Comic: "The Man-Thing #12"
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Steve Gerber
Artist: John Buscema, Klaus Jansen
Reviewer: Max Burbank
Plot: The Man-Thing battles the inner demons of Brian Lazarus, a demented writer.
Review: I'd planned to write about Steve Gerber’s “Song-cry of a Living Deadman” for a while, and it seems like a fitting tribute now. Gerber died of pulmonary fibrosis in Las Vegas on February 10th. He was 60, which frankly doesn’t sound that old anymore. He’s perhaps best known for creating Howard the Duck, and sadly, the irony is fitting. George Lucas managed to make Howard into a punchline, a synonym for crap. Gerber couldn’t stop him, any more than he could have stopped Marvel for selling Lucas the rights, because Gerber didn’t own any part of Howard even though he created him. If in that alternate universe the movie had been a huge hit, Gerber never would have seen a cent of the profits. But derision ain’t cash. People don’t remember that before the damn movie, Howard the Duck was a revolutionary social satire the like of which mainstream comics had never seen before. Its lucky HTD first appeared in a “Man-Thing” book, or I’d be way off topic by now.
Steve Gerber took a gonzo jackhammer to the foundations of comic book writing back in the early seventies. He pretty much invented the now classic idea of wild experimentation on a book nobody was reading, and he did it first in the pages of “Man-Thing”. The issue I’ve chosen to zero in on is in his second run on the book. It came out in 1974 and it blew my twelve-year-old mind to ribbons by featuring a page of illustrated text. No panels, no word balloons, no sound effects, text. Text about a writer going insane. In a comic book I bought off a rack at the general store around the same time Superman was seeing all the different colors his under shorts could be if he exposed them to rainbow Kryptonite.
Read today it’s a little over the top, a little teen angsty to be sure, but in 1974 it was groundbreaking. Back then comics belonged to kids, adults didn’t read ‘em, and it was as if some super cool adult had snuck a slice of the grown up world into your lunchbox.
Two things stick with me 34 years later. The first was Gerber’s first person description of how Lazarus knows he’s going insane. He puts on a Beatles album, ‘Rubber Soul’, and its just noise. No music, no joy, no pleasure, just noise. I owned that album, I listened to it, and I could imagine my brain breaking down to the point where the sounds it made no longer processed as music. I didn’t know that experience was a practically text book symptom of clinical depression, but I got what he meant and I felt honored that the writer thought I was old enough to think about that as opposed to thinking about the bat knock out spray Batman had to use if he took someone to the Batcave so they wouldn’t know it was in Bruce Wayne’s backyard.
The second is this little snippet of rhyme:
“Put muh wallet in muh pocket- yeah, yeah.
Put muh keys in muh pocket- yeah, yeah.
Put muh change in muh pocket- yeah, yeah.
Take muh eyes from da sockets- umh, yeah!”
It’s from the full page of text, a little jingle about a guy going through the motions of daily life and hiding he’s gone totally nuts. A few years later, I’d read Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Breakfast of Champions’ for the first time and uncover the same theme.
The modern miracle of Internet let me look that up, but it was just fact checking. I remember those four lines; I have remembered those four lines for 34 years. That’s powerful writing.
Steve Gerber fought for creators’ rights, and lost. Marvel eventually settled with him out of court for an undisclosed sum of money, but they kept Howard The Duck. He broke a lot of ground, both legal and creative, for today’s writers. He was ahead of his time in a whole lot of ways, he never talked down to us kids and sixty is too young for him to be dead. I imagine he had a lot more to say.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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