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Dead of Night Featuring Man-Thing #3

Posted: Tuesday, April 8, 2008
By: Mark J. Hayman

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Javier Saltares (p), Tom Palmer (i)
Marvel Comics/MAX
Editor's Note: Dead of Night Featuring Man-Thing #3 arrives in stores tomorrow, April 9.

Oh, Man-Thing, you putrid, little twinkie. I don't know why Marvel decided that it was time for your "radical re-imagining," nor why you wound up under the MAX imprint seeing as neither language nor content differ appreciably from any regular Marvel title that tends toward moderate edginess, but it's nice to see you just the same. The timing is vaguely curious as "Foolkiller," who first appeared in the pages of a Man-Thing story, has been granted a new lease, also as a MAX book.

Steve Gerber's name is the one most closely associated with the character, making the underlying theme of resurrection vaguely poignant given Gerber's recent passing. Though he didn't actually create Man-Thing, Gerber did take the character and, ah, shamble with him, giving the world its first look at a famously litigious duck named Howard along the way, as well as establishing a broad, occasionally baffling milieu revolving around the so-called "Nexus of all Realities." Like his mucky cousin, Swamp Thing, Marvel's fetid non-hero has been written and illustrated by the great and the greater over the years. Without benefit of Alan Moore's unique vision, and the always important question of timing, he never achieved real stardom, just the occasional guest appearance or mini-series here and there. And here. There was a movie, too, which also failed to elevate him from the slime.

From the slightly garish but effective cover to the Suydam influenced Crypt Keeper-like framing sequence, Dead of Night Featuring Man-Thing is (obviously) meant as a pastiche of the legendary, née infamous, EC horror books (Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, and The Vault of Terror). In between these nods to the past, Dead of Night is pretty conventional, especially visually; I could just as easily be reading a Gary Frank superhero book. While that's not a bad thing in itself, it does serve to derail any genuinely creepy aspirations. Tom Palmer is one of history's most versatile inkers, fleshing out the linework while never imposing his own style; if the editors thought that his ability to loosen up on the brushwork to evoke a Gene Colan-esque atmosphere was in the cards, they should have brought Colan aboard as penciller. Instead we see Saltares' sharply delineated lines delineated sharply - nice to look at but in no way "horrific." I had to remind myself repeatedly that this was supposed to be taking place in a swamp; there's not so much as a "splash." The swamp-born mutants running around all appear to have just stepped out of the shower (drying themselves off before finding their cues), and one of the protaganists is wearing cross trainers. In a swamp. *Groan*

Aguirre-Sacasa's "re-imagining" is "radical" in the sense that he appears to have jettisoned the whole "Nexus of all Realties" deal. I'm down with that. There's still magic aplenty to be had (fans of Jennifer Kale should be sated), blending with science and nature to produce our Man-Thing and sundry mutants. Ted Sallis was, once again, messing with things better left unmessed (with), resulting in his tragic transformation. Here, pursued in turn by an amateur documentarian, his cameraman (the man in the Nikes), and their girlfriends on the one hand, and an insane group of mercenaries led by Sallis' former squeeze, Ellen (now hideously disfigured... well, deeply unpleasantly disfigured, Mike Ploog would've given us "hideous"), on the other, the metaphor of the outside world encroaching on the wilderness couldn't be more... metaphorical.

For all this apparent unhappiness, Dead of Night isn't a bad book, and abandoning Gerber's curious mythology suits me fine. It was right for its time and that time has passed, with all due respect. The story flows just fine (the narration by "Digger" can be intrusive, pastiche or no, but I appreciate the need for some of it), the various characters have exactly as much dimension as required or deserved, the pages are clean and professional (prone to the previous criticism), and the fate of the documentarians came straight out of left field. Of the handful of presumed "gotcha!" moments, it was by far the most effective.

In the end I'm left with some curiosity as to where things are headed, which is a very good thing. Unfortunately, at no time did I feel my gorge rise, my skin crawl, or my childhood nightmares threatening to launch a comeback. Normally this would also be a "good thing", but not in the Dead of Night.






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