Marvel Comics Presents #1-12 (Man-Thing)
Issue(s): Marvel Comics Presents #1, Marvel Comics Presents #2, Marvel Comics Presents #3, Marvel Comics Presents #4, Marvel Comics Presents #5, Marvel Comics Presents #6, Marvel Comics Presents #7, Marvel Comics Presents #8, Marvel Comics Presents #9, Marvel Comics Presents #10, Marvel Comics Presents #11, Marvel Comics Presents #12 (Man-Thing story only)
Regardless of how successful, creatively or commercially, they may have been, both this Man-Thing feature and the Master of Kung Fu story that comprise the middle two parts of the inaugural issues of Marvel Comics Presents represent exactly what this book really should have been. I may have personally enjoyed the Wolverine story best, and i also recognize that the book needed a popular headliner to draw an audience, but these middle two features (the less said about the final initial feature, the better) deliver what the title, at its best, is all about: relatively obscure characters that don't have their own books done by the creators that love them best. I'd rather see these stories in their own mini-series, thanks to the inherent format problems here, but that's the whole point of this series: despite the cult popularity of Steve Gerber's Man-Thing or Doug Moench's Master of Kung Fu, they weren't going to bring in Wolverine level numbers, so this format allows these stories to exist and potentially see a larger audience.
One thing that makes these stories extra special is that it's the return of two critically acclaimed writers that we haven't seen in the while. And that is probably less a factor of this book's format and more due to the departure of Jim Shooter, although they are intertwined. In Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, it's stated that the original editor of this series, Michael Higgins, deliberately reached out to "as many of Shooter's enemies as he could" while setting up this series. But regardless of the reason, it still adds to the appeal of the initial issues of this series.
So far i've been talking about both the Man-Thing and Master of Kung Fu stories, but of course they are separate stories and will be covered in separate entries for my project here. From here on out for this entry i'll just be looking at Man-Thing.
This story is a twisted Gerberesque take on the Iran-Contra Hearings, with a General Selbert supervising a program arming Latverian moderates and experimenting to create super-soldiers, all funded with drug money.
The program is also allied with Satanists that are used to distribute the drugs in the US and perform other duties.
The program continues while the General testifies before Congress that it's been shut down. The Man-Thing gets involved when he meets one of the early subjects of the program.
He then tracks the program's operatives back to their shacks where the creature attacks again.
A Senator that asks General Selbert about "Project: Glamor" is subsequently attacked.
And the attacker turns out to be a washed up hippie talking about "they". He's one of the Satanists.
The Senator, meanwhile, is brought to Freedom Science Studies Institute (FSSI), where they work their super-science magic on him.
Back in the swamps, the Man-Thing's encounter with the deformed super-soldier triggers memories and recognition.
He's subsequently attracted to the lead Satanist, code named "Demon", when she produces fear in a puppy.
She, however, is not afraid, and she's able to use the Man-Thing to further her connection with the dark world (or at least she thinks she is). After subjugating him, she severs her connection with the rest of the project and then goes mad when she communes with the Man-Thing and finds Ted Sallis instead of Satan (or even Thog).
We also get to meet the Oliver North of our story.
North - actually Choate - gives his testimony, taking all the blame for himself and invoking patriotism as the reason, same as the real Oliver North and also Clay Quartermain in Hulk #346. But after his testimony we find that he's a little weirder than the real North.
While he's testifying, the FSSI's process on the senator fails, and a new doctor is sent in to perfect the process, with the old doctor being used as the new test subject.
Conveniently named Dr. Railsback, we find that he's retained his intellect while in this monstrous form.
The project also sends in some men to clean up the Satanists...
...but thanks to the Man-Thing, Demon gets away with some of her followers and a captive reporter. They follow up with a missile from a helicopter...
...but it's kinda hard to kill the Man-Thing.
The reporter convinces Demon to leave the Man-Thing behind and go to a payphone so that she can disclose everything about the Latverian arms trade to his editor.
Colonel Choate, meanwhile, has gotten the second doctor to infuse himself and six soldiers in Costa Dinora, a Central American country, with the perfected super-soldier serum. He then disposes of the doctor.
