Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #10

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
Marvel Minis:
We Are the Champions
by Professor Matthew Bradley

Starting in 1982, Marvel prospered with “limited series” of self-contained runs, most often four issues apiece, that generally featured a single character (or pairing), storyline, and creative team.  Logical successors to such anthology titles as Marvel Spotlight or Premiere—the latter having given up the ghost in August of 1981, less than a year before the first limited—they similarly served as tryouts for predominantly second-tier heroes, some of whom once had, or would later have, their own open-ended books, e.g., Cloak and Dagger, the Sub-Mariner, the West Coast Avengers, Machine Man.  Possessing a representative sampling from the first three years of this then-new miniseries format, I will examine a number of them in a (very) irregular series of posts.

Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions 1 (June 1982)
"A Gathering of Heroes!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald, Bill Mantlo, and Steven Grant
Art by John Romita, Jr., Pablo Marcos, and Bob Layton
Colors by Andy Yanchus and Patricia DeFalco
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton

On the splash, against a backdrop of said heroes, the Grandmaster and his hooded, as-yet-unidentified opponent agree to select pawns for their life-and-death contest from “Earth, having the greatest concentration of super-champions in this star sector…”  We then get a series of increasingly repetitive and—mercifully—shorter scenes of said heroes vanishing in a red glow with a trademark-infringing “Bammf!” as the Avengers are whisked away during a workout with visiting ex-member Beast, the FF are plucked from a dinner at the Adventurers Club and the dialogue-deprived X-Men from a Danger Room session, etc.  These occupy 10 of the 21 pages, onto the last of which are crammed eight globe-spanning newcomers.

Each of these characters, 75% of whom are being formally introduced here, not only represents but also might be considered a stereotype of his or her nation:  France (Peregrine), Australia (Talisman), Argentina (Defensor), Northern Ireland (Shamrock), Israel (Sabra), China (the Collective Man), Saudi Arabia (the Arabian Knight), and West Germany (Blitzkrieg).  Next is a two-page money shot of them all assembled in a “vast arena” as it is, perhaps inevitably, left to the Beast to cry out, “Hey, where the heck are we?”  Two more pages depict various encounters that range from the topical, as Shamrock and Captain Britain give each other the stink eye, to predictable groupings of mutants, “artificial life-forms,” arachnids, Russians, supernatural types, swordsmen, amphibians, and so on.

Big brains Moondragon and Professor X have only been able to determine that the arena is in Earth orbit when their “hosts” appear, stating that they and the planet are paralyzed by an “inertia-glow,” from which they will only be released if they join the game.  Each player will choose 12 champions, who will be divided into sub-teams to seek out quarters of the Golden Globe of Life (recalling the notorious War of the Super-Villains), “hidden at the four corners of the Earth.”  The Grandmaster wishes to restore life to his brother, the Collector, slain by Korvac—“Even I, who hold the power of life and death, cannot restore life to an immortal!”—which the unnamed entity will do if he wins; if he loses, says she, “he will be stripped of his cosmic powers and will join his brother in oblivion.”

It should be noted that although she is, pardon the pun, a dead ringer for the personification of Death whom Jim Starlin portrayed as Thanos’s love interest, she is referred to here as “the Unknown…the eldest of the Elders [of the Universe]!”  She adds, “So that neither will have any undue advantage over the other, we have disqualified all but Earth’s main race of homo sapiens—excluding from the game those immortals, Inhumans, Atlanteans, Eternals, and aliens who also occupy this world!”  Okay, fine, this was far too unwieldy an assemblage even for a three-parter anyway, but if so, then aside from the obvious desire to please the groundlings and narrowly justify the “Featuring every single super hero on Earth” cover tag, why bother bringing those guys to the arena in the first place?

With the Grandmaster swearing that “if you win for me…I will never use Earthmen as pawns in my games again!,” and the Unknown vowing to extend the life of our sun by a million years, they then begin the selection process, most of which we are fortunately spared as we cut to the chase with a full-pager of the two rosters.  Now, whom do you suppose makes up fully a third of those two dozen heroes, conveniently split into four per team?  By George, I think you’ve got it:  the International Eight!  That’s right, rather than a showcase for all of our old favorites, this is starting to look like a backdoor pilot for a bunch of boring newbies, none of whom goes on to set the world afire, so now, with an hour-long clock running, and the preambles finally finished, we’re ready to…be continued.

“Welcome, one and all, to mighty Marvel’s very first Limited Series—a special, all-new kind of comic book series designed to run a finite number of issues,” begins an unsigned editorial.  “Marvel Limited Series based on such longtime favorites as Hercules, Wolverine, The Vision, and Hawkeye will be rocketing their way to you in the months to come.  But, as a very special treat to kick off this new format, we have chosen a project that encompasses all of Marvel’s stalwart super-stars in a single senses-staggering epic…”  In retrospect, it’s rather difficult for me to revisit Marvel’s first “crossover event” without wanting to do a Fulci and gouge my own eyes out, since it’s an obvious antecedent to Secret Wars, which many people regard as the death knell of my beloved Bronze Age.

I will take at face value what was actually published, but must mention its colorful history, “a full two years in the making.  Originally conceived in the winter of 1979 as a Treasury Edition based on the Summer Olympics, the book was stalled in mid-stream by the United States’ withdrawal from the international games in early 1980 [to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan].  Since the basic story did not directly hinge upon the real Olympic games, we could easily eliminate the tie-in.  But, between its inception and now, a lot of history has gone down in the mighty Marvel Universe, and the book required quite a bit of revamping so that it accurately reflected the current state of our super heroes,” some even redrawn into others, hence an “additional art” credit to Bob Layton on #1.

In fact, it was intended as a companion piece to the early-1980 Marvel Treasury Edition #25 (which I have never seen), with a story by Mark Gruenwald, scripter Bill Mantlo, and Steven Grant that pitted Spidey against the Hulk at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.  The artwork on MSHCOC was arguably upgraded from Herb Trimpe and Bruce Patterson to John Romita Jr. and Pablo Marcos, but the writers were the same.  Although Grant remains low on my list, Gruenwald is widely celebrated for his encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe, making him a natural for this kind of thing, while Mantlo’s diverse and prolific oeuvre, including stints on the guest-filled Marvel Team-Up and Two-in-One, gave him the chance to write virtually every Marvel character.

