Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: Essential Man-Thing Volumes 1 & 2

Well, just so I can let a friend of mine snicker a bit over a comic book title, I've decided to review Marvel Comics' Essential Man-Thing Volumes 1 and 2. No, that's not the snickery bit. You'll know it when you see it.

The Man-Thing was Marvel Comics' answer to DC Comics' Swamp Thing, the story and comic book that had won major accolades for creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson.  And almost exactly like Alec Holland, Ted Sallis was working on a special formula that both saved his life in a lab explosion and transformed him into the Man-Thing. Unlike the bio-restorative chemical that Holland was working on, Sallis was trying to recreate the Super-Soldier serum that empowered the Living Legend of World War II, Captain America.

The two swamp beasts have taken decidedly different turns. Swamp Thing is now an Earth Elemental, after a decidedly Gothic rebirth at the hands of Alan Moore. The Man-Thing morphed into the guardian of the Nexus of All Realities, which happened to be located in the Florida Everglades. 

The first volume of Essential Man-Thing chronologically reprints Marvel's muck monster's beginnings, starting with his very first appearance in the original black-and-white magazine Savage Tales. There are a couple of issues of Astonishing Tales with Ka-Zar, followed by the Man-Thing's short run in Adventures into Fear. The final few issues of that series, scripted by Steve Gerber, also feature the first appearance of Howard the Duck. The first Man-Thing series fills out the book, along with the first two issues (get ready to snicker) Giant-Size Man-Thing (commence snickering; end of snickers, please; it ain't that funny).

This first volume features some excellent artwork, by the likes of John Buscema, Gray Morrow, Howard Chaykin, Val Mayerik and Mike Ploog, who is perhaps best remembered for handling the character. Besides Howard, Dakimh the Enchanter, Jennifer Kale, Wundarr (later known as the Aquarian), Richard Rory and the Foolkiller are among the long-running Marvel supporting characters that got their start in the Man-Thing's adventures. Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, and Tony Isabella handle the script on these neo-Gothic tales.

The second volume of Essential Man-Thing reprints the final eight issues of the first series,the last three issues of the Giant-Size book, the entire eleven-issues of the second Man-Thing series by Michael Fleischer and Chris Claremont, along with some pivotal appearances in Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-in-One, and Rampaging Hulk.

The reprints again feature some great artwork, with Jim Mooney and Don Perlin doing much of the second series, and John Byrne providing the pencils on the two team-ups. Marvel Team-Up #68 was also the first appearance of the demon D'Spayre, while Marvel Two-in-One #43 was the lead-in to the popular Project Pegasus storyline in that series.

Once again, the stories have the Gothic feel while still being able to be recognized as Marvel Comics' tales. The Man-Thing is a completely silent character - he doesn't even have a proper mouth - but somehow he manages to convey a pathos that was equaled only by the early adventures of the Hulk and the Frankenstein Monster.

The first two volumes did a good job of collecting all the Man-Thing's appearances, but several issues were glossed over, but since this isn't The Complete Man-Thing, I guess we have to make allowances. The stories we do get are excellent. This is one of the more accessible of Marvel Comics' horror comics, especially with it's many connections to the on-going continuity. Both volumes of the Essential Man-Thing would be excellent additions to a comic aficionado's library.


by Rich Meyer

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