Man-Thing (#5 – 6) – Steve Gerber

4 out of 5

A clown commits suicide; his ghost puts on a play to have his soul weighed for the afterlife, casting Man-Thing as his personal “demon”; welcome to Steve Gerber’s 70s Marvel output – a thing of cliches revitalized into wholly strange and smart and joyous morality plays.

Other characters are a part of this – other members from the clown’s circus, as well as Rory and Ruth – all taking part in the play, and Mike Ploog’s artwork is the perfect match to bounce between the swamp-murk dripping “reality” and the surreal and cartoonish acting, which takes us through the clown’s life leading up to his time at the circus, and his discovery for why he was hired on as a clown, despite not having, at the time, any experience. The theme of trying to put a value on life, and on one’s experiences, is well told, both visually and narratively; Steve plays with darker elements – not just taking the easy out of “you can’t put a value on it!” but making that a bit more humbling: expressing that we’re not all fated to necessarily have some kind of effect on the world, and that should be okay.

That the final lines (about the value of laughter) are a bit cheesy is okay; it very much matches with having a clown tell the whole tale, after all. My docking of things is more for the momentary fallback on ye ole ‘love saves the day’ trope – there’s a girl, and she’s secretly in love with the clown, and her confession of that is part of why his soul is finally able to rest easy. That’s all fine and good, but it muddles the less black and white parts of the story.

This aside – and it’s really only a few panels out of two issues – this is wonderful stuff, and executed without Gerb falling back on some of his tropes of overt randomness or text pages; the issues are that much stronger as a result, though, fully embracing the comic book format to tell a tale that could only be told by Steve, with Man-Thing.