Events parallel to its long gestation make this feel like Mantlo Super Hero Contest of Champions.  During his TOD on Incredible Hulk, he had already laid the foundation for the mythos of the Elders in #248; pictured but not identified the Arabian Knight, Collective Man, and Sabra as the Silver Surfer scoured the Earth in #250; formally introduced Sabra and the Arabian Knight in #256 and 257, respectively; and added Ursa Major to his Soviet Super-Soldiers (from Iron Man #109-12) in #258.  Many of the MantlOctet’s sporadic subsequent appearances were essentially cameos, to fill out a crowd of heroes or give the proceedings an international flavor, in which role Bill—shocker—used most of them when the Hulk was pardoned in #279 and/or amid the Wraith War in Rom #65.

I won’t claim that none of them had any potential, but here’s a detail I find telling:  the editorial is followed by the first installment of “a special bonus feature…a complete list of every single super hero alive today.”  Defensor’s entry begins, “(Real name unknown)  Argentinian hero wielding armor, a sword, and shield, its properties still undetermined,” so in other words, he’s basically a cipher, seen again only in the aforementioned Hulkstravaganza and in a flashback to this story from its quasi-sequel, Avengers Annual #16.  We’re being asked to invest a lot of interest in these minor members of the Mantloverse, who haven’t even been fully fleshed out; I wonder if those introduced during the Hulk’s “World Tour” had been repurposed from that abortive Marvel Treasury Edition.

In case I’ve insufficiently burnished my Curmudgeon Credentials, I even have a complaint about the title.  Just five months before this appeared, they had ceased publication—after 16 years and 105 issues—of Marvel Super-Heroes, wherein I grew up reading reprints of Hulk and Sub-Mariner stories from Tales to Astonish; of greater historical importance, during its brief stint as a first-run mag following a title change from Fantasy Masterpieces, it featured the debuts of my beloved (yes, Professor Tom, there’s that word again!) original Captain Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy.  That, to me, was incontrovertible evidence that the term “super-hero” should be hyphenated, as I have always endeavored to do, but for the umpteenth time, they have cast consistency to the winds.

The Romarcos artwork is…well, “functional” is perhaps too dismissive a term, since there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, despite Pablo being at best hit or miss in my view, and yet “anodyne” might not be.  That isn’t too surprising, because in an opus starring characters drawn from virtually every Marvel book, one doesn’t necessarily want a particular style to predominate.  Nobody looks truly terrible, but nobody looks that great, either, with the group shots the unavoidable highlights, and while it’s tempting to fantasize about, say, a George PĂ©rez, who excelled at large groups of heroes, I’m sorry to say he probably would have been wasted on what is not a very promising story so far; fully a third has been consumed just with the set-up, yet I’ll try to keep an open mind here.

Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions 2 (July 1982)
"Chapter 2 First Contest: Frenzy in the Frozen North!"
"Chapter 3: Second Contest: Ghsot Town Showdown!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, and Bill Mantlo
Art by John Romita, Jr. and Pablo MarcosColors by Michele Wolfman and Christie Steele
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
The first contest pits the pawns of the Grandmaster (Talisman, Daredevil, Darkstar) against those of the Unknown (Sunfire, Invisible Girl, Iron Fist) at the North Pole, forcing them to find the prize before freezing to death.  Within three panels, the sullen samurai has flown off to grab all the glory for himself (“Hothead!” IF thinks, with devastating wit), leading to the inevitable atomic fire vs. darkforce duel with Laynia.  Talisman and DD immediately split up as well, since each, for his own reasons, works best alone, but because the Aborigine—whom Gruenwald reportedly shoehorned into his 1991 “Cosmos in Collision” arc in Quasar #19-25—is essentially introduced on the fly, we never really get a clear sense of his powers.

Between the need to protect his body as his “dream form” roams free and the psychedelic, “senses-staggering song of Tjurunga, my whirling bull-roarer!,” he comes across like a mishmash of Dr. Strange and Angar the Screamer.  DD disappointingly does a 007 and ignores IF’s courteous pre-battle bow, then evens the odds by blinding his opponent with a snowball (“Splat!”), just one of countless instances in which Bill belabors the obvious, like Sue lamenting a lack of the teamwork she enjoys with the FF.  The blast with which Sunfire frees himself from Darkstar’s energy-hand (“I will not be bested by a mere woman!!”) begins cracking the ice below them to reveal the prize, and despite “dream-time” chaos, DD snags it with his billy-club cable, instantly transporting them away.

The second contest, granted only 9 pages instead of 12, matches the Unknown’s Iron Man, Arabian Knight, and Sabra with the Grandmaster’s Defensor, She-Hulk, and Captain Britain in a ghost town, but in the interim, our unnamed Argentinian has now become “Gabriel Carlos Dantes Sepulveda of Brazil”; I guess those South American countries are all alike, right?  Alas, teamwork is in even shorter supply here, with the two groups riven by multiple isms, e.g., “Whatever her powers [e.g., “energy quills” that can also paralyze], the Arabian Knight will not fight alongside a Jewess!”  She-Hulk (who appears able to fly—can that be right?) spends most of her time beating a feminist dead horse, railing equally against friend or foe and actually using the words “male chauvinist pigs.”

The setting seems little more than an excuse for jokes about High Noon and the O.K. Corral, and Mantlo to indulge in lines like, “And so begins a barroom brawl—super hero style!”  Once Captain Britain and the Knight (“British swine!”) have gotten their star-sceptre vs. energy scimitar duel out of the way, the carpet-flying Arab takes advantage of a She-Hulk/Shellhead clash, the chivalrous IM delaying his search to ensure that he didn’t “give her a stronger repulsor blast than she can handle,” to locate the prize inside a blacksmith’s forge on behalf of the Unknown.  So the middle chapter ends with the score tied at one to one, but you can do the math and figure out that there won’t be much room to squeeze those other contests and a satisfying wrap-up into the conclusion; stay tuned.

Now, I’m on record as a fan of the whole sub-teams and chapters shtick, but here, it’s just not doing it for me; the groupings seem so random (although Sue speculates, “I wonder if everyone’s been thrown together with heroes they’ve never worked with…”), and the animosity within the teams as common as that between them, that nothing ever gels, so it just feels like a lot of running around.  And I’m normally pretty pro-Mantlo, yet there’s some truly wince-inducing dialogue on display, especially in this issue.  Raise your hand if you think this line of Sabra’s sounds like something a human, or even superhuman, being would really say:  “Like the spiny pear that is the symbol of the Israeli people from which I derive my name—I am harsh to my enemies…yet sweet to my friends!”

