Man-Thing #9 (1974)

You might think from my recent series of articles about mediocre – and worse – ’70s comics that all of were pretty crappy, cheezy and flashy little bits of four-color fun and nothing more. That’s the stereotype of comics, right? But nothing could be further from the truth. Comics in the 1970s, like most media, followed Sturgeon’s waw: 90% of everything is crap. But that 10% of comics are great, and that what I’m going to write about in the next few days: good ’70s comics.
 
And what better comic to start with than one of the finest series of that era, the Man-Thing, by perhaps my favorite comics writers, Steve Gerber.
 
The Man-Thing was a mindless creature who lived in the Everglades Swamp in Florida. Most of the time the Man-Thing lived in his own little world like any other creature. But when emotions invaded his swamp, the Man-Thing would be compelled to react. Mindless and emotionless, the Man-Thing was essentially a supporting character in his own comic as emotional storms happened all around him. Sometimes he would meet a teenager named Jennifer with wizardly powers, sometimes his path would cross with a down-on-his-luck radio DJ named Richard Rory, once, improbably, the Man-Thing crossed the path of Howard the Duck. There was an amazing elasticity to the stories as penned by Gerber. Literally anythng could happen. The story could be about a clown rising from the dead or it could be about book burning. It could be about a naive Superman analogue finding his way, or it could be about the horrible feeling of being a child ostracized in his high school.
 
It was a heady mix, emotional and thoughtful, the kind of series that only the most talented of writers could make succeed. Gerber was the perfect writer for this series, since his stories were all about emotion, confusion and disappointment. He’s always been one of the most intelligent and probing comic writers, writing with soul and energy and a heart searching for answers in a meaningless world.
 
This issue, "Deathwatch," starts with these wonderful captions, which capture the book well: "It is Monday… which means nothing to the macabre Man-Thing… to a creature who cannot reason, who barely notices the passing of the seasons, let alone the days and nights. But Monday is washday for Maybelle Tork, who despite all reason, lives here, in this tiny hovel, amid the brooding shadows of the swamp."
 
It turns out that Maybelle is an old woman who lives an isolated life with her husband Zeke at the edge of the swamp. Unfortunately, Maybelle is a sick woman, Fearing a heart attack, Maybelle sends Zeke to town for drugs. Unfortunately, while he’s on his way, Maybelle has the heart attack and dies. Meanwhile, as Zeke boats to town, he keeps getting attacked by creatures that seem to be possessed with an evil spirit… and that’s it. To be continued.
 
The story’s short and compact, but still seems to take its time, like a shaggy dog story leading nowhere. At the same time, Gerber’s captions give everything a comfortable energy.
 
Mike Ploog’s art is a gorgeous fit for this comic. His style is perfect for the swamp life. A reader can imagine the mists of the swamp hanging over every panel, giving the comic an incredible sense of its place. Maybelle and Zeke are gorgeously rendered, looking odd and weird and real all at the same time.
 
This might not be the most typical Man-Thing issue, but it still shows Gerber and Ploog at their best.
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