Man-Thing (#19 – 22) – Steve Gerber

4 out of 5

Steve Gerber’s most (comparatively) linear Man-Thing storyline comes to an appropriately wayward end, appropriately summarizing the way the book tried to straddle different tones and themes during the writer’s three year tenure.

There’s a bunch of typical bizarreness featured herein, but whether due to artist Jim Mooney’s solid, somewhat conventional work, or a willful attempt to balance out the recent heavier concepts explored and the more fantastical stuff, these issues’ story of emotion-trapping boxes and a lifeforce-sucking masked villain named The Scavenger comes across as pretty traditional stuff. Which isn’t a bad thing – it’s an interesting maneuvering around its odd ideas, and lessens the overt moral hand-holding that occurred in some earlier Man-Thing tales – and more importantly, makes way for its leftfield ending to actually land as the right ending, instead of just (possibly) Steve bowing out of the title. The ins and outs of each book are kind of hard to define, as the shape of the plot may have shifted along the way, but 19 mostly focuses on this Scavenger fellow, and it’s an incredibly well written issue, touching on (as we have before) gender roles in marriage without trying to underline some kind of takeaway, beyond the institution being imperfect. This theme of imperfection could said to carry over to issues 20 and 21, which explore others tangentially tied to Scavenger – and a being named Thog, and those aforementioned boxes – but we’re not really drilling down in to that so much, as we are being led along on the mystery of these different characters, and how they’re tied together, before Steve drops us in to issue 22’s “conclusion,” which features text pages and (kinda) fourth wall breaking, but in an entirely appropriate manner.

What lends credence to this being the direction the story was intended to take – and I’m not saying it was, but that it at least reads like it was – is the lack of urgency beyond all of the insanity that leads into it. While that would normally be a criticism, there’s something very playful about it, which is what’s sold by the way it’s capped off, and which also manages to somehow lampshade an “it’s just comic books!” mentality with an equally committed belief that this is all serious business.

Mooney’s maybe not the best on Manny himself – he’s a bit too formalized in the artist’s hands – but the art, otherwise, is a great match for this arc, syncing up with that playfulness with big drama, and dynamic panels.