There are times when I’m not sure if Bill is trying to be clever or ironic or something, or just has a tin ear, like when Talisman says that the Invisible Girl “must traffic with the unseen,” or Iron First observes that DD—the son, we are helpfully reminded, of Battling Murdock—“fight[s] like a heavyweight boxer,” never mind the fact that I don’t think his style would be described that way.  Meanwhile, this has perhaps the most interesting cover of the three (credited to “J.R.J.R. + BABYFACE”), with the heroes aptly looking like 3-D chess pieces on a tabletop in between the oversized Grandmaster and Unknown.  That’s the best I can say about the artwork, with Pablo’s failings somehow seeming more pronounced here, and poor Sue consistently coming off the worst...

Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions 3 (August 1982)
"Chapter 4 Third Contest: Siege in the City of the Dead!"
"Chapter 5 Fourth Contest: Struggle in the Jungle!"
"Chapter 6 Winner Take All!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, and Bill Mantlo
Art by John Romita, Jr. and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Don Warfield and Carl Gafford
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Al Milgrom

Typically, both the Unknown’s team (Vanguard, Angel, Black Panther) and the Grandmaster’s (Wolverine, the Thing, Le Peregrine—now with initial article!) disperse with little love lost as soon as they reach their destination.  This is discovered by T’Challa to be near “the ancient funerary citadel named after Emperor Qin,” with its life-sized terracotta army, just before Logan attacks him, leaving little doubt as to his lethal intent.  Concurrently, Warren engages his Gallic foe in a dogfight (“I won this little round on a wing and a prayer!”; groan), while Ben disarms and humbles the Soviet Super-Soldier just in time to intervene on his old friend’s behalf, prompting the Panther, who has scented the prize, to point him right to it.

The per-contest page count drops from 9 to 7 as the Unknown’s Storm, Shamrock, and Collective Man and the Grandmaster’s Sasquatch, Captain America, and Blitzkrieg materialize in an equatorial South American setting.  Tao-Yu splits up to aid the search (“We are five beings in one [who]…can draw on the power and abilities—of any and all citizens of our nation!”), as do the rest, prompting Cap’s “So much for teamwork!”  As the self-proclaimed “Lord of the Lightning Strike” trades bolts with Ororo, Big Walt belittles “Red China’s answer to Bruce Lee,” until thrown off by the strength of 10,000; “Ireland’s lucky lady,” whose probability-altering power mingles those of the Black Cat and Scarlet Witch, beats Cap to the prize just as Blitzkrieg has revealed it via an “electrical vortex.”

Incredibly, a total of six writers and editors manage to screw up the final score as “Grandmaster—3, Unknown—1,” when simple math makes it a tie, so as the combatants materialize simultaneously in the stadium, the Unknown concedes defeat.  Yet as the Grandmaster joins the components of the globe, pondering her cryptic remark that “the power—and the choice to use it—will be yours,” a number of the pawns smell a rat, and Talisman determines to unmask the hooded figure.  Unable to touch her in his astral form, he requires an agent, selecting Sue because she has experienced dream-time, and so will adjust the fastest to “the swirling altered state”; with that, the Unknown is revealed (GASP!) as…exactly who she appeared to be, Death, which also does not surprise the Grandmaster.

The Known Unknown has, however, “neglected to tell you…that the Golden Globe is but an empty instrument.  It needs a life-force to energize it.  Yes, it can restore the Collector to life, providing that one of equal power dies in his place.  One such as you...”  The alternative is to sacrifice the combined life energies of the heroes, but having promised never again to use them as pawns, he is good to his word, “and one elder god dies to bring about the rebirth of another!”  Death departs with the vengeful Collector (“when you play a game of life and death, mine are the only rules.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha—”), the assembled heroes are dispersed, the orbiting arena collapses into nothingness, Earth is freed from the stasis field, and all is returned to the way it was, with a single hour elapsed…

Bill continues bludgeoning us with the obvious, especially regarding the match-ups that are never confirmed to be anything but implausibly coincidental.  “This clown’s fighting rings around me!” thinks Warren.  “Me—the guy who practically invented the idea of the winged super-hero!” (note inconsistent hyphenation), although Le Peregrine is also derivative of Batroc, with his savate kicks and tiresome accent.  T’Challa muses, “So Wolverine’s animal-senses are as acute as my own!,” while Ororo indignantly asks, “How dare [Blitzkrieg] seek to ensnare within an elemental prison—one who commands the elements?”  She appears as surprised as Shamrock is when the Collective Man splits into five, which seems odd, given her acquaintance with original Multiple Man Madrox.

In fact, there’s an annoyingly random quality to a lot of this.  “Surely the Unknown would not have me destroy such irreplaceable art treasures to retrieve the prize!” thinks T’Challa.  Presumably not, but then why send the teams there?  Did they effectively toss the quarters of the globe up in the air and let them land where they might?  We’ll never know, because it’s never addressed, nor is there ever any follow-up to Sue’s speculation about the teams.  If you haven’t already guessed, I think the whole thing is ill-conceived, or way too ambitious for a three-parter, or poorly executed, or all of the above; despite the alleged gosh-wow factor of all those heroes, I don’t recall being impressed with this at 18, and I’m certainly not at 53, especially now that I’m aware of how poorly written this is.

Those from the oft-abrasive Logan might be considered a given, but in general I’m disheartened by the routinely derogatory forms of address these supposedly superior beings use with Le Peregrine (Frog, Frenchie), Vanguard (Ivan, Red, Russkie), and T’Challa (Blacky).  As long as I’m up on my stereotyping soapbox, how tiresome is it that the very first words uttered by Shamrock and Blitzkrieg when they arrive are, respectively, “Begorrah!” and “Gott in [sic] Himmel”?  Anticipating The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, which would debut in January of 1983, the serialized list concludes with inactive heroes, an “Honor Roll of the Deceased,” heroes of “Other Worlds, Other Times,” and “Quasi-Heroes” such as Rick Jones, the Punisher and Howard the Duck.

