Giant-Size Man-Thing: The Kid’s Night Out! (#4) – Steve Gerber

4 out of 5

I must maintain: when Steve goes darkest with his writing is when he’s provided some of his best, most solid work. That’s not meant to discredit any of the goofier stuff – that is, after all, mostly how I got to know him, and I think a huge part of his genius was in finding a balance between comic soap, randomness, and surprisingly serious issues, rendering flashy books like The Defenders into consistently rereadable joys – but the deepest, darkest dives into the soul force Steve to go down roads which create books that are entirely unlike anything else. I’m pickily applying this, of course, since I guess it could be argued that “Song Cry…” in issue #12 was along these lines, and I don’t really like that issue, but I’d tend to bucket that more in to the morality plays that popped up in Man-Thing and Howard the Duck – which are plus and minus – it’s just an experimentally composed one. The Kid’s Night Out, instead, is wholly a character piece, one which doesn’t try to offer digestible themes to rally around or to end on some upbeat note; it is bleak stuff, with several full-text pages that are wholly immersive and affecting, bereft of the occasionally misguided beat-poet stuff Steve does in his text streams, and manages to use Man-Thing 100% effectively, even though he is also 100% a side character here. What’s fascinating – or maybe depressing – is how this tale of bullying – we experience events in the wake of high school student Edmond Winshed’s death – is still applicable to today (oddly, Steve’s high-school-bullying story Hard Time, written a couple decades+ later would come off a bit stiffer in that regard), especially in how it spreads the blame out to everyone – Edmond, to a degree, included – and how Steve shows the deflections that occur when the topic is handed back to the populace. But I think what caught me the most is that it avoids the easy “lesson” by not just suggesting the solution is to love everyone for who they are and yadda yadda, because that’s… not a solution. There is an absolute acceptance of humanity, yes – and that’s where Man-Thing is wended in, as a comparison point of a man rendered in to a non-man – but also underlining that we should strive to better ourselves, and the fault is when we place roadblocks (physical, emotional) preventing people from doing so.

Ed Hannigan’s and Ron Wilson’s art is occasionally a bit amateurish seeming, but they capture the right pacing and mood on the whole, and the looseness doesn’t disagree with the very grounded nature of the story. Plus: our first official Howard the Duck backup, just to counter all this heavy stuff, and some pretty excellently weird reprints.