Brian C. Saunders:
Characters Appearing: Andrew Jackson Kale, Captain Fate, Death, Jennifer Kale, John Kowalski, Joshua Kale, Man-Thing, Wong
Issue(s): Man-Thing #5, Man-Thing #6, Man-Thing #7, Man-Thing #8, Man-Thing #9, Man-Thing #10
Rather than break up my Essentials trade any further, i'm keeping these six issues in a single entry. For the most part, they cover the lives of a Barbara Bannister and Citrusville Sheriff John Daltry, so they read well enough as a single unit.
Issue #5 starts by telling us that the alligators of the Man-Thing's swamp now recognize his scent, and know that there is no point in attacking him any more. That's kind of sad, since the Man-Thing fighting gators is a traditional way of starting a Man-Thing story.
But this issue is really about introducing Barbara Bannister. I'm not really happy with her introduction. She's a spoiled little rich kid - "blessed with looks, brains, ability, wealth. Blessed in so many ways that, in time, none of them had any meaning to her" and she eventually starts taking drugs and getting in trouble with the law. Her parents have pulled her out of college to take her on a yacht cruise. She insists on bringing her new boyfriend despite a coast guard warning about taking on strangers due to piracy problems. And her boyfriend does turn out to be a pirate. And in addition to killing her parents, he lets his men rape her.
The rest of the issue is Barbara escaping from the pirates with the help of the Man-Thing and Sheriff Daltry.
The story is designed to show her maturing through adversity...
...but "rape makes you stronger" and more generally torturing women as a substitute for character development is such an awful trope. Claremont himself had already subjected Colleen Wing to similar abuse and will do so again to Karma.
The leader of the pirates, Barbara's boyfriend, seems fully aware of the Man-Thing and his abilities, which puts him ahead of, say, the scientists from issue #2-3 and nearly everyone else that runs into him.
Issue #6 features Sheriff Daltry dealing with a gang of hoodlums that have read/watched Clockwork Orange too many times. They call each other "droogs"...
...and nihilistically vandalize the sheriff's office, consider digging up the grave of his dead wife...
...and try to murder him. The Sheriff stops them with the help of the Man-Thing, who he has a respectful understanding of.
A lot of shock-value in these stories. Unusual for Claremont. Pure speculation on my part: was he overcompensating for not being Steve Gerber? Issue #7 also begins with a shocker scene: a grisly description of a plane crash.
But the story then transitions into a callback to a Steve Gerber Man-Thing story. It turns out it wasn't an ordinary plane crash. The plane was boarded by the ghost pirates from Gerber's run.
Personally i could do without ever seeing a ghost pirate outside of a Scooby-Doo episode. But Captain Fate and his men will be the villains of the remaining issues of the book, excepting the fill-in in issue #9.
Barbara and Sheriff Daltry find a magic sword among the plane wreckage, and Daltry soon becomes attached to it.
The two are also becoming close.
The pirate ghost Captain Fate shows up to retrieve the sword, and kidnaps both of them along with the Man-Thing. Barbara is sent to get dressed up as a "pirate's wench", joining a harem populated by stewardesses and other women that the ghost pirates have taken from various raids.
So we are back to pirate rape, albeit with cartoonish ghost pirates this time.
The lady and satyr from the Gerber story eventually create their own floating boat and go after Captain Fate's ship.
But while everyone else is able to escape and Fate is seemingly killed, Sheriff Daltry winds up trapped on the boat thanks to the magical sword.
Issue #9 has the two fill-in stories. Both are your more typical pre-Gerber Man-Thing horror stories. McKenzie's has two star-crossed young lovers running away from their parents so they can find a place for their baby to be born. They wind up drinking contaminated water in a shack in the swamp, but the Man-Thing saves the baby.
The young parents die from the water, and the mother's parents die in a confrontation with the Man-Thing...
...but the father's father survives and takes the baby home.
