3 out of 5
I went back and forth on this, as the bulk of it is incredibly compelling, but it falls apart too much in its final pages; I very clearly felt my interest and immersion in the story dwindle and break on a certain page. Some copy on the cover – “Don’t divulge our shocking surprise ending!” – is suggestive of why that is: tales that are built around ‘twists’ have a tendency to live or die on that twist, and this is sort of the latter. What’s unfortunate is that it could work, but it’s too compressed; it comes off as silly. Steve tries to lampshade this in the final panel, with Richard Rory commenting on its silliness – and it suggests that might be part of what it’s commenting on – but I think we needed a smoother build up and release for that to land. It also draws into question why the twist-revealing bad guys in the issue are wielding sci-fi weapons – it’s a detail that comes from nowhere, seemingly inserted only so Man-Thing can actually be threatened by their presence.
In ‘Dance to the Murder,’ Rory is sitting in the swamp, apparently his preferred a’sittin’ place, lamenting Ruth not falling in love with him (that bitch!), when he spots some other dame running past. He tracks her down, and finds himself embroiled in another bit of trouble, as the girl is trying to escape from some helmeted, gun-wielding creeps, and now they’re after Rory as well. Man-Thing lumbers past; the reason for the chase is eventually revealed.
The simplicity of the setup belies some very strong writing from Steve, and more great Mike Ploog art. It’s actually all very intriguing – the girl Sybil, and her pursuers, are dialogued exceptionally well, much more human than a lot of the unequivocally “good” or “bad” side characters we generally meet, and the strange helmets the baddies wear are a fantastic Gerber story touch. But again, the denouncement just unseats most of this: the laser blasters are firstly out of place, then the helmets are removed and Rory shrugs at the camera.
Because the story that appears in issue #12 was actually announced for this issue, and this issue also marked the surprise (to the reader) last appearance of Mike Ploog on art, I do wonder if there was some deadline shuffling that required Steve to quickly script something for Ploog, maybe resulting in the initially strong, but ultimately slight narrative we got.