Hello, all! I’m happy to be back at The Capeless Crusader after a brief sabbatical and, wow, what an amazing time to be a comic book fan! The month of July has had several outstanding selections thus far, but for me nothing compared to the late Steve Gerber’s final masterpiece, The Infernal Man-Thing.
Screenplay of the Living Dead Man, as this story arc is bizarrely named, is actually a sequel to the obscure, decades-old Man-Thing story entitled Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man. Yes, you read that correctly, and if you will, please, allow me to repeat it—ahem,Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man. That really gets my wheels turning! Anyway, Screenplay is a project that, due to a variety of reasons, took decades to complete. Thanks to some much needed arm twisting from editorials, it was dusted off and finally able to see the light of day.
If you’re currently reading Jeff Parker’s run on Thunderbolts/ Dark Avengers you know that Man-Thing has recently undergone some pretty extreme changes. This is not that Man-Thing. Instead of super-heroics and a changed power-set, we see the monster in his most natural setting: a mist filled swamp. Don’t let the familiarity fool you, however. The circumstances of this tale are one of the most surreal and thought-provoking adventures into fear since, well, Adventures into Fear! The driving force behind the narrative is a once successful writer who lost his niche. Desperate and delirious, with no companions save the talking tree he imagines in the passenger seat, he passes the swamp where the Man-Thing resides. The Man-Thing empathically picks up on the writer’s emotions, which results in some of the most eccentric things I’ve ever seen happen in a comic book!
If Steve Gerber’s high-concept fantasy was meant to inspire ethereal absurdity, Kevin Nowland’s imagery captured it perfectly. Every page is painted, a practice utilized all too rarely in the medium. In the book’s introduction, Ralph Macchio explains how Nowland averaged about a week per page when working on the project. Although it was apparently the main reason The Infernal Man-Thing collected so much dust over the years, the amount of heart and soul that went into each panel is staggering! The morbid, zany, eeriness of every image captivated me so completely I could average a week per page just staring at it.
If you’re looking for a break from the day-to-day heroics of the comic book industry, and instead desire to brave a trip down the rabbit hole, let me recommend to you The Infernal Man-Thing. It’s challenging. It’s psychedelic. It’s the type of comic you’d see someone reading at Burning Man, if people who went to Burning Man could read. Pick it up! You won’t need empathic powers to feel it was the right call.
*For anyone unfamiliar with the life of Steve Gerber, he was also the genius behind Howard the Duck. You’re welcome.