The eighth issue of the Man-Thing comic proper picks up right after Man-Thing # 7 in true Breaking Bad style--on the last page of # 7, we saw our Man-Thing as he was getting ready to be run through by a hovercraft/swamp buggy, and on the first page of # 8, he gets hit by it. The boat, piloted by the fascist Mr. F.A. Schist, fails to do the kill-trick, it explodes, and our various characters end up hanging out with some Fountain of Youth worshiping types down at "La Hacienda". (The farm?) The little drama that plays out after that is remarkably similar to the final minutes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in that the bad guys all die due to hubris/being evil and the good guys survive because...well, because they're good guys. Less jokes are involved, which is sad, because I think there's a lot of money to be made in comics that feature a Sean Connery type screeching wenamedthedogindiana while Man-Thing sits on a donkey. It was a donkey, right?
Noah isn't very impressed with Ploog's art so far, and I've got my own problems with it, but this issue seems less to do with the guy being a bad artist--I don't think he is, although it's harder to argue that from the Man-Thing evidence--and more to do with the method he goes about drawing these stories not being a very cohesive one.
He'll deliver something like this, an image that does a solid job of mining the sort of amorphous quality that the creature can have when Gerber sets the story in the swamps it works best in, and it's a striking thing to look at. The way the human hand sticks out through the tree, the parallel marriage of leg and root, the backgrounds that trail off--you can tell that this stuff was designed for color, but it seems pretty strong to me. Weird, sure. But that's alright. Weird can work.
This though--this doesn't read to me as weird. It reads to me as unfinished, it reads to me as an artist who is bored. After this panel, you can see that it wasn't a question so much of time or lack of effort--Ploog's drawing of lopsided door frames and hand-made steps, his dripping stalactites put the lie to that--but panels like this just look like they were tossed in because they had to be. At no point in the rest of the issues I've read of Ploog's work so far does he draw a woman like Lorena again--she doesn't fit, and I think he knew that. Both of these scans have background images where the line trails off, but in the top one, I think it works, it helps the image remain focused on the central depiction of an exhausted monster. Here, it's all I'm seeing. Why don't the doors make sense? If they're opening out, the way they appear in the first panel, why do they seem to be opening in in the next? From the panels lower in the page, we know that there's a rickety staircase leading downwards--why isn't that reflected in the second panel above? The top image is weird. The bottom is just irritating.
The thing about Ploog's art is that I kind of think it would work better if the comic was less focused on the people--like the dull-as-dirt F.A. Schist, or the stock female innocent who moons over Man-Thing like she just finished singing a song with a talking teacup and candlestick--and focused more on the monster and the swamp he lives in. When Ploog gets the opportunity to draw that stuff, it's got a real spark to it that the Mayerik stuff was lacking. Under Ploog's direction, vines curl off into abstraction, rock formations look wet and solid, and the Man-Thing looks like he's grown out of the land that surrounds him. It's not all the way there, and Mayerik definitely seemed more willing to have his various characters share a cohesive, distinguishable apperance from start to finish, but Ploog's art still has a unique quality that I didn't catch in Mayerik's. Considering the time this stuff came out, that's a mark in its favor. Ploog just needed Gerber to stop giving him so many extras from...what did Noah call it? Shitty community theater? That's about the size of it, anyway.
Giant-Size Man-Thing # 1
The tag on the front of this issues cover screams "It's back from the dead! The GLOB strikes again!" The Glob is--well, it's exactly what it sounds like, because hey, it sounds exactly like it would be the name for a character constructed out of snot, right? Seriously, be contentious if you want, but "Glob"? Nobody thinks of something pleasant when that word comes into play. Glob was the name given to a monstrous snot creature that fought the Hulk in a couple of Hulk issues. (That information comes from an editor's in-story notation, so no, I'm not the Mark Waid of obscure Hulk-villain trivia.) After the fight ended, the Glob's "golden brain" was placed inside a crystal ball for a cult to run around with. As is Gerber's style, the cult is oddly defined as being a sort of Luddite splinter faction obsessed with maintaining a Christian Scientist bent on all things progressive--no prolonging life, no scientific progress, etcetera, et all. As is Ploog's style, the most talkative cult member looks like DC's Red Tornado.