He plans to head to Moscow to crush "Grape" (Gorbachev, because of the spot on his head). Which i guess shows that he's sincere in his own misbegotten version of patriotism. But he's called back by General Selbert when the news from the reporter gets out. The General also kidnaps the reporter's girlfriend and later kills Demon. But Railsback later shows up to kill Selbert.
And then Choate and some of his super-soldiers show up.
This results in a confrontation between the Man-Thing and Colonel Choate. Note that that the Man-Thing again recognizes the soldiers as "kin".
Choate is burned up by fear of the Man-Thing.
The reporter's girlfriend is also killed. It's unclear exactly what happens to Railback or the super-soldiers that were with Choate. But some of the other super-soldiers are shown heading to Moscow at the end.
Of course they must have been stopped by the Soviet Super-Soldiers or something, since we never hear about that attack in the Marvel universe. Steve Gerber will follow up on this story to a degree in this years' Web of Spider-Man annual, though.
The pacing of this story is such that i fear it would not have sat well with readers not already sold on Steve Gerber's Man-Thing. Younger readers attracted to this series thanks to the prologue to Wolverine's solo series (and, in realtime, i was among them) probably couldn't make heads or tails of eight pages of congressional hearings followed by some guys chasing a reporter through the woods and then a splash of the lady Satanist pulling back the curtains to reveal the Man-Thing. Not exactly gripping in isolation. I didn't even include any scans from the middle parts of the story as they're just incrementally pushing the plot forward, sort of like how the middle of issues #2 and #3 of a four issue mini-series would. Which in the long run works best for the story; it reads with less fits and starts than the Wolverine story from these issues, actually. But since this wasn't collected as a trade i'm still going through the physical act of closing the issue and opening a new one every eight pages, and there's a slight sense of "is anything happening here?" as you read through it.
Another difficulty in penetration is the fact that, since this is a top secret military operation, all the characters are referred to by code names...
...and when you have dialogue like, "Yes sir. Even before the Rodent hunt... We can afford the loss of Taco Bell, but not the risk that he might become possessed. Exactly, sir. By the Demon.", well, you have to either be keeping close track of this stuff or flip back a lot. Reading it on a bi-weekly basis would have been hard. It's hard on my tiny brain even all at once.
That said, reading it all at once and even repeatedly - something that the format virtually ensures no one but me will ever do - is pretty rewarding. It's dense (likewise for the mostly Sutton art), it's got a ton of moving pieces that do eventually come together, it's overtly satirical and topical and it's a nice burst of Gerber weirdness, all told. It gets a bit messy especially at the end and the resolution is too open ended, deliberately in the case of the Moscow invasion and less so in terms of the fate of Railback, for my tastes, and all of the characters are either over the top crazy or devoid of personality altogether, so there's nothing to really latch onto. But overall, it's exactly what you'd want from a Steve Gerber Man-Thing story appearing in Marvel Comics Presents. At a minimum it deserves to eventually be collected in an Essentials/Omnibus type format along with the rest of Gerber's Man-Thing stories, and i think it would read better in that format than as individual issues, even (again) more so than the Claremont/Buscema Wolverine story that was collected as a trade.
It's worth noting that the serum being discussed in these issues is simply "Sallis' serum". A long while back in Daredevil #113, Gerber established that Ted Sallis had been working on a serum that would transform humans into pollution-breathing monsters, with the benefits that corporations could continue to pollute without destroying the local populations and that the army could use biological warfare without repercussions for their own soldiers, and, separately, a super-soldier serum that accidentally turned Sallis into a swamp monster because it interacted with the swamp water. The more i look at that Daredevil story, it seems to me that the revelation there was a fix for a flub in Fear #16 which first revealed the pollution-breathing thing but without any distinction between two separate serums, and that contradicted the original origin for the Man-Thing which didn't involve anything about Sallis deliberately trying to create monsters. So the Daredevil story introduced the two serums as a fix for that flub. But this story muddies the waters again (pardon the swamp pun) because it only refers to a single serum by Sallis which FSSI is trying to perfect. It's called a super-soldier serum but, even perfected, it turns people into monsters.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
This is the second of Marvel's stories in 1988 by writers that didn't seem to get the Cold War was ending. Gerber shows that his anti-Reaganism can be just as stupid as Englehart's anti-Communism in WCA 33-36. At this point, it was obvious to everyone with sentience that Reagan's entire foreign policy depended on keeping Gorbachev in power until the Cold War ended. I get that this might have been written in 1987 but if that was the case, you'd think the editor would change the target to Khomeni or Dr.Doom or whoever. In hindsight, the idea of Reagan trying to kill Gorbachev (or vice versa) is ridiculous.
