Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another Dip in the Primordial Ooze.

Web of Spider-Man # 6
A *MAN-THING* Review

"Gauntlet : Origins - LIZARD!"
Starring: MAN-THING!

Fred Van Lente - writer
Jefte Palo - artist
Javier Rodriguez - colors
Joe Caramagna - letters

Head on down to the swamp late at night with a companion or two and sit together by a camp fire.
Inevitably, tall tales, ghost stories and urban legends will be the subject of all conversation.
And, as is the case every time such tales are told, each incarnation of the tale adds something new to the offering.
It's never the same story twice.

Such is the case with this new retelling (a slight "re-imagining)" of the origins of the Lizard and the Man-Thing.

However, such is the well-crafted nature of writer Fred Van Lente's story that we don't mind the additions he makes.

While the origin of the Lizard (biologist Dr. Curt Conners) has been fairly regular since his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man # 6, Man-Thing (biochemist Dr. Ted Sallis), however, has always had slight tweaks here and there - subtle shadows that have crept in around the periphery of the vision.
Some, over the years, have been minor continuity add-ons (such as):

  • Whether or not Ellen Brandt; the "female assistant" of his human self; Ted Sallis, was his wife, girlfriend or just some random skank he picked up... and if she was in league with the terrorist group A.I.M. before or after she was involved with Sallis.

  • Whether the "Project : Gladiator" serum that Sallis was working on (and which, when injected into his body being a part of what transformed him into the Man-Thing) was to replicate the Super Soldier Serum that created Captain America or something to aid troops in being able to withstand intense pollution and/or radiation in order to be better combatants on an Earth where pollution will run rampant.

Other times there have been huge retcon retoolings of his origin and very nature:

  • Such as the time that he was supposedly the reincarnation of sorts of the "First Man" of the universe; Adam K'Ad-mon - a cosmic shaman.  (yeah... let's just try to forget that ever happened, OK?)

 This time, the additions to the story are neither off-putting, nor unwelcome (save one - which I'll get to later in the review):

  • Ted Sallis, prior to his setting up his "Project : Gladiator" in the Florida Everglades was a doctor / scientist in the "tomorrows soldiers - today" venue - during an undated Baghdad warzone - seeking to find methods for regeneration or reconstruction of limbs.
  • Sallis meets and befriends then-Army medic Curt Connors, who had just suffered his serious loss of limb injury, after Connors attempted to save the life of a wounded (and booby-trapped) soldier.
  • The two biochemists run parallel research, Sallis giving Connors many insights as to looking towards Lizard DNA for regenerative resource.

Truthfully, these are all good tweaks to the origin.
While I might be a little put off at how every super-powered someone knows some other super-powered someone in the MU (why can't anyone just gain powers who is completely out of left field? Someone who has never met or known any other person who had, has or will gain powers?), still in this case, with both Connors and Sallis having their labs be in the Florida Everglades (of all places), surely these two guys MUST have met at least once before, right?
Normally, it would make more sense for their having met while both doing their research in the swamps, but here, in this issue, we see that the very reason they are both in the same swamp is due to this first meeting and building of like-minded friendship. And THAT is perfect.

Long have I thought that these two characters, whose bases of operations interconnect, should be more connected. (And, I've long been in the habit of checking out every Lizard/Everglades battle/appearance in the hopes that Man-Thing would at least be seen in cameo. Only in a very few instances did that ever pan out.)

Plus, they're both big green monsters. C'mon! It's a natural fit.

This issue sees the perception of the past blurred through the hazy red filter of the Man-Thing's fragmented memory and semi-consciousness.
While he wades through the swamp, discovering an abandoned structure, which was used as an old battle site between the Lizard and Spider-Man, he is given a new tweak to his arsenal of "powers":

  • He shows a kind of empathic Psychometry; the ability to get "readings" of memory from a place or object.

This new ability is one that I don't recall Man-Thing ever exhibiting before, but is a good one for him to have. It helps to broaden the spectrum of ways that a semi-mindless entity can interact in a story - and to help move it forward - or at least, bring the reader information of which they might not be otherwise privvy. A built-in "exposition-power" of sorts.

In fact, it is the very semi-conscious, somewhat mindless nature of the Man-Thing that has also been moderately tweaked here.
In most stories, Man-Thing, like someone suffering from a severe case of A.D.D. or the inability to form and maintain new memories for long periods, is only able to form coherant thoughts and follow through with them for brief moments before losing his train of thought and just shambling onto the next impulse or empathic trigger.

