Fear: The Enchanter’s Apprentice! (#19) – Steve Gerber

5 out of 5

Choice quotes: “Reality: Plato found it in the shadowy confines of a cave — Descartes, in a syllogism… “Cogito Ergo Sum” …”I think, therefore I am.” They blew it — both of them.”

” “That’s some kind of bomb!!” To be specific: the kind that explodes.”

Oh man, this is Gerber: not just being weird and random, but stringing his weirdness and randomness into a cohesive, continually surprising story, striking a narrative tone that can waver easily between comic camp, casual dialogue, and offhand, sharp wit. Typical elements of sword-bearing warriors and wizards become brand new, massaged into the darker themes Gerber has thus far explored with Manny – destiny; life’s purpose – while also completely life-hearted and goofy; Man-Thing, still an observer, but accidentally integral as the focus point of the nexus of all things – his swamp – and a sudden bleeding of all levels of reality into one. The issue opens up with a faux dream sequence like none other: an army battalion and he-man savages clash while alien spaceships pew-pew in the skies above, and Jennifer Kale – once again bedecked out like a sorceress – beckons for our swamp creature to join her on a light bridge to a castle in the sky, as Gerb explains how all worlds are, essentially, the same, just here we call it fiction, there it’s reality, and so on; this avoids the lazy “it was all a dream” rewind, and replaces it with the much more intriguing – it was all a dream, and the dream is real!

Mutating peanut butter and cigar-chewing ducks also play a part; Man-Thing’s passivity causes his immediate antagonist to question what they’re doing with their life. Brilliant, heavy and yet hilarious stuff, setting us up for the premiere of Man-Thing’s own series.

Val Mayerick and inker Sal Trapani perfect one another, with Mayerick delivering amazing page layouts and dense-as-heck concepts seemingly effortlessly, Trapani adding just the right looseness and tightness when appropriate. (Along the way, I think I’ve forgotten to mention letterer Art Simek, whose expressive but controlled lettering has been a huge boon to balancing the tone throughout.)