The art credits haven’t changed (except the jumbled, “surprise”-blowing Hannigan/Milgrom cover, rehashed in page 21, panel 1), so neither has the caliber of the art, which as usual is average, the splash pages of #2 and 3 broken up to accommodate recaps.  Panels are mostly small, to cram in all of the figures and action, but I’ll grant them some nice layouts:  across the top of pages 2-3 is a maxi-panel showing both teams with the snow-capped Chinese mountains in the background, while the vertical page 4, panel 1 shows the Angel and Panther starting to get reacquainted as Vanguard keeps his distance.  In sum, this is a pretty undistinguished effort that still probably got many a fanboy excited back in the day and, if nothing else, launched the miniseries format with a big splash.

Beginning in two weeks...
Professors Flynn and Bradley dissect the 1980s'
biggest.... something or other.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #9

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
by Professor Matthew Bradley

Chris Claremont succeeded Michael Fleisher on Man-Thing with Vol. 2 #4, which as the middle third of a crossover with Doctor Strange was covered—along with the two extracurricular issues preceding it—in part one of our post on Doc, so we now round out this short-lived revival series.

Man-Thing 5 (July 1980)  
"Who Knows Fear"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Don Perlin and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Bob Wiacek

Finding young Barbara “Barbie” Bannister face-down in the swamp where she collapsed in flight, the Man-Thing—drawn by the fear she emitted—saves her life by flipping her onto the riverbank, and the gators drawn by her bleeding shoulder instinctively avoid him.  Awakening, she recalls how her parents took the alienated rich girl on a Caribbean cruise in a belated attempt to reach her, and just before they left Grand Bahama Island, Dr. Bannister was reluctantly persuaded to bring her new friend Ian McGuire.  She shoulda listened, because as the yacht approached the Okealachobee, the too-good-to-be-true Ian hijacked it, gunning down her parents as his men prepared to transfer a huge shipment of drugs from his own boat to theirs.

Rivera et al. had been at sea for weeks, and thought it a little soon for Ian to silence the shapely witness, but after their “party,” she slipped through a porthole and swam away with only a flesh wound.  Now, the sound of the approaching yacht revives her fear, with predictable results when Manny grabs her arm, and as she resumes running, her scream alerts Ian, who declines to “let the swamp finish her” because he leaves nothing to chance…and loves a good hunt.  After a rest that brings guilty dreams of her parents’ deaths, she awakens to find a coral snake on her midriff, yet despite relaxing enough to calm and brush it off, she sees that Manny is still following her, then uses her emotions (“Fear is the key”) to decoy the henchmen into an encounter with fatal results.

As Ian ineffectually engulfs Man-Thing with white-phosphorous grenades, the newly determined Barbie flees and reaches the road before collapsing, awakening this time in the care of “crusty ol’ town doctor” Sharon Cole and Cypress County Sheriff Daltry in the latter’s house.  As he gets a search party together, she stumbles on his studio, filled with paintings of Man-Thing (hence the portrait last issue) and an unidentified beautiful woman.  Just then, Ian appears, having killed the two deputies left on guard, and despite being warned that it’s too late to silence her, he says “this isn’t just business anymore—it’s personal,” but after evading his knife thrust and clouting him with a stool, she resists the temptation to kill McGuire, having learned courage from a bog-beast.

Having restored Man-Thing’s status quo ante at the end of Doctor Strange #41, Claremont now does the same with his newly acquired strip, signaling a back-to-basics approach with the generic title “Who Knows Fear.”  (Full Disclosure Dept.:  According to SuperMegaMonkey, a She-Hulk guest-shot written by the dreaded DAK takes place in the interim, but even I am not enough of a completist to open that can of green peas.)  Manny is back in both his native swamp—apparently turned into some sort of nature preserve for his benefit by his old pal Richard Rory, although no mention is made of that here—and his traditional role of a virtual supporting player in his own book as the catalyst/observer/unintended participant shambling through a Steve Gerber-type tale.

Yet as much as I admire Chris, I don’t know that I buy his antagonists, and had forgotten while reading this that Barbie (a bit obvious, aren’t we?) is being set up as a series regular rather than a Gerberian one-shot character.  Sure, the city-dweller who proves surprisingly resourceful in the wild is a venerable trope, but would this “pampered, spoiled brat”—her ignorance of all things practical well established—recognize the snake as “one of the deadliest…in North America,” and deduce that “it must have curled up on me for warmth while I slept”?  As for Ian, with his aptly Ken-doll looks, he’s a poor man’s Count Zaroff who actually calls his men “me hearties,” while the time, planning, and luck required make his smuggling scheme seem far-fetched indeed.

I think I can predict with some confidence that I’m not going to have too much to say about the Perlin/Wiacek artwork dominating Claremont’s run.  It exacerbates the overarching principle of Mooney’s long years on the character (perhaps too long; per the lettercol, “After finishing issue #3, he asked to be taken off the book”—no reflection on Chris, one hopes!), i.e., Manny looks generally good, while everyone else looks average at best and goofy at worst, in that Perlin style we’ve come to know and loathe in Ghost Rider.  It’s not brilliantly drawn, but there is a fun and well-conceived montage of Barbie’s nightmare in page 15, panel 1 (above), its centerpiece being Manny with Ian’s grinning head, holding Dr. and Mrs. Bannister in his claws as they scream in flames…

Man-Thing 6 (September 1980)  
"Fraternity Rites!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Don Perlin and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Bob Wiacek

It’s bad enough that Daltry and chief deputy Charley Hazzard find someone has trashed their office and attacked Roy Ford, who was on the graveyard shift, but when the ex-Marine sergeant sees his late schoolteacher wife, Nancy, defaced in a 15-year-old wedding picture, “Big John” grimly straps on his gun.  Perps J. Elliot Osbourne, Regina Masters, Allen Walsh, and William Hobart, “members of an exclusive Georgia college fraternity,” watch gleefully from the diner across the street.  After slamming addict Billy’s cowardice, Jacko tells his “little Droogs” that they are to destroy the Man-Thing, whom the unafraid Daltry sees while visiting Nan’s grave and “treats…with the same careful respect he treats the great swamp itself.”

“It would have been a real giggle to dig up Daltry’s wife and mess up her bones,” Jacko notes as he tricks the sheriff into following them by almost running him down and then baits the trap with Reggie, posed by their “crashed” car.  Having monitored his radio, they force a cuffed Daltry to retract his back-up call, but Manny attacks, drawn by Billy’s fear, and after an abortive attempt to ram him, Jacko leaves Allan (sic) to die in the explosion of Daltry’s wrecked jeep.  Ignoring the Vietnam vet’s warning that the defoliant they carry is “more virulent than Agent Orange” and can poison central Florida, Jacko dupes Billy into wading out to retrieve his pills from a log in a “test of manhood,” intending to lure Manny with his ensuing panic and kill them and Daltry.

