Giant-Size Man-Thing (#5) – Steve Gerber, Various

3 out of 5

Steve Gerber’s fifth Man-Thing Giant-Size would be indicative of something that often afflicted the writer: deadline doom. Editing and writing approximately a million titles, Steve’s admitted procrastination and off-the-cuff style would semi-frequently lead to books that broke whatever pre-established form: fill-in issues, experimental issues, or delays. Not being part of an ongoing storyline, GSMT escapes rather unscathed when Steve was unable to craft a whole issue, and the title’s already-anthology format lends it to being a good platform for this sorta thing, as the workaround here has Gerber crafting a framing story – Ted Sallis and girlfriend visit a Circus psychic, before his accident, who relates three strange tales of a murk monster – and different writers taking over a couple of those.

The lead-off story from Gerber is definitely the best of the bunch, and also has the boon of Tom Sutton on art (who wonderfully inks up some of the other stories as well). Gerb’s masterful grasp of wending the murk monster into happenstance is on point, and the story is one of the writer’s tightest, relieved from the need to fit a certain page length: Manny interrupts a sacrificial ceremony in an apartment building via a calamity of clumsiness, Steve (and Sutton) expertly working through the creature’s attraction to emotions, then his uncaringness a moment later, as he galumphs into an elevator and down stairwells and – eventually – out a window. It’s great.

Len Wein and John Buscema whip up a Romeo and Juliet-adjacent tale, with two star-crossed teens running away to the swamp to try to encourage their respective parents to come together and sort out their differences. Buscema is great at the human soap opera stuff, and Wein has a great grasp of writing Man-Thing as an innocent insert into matters, but the setup is pretty forced and clumsy, as are the dramatics that ensue once everyone is gathered in the same location. However, it’s an appreciably bleak tale, suggesting that Wein picked up on the general vibe Steve normally worked with.

The only notable thing about Marv Wolfman’s contribution is Ed Hannigan’s pulpy, exciting art ‘neath Sutton’s fantastic inks. I can imagine Marv was trying to counter the other stories’ tones by doing something more action-y and protagonist bound, but ‘Lifeline’ is, unfortunately, very dumb, with jetpacks and a chortling villain and 100% inhuman dialogue – no one in this story behaves in a recognizable fashion, and Manny becomes more of a senseless beast than an empathic one. Also, technology allows for missiles to target specific emotions. Sure.

The non-Man-Thing extras include the second GSMT Howard short, which is along the lines of the former one – Howard battles a supernatural creature – and is thus pretty silly, but you’ve once again got great art (Brunner / Sutton), and you can sense the formation of the HTD persona in its final few panels. After that is a super short, uncredited reprint from Marvel Tales; it’s unremarkable but entertaining enough for its couple pages.