Did you notice the words "Giant-Size?" Cuz yeah, wow, this thing is one hell of a long comic. It's not a particularly involving story either--the centerpiece is a fight between two monsters, neither of whom can speak or die, and both of them get the same result when they hit one another since both of them aren't solid objects. It's a fight between two drawings, and it reads like one too. But, like some of these Gerber stories, there's some effective moments of crazy going on, like when the comic takes a breather from the cults and the plots to focus on the adventures of the "golden brain", which is capable of swimming and bouncing. Gerber takes a little break for one of his "Very Special Episodes Of Liberal Fantasia" or "Genius Moment of SlapDashery", depending on your personal take, and the Golden Brain becomes the first non-hippy scientist citizen of OMEGAVILLE--Man's Last Chance. That's right kids! Geodesic domes, just like Pauly Shore promised us.
Lets hold off on the Nobel until you learn how to spell "success" properly, alright? That okay with you?
I'll be frank. This could be the best goddamn comic in the world, illustrated by a man whose very pen ejaculates big-busted French bulldogs that shit twenty dollar bills, and I'd still have a problem with it, because I went to college next to the Appalachian Trail, and let me tell you brother: you don't know hate. You think a couple of fuck you's to a random Batman comic book is hate and rage? That shit is gravy, it's canasta, it's fucking late-night games of Clue with people who actually strategize their questions in advance. No. Hate? Hate is what I have for hippies. Hate is what I have for smug research scientists who siphon grant money out of the blood profit of gigantic corporations so they can build "a self-sufficient community that functions without oil and without disturbing the swamps ecological balance." Now, I'm full and goddamn aware that there are serial problems to be dealt with when you look down the barrel and say "I think I'd prefer a cancer-strewn apocalyptic heatwave for me and my kin over a survival built around the ideology of shaggy haired Phish fans with PhD's in I-don't-give-a-fuck." Is that stupid? Gosh darn right it is. Stupid like a fox! But hey, welcome to the freedom of the pipe-smoking blogosphere: while the elite claim that these bad boys are burning down cultural discourse, I'm cracking wise while I wait for that new John Gechter three-way to download via Rapidshare. This coffee right here? Made it this morning. It's holding strong.
Thankfully, Gerber doesn't seem any more inclined to dally in the world of hippies any longer than he has to, so after the expected Turn Of Events, Round Two of Man-Thing versus Glob throws down, the winner is writ in your expectations, and the whole thing closes on a panel that I'm going to reproduce below, to see if the joke works any better for you than it did for me, which wasn't much.
Obviously, "incense burner" is a ha-ha-ha let's go smoke some weed gag, and for that, I'll definitely pump my fist in agreement--this was early 70's Marvel, and something tells me that the world would be a better place if the early 70's Marvel reader had smoked a hell of a lot more pot. Still, it looks more like one of those fertility statues to me. Have we learned something yet? No? Well shit. You can't say I'm not trying.
Man-Thing # 9-10
As has been pointed out by Charles Yoakum, Noah and I are using Marvel's Essential Man-Thing Volume 1 as our operations manual, and while I hesitate to write what I am preparing to write, as the fault squarely lays on my shoulders, here goes: why can't the Marvel Essentials have page numbers? Maybe some of them do, I don't have many of them. But the DC versions of these black & white omnibus collections do have page numbers, and it's rather pleasant, rather useful: I like page numbers. Put them in five-hundred page collections. I think I would have kept better track of where I was in the reading process, as my "put blank post-it notes next on important pages" methodology failed me, and I ended up reading Man-Thing # 10 before I read Man-Thing # 9 and gosh, I felt like a dummy. And I already feel enough like a dummy, because some people make a full-time living off this blogging thing, and yet I spend the majority of my day negotiating which color pink would make a former American Idol contestant look less like the trench-mouthed demon that he truly is. Not fair! As is my way, I blame someone who is not me. You'll do in a snap, Marvel Comics!
