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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: "HOW WILL WE KEEP WARM WHEN THE LAST FLAME DIES?" (G-S MAN-THING #1, 1974)

In my mythcomics-review of a HOWARD THE DUCK issue, I commented: "While Gerber's preoccupations on the Man-Thing-- one story analyzed here-- tend toward the kinetic and the mythopoeic, most of the HOWARD stories focus on elements of the dramatic and the didactic."

I've always thought that MAN-THING was a much mythopoeic series than its contemporaneous competitor, DC's SWAMP THING. Nevertheless, after doing a quick re-read of Gerber's tenure on the feature, I must admit that Gerber may have been a little too preoccupied with making rational "overthoughts" than with giving free reign to his mythical "underthoughts." That's not to say that Gerber wasn't an imaginative writer. Indeed, back in The Day he was probably esteemed for his ability to spin wild fantasy-sequences not only in "edgy" books like MAN-THING and HOWARD but also in "mainstream" titles like THE DEFENDERS and MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE. Regrettably, though, even though MAN-THING might have held the greatest potential capacity for the mythopoeic, too often Gerber seems concerned with making moral statements. "Decay and the Mad Viking" (MT #16) arranges a promising *enantiodromia* between the Viking's murderous masculinity and the implied quasi-femininity of his degenerate victims, but the story doesn't quite make either side come alive in a mythic sense. "Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man" (MT #12) records the mental breakdown of an ad-agency writer besieged by the phantoms of everyone who ever wanted a piece of him, but the focus only upon financial threats to the "dead man's" peace of mind keeps the story from delving into the essence of the Buberian "I-it" relationship.



"How Will We Keep Warm," which sounds a little like the title of a MOD SQUAD episode, enhances some of the ongoing environmental tropes of the feature. Often Man-Thing, a man transformed into a swamp-monster, mindlessly defends his domain against intruders, but most stories failed to realize the tragic disconnect between nature and culture. "Warm," however, dovetails the Man-Thing concept with the prevailing American fears of survival brought on by the 1973 fuel crisis.

As in most stories, the mindless swamp creature simply wanders about until he encounters the more active characters in his story, composed here of two factions. One faction is a group of scientists who have decided that the Florida swamp is the best possible place to build a self-sustaining alternative-power community, given the rather downbeat name of Omegaville, because it's "man's last chance." ("Alphaville" would have been more upbeat, but it had already been used.) The other faction is a group of modern cultists called "Entropists," since they worship the concept that the universe is governed by entropy, the tendency toward decay. The Entropists want to prevent Omegaville from re-igniting human possibilities, so one of the cultists unleashes the power of the Golden Brain. This disembodied organ projects an energy-demon that looks suspiciously like an old monster-enemy of Marvel's Hulk-- though Man-Thing is provoked enough to destroy the energy-creature.




The violence causes the lead cultist to lose his grip on the brain, which falls into the swamp. The scientists get clear and the cultists return to their base, allowing for Gerber to relate the history of the brain. Thus he recapitulates the last two appearances of "the Glob," a man who got turned into a muck-thing years before Man-Thing came into being. During the creature's second encounter with the Incredible Hulk, the Glob's muck-body was destroyed, except for its brain. (Gerber gives no reason for the brain to be gold-hued, though personally it reminded me of the so-called "golden egg" of Hindu theology.) The brain is picked up by a fellow named Yagzan, the leader of the Entropy Cult, and he's first seen killing off the cultist who bungled the attack on the Omegaville scientists.

While Yagzan-- drawn by Mike Ploog to look much like Richard Nixon-- lays plans for another attack on Omegaville, the Glob-brain doesn't just sit on the bog's bottom. Though not precisely sentient, the brain assembles a new body for itself out of the swamp's elements, though as a Gerber caption comments, the brain's new body doesn't look like the original body of its owner, but looks as if "sculptured by Michelangelo." However, the new body is also a tabula rasa, in that its owner no longer remembers its previous existence, or even how to speak. Naked as Adam-- to whom he's later compared-- the former monster wanders into the haven of Omegaville, where the scientists take him in and name him Joe, calling him "Omegaville's first native-- Adam created from clay to live in the garden, and all that." Joe takes basic pleasure in serving the community, while the mindless Man-Thing looks on from the sidelines, anticipating trouble.



The Entropists show up, and Yagzan recognizes his former pawn in the speechless Joe. Yagzan tries to force the brain to devolve, but it can only go so far, at which point the cult-leader orders the reborn Glob to attack "man's last hope." The Glob manages to destroy most of the community until Man-Thing intrudes, eventuating in what may be the world's first "battle of the muck-monsters."




Since it's Man-Thing's book, he manages to vanquish the Glob, who takes cult-leader Yagzan down with him. Despite this triumph, the story ends on a note of pessimism, since Omegaville has been destroyed, and never again shows up in the Marvel Universe, to my knowledge. True, American fears about the fuel crisis waned once the country made trade concessions. But Gerber delivers a vision of doom that goes beyond newspaper headlines, with his Entropists incarnating the human tendency to lust after ultimate destruction.

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