Although, that wasn't the case in his earliest stories. In fact, back in his first appearance, perhaps due to the fact that he was still newly formed, his memories and thoughts were fairly strong.

However, here, in relation to most stories of the past 30 years, his memory of long-ago events, and their interrelation to his current activities is a breakthrough for such a mental handicap. He is still unable to hold fast of the thoughts that flit before him, and fade gossamer-like, but he is able to keep them longer than he had been able to up to this time, and even more, recall whole events that occurred in the past with some level of detail. While the thoughts still vanish into the dark recesses of his mind, he seems able to hold on long enough to comment (inwardly) on them and act (outwardly) upon them.

While, I have a warm, mossy place in my heart for the totally mindless, empathic Man-Thing, such a character is not able to be utilized as well as one who has, at least, interconnected strands of memory.
Much more useful is someone who has just enough of a grip on a fleeting thought to recall the overall gist of it, if not the entire thought - more maddening as that may be.

Unlike DC's SWAMP THING, who has had numerous expanded retoolings of his origin, character and abilities (most times to great effect), Man-Thing has been relatively stagnant - much like the murky waters of his bog-like home.

So, while these are welcome changes, they are not the only ones.
One such change is a bit more disappointing:

In the original origin, it was the "mystical energies" inherent in the swamp (which would later be made known as the "Nexus of All Realities") that mixed with the unstable aspect of the serum which Ted Sallis injected himself being the mitigating factor of what made the Man-Thing what he is.

In this issue, those "mystic energies" are omitted, and instead it is the by-product wastes of Dr. Connors' research in Lizard DNA that intermix with the Super Soldier Serum, which thus gave birth to the muck-enrusted mockery of a man.

To this, I say "shenanigans"!

It's a sad fact that nearly every character in the Marvel Universe has his powers or abilities obtained via some kind of "scientific" cause. There are so few true "magical" characters (as compared to DC whose mystic nature is far more diverse), and even though Man-Thing was a "unique blend" of science and sorcery, that was enough to make him unique.
Now, (at least in this tale) his is a purely scientific "oopsie, spilled the chemicals" type of origin (a chemistry version of "You got your peanut butter in my chocolate" - "You got your Lizard DNA mixture in my Super Soldier Serum") that it just made me sad for the loss.

However, back to the story.
Both Lizard and Man-Thing are combating each other physically, while simultaneously fighting their own memories and ever slipping humanities.
There are moments of lucidity and recollection, and instances where naught but the primitive survival instinct is all-pervading.
However, with these flashbacks and current activities overlapping, the story is not muddied, nor are we made to sludge trough it. 
As I said earlier, such is the well-crafted nature of this tale, that it is fairly seamlessly handles each divergent aspect and timeline and unites them in one cohesive, flowing narrative.

Also of great benefit to the reader is the lovely artwork by the team of Jefte Palo - artist and Javier Rodriguez - colors.
Jefte, most recently of the excellent Doctor Voodoo; Avenger of the Supernatural series, (where he also rendered Man-Thing in a guest appearance) does a fabulous job of integrating some "non-American" artwork aspects (much like the Phillipino, Spanish and European artists from the 1970s did as well) to the issue.
The unsung hero of the story is Rodriguez' color palette which enriches the beautiful line-work to such a degree that it made me re-read the story for a third time JUST to see what he was doing.
Mixing murky tones and contrasting them against strikingly brilliant neons might not normally work, but here it is done exceptionally well and to great effect.

This story, a 13-page opener of a multi-story issue (the others are a Spider-Girl story, and an excellent Lizard NEW origin type of tale) brings a modern touch to the Man-Thing mythos as well as an extra tendril tying him into the Marvel Universe proper (and one villain in particular).

The Man-Thing is now poised for his next step lurch... to fame... which I will write about and post here in a few days (it's already done and ready to go for the 30th).

I give this story 4 out of 5 toadstools.
(The issue as a whole also gets 4 out of 5. The Spider-Girl story is average, but the Zeb Wells and Xurxo Penalta Lizard wrap-up teaser story is excellent!)


Tegan O'Neil said...

I think the absence of the magical elements of the Man-Things origin might simply boil down to how many extraneous elements they felt could easily be explained in the space of a handful of pages. The magical part of the Man-Thing's origin has little resonance with the Lizard, so keeping it out of sight was probably just for convenience's sake.

Considering that the character's one consistent attribute is his guardianship of the nexus, I don't think they're trying to elide it - especially since he was seen in that capacity very recently in Deadpool: Merc W/A Mouth, so it's hardly obscure.

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