Posted by: Michael | July 29, 2014 8:47 PM
I had zero interest in this segment of the MCP when I was collecting. I had no idea what was going on and hated the art. Getting only isolated issues here and there certainly didn't help, but that's probably how most people bought them. Which makes these 8 and 12 part stories a bit hard to read.
Posted by: Erik Robbins | July 30, 2014 1:15 AM
MCP only did these really long stories early on, right? There are a few later exceptions like Weapon X, but 12-partners seem rare after the first year or so.
The perfected serum guys look like Omega from Alpha Flight to me. Is there a common denominator, some '80s horror-movie monster they're all based on? Some of the monstrous form in 1986s "From Beyond" seem similar, iirc, but I don't imagine many people saw that movie.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | July 31, 2014 12:57 AM
The longer stories seem to keep coming. There is of course the 25 part Don McGregor Black Panther, and i see a 10 part Coldblood story by Doug Moench, an 8 part Wonder Man story, an 8 part Poison (Steve Gerber character), 10 part Shanna the She-Devil, 9 part Young Gods, etc.. That's in addition to the lead X-Features which tend to be about 8 parts.
I'm kind of dreading it, frankly. These Marvel Comics Presents issues are exhausting to review! ;-)
Posted by: fnord12 | July 31, 2014 10:44 AM
Railsback is right on his evaluation of Choate. It is so cathartic to see those folks named for what they are.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | July 31, 2014 8:08 PM
But those long serials are all in the first year or two of MCP, yes? Around 1990 I think there's a decision made to cut back on the long ones, which may be why things like Cockrum's Starjammers, Nicieza's Siviet Super-Soldiers, and the Shang-Chi follow-up become separate specials instead.
It's also around '90 that Wolverine becomes the full-time lead, if I recall. I assume Marvel decided that the stories with other mutant characters and other characters with their own books were not a sales substitue for Wolverine.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | July 31, 2014 10:15 PM
Not to quibble, but the Shanna story is in 1991 and the Young Gods is in 1992. There's also a 6 part Bill Foster story in 1992 and an 8 part Iron Fist story in 1993. And beginning in 1992 you start to have 6-8 part Ghost Rider stories in addition to the 6-8 part Wolverine stories (actually they are often both team-ups: Wolverine + Guest and Ghost Rider + Guest). It does seem that by 1993 the longer stories are phased out, but the series only runs until 1995. I'm just going by the UHBMCC so you can take a look.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 1, 2014 9:51 AM
Is it just me or do these super-soldiers bear some resemblance to the Abomination in the Incredible Hulk film? That would be interesting, considering that version of Blonsky actually took some of Project Rebirth's formula.
Posted by: Max_Spider | August 1, 2014 11:12 AM
What is interesting to note though is that after Panther's Quest, none of the stories are longer than 10 parts, with the exception of Weapon X, which is 12 parts. I have to wonder if the reaction to Panther's Quest discouraged them from doing longer serials.
Posted by: Michael | August 1, 2014 6:37 PM
In Amazing Heroes #168(7/89) Gerber was interviewed and mentioned some upcoming projects: A Man-Thing GN with Kevin Nowlan, a 2nd Man-Thing GN with Tom Sutton, and a Howard the Duck revival with Gene Colan. The Nowlan Man-Thing was released as a mini-series a few years ago, but I don't know if the other two showed up in any form.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 2, 2015 10:49 AM
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