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Review of MAN-THING #16: Masculinity and Monstrocity

Source: Marvel.Wikia.com

Source: Marvel.Wikia.com

“Is he Man or Monster or . . . Is he Both?” That ominous question is typically associated with Marvel Comics‘ most famous monster, the Hulk. It would fit just as well with another of the publisher’s monsters, the Man-Thing; especially in this issue wherein the question could be asked of more than just the creature the series is named for.

Man-Thing debuted in the first issue of Savage Tales, a Marvel magazine aimed at mature readers. His creation was a collaboration between writers Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, and artist Gray Morrow. Contrary to popular belief, he arrived on the scene before DC Comics‘ own muck monster, Swamp Thing.

Steve Gerber took over the writing for the character with issue 11 of Adventure into Fear, and continued writing him once he got his own title. Gerber would take Man-Thing beyond anyone’s expectations of a comic book about a swamp monster by introducing cosmic weirdness and his own brand of social commentary into the stories. It was in a Man-Thing story in issue 19 of Adventure into Fear that Gerber introduced his caustic cartoon character, Howard the Duck.

With Man-Thing # 16, in a story entitled “Decay Meets the Mad Viking!” Gerber examines the idea of manhood and what that means for different people in the world of 1975. Eugene “The Star” Spangler is a rock n’ roll singer. A little knowledge of the music scene of the time will tell you that Spangler is an unholy amalgamation of gender bending glam rockers Alice Cooper and David Bowie. “The Star” cuts his tour short to go into seclusion in his “House of Murders” in the Florida swamp for inspiration, taking with him a cult-like entourage who practically worship his every word.

Meanwhile, Grandpa Josefsen is mad. He sees his forced retirement as an insult to his manhood. All around him are threats to his masculinity. Taking up arms and dressing like a caricature of his Nordic ancestors, the Mad Viking sets out to eliminate any man who does not live up to his idea manliness, and the women who love them. The flamboyant sequin-studded rock singer is high on his list. Of course, Man-Thing, the empathic creature that was once a man but is no longer, is drawn to them.

John Buscema and Tom Palmer provide the artwork for this story that effectively evokes a sense of horror before we even leave Spangler’s glittery stage and enter the dark swamp. Seriously I do believe that reading the issue today, with its pages yellowed by time, adds something to the book that readers who picked it up fresh off the rack would not have gotten.

Gerber takes a hard look at more than just outdated macho ideals here. While Josefsen is obviously driven crazy by his extreme views, Spangler is guilty of the same way of thinking. His insistence on being an outrageous stage persona even offstage is what puts himself and those around him in danger. Both men are trying to live up to extreme ideals. It is this extremism that leaves them unable to deal with the unknown. The unknown being other people’s ideas and ways of living. The two men find the unknown unthinkable well before Man-Thing shambles between them. Man-Thing is incapable of understanding either of them.

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Jean-Pierre Vidrine hails from the small town of Ville Platte, Louisiana. He started collecting and learning about comic books at the age of 9. He got his Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Louisiana State University. He now lives in Chicago with his wife and cat.

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Categories: Comic Reviews

Author:Jean-Pierre Vidrine

Jean-Pierre Vidrine is a Chicago transplant whose interests include comic books, nostalgia, tattoos, drag, just plain being allowed to be himself. He does his best to be a thoughtful writer.

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