Reviewing The Infernal Man-Thing #1 is a tough burden to carry. This story has a long history behind it starring the late comic genius Steve Gerber. For those who don’t instantly smile at the name, Gerber is the man who created Howard The Duck, plus he did extraordinary work on Daredevil, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Son Of Satan, Man-Thing and more. Gerber is an icon, a man deserving of the highest respect from anyone who loves comic books.
So what’s the history behind this new Man-Thing story? In a nutshell, it is a sequel to a seventies Man-Thing issue titled “Song-Cry Of The Living Dead Man,” also penned by Gerber. He felt the story’s protagonist Brian Lazarus had a deeper story than had been told in that story. Gerber longed to get the sequel done, working with artist Kevin Nowlan to try and realize his vision. Nowlan, being a perfectionist, labored to get one painted page done a week, which cast the release date of the story in a darkened light. Marvel editors Ralph Macchio and Mark Panniccia managed to push Nowlan through the creative process and finish the work. The three issue series that kicks off here is the sequel that Gerber wanted to see hit the world up until his tragic passing in 2008.
And I don’t like it.
See! See what I mean? I wanted to like this. I love Steve Gerber’s work. I love Man-Thing. I love those weird 70s comic book tales. This should have been a no-brainer. I struggled with it, languished over it, I read and re-read the story twenty times trying desperately to find something to like. Instead, I found a largely forgettable first issue that is trying way too hard to be “different” or “weird”. Man-Thing hearing voices and seeing cartoon clowns stabbing each other. Brian Lazarus driving around with an imaginary friend who is really a two-foot female tree. It’s all just a little too clever for its own good.
Hold on to those slings and arrows, true believers, because I am in no way insulting Steve Gerber’s writing talent. I have many of his books and I love them. He was a huge part of an era of comics that I loved so much. All those heroes just outside the norm – e.g. Ghost Rider, Power Man & Iron Fist, Doctor Strange, Howard The Duck, and so on. Even if he didn’t write some of those books, Gerber’s style of writing opened up doors for those who would. He was an icon and a major talent. I just happen to think this story is beneath him.
The plot to Infernal Man-Thing is hard to explain, especially since it clearly needs the completion of all three issues to really make sense. Perhaps as the story crystalizes I’ll enjoy it more, but for now I just can’t recommend it. I hate that one of the last things Steve Gerber did isn’t aces for me, but I have to be honest.
Now you can get the slings and arrows ready, because one of my big problems with the story is the art. I realize Kevin Nowlan is considered the “artists artist,” but I can’t stand his work. It all comes across like soulless watercolors from a dentist’s office. Perhaps on huge canvas this type of work would be stunning, but confined to comic book panels, it looks, well, goofy. I hate the way Nowlan does human faces, especially the woman Brian Lazarus meets in a coffee shop. She always looks almost like the Joker. Again, I wanted to like the art as much as I wanted to like the story, but I ended up enjoying neither.
(2.5 Story, 2.5 Art)