The resourceful sheriff kicks Jacko and Reggie into unconsciousness, slips his legs through the hands cuffed at his back, and tries to distract Manny from the petrified Billy, first with the gun he retrieves from Reggie and then with an oil lantern.  The recovered Jacko gets the drop on Daltry, only to have Manny loom up behind him, but as he opens the valve on the tank, he burns at the you-know-what, the flames detonating the pressurized defoliant, which was never used due to its volatility and “burns like a magnesium flare,” consuming both Jacko and the deadly chemicals.  Daltry explains to his prisoners that Manny—who survives the blast unscathed—attacked Jacko and not Billy because “that icy exterior masked a primal insecurity, a basic, deep-seated fear…”

Animal House Was Never Like This!” blares the tagline, and while they obviously don’t mind cashing in on it, the disclaimer is accurate, because to my recollection, National Lampoon’s 1978 blockbuster hit comedy did not have a body count, as this does.  Now, I’ll give it to you straight, students:  I volunteered to cover this run not because I remembered it as being great, but because of my abiding admiration for Claremont, whom I have called the Bullpen’s standard-bearer for quality writing in the waning years of the Bronze Era.  I also knew that our esteemed Professor Tom, who tackled the last of Manny’s defining Gerber-era stories, did so in a spirit of selfless teamwork, yet never loved them and thus was unlikely to mind my poaching on his swampy turf.

But I’m starting to wonder if I made a mistake, because once again, I don’t totally buy the set-up or characters, whose dialogue (“my lascivious, lustful love”; “did buckling on this cannon make you feel muy macho, piggy-poo?”) rings false.  I’m not sure how many coed frats there were in 1980, although admittedly, Reggie’s “membership” may be figurative via lover Jacko, who seems oddly well-informed about Manny’s nature.  Offenses escalating from assault through attempted murder seem a tad extreme for “Fraternity Rites!”—this issue’s title—and however reflexively anti-authoritarian these “kids” may be, Daltry appears so far to be consummately reasonable as well as remarkably fit, the antithesis of the “pig” and “big-belly cop” they call him.

Daltry’s meeting with Manny on page 6 is well handled, both conceptually by Chris and visually by Perliacek, as he encounters the muck-beast amid the tombstones in a thick fog, lit only by his flashlight, and calls him “big fella.”  Conversely, the ending is trite (“Daltry spares a smile of farewell to this creature who is as mindless, as elemental, as invincible, as eternal as the great swamp which gave him birth, and which will forever be both his home…and his prison”), and with his mop of sodden hair, poor Daltry looks alarmingly like Captain Kangaroo in page 27, panel 2 (below).  On the plus side, Chris is typically peeling back lairs of Big John’s persona and history, revealing him as a character with whom we will want to continue spending time as this unfolds.

Man-Thing 7 (November 1980) 
"Whatever Happened to Captain Fate?"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Don Perlin and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Bob Wiacek

Evocatively backed by a blood-red sky (perhaps anticipating next issue’s “Red Sails, Burning!”), Manny watches the aftermath of the event that drew him with its tidal wave of terror, and ended abruptly as Southlands Airways Flight 904, bound from New York to Miami, crashed into the swamp.  Daltry introduces Barb Bannister, who is aiding in the grisly clean-up, to old flying buddy Niles Watson, and with “Jaydee” vouching for her, they listen with spellbound horror as the NTSB senior investigator plays the top-secret cockpit voice recorder tape.  In flashbacks visualized for our benefit, the flight crew spots the strangest UFO of all, an airborne 18th-century wooden pirate ship that quickly cripples Flight 904 with a broadside.

Captain Fate’s boarding party looted the plane and slaughtered the passengers, taking with them not only the women but also their protective “sea-level environment,” leaving the craft to suffer explosive decompression.  Corroborating this nightmare at 35,000 feet, and pinning the captain to the control panel, is an object identified by Barb as a Diasturian sword, thanks to her Spanish college boyfriend, a historian and aspiring Olympic fencer.  She persuades Niles to lend her the sword, hoping to establish its provenance by matching it with Miguel Diasturian’s “meticulous records,” yet when four of Fate’s men seek to retrieve it, they are wiped out by Man-Thing, “the monster who helped Khourdes!” (spelled “Khordes” when Fate et alia debuted in Vol. 1 #13-14).

Unaware that he has saved them from the pirates, who inexplicably did not go to their eternal rest once the “curse was lifted and karmic balance restored” after the Bermuda Triangle clash, Daltry and Barb head to town as escapee Abel Barlow warns Fate aboard the Serpent’s Crown (hitherto unnamed, I believe), only to be hanged for cowardice.  Barb marvels at the Citrusville Public Library & Historical Society’s occult collection, as John does over how “right” the sword feels; an impromptu back rub is interrupted by ghosts impervious to his .44 Magnum slugs, if not his “new toy,” as he breaks a wedding-night vow against further killing.  They flee into the swamp, meeting Manny, but cannot shake the frigate, and backup arrives just as the trio is spirited away.

Here, Claremont owes his biggest debt yet to Gerber, although less for the style of storytelling than because this is the sequel to one of Steve’s own weirdest yarns, which is saying something.  The new 22-page format affords Chris a larger canvas on which to bring home the full horror of the crash, achieved largely with words rather than with the relatively restrained Perliacek visuals.  It probably goes without saying that their efforts seem even more pedestrian when compared to the atmospheric—if decidedly different—looks provided by Messrs. Buscema/Sutton and Alcala, respectively, in the original two-parter, even if Bob creates an interesting effect with a symbolic cover that shows a, shall we say, giant-size Man-Thing looming out of the clouds above the raid.

I wonder if forward-thinking Chris had this in the back of his mind while writing #5, since Ian’s “me hearties” sounds perfectly natural when uttered by a real pirate, although I’m not sure if the formerly fearsome Fate is ready for his close-ups in page 13, panel 6 and page 21, panel 4.  Also interesting that, for the second time, Chris cites “the most powerful handgun in the world,” with its inevitable Dirty Harry (1971) associations.  There’s so much going on here, and so much still to be explained and/or resolved, that to some degree I feel I should withhold judgment pending the conclusion, but in the meantime, Daltry and his “new flying buddy,” as he tactfully describes Barb to Niles, continue to hold my interest, as does their developing but understated relationship.

