“The Infernal Man-Thing” delivers new words from the late Steve Gerber, which already makes it a thing of wonder. This miniseries started decades ago is a sequel to the tale “Song-cry of the Living Dead Man’ from the old “Man-Thing” comic. As a fair warning, this comic isn’t much like Marvel’s modern offerings — it’s warped, unique and you’ll either bounce off it quickly or very slowly fall into it. Either way, “The Infernal Man-Thing” #1 is the start of a story that wants you to commit.
Kevin Nowlan provides some beautifully painted pages that make you stop and pay attention. This isn’t a production line comic and you have to respect that. Nowlan celebrates mood and bringing as much thought to the page with his color and composition as Gerber is with each word. His facial expressions and haunting atmosphere do a great job holding this book together. This feels like the old stylized miniseries of painted standalones like “Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown” or “Daredevil: Abattoir.”
There’s no denying the attractive nature of this book, but the design of Man-Thing is problematic until you stop to either drop the book or reconcile yourself to Nowlan’s take on the character. Nowlan’s Man-Thing is a sad and strange creature, but he isn’t what we know and love. The artist replaces Man-Thing usual make-up of roots, moss and vein-like green protuberances with a smooth hulking green man sporting a humpback and shadowy head with the dangling proboscis of a nose. It draws you in but it isn’t what feels right for the character. It isn’t enough to spoil the story, but you have to be willing to look past it in order to move on.
Gerber’s story is psychedelic in most aspects. If Alan Moore represents the American Gothic of the swamps, then it feels like Gerber doesn’t fit with Moore’s epic run — in fact, it almost seems diametrically against it. Gerber goes dark, but in an almost absurd way, showing that life is cruel in an inevitable and unknowable way rather than making humans the villains. Gerber’s swamp is just a home to the terrible, a moist trap for the worst to get stuck.
Man-Thing is off the page for much of this issue and instead we follow the titular Living Dead Man. He recounts his horrid tale to a waitress he once knew somewhere and the slow decline of his world is incredibly poignant. It doesn’t feel like Gerber is going to give this story a happy ending in any sense of the term. There will be a spiral down and Man-Thing will view the ill and probably not be a savior. However, knowing this now doesn’t make the story any less compelling.
“The Infernal Man-Thing” is a twisted and darkly intense tale about futility and choice. Reading this book is akin to discovering the last confessions of a man already long dead. The outcome isn’t the point, it’s all about the journey and Gerber and Nowlan come together to create a road paved with insanity and internal depravity. Don’t expect Marvel heroics here, this comic is only for those who want a sad tale to score the end of their worst days with a wander into the alleys of a broken mind.