Man-Thing: Song-cry… of the Living Dead Man! (#12, 1974) – Steve Gerber

2 out of 5

Steve at his most obvious, with indulgences on display, and a lack of bravery in sticking the landing; Song-cry… of the Living Dead Man! has always been, to me, one of the cheesiest Man-Thing issues of Gerber’s run.

Manny is drawn to an asylum, in which writer Brian Lazarus fiddles away, trying to write something legitimate, and failing. His daily penance – why he has seemingly retreated to this asylum – is to be assaulted by visions of life’s daily woes, as personified by bill-hounders (e.g. pay your parking ticket; pay your grocery bill). Being all empathic, Manny tries to assault these visions, only for them to disappear once torn free of the asylum, and Brian’s fears – and burn-at-the-Man-Thing’s-touch! capabilities – soon fade once he’s drawn clear of the assaults. He wanders into Sybil, and gets her to listen to him talk about how his job of churning out advertising prattle broke him, mentally; this leads in to a Gerber text page, but one in which he really lets his nonsense flag fly, to the detriment of the narrative. Steve likes to pursue this on occasion – letting sing-song words find their way to powerful ones – and it can be a good juxtaposition to the rest of a story when used well, but at full bore, it’s not very tolerable.

Sybil listens, shows affection, and Lazarus is cured! Happy days!

I do understand, on some level, the struggle of what Steve was trying to convey here: wanting to express the incredible depression of seeing one’s role in the downward spiral of society, and wanting an outlet to complain about it, but feeling guilty about complaining. Steve tries to put that into Brian Lazarus, half-heartedly suggesting that a friendly ear – Sybil’s – is a cure, but that’s ridiculous happy ending bullshit; and unfortunately, the remainder does just come across as complaining, like having to pay a parking ticket is something you should be blaming others for. And yeah, that’s the whole point of Brian Lazarus, to be this sad-sack, knowing he’s at fault for his own ills and back and forth and back… but Steve’s hopes of balancing this with self-aware commentary fall flat. The generally ingenious way he has Man-Thing observe but also indirectly comment on events is also lost: he’s really just here because his name’s on the book. Other details fall similarly to the wayside: why the visions are stuck within the asylum isn’t really clear; Sybil’s appearance is also just one of convenience to convince you that this has some Man-Thing chronology.

Buscemea, on layouts, is a little too stiff and formal for my Man-Thing preferences, but Klaus Janson’s finishes give things a nice, jagged edge, and Glynis Wein strikes an appropriately moody (though varied) color palette.

I think what Steve was hoping to accomplish with the issue was admirable, and there are points where the concept starts to come through, but it’s ultimately too on the nose.