Man-Thing 8 (January 1981)  
"Red Sails, Burning!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Don Perlin and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Bob Wiacek

Aboard the Serpent’s Crown, Daltry and Barb watch in horror as Senior Flight Attendant Mary Louise Kennedy is pitched into the hold with Manny to punish her for resisting Jebediah Fate’s advances.  Defiant even in chains, John attacks Fate and soon joins her, calming Manny by forcing himself to suppress his own emotions, but after Daltry repeats his challenge to a duel, Fate wings a crewman who questions his refusal, leaving John locked in the hold and ordering his other female captives to “prepare” Barb.  Taken from the boats and planes Fate has attacked, they are said to be immortal so long as they remain on board, telling Barb that “Something about this ship—some force—drains the will,” compelling acceptance…and worse.

Meanwhile, the crew of a Coast Guard helicopter elects not to report seeing a stone tower arise in the North Atlantic, from which erstwhile oceanographer Maura Spinner and her satyr/sorcerer lover—his original name of “Khordes” now reinstated—raise, restore, board, and take to the air in the British frigate H.M.S. Athena, sunk by the Serpent’s Crown.  Before reporting to Fate’s cabin, Barb fills John in on what she’s learned of their history (for which I will refer you to our original undergraduate curriculum, rather than reinvent the wheel), the pirates’ presence linked somehow to the Diasturian blade.  John effects an escape by getting a choke hold on a pirate with his chains and maneuvering Manny, who is drawn by the pirate’s fear, into smashing the grating.

To allay suspicion and buy time for Daltry and Ms. Kennedy to free the others, Barb keeps her appointment with Fate (as it were), mercifully interrupted by a broadside from the Athena.  Amid the chaos, Fate duels Daltry, also falling under the sword’s spell, in the rigging; Manny topples the topmast while battling the crew, landing Fate nearby for a fiery comeuppance, his soul swallowed by the sword; and John is thrown overboard, hauled back up by Barb et al.  The ships land at Shark Bay, a U.S. Navy base near Citrusville, and the prisoners are transferred to the hospital ship U.S.S. Mercy, yet after Khordes sends the pirates to “their long overdue final reward,” a force field traps Daltry on Fate’s ship, which flies off as his ghostly laugh fills the air.

To be continued…but not in #9; I’d quite forgotten that the story doesn’t end here, so the cliffhanger actually came as a surprise, yet it results in a structure that is really rather odd and (again, pending final resolution) somewhat frustrating.  Maura and Khordes are hustled onstage for what appears to be an unsatisfyingly abrupt and tidy ending that, for one thing, sidesteps the matter of the “pirate wenches” being protected from the passage of time while aboard the Serpent’s Crown, a concept that was, ironically, handled with some poignance by Len Wein when Manny guest-starred in Incredible Hulk #197-8.  And then suddenly Fate pulls his Freddy Krueger/Michael Myers/Jason Voorhees-style “the threat is over—oh, wait, no it isn’t!” routine...

Asked why this attempt would be more successful, Khordes said, “Nothing is absolutely sure, Sheriff Daltry, in this world or the next.  I must learn what mystic force reawakened them.”  Spoiled as we have been by the routine excellence of the Claremont/Byrne team on various books, it’s still a bit jarring to see Chris saddled with artwork that is at best average, although in fairness, his writing here is hardly up to X-Men caliber; we’ll obviously never know what he would’ve done with more than two issues to go.  That said, insight into the late (and unseen, except in photos) Nancy Daltry grows as John tells Manny, “In her own way, she loved you, monster—like she loved all things living,” and the way Barb is filling the void she’d left is clear.

Man-Thing 9 (March 1981)
"The Echo of Pain!"
Story by Dickie McKenzie
Art by Larry Hama and Danny Bulanadi
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Rick Parker

"My Soul to Keep!"
Story by J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Ed Hannigan and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Ed Hannigan
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Bob Wiacek
Although I presume there will be many more, this fill-in is another example of the phenomenon seen in next month’s Doctor Strange #46, which reminds me of the contortions engendered by the brief format change of November 1971.  The primary story clocks in at a once-standard 17 pages, and a five-page backup—a format Marvel was perhaps still using as a proving ground—brings it up to the new normal.  “The Echo of Pain!” is a rare credit for Dickie McKenzie (Roger’s wife, aka Roberta, who had an offscreen “cameo” in Iron Man #123), with art by Larry Hama and Danny Bulandi, while “My Soul to Keep!” is written by the up-and-coming J.M. DeMatteis, drawn and colored by Ed Hannigan, and inked by an inevitable Wiacek.

“Echo” flashes back and forth in time to show what brought David Connelly and his pregnant wife, Elizabeth, to an abandoned shack at the edge of the swamp.  Fleeing the disapproval of both their fathers, they were stranded by car trouble, but the seeming refuge where she gave birth turned out to be fatal due to bacteria in the stagnant water, which poisoned the couple after they drank and bathed the baby in it.  Despite the class warfare dividing them, her wealthy parents, Edward and Jane Hart, enlisted his widowed father, Jessie—one of Hart’s laborers—to seek the pair, and they arrive just as Man-Thing, drawn by the varied emotions emanating from the shack, has shambled off with the instant orphan, who was ironically soothed by having been picked up.

Her shotgun stuck in his muck during the ensuing confrontation, Jane ignores Edward’s warning about the barrel being blocked, backfiring with lethal effect, and as her husband races to avenge her, he burns…well, you know.  The sole surviving adult, Jessie is “too scared to even run,” yet his immediate love for the newborn and determination that she must live erase his fear, leaving Manny subdued and Jessie to raise his granddaughter.  “Neither the muck-monster nor the old man realizes that the factor which saved the infant from the tainted water was the Man-Thing’s unique chemical composition, interacting with the child’s metabolism as he held her.  It is just as well.  The irony might be too much for either of them to bear,” the closing narration informs us.

