years later, the cycle begins anew, and Lararus’s failed career in animation leads to zany creatures plaguing the muck monster — and an 80 per cent of anvils.
Nowlan apparently labored over this project for years, opting to paint the artwork for the milestone Gerber tale, and his approach is lovely, haunting and quite apt for the title character. But what’s most striking about his work here is how he’s broken model somewhat and presented a different take on the Man-Thing. Here, he’s more of a hunched, Quasimodo figure in physicality, and his face boasts a more child-like range of emotion rather than a monstrous one. Nowlan employs lush but eerie greens to bring the unusual creature to life, and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the rich, textured look of the title character and the simple, cartoony look of the animated imps that pester him. I was surprised Marvel opted to make Nowlan’s cover image an incentive variant edition, as I’m sure a cover that reflected the style within, especially one as strong as Nowlan’s, would’ve made for a more attractive package.
The artwork on the 1974 story is intriguing. The late John Buscema has always had a dynamic but gritty quality to it, but inker Klaus Janson brings an even rougher edge to bear that’s in keeping with the horror genre. Janson’s style is pretty recognizable, but it overpowers Buscema’s style to a certain degree. I don’t know if I would’ve recognized his work if not for the creator credit. It really boasts more of a Sal Buscema look at times rather than that of the older comic-artist brother.
Both the Bronze Age and more recent stories were clearly quite personal works for the late writer. While both feature an impossible muck monster and supernatural forces, what they’re really about are the frustrations of being a professional writer, torn in different directions by the mundane aspects of life and the demands of employers, never being permitted to just craft the honest work that’s burgeoning inside a scribe’s head. It’s about the conflict between a job and a passion. Writing for a living has its financial rewards, but it also requires sacrifices if one is answerable to others for the work. Gerber’s criticism of a modern effort to pursue a Norman Rockwell-esque American dream of a nuclear family, white picket fence and a two-car garage as the source of personal nightmares instead. I don’t entirely agree with his succinct dismissal of family as an empty promise of a good life, but given the divorce rate in North America, his argument has its place and validity in certain contexts.
Devised as a sequel to a 1974 comic book — Man-Thing #12, a portion of which is reprinted in this first of three issues — Gerber clearly penned “The Screenplay of the Living Dead Man” as a longer-form graphic novel, or perhaps a graphic novella. We’re only presented with 19 pages of it in this first issue, and while I’m pleased the original source material has been included as well, Marvel only offers part of that reprinted issue as well. On top of that, the older material unfortunately follows the new work, and really, one needs the entire context of the 1974 story to appreciate the several references in the new material. It’s clear Infernal Man-Thing should’ve been offered as a single volume, with the 1974 story first, followed the new work by Nowlan (though one can understand why Marvel would want to put Nowlan’s art front and centre). Those with an interest in this story would be well advised to wait for a collected edition, which hopefully will present the story in the proper order. 6/10
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