Fear (#16 – 18) – Steve Gerber

3 out of 5

Note: The covers of these suggest the book is “Adventure into Fear,” but the indicia is simply “Fear”.

Steve experiments with the focus of his run on Fear before solidifying some elements that would carryover into Man-Thing carrying his own book – trying out some social commentary, another morality play (a la issue #12), and some satire / homage.

The lattermost – issue #17s Superman pastiche “Wundarr” – is the best of the bunch, and is a rather all-star issue. A human-like being from the stars crashes to Earth, but instead of being raised by normal folks as a kid, lives inside his spacepod for a couple decades until emerging… to Manny. Gerber could’ve played around with this more humorously, as Wundarr imprints Man-Thing as his mother, but instead, he draws parallels between the way the two beings – both “infants” in ways they perceive the world about them – interact with others, and with one another, and plays off of the way heroes often resort to blows over misunderstandings. DC got into a stupid lather about the issue, an early sign of the creativity vs. corporation woes Gerber would face in the years to come, but there was no need: beyond sharing some origin similarities, this is Gerber’s thing, and he takes it in a totally unique direction.

The first issue of this trio is a bit hollow, and is more important for establishing construction crew “F.A. Schists’s” presence in the swamp. Exploring the “we’re just doing our job” mentality of the construction crews – who come into conflict with the townfolk – is valid, but trumpeting bland environmentalist concerns feels rather dated, and Steve doesn’t dig hard enough, and settles for painting the workers as one-note bad guys. The best Man-Thing issues sort of accidentally involve Manny, and this doesn’t hit that note perfectly, although Steve’s prose is still great.

Issue #18 carries some of the lack of depth, but it tries a bit harder to find some unique takes on Vietnam, and pacifism, when a bus crash causes several survivors with different points of view to trek through the swamp. This is the perfect involvement of Man-Thing, drawn out to observe due to curiosity, but despite some interesting wanders into greyer territory, Steve ends up falling back on a hammy bad guy, and the trope of an innocent, wholesome girl.

The color palette settles across the issues to appropriate greys and browns, with Val Mayerick proving right for the art assignment, though slightly better or worse depending, as ever, on his inker, with finer, firm lines suiting him best.