Fleeing through the swamp, 17-year-old Larry stumbles on Man-Thing, whom he takes to be a hallucination and thus does not fear, relating his escape from two deprogrammers who filled him full of drugs while trying to undo the “brainwashing” of the Reverend Har Chew Tao.  Catching up with him, they bind and beat Larry, earning themselves a quick facial peel courtesy of Manny, and as a contingent of Tao’s Children arrives to free him, the day appears to be saved.  Yet they call his unorthodox savior “a devil, Larry—a spawn of Satan” and, asked about the pain-wracked deprogrammers, say, “Who cares?  Let them die here,” all in the name of “Love and compassion.  Two words you can never know, Man-Thing, and thus, to your eternal credit, can never abuse.”

It’s an interesting, albeit presumably coincidental, pairing of stories, heavy on the moralizing and violence (Manny’s head is graphically blown apart by Jane before gradually reforming, his eyes waving about on stalks like a lobster’s, while a throwaway gas-station display in page 7, panel 1 features “OPEC Monopoly Petroleum Products”), yet with some striking visuals.  Hama’s second page presents a dozen small “frames” that zoom in on Manny, reflecting a death’s head in one crimson eye, then pull back to show the tap dripping its deadly liquid; the “BLAAAAM!” in panel 3 runs across the entirety of page 18, emphasizing the impact that kills Jane.  Hannigan’s splash is a wild, hallucinogenic montage that perfectly captures Larry’s drug-addled perceptions.

Man-Thing 10 (May 1981)
"Came the Dark Man, Walkin', Walkin'..."
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Don Perlin, Bob Wiacek, 
Bruce Patterson, Al Milgrom, and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Carl Gafford andChristie Scheele
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Bob Wiacek

Hitchhiking along County Route 800 toward Citrusville, pondering a reunion with jarhead Daltry, ex-Sergeant-Major John Kowalski meets and stops Man-Thing in his tracks.  Addressing him as Sallis, this “emotional null [and] psychic void” muses, “I can cure you—after a fashion—or at least relieve your torment.  The question is, should I?”  Just then, he sees Andy Kale chased down by bikers whose leader, Barnaby Stone, accuses the lad of stealing his girl (evidently open to debate), but as Kowalski intervenes, Manny’s appearance inspires the gang’s hasty retreat, with Sally Petrie in tow; after a casual brush by the stranger reduces his mossy arm to a withered husk, and with Andy’s bike totaled, the humans head for the Kale farm.

While Manny shambles into the swamp’s healing waters, Andy’s sister, Jennifer, has donned her ritual Atlantean garb to cast a scrying spell, hoping to help Barb locate Daltry, yet an energy backlash chars her protective pentagram and flattens the apprentice sorceress.  Flashbacks reveal that although the curse laid on Fate was apparently transferred to John, the satyr could neither explain nor undo it, so he and Maura “returned to his island home, in the heart of the Bermuda Triangle.”  No sooner has Jen left a message with Wong, seeking Dr. Strange’s help, than Andy returns with Kowalski, who is invited to spend the night, but as Andy prepares to fetch the bike with grandfather Joshua, and Barb says she feels sure she knows Kowalski, all Hell breaks loose.

Manny appears and is hit with a Molotov cocktail by one of the bikers, but luckily for Jen, who’s splattered with burning gasoline, he reacts to her fear by tossing her into the nearby river.  Andy goes mano a mano with Stone and is holding his own when Manny, felled by a volley of bombs, recovers and disperses the gang again; yanked off his bike by Andy, Stone wings him with a gun that proves ineffectual against Kowalski, who kills him with an icy touch.  In the aftermath, Sally casts her lot with Andy, Jen ponders “a burst of mystic energy” she felt when Stone died, Manny returns to the restorative waters and Kowalski says he’s Death, whom Barb denied in #5, yet “I’ll help you save Daltry—and humanity—for a price.  You must join me…forever,” so she accepts.

Holy cats.  Sans elaboration, the lettercol reveals this as the penultimate issue, yet in preparing to ring down the curtain, Chris throws us one hell of a curve ball (if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor).  It’s not alluded to here, so others may have been just as unaware of it as I was when I bought this back in the day, but Kowalski was the protagonist of a short-lived series in War Is Hell #9-15 that marked Claremont’s first regular four-color gig…two entries of which were penciled by none other than Perlin.  As such, he hasn’t been seen since October 1975—speaking of which, between this book’s bimonthly status, last issue’s fill-in stories, and Jennifer’s failed attempts to locate him, six months will actually elapse in real time between Daltry’s appearances.

The only issue of that series I’ve ever seen is the first, which I acquired decades later in, natch, my trusty Marvel Firsts: The 1970s, and which Claremont merely scripted.  The series itself was “conceived and plotted by Tony Isabella, with the welcome aid of Roy Thomas” and later-acknowledged contribution of Steve Gerber, but (as with X-Men) Chris quickly made it his own, flying solo after collaborating with Tony the Tiger on #10.  Those who wish to may refresh their memories or obtain a little context by consulting our own minimal coverage from October 1974 and/or this much more detailed post from SuperMegaMonkey, which—unfortunately enraging certain colleagues with a twofer—reproduces Isabella’s introductory essay in full.  Yes, I’ll wait.

Don gives us a plethora of ominous close-ups of Kowalski’s eyes filled with star-fields and other things, while Bob apparently had some unspecified help here, with the inks credited to “Wiacek & Co.,” although my usual sources do not enumerate said company.  Don’t know if that was a contributing factor, but while the Claremont/Perlin/Kowalski reunion presumably ensures that our newcomer’s appearance is consistent, the Kale family frankly looks nothing like I remember.  Editing errors by Messrs. Fingeroth and Shooter also abound (“Khordes” has re-reverted to “Khourdes”; Ms. Bannister’s first name has mysteriously dropped a vowel to become “Barbra”; “Okealachobee” is mangled as “Okalochoobee”)—maybe nobody cared on this lame-duck book.

Man-Thing 11 (July 1981)
"Hell's Gate!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Val Mayerik and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Janice Chiang
Cover by Bob Wiacek

Marvel editors Jim Shooter, Louise Jones, and her assistant, Danny Fingeroth, find Claremont uncharacteristically (if vainly) seeking oblivion at McSharran’s Pub in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood.  Asked why he’d resigned from Man-Thing, Chris recounts how, walking on Bleecker Street, he saw the Serpent’s Crown flying toward Dr. Strange’s house, entering to find a dead Doc and Clea and live Daltry, now a pirate who runs him through with his Magus Sword, stealing a third soul for the “master of the cosmos.”  Meanwhile, Manny bursts in on Barb and Death­—er, Kowalski—at the Citrusville Public Library & Historical Society, but is again stopped, uh, dead in his tracks by this “emotional void” that draws and yet flummoxes him.

