Man-Thing (#16 – 18) – Steve Gerber

5 out of 5

I’m not entirely certain how a story featuring a rockstar who tells his disciples to eat mud, a crazed viking who calls all men pansies, and a muck-monster who becomes a giant, flesh-burning soap bubble adds up to a wholly complex, serious, and thoughtful 3-part page-turner, but… well, Gerber.

Steve would more directly parody / satire / comment on some of this stuff in the pages of Howard the Duck, but that’s just it: his ambitions with these three Manny issues go far beyond cracking wise to highlight hypocrisies, and instead uses black and white points of view to suggest – as he recently had with Man-Thing at this point – that anything taken to an extreme is harmful. More original than that, and more frightening, is how the expansiveness of this story, not compressed to a single 22-page event, allows room to explore how extremes of polar opposites can conflate together; all that’s needed is to bond over our base instinct to fear – or hate – that which is different. I might consider this dated, and that we’re more “enlightened” now, but writing this, in 2021, recent political and social events in the US have shown that these kinds of things can always happen, and so maybe monster suds and axe-wielding barbarians aren’t too implausible.

And regarding those elements, I was impressed with how Steve used his random tendencies with such imagery in a controlled fashion: the symbolism of these characters made perfect sense, contextually, and all combined with one another perfectly as well, even though they’re all coming from differently told stories, with the annihilation of Man-Thing by some local do-gooders (tossing him into a chemical vat, thus responsible for churning him out as the bubble-clad, acidic cleaner) – though initially somewhat a background element to a viking killing unmanly men, and a mother leading a book-burning parade of censorship – becoming the perfect summary of all the issues’ themes.

The best looking book of the three is probably 16, with John Buscema’s / Tom Palmer’s gritty pencils and inks and Artie Simek’s expressive lettering matching the rain- and mud-soaked vibe of that issue, but we pick up Jim Mooney for 17 and 18, and his dynamic, solid work is probably a better fit for the town- and school-based settings.