Man-Thing: Battle for the Palace of the Gods! (#1) – Steve Gerber

5 out of 5

This is so hilariously Steve, and so hilariously encapsulates the merry-go-round of Marvel’s 70s publishing habits… and is a wholly enjoyable hoot, page by page.

The pacing is a big part of why: despite it being pretty damn plot heavy (and, being Steve, exposition heavy), something new and weird is literally happening upon each turn, and yet, as occurs during Gerber’s most enlightened writing, those weirdnesses just flow effortlessly into one another. But it is undeniably a crack-up that this #1 issue – the Man-Thing, “now in his own magazine!” – is the conclusion to a two-parter started in Fear, all due to Marvel’s fast-moving way of announcing titles and shuffling artists and keeping publishing schedules and etc. As per the letters page, Man-Thing #1 was announced, but Steve had plotted his Fear wrap-up as two issues… In modern times, we’d likely have had a summary page for new readers, or some forced text up front to ‘splain it all, but here in ’73, aren’t you reading every Marvel book anyway? And so you just jump on in: to Korrek the barbarian, Man-Thing the empathic swamp dweller, Howard the duck, and Dakimh the sorcerer battling against demonic forces in the nexus of all realities. Even during this opening battle sequences things are kooky at every turn: the demons are “hollow” but can rearrange their bodyparts; the nexus gives way to a sideways printed page in which all realities are converging – hey, there’s Daredevil! – and then it turns out that these forces are under the whim of “The Overmaster,” who’s a business suited regular-lookin’ dude who’s trying to become god.

There’s still plenty of weirdness left, I promise you. Sal Trapani’s inks on Val Mayerick’s pencils keeps the artist’s occasionally sloppy (but always expressive!) linework looking solid, and a bright splash of colors from Dave Hunt and expressive lettering from John Constanza all assist to keep every page exciting to scramble o’er, while we track the battle from locale to locale to its eventual conclusion and final, fitting punchline.

Steve can do funny, and Steve can do serious, and then sometimes he does this straight-faced bizareness that’s right up the middle – like Man-Thing #1 – and it’s genius. As a first issue, it totally shouldn’t work, but it absolutely does.