The Infernal Man-Thing (#1 – 3) – Steve Gerber

3 out of 5

The posthumously published sequel to one of my least favorite Steve Gerber-penned Man-Thing issues… that manages to respond to / correct almost all the problems I had with the original.

The original “Song cry… of the Dead Man!” – an overwrought title which Steve knowingly shakes his head at here – was an interesting idea, but couldn’t find the right line between honesty and commentary, and coupled with some of Steve’s writerly indulgences – text pages, nonsense prose – ended up coming across as a bit of “woe is me” complaining, despite its lampshading of the same. Coupled with an all-too-easy ending, it’s an almost insultingly slight issue, and rendered Man-Thing as an unnecessary afterthought to boot.

And all of that gets paid its dues, here: Man-Thing being an outside observer to Brian Lazarus’ torture at the hands of the nonsense creations he’s made as a pitch-writer is part of the story’s point of being inaccessible to oneself; that garbled prose is repurposed as the catch-phrases of these same creations, and the ending is one of Gerb’s darkest. The asylum in which Lazarus is assaulted by these physical manifestations of his demons is more clearly a “home” of his own design, and though I think Steve pushes Sybil’s role in events a bit too much – a character also returning from the previous iteration – comparing the way two different adults have dealt with becoming “normal” as they age is fascinating. All of this very much suggests that this story couldn’t really have existed without its flawed starting point: an elder Steve is reacting to the industry, sobered – if you compare it to something more finger-pointing like Howard MAX – by tying those reactions to his own words; his own history. It’s a sad, but fitting, epitaph.

As a narrative, Steve hiccups over some clumsy dialogue (consciously avoiding Manny’s catchphrase, how dare he!) and, as mentioned, Sybil’s interactions ultimately feel a bit forced. Taken on those merits alone, the story would still qualify as one of Steve’s bests.

…Alas, as much I generally adore artist Kevin Nowlan, I do not think he was the right match for this. Yes, his cartoonish, but intricate style worked really well for the surreal bits, but as he opted for paints, he almost completely dropped backgrounds, leaving the pages fairly empty. His cartoonish Man-Thing could be said to harken back to Mike Ploog’s, I suppose, but the look is all wrong for the generally dreary tone, and again, the paints are maybe the wrong medium – Manny’s all smooth and sleek.

…And then there are the reprints. I appreciate that Marvel decided to pack-in the original Man-Thing issue (#12) with the series, but I’m not sure I appreciate that they split it in half – the story doesn’t lend itself to that – across two issues. This leaves the third issue with extra room, which they gave to reprinting Savage Tales #1, which is fair enough, but if you’re looking at the regular cover price and thinking that having reprints in three issues means the main story can’t be that long, well, yes. Nowlan’s pages, altogether, would maybe make for two issues, not three. Still – the reprinted Manny book is for context, right? Unfortunately, it looks pretty bad: Marvel’s 70s colors look horrible on glossy paper, cheesy as hell – seriously, go compare to the originals, which are super moody, and then the reprints look like 60s Batman camp – and they printed a splash page split in half, ’cause why not. Appreciated, but not a great reprint.

These factors rather unavoidably drag the whole project down to a three-star rating.