The thing is, after I figured out that I'd missed something, I went back and read issue 9--and you know what issue 9 is? It's a really long prologue to issue 10. I wonder if people in the 70's complained about decompression the way they complain now? I imagine yes, as complaining about comics was probably as fun as it is now back when everybody was buying meth at the drugstore and fucking their brains out. (That's the 70's, right? I never saw the Ken Burns mini-series that explains America.) But yikes, issue 9--whoa. That's some beating around the bush there, and it's too bad, because---oh Noah, I'm sorry brother, Tears In My Eyes, I Swear--I liked the story that issue ten was telling. I bet I would've liked it more if the whole thing had been tied up in one bullet, especially if that bullet had gone into my face, Grandpaw Stone style. "They can't get me in hell!"
See, there's this feller and his old lady, you see? (And don't read sarcasm into that, if ever there was a couple where "feller and his old lady" was the proper description, it's these two right here.) Sick of city life, they move out to the swamp, live off the land in a shack designed to brew moonshine, the feller finds a dog--scratch that, he finds a Dawg, which he correctly names "Dawg", and it's a perfect little redneck Walden Pond until the old lady's anger reaches the boiling point. How angry is she? Try this on for size: she's been Angry For Twenty Years. Two decades of anger, that's what she's got brewing, and it gives her a nasty case of the Heart Attack. Noah's come down pretty hard on the sitcom-style writing that Gerber's plots can fall into, and while he's right on the money for this one--it could've been easily refined into a million X-Files monster-of-the-week episodes, with the Mulder/Scully combo taking over for the little-to-do Man-Thing--there's a very real energy that runs through the back half of this tale. Credit has to go to Ploog as well, who abandons the pretense towards accurate representation he toyed with in Man-Thing # 8--all of the human characters are presented as pure caricature, and it works really well for a story that's got such a solidly simple plot at its heart. See, the whole thing here is so fucking simple: the old lady has a heart attack, and her fella, Zeke, goes tear-assing back to humanity with Dawg and Man-Thing in tow, desperate to find a doctor, the one thing that his swamp-home can't provide. Gerber restrains himself a bit on the exposition, letting the reader see how removed those twenty years have been--when Zeke finally makes it to "Ed's Truck Stop", he's confused by the slang, he thinks phone calls cost a nickel, and he can't understand why the locals are so unwilling to help him. Without reading too much into intent or motive, there's a general sense that Zeke's removal from humanity--he would have bailed out in the 50's, as Man-Thing seems to be set in the present day of the 70's--is yet another way for Gerber to level criticism towards the way progress brings about a general collapse of communal values. While I don't agree with him on that one--it's a classic bitch move to say that "things were better before YOU were here"--credit is due, because the truck stop scene is much less heavy-handed than naming the corporate monster "F.A. Schist." Ploog also pulls off this little underwater fight sequence that I think I like more than anything since the Gray Morrow/Neal Adams issues.
Of course, if the story was just about a guy trying to find a doctor for his wife, it might make for a great Drawn & Quarterly comic, but it wouldn't give Man-Thing anything to do. Gerber's decision is to hold off on the explanation a bit, instead delivering page after page of awful shit. Possessed trees and evil skeletons keep popping up, attempting to kill Zeke and Dawg, but it isn't revealed until issue 10 as to why, exactly, all of this is happening. (While I'm willing to bet a stack of fifties that a survey of Man-Thing readers would result in the lion's share saying "they say it coming", fuck that, I don't buy it, and they ain't here.) Remember when we said that Zeke's old lady had been sitting on some aggression for twenty years? Yeah. That's it. Her heart attack gave her a brief clinical death before the meat kicked in again, but during that time, her twenty years of "hate and jealousy" escaped--and her twenty years of "hate and jealousy" is fucking pissed.
At the dog.
Fuck that bro. I didn't see that coming. That's a good twist, and while it might deserve a spoiler--ahh, this comic is thirty-five years old, you know? It's not like it's hard to come by, either. The conclusion plays out the way you'd expect a decent Disney film to end, with Dawg sacrificing himself after Man-Thing falls in the final battle. Tears are shed. Pogo-style slang is spoken.
This wasn't a very good Man-Thing story. But it was still a pretty good comic. More of this? Please.