Barb says that the sword can “open gateways to alternate dimensions,” and its creator (now, with sadly typical editorial sloppiness, named Ferdinand DiAusterian) was burned at the stake by the Inquisition in the 1500s.  Kowalski explains that it possesses and binds those who wield it to the “ancient primal demonic power” the Spanish swordsmith served, but “can only be fought—and defeated—by someone no longer living.”  As the price for his aid, he demands that Barb share his solitary 40-year burden as the personification of Death; after a literal kiss of death that transforms her into “a beautiful, terrible angel,” she is transported to a crash site where one Sally Rovere lies dying, and learns the worst:  they must relive the life of each dying spirit they collect.

They and Manny then appear in Sominus, “the land of eternal shadow [and] home of the ultimate evil,” where she makes short work of warriors from various eras, whose barrage shoots Manny to pieces.  But the ambient magic quickly restores him, the “miasmic evil” and the army’s growing fear goading him to collapse the fortress wall, and Barb leaves Kowalski to claim their souls, entering the central keep.  There she finds Pirate John and, in invisible mystic chains, “some of the most powerful sorcerers on this planet, all victims of the Magus Sword,” including Jen, “Joshua (high priest of an ancient cult), and her mentor Dakimh the Enchanter.  Also Margali Szardos—sorceress supreme—and her daughter, Jimaine,” as well as the trio slain chez Strange.

Longtime fans of Manny (Fan-Things?) will be unsurprised to learn that the Big Bad is Thog, the Nether Spawn, who’d exploited Daltry’s love of battle and  imprisons Barb in a crystal pillar, his intended conquest of the universe interrupted by Manny’s arrival.  Since the magical atmosphere sustains them both, Thog restores Manny to a thoroughly confused Sallis, unexpectedly turning Claremont into Man-Thing.  Unnoticed, Barb’s prison begins to crack open, since even spells have lifespans—a concept Chris alluded to in Dr. Strange #40—and this one is accelerated by her deadly touch; bursting free, she brushes off Daltry’s attack as easily as Manny had, then turns her attention to Thog, who narrowly frees himself from her grip with a gigantic bolt of lightning.

In destroying the castle, it seemingly hands a victory to Thog, who recovers first and offers her a choice—she can save either Daltry or the world—but has not counted on an attack by Claremon-Thing, and his fear has the expected result, reducing him to ash.  Doc shames Kowalski into releasing Barb from her vow, and the group pools its strength to restore Chris, if not Ted, before they return to the Kale farm and go their separate ways.  Ending his story, Chris explains that his empathy for Sallis led to his quitting the book, which Shooter decides to cancel, yet as they leave the pub, its owner is revealed as Dakimh, “who touched young Claremont’s dreams with tales of the macabre Man-Thing…as I touched those of Steven Gerber before him,” and then vanishes.

I’d remembered, of course, that Val Mayerik co-created Howard the Duck with Gerber (in Fear #19, natch), but forgot that his stint lasted a whole year—#13 through Vol. 1 #4 of Manny’s own book—so this is more of a homecoming than I realized.  As for Chris, who’d already been off of Dr. Strange for five months, he borrows yet another page from Steve, interpolating himself into the story along with Thog et alia; in fact, this is in many ways a poor rehash of Gerber’s own final issue, Man-Thing #22.  To be blunt, it’s a mess, with no lettercol discussing the real-world aspects of the cancellation, and I wish I could say it was big disappointment but, except for the Claremont “brand,” the preceding issues had not built up any great expectations in this professor.

As with Kowalski, no citation or backstory is given for the Szardoses (later seen in Doc #57-8), but when Chris introduced them in X-Men Annual #4—which, due to the non-linear nature of our post-graduate studies, I have yet to reread—he revealed that Nightcrawler’s girlfriend, Amanda Sefton, was really Jimaine, his foster sister.  Overall, they seem to be racing to the finish line so frantically that lots of things fall by the wayside, such as the prior acquaintance between Daltry and Kowalski established last issue.  Andy’s biker chick and Barb’s inaugural soul share a first name; is this relevant, coincidence, or carelessness?  Other than repeating his recent failure to cure Sallis, Strange does little but restore order, and poor Clea is not dignified with a single line.

Had this been 1984, the cover of their “Tear-Stained Last Issue,” with a weeping Manny icon to prove it, would’ve convinced me that this was the dreaded Assistant Editors’ Month.  Captions signed by Fingeroth read, “I give up!  I can’t write cover copy for this crazy book!  I mean how do I explain that Doctor Strange dies?  And that Chris Claremont, writer of Man-Thing and X-Men, also buys it this ish?  Nobody’s going to believe it.  I don’t even believe it…and I edit the book!”  Well, score one for truth in advertising, anyway, although by now, Doc’s dying has become a bit shopworn.  Don’t know how Chris felt about his portrayal by Wiayerik, yet on the splash, at least, a more woebegone figure cannot be imagined, appropriate though that might be...

Chris’s transformation (which, believe it or not, I didn’t even remember when I titled this post) lets him literally get into character, providing interesting insights into his perceptions:  he reads the color-coded “Kirilian [sic] auras” of those around him, a kind of psychic mood ring.  Yet the reason behind this unintended, and ultimately self-defeating, side-effect of Thog’s spell is totally unexplained, unless you find “Because magic” to be satisfactory.  Although Mayerik’s somewhat cartoony style was never one of my favorites, his Man-Thing is obviously, er, solid, and he contributes some very expressive faces, e.g., the tearful Barb, gazing skyward, overcome with horror at her newfound status in page 12, panel 6; the utterly disoriented Ted in page 22, panel 4.

So that’s it.  We’re left with some heavy moralizing via Dakimh (Sallis “must right the karmic balance that he unwittingly upset by the way he lived his life.  Like Kowalski, this ordeal marks a rite of passage in the rising and advancing of his spirit.  He grows.  He matures.  At the proper time, he will re-emerge having attained his full potential as a human being.  For him, for Kowalski, for us all—there is hope”) and, sadly, very little regret over the end of what seemed a promising pairing.  If anyone could carry the Gerber torch on this difficult character, Claremont would appear to be it, yet he never really found his groove, further hampered by persistently mediocre artwork, and Kowalski’s eleventh-hour interpolation didn’t bring too much to the table.

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