With my epic X-Men/ Tranz finished, let me borrow an idea straight out of my own
reading-for-fun while recuperating lately.
Some of you will think I've finally gone round the bend from the title. I'll explain:
I've been enjoying Steve Gerber's Man-Thing. This admission is not as shocking as it may sound. While we kick out the last of this cold, I helped myself to a black and white volume of these 1970's comics written with adults in mind. Chemist Ted Sallis worked on a serum designed to give the American military a new Super Soldier Serum. Let's blame it on Valentine's Day, but he takes his hot girlfriend Ellen with him to the Okefenokee Swamp. She wants to lively things up considerable and is dressed to do the trick. She's a very clever companion for Ted, whose tastes, we later learn, has run to at least one hippie girl ("A Candle for Silver ST. Cloud!" Man-Thing #15, 1974). He's only a man, after all, and the negligee is a cunning way to break the humidity.
But Latin's greatest poet on matters of amours, Ovid, once said: "Cunning leads to knavery. It is but a step from one to the other, and that very slippery. Only lying makes the difference; add that to cunning, and it is knavery."
Unfortunately, she ambushes him with mercenaries afterwards, he runs, he injects himself with the one sample of the serum, and one car crash later, his body is decomposing---and re-composing---in the swamp.
Now, as feeling guys go, Man-Thing is pretty much all heart. It's fair to say, love left him mindless---but he's hardly the first of either gender to have that result. As Ovid wrote: "Ah, me! Love can not be cured by herbs." In Manny's case, he's now devoid of intellect, entirely motivated by the feelings of those in his proximity. With looks like these, he unintentionally scares folks, which is far more unfortunate, because, thanks to an acid secretion on his mossy surfaces triggered by fear, "Whatever knows fear BURNS at the Man-Thing's touch!"
The way to deal with Man-Thing was also addressed by Ovid:
"Courage conquers all things: it even gives strength to the body."
Now, the stories I enjoyed this weekend involved book-burning, bullying, manhood, and other serious topics. As the Man-Thing is neutral without his empathic reactions, it is always the regular human beings in the stories who carry the drama (and a few non-regular ones, too), in language that veers between the absurd (because life is absurd) and very naturalistic. Furthermore, while his legend grows by word-of-mouth, people are hardly clued-in initially to how to take this gigantic heap of veggies with the glowing red eyes, appearing without explanation. Ovid: "The cause is hidden; the effect is visible to all."
As for the loneliness which makes Valentine's Day so pointless and embittering to some, make no mistake, the holiday's more totally screwed for Man-Thing. Good thing it makes no difference to him; I'd pass the same advice to you, too. In one of his rare adventures with colorful costumed super-people (this one, three years after his series is cancelled), he takes on a demon called D'Spayre, who reduces Spider-Man first to a quivering mass of Fail and even induces Man-Thing to burn himself with the fear he affects deep within, at the level at which he is still Ted Sallis. But Spidey's encouraged not to go out like that, and though he parks at the cliff's edge of madness, from the look out he sees a way to fight back. "The Bold adventurer," Ovid wrote, "succeeds the best."
Love is not easy in these stories; when disc jockey Richard Rory gets mixed up protecting Ruth Hart from her motorcycle gang ex-friends and boyfriend, he needs her help as much as she needs his. In fact, patching Richard up is one of those steps in finding her way to a nursing career (seen later in Omega the Unknown). His new friend the Man-Thing is already mixed up with a developer named F.A. Schist (clever name, Gerber), and fortunately, their problems take care of each other---as you can find in Man-Thing #3. The mounting weirdness that is life in the occult-ridden swamp (trust me, it's a hidden Nexus of All Realities) makes Ruth decide to make her own way rather than keep hanging with Richard---I mean, in Gerber's comics, it's always possible for a person to have the sense to realize when too much bizarreness is too much(Man-Thing #8, I think). "There is no such thing as pure pleasure; some anxiety always goes with it." ----Ovid
Of course, Richard begs her to reconsider---and one day, they'll be together again, which they can't know now---for
"Where belief is painful we are slow to believe." And was it she who went on to write the book: It's a Man Thing: A Woman's Guide to Understanding Men?
HERE's an adaptation of one of Ruth and Richard's adventures with Man-Thing.
I've saved the last three stories for myself to enjoy later; as horror, scene-for-scene, I'd put them up there with Stephen King, Clive Barker and Anne Rice. Perhaps they were scaled back just a little for the Comics Code, but what little they lack in sex and gore is made up for by clever writing and meaningful themes.
Finally, Marvel Comics produced "Giant-Sized" comics, about twice the size of their regular ones, a quarterly offering for fifty cents, and all their popular titles were treated to this format, in addition to their regular monthly issues. So were we graced by five issues of...Giant-Size Man-Thing. And while the 7 foot plus character is already pretty giant-sized, his name gives way to a pun you may never really be able to look past.
"Why should I go into details, we have nothing that is not perishable except what our hearts and our intellects endows us with."--Ovid
Lots more Gerber rhapsodizing: