“Whatever Knows Fear, Part One of Three”
Writer: Hans Rodionoff
Artists: Kyle Hotz (p&i), Lee Loughridge (c)
Insurance claims investigator Nathan Mehr visits a Louisiana construction company plagued by “vandalism”. And by “vandalism”, the work site is overrun with abnormal plant growth that’s torn the machines part. Mehr finds a strange green statue at the site. He later visits a security guard hired to watch the site. The guard has been comatose since the last incident. When Mehr shows him the statue, the guards awakens, vines growing from a potted plant into his flesh. He chokes out the word “Mantokwe” before dying. Mehr has more wok ahead of him.
This mini-series was written as a prequel to Marvel’s “Man-Thing” movie, coming this October. This issue reads like the first act of a 3-act story. We’re introduced to our main characters, (Mehr and Frederic Schist, owner of the construction firm), a crisis is introduced, (weird things and unexplained deaths), and there’s a rise in action, (the guards horrifying and mysterious death). A simple formula, but it’s done well. Mehr’s possession of an angel picture, the way he deliberately showed the Man-Thing doll to the guard, and his remark about a Zuli fetish doll hint at knowledge about mystic items and totems. (Or maybe he’s seen the “Trilogy of Terror” movies, with the killer Zuli fetish doll. Who knows?)
So far, it looks like the movie Man-Thing will differ greatly from the comic book Man-Thing. For those of you who don’t know, Man-Thing was a scientist transformed into a muck-monster. The Man-Thing is virtually indestructible and almost completely mindless. He protects the Nexus of All Realities-the point where Marvel Earth intersects alternate universes. This Man-Thing looks like an elemental creature in the vein of Lovecraft’s monsters.
None of this means it’s a bad story. Far from it. We have the beginning of a fine horror comic, the likes of which I haven’t seen in years. Rodionoff builds suspense with a little bit of weirdness, things not easily explained. The big shocker comes at the end, but it’s only the beginning of the terror.
The dark mood is helped by the art of Kyle Hotz. I loved his work on ‘The Hood’ and it’s great to see more of his art. His work is dark and scary. The second-to-last page is where he proves he was THE guy to get for this project. The detail in the vines curling over the guards head, prying open his eyes and mouth, coming out his nose, with tiny branches sprouting over his eyeballs, it’s disgusting and perfect! It’s the kind of imagery we only remember seeing in EC’s old horror comics.
So, to recap, Rodionoff writes a story that’s creepy in a quiet way, until somebody dies. Kyle Hotz’s art looks like the shadow of a falling bomb is cast over everybody. I want to read the whole story and see the movie. Mission accomplished!
BTW, Man-thing was created by Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, and artist Gray Morrow. Credit where credit is due, bitches!
Plot: An insurance adjuster comes to visit a violence-plagued worksite in a small Southern town, only to find much more amiss than simple vandalism.
What’s interesting: Well, first off, the book is gorgeous. Hotz creates a creepy, bizarre and desolate mood that somehow perfectly captures the concept “Southern Gothic.” He doesn’t have any grand old house to work with (yet), but he’s got the verdant, eerily vile growth of the swamps, and he’s more than up to the task of depicting snaking vines, fetid mushrooms and seedy, molding, desolate shacks. He also packs in lots of subtle humor, from suggestively roiling clouds to rude children and clusters of branches gnarled like fingers.
He’s got a handle on character too, as each of the players in this story have a distinctive look. Nathan the investigator is mousey and bland; Schist the entrepreneur is overbearing and gruff; the balding Sheriff is a walk-on display of obstinate corruption; and the injured security guard is a fear-blasted victim.
Less interesting: If the players sound a little generic, well, they are. So far this is by-the-numbers Swamp paranoia, and by numbers I mean issues 21-63 of Saga of the Swamp Thing. Moore’s revitalization of that character is still fueling its corner of Vertigo at DC, and his work has been borrowed wholesale for this new version of Marvel’s similar character. From hospital rooms to gnarled trees, featuring backwards Southern towns and the angry wives of doomed men, it’s definitely a re-iteration of many of the same themes and style.
The thing is, Man-Thing isn’t Swamp Thing. His role isn’t to restore or protect the Green; he’s a shambling monster that burns the guilty, a kind of scourge, yes, but of human wrongs to each other not just to the ecology. Rodionoff is going to have to address the unique supernatural nature of this swamp creature if he wants the book to do more than just echo its forbears.
A curious beast, and I don't mean the eponymous creature.
The problem with this book is not the history of the character - let's face it, no-one remembers any of it anyway. It's Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, and things look decidedly slippy in this issue as it seems Man-Thing is causing some swamp-style-weeds to invade and age a load of machinery - very Swamp Thing does Gotham of a few years ago.
What might be the saving grace for this series is the perspective taken so far - from that of an outsider, an insurance investigator - and hopefully the storyline will diverge substantially from Moore's in the remaining issues.
The art is fantastic, and pushes this book into territory – Hotz’s work on The Agency and The Hood continues its development here, very nice organic feel.
What I thought:
I liked it.
I liked it because I know nothing about the character of Man-Thing, nothing. I get the feeling he might be Marvel’s answer to Swamp Thing, but I don’t know. Anyway, this 3 issue mini series is set before the upcoming movie (going straight to DVD) and introduces us to an insurance man who has come to validate a claim from a nasty piece of work whose building site is under attack from “terrorists”.
The artwork on first viewing was not my cup of tea, but reading the comic again, and again I actually really like it. It fits the mood of the story and I am hoping the atmosphere of the film. It is quirky, and slightly off in angles, the characters drawn to exaggerate certain features. The woodland attacks are well drawn and spooky, and the colouring inks of the comic fit the moods created by the narrative.
I care nothing about the characters involved, which usually means I would lose interest - but if more them die like the guard in hospital then bring on the next issue!
Buy it if you a little bit interested in the upcoming movie - if not then only if you have the cash to spare, it’s worth a read at least. It doesn’t set new ground, and if the “terrorists” is not the Man-Thing I don’t know what I am thinking. I hoping this will shed some light on the character before the movie.
I’ve never read any Man-Thing (or Swamp Thing, Alan Moore or otherwise) before, so I’m coming to this comic fresh and with no advance knowledge or preconceptions. Unfortunately, it looks like a bit of either might have stood me in better stead for understanding the main drive of this title, the first issue of which concentrates more on the jaded eyes of an insurance auditor, Nathan Mehr, being called upon to investigate the supernatural vandalism of an industrial businessman’s forest-clearing machinery than it does on giving us any introduction to the title character. Whereas some may find greater drama and suspense in the unknown, preferring to see the effects of (presumably) Man-Thing’s intervention before being introduced to the character himself, the writing avoids showing him one too many times and doesn’t provide enough intrigue in his stead to make this a very rewarding reading experience. Those readers with prior knowledge of the character may enjoy this restrained approach, but to a first-time reader it’s a turn-off.
The artwork, however, serves the story well, giving a hint of indie appeal with its dour, exaggerated figures and heavy inks. Important pieces such as the splash page showing the swamping of Schist’s machinery are carried off effectively, and the varying shades of orange, yellow and green which illuminate the scenes go a long way to establishing a brooding B-Movie atmosphere. However, there’s a definite static feeling to the proceedings – a quality which serves the plodding first half of the issue well, but becomes more problematic when setting up the more immediate thrills later in the issue. When something finally does happen at the issue’s end, the art steps up a notch - but any excitement is defused by Mehr’s deadpan reaction. Considering that narrator Nathan seems to be the character which readers should be empathising with, there’s a huge gulf between my reaction to the events of this issue and his, and it’s yet another reason why I didn’t connect with the book.
In the end, there’s a difference between saying a comic is bad and saying it’s not to my taste: and I can see how Man-Thing, whilst too generic, derivative, and slow-moving for me, would be likely to appeal to schlock horror fans everywhere. It’s predictable, disposable entertainment – in short, it does exactly what it says on the tin. But I don’t think I’ll be buying any more issues.
What did you think of this book?
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