DeMatteis' story has a boy who has fallen in with a religious group called Tao's Children (followers of the Reverend Harchew Tao) running into the swamp to flee people hired by his parents to deprogram him...
...and getting some unexpected help from the Man-Thing. The story shows that the Tao kids are just as hypocritical as the Christians.
Honestly, i would have taken a series of stories like that (and what Michael Fleisher was doing in the earlier issues of this series) over Claremont's ghost pirate rehash. But back to that with issue #10. The story begins some time in the future, after the satyr has tried and failed to free Sheriff Daltry from the floating pirate boat.
Barbara has sought out Jennifer Kale, who also fails.
She gives Dr. Strange a call, but Wong says that he's not home.
Meanwhile, Jennifer's brother Andrew has gotten himself into trouble with a biker gang, and he's helped out by the Man-Thing...
...and also a wandering ex-soldier (court-martialed for treason) named John Kowalski. Kowalski demonstrates a number of strange abilities...
...and we eventually learn that he's an avatar of Death.
Kowalski previously appeared in War Is Hell, in stories written by Claremont, where he was forced by Death to inhabit various bodies and make changes in the world. He's come here for Barbara, who denied death in her first issue. Kowalski says he'll help Barbara save Daltry if she'll become another aspect of death.
Kowalski is interesting. The scripting is natural. And the art is fine. But i can't get behind these stories.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: As noted above, i've kept these 6 issues in a single entry only for convenience. Other than issues #7-8 these could all be broken out into separate entries if necessary. I do see that the MCP has placed a few other Man-Thing appearances, from the Howard the Duck magazine and She-Hulk #8, between issues #5-6. The She-Hulk issue is context free. I don't have the Howard the Duck issues, so i may have to break this up a little further if it turns out there's a specific reason for that placement. Otherwise, they should work fine between #4-5 instead. This story continues in issue #11, which i have as an original issue and have covered in a separate entry directly following this one (and it starts in an unusual way, so stopping here works fine). Issue #11 takes place between Defenders #90 and #92 for Dr. Strange.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Essential Man-Thing vol. 2
I have yet to pick it up, mainly since I've been out of the loop due to family issues, but I hear that Man-Thing is being written by "Goosebumps" creator R.L. Stine and now has what I assume is Ted Sallis' brain and the ability to speak. If Claremont had worked with that premise, I imagine he'd have Manny doing a monologue about the swamp being "the lodestone of his being" as muddy tears stained his face.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | May 23, 2017 7:02 PM
"Man-Thing. The best at what it does. But what it does best is not very pleasant. Nor does it smell nice."
Posted by: Luis Dantas | May 23, 2017 10:07 PM
Well played, Luis! Instead of following up with a "SNIKT!" sound, there would be a "SPLOOG!" (See Iron Man Annual #3 for that one.)
Posted by: Brian Coffey | May 23, 2017 11:41 PM
I've been critical of Don Perlin's art on WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, in no small part because he succeeded Mike Ploog, and I'm sure I'll have more to say as I review my WBN Omnibus. That being said, the common denominator on his stay with Wolfie is that he was his own inker as well as penciling on most to all of those issues. Flash forward to his time on Man-Thing, where he is paired mostly with veteran brushman Bob Wiacek, and his art is markedly better. It looks more realistic, Manny's larger, more prominent ruby eyes make him even more menacing, and Jennifer Kale is enticing in her classic heavy metal viking sorceress get-up. Guess one should never underestimate the importance of the right inker. Of course working from Claremont's stories likely didn't hurt, either.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | June 11, 2017 9:26 PM
Clarification needed: Don Perlin's credits on Werewolf by Night appearances (including Giant-Size issues and Marvel Team-Up #12) include 30 issues as penciler, 18 as penciler and inker, and 2 as inker only. As stated before, his role on this run of Man-Thing was strictly penciling.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | June 11, 2017 10:44 PM
I love Larry Hama's Man-Thing, even if it only has 4-finger hands. My fav of the Claremont run.
Posted by: will | July 10, 2017 9:56 AM
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