Oft, of late, have I noted my absolute love of, and devotion to, the works of Jeff Parker - especially as far as his handling of the MAN-THING; both without and within the pages of the THUNDERBOLTS.
I glowed, and showered praise upon his (and artist Colleen Coover's) brief, touching glimpses of Man-Thing's deeply hidden humanity and endearing nature in 'X-MEN : FIRST CLASS : FINALS' [HERE].
I lavished heaping spoonfuls of love on the prospect of Parker using Man-Thing in the Thunderbolts [HERE].
And I awarded Parker and Thunderbolts with golden "SANCTY's" - during the 2010 installment of my annual "SANCTUM AWARDS" [HERE].
So, as I mentioned in passing in my most previous post, I am due to shower MUCH LOVE on Jeff Parker and his latest few issues of THUNDERBOLTS (# 154, 155) - not JUST for the awesome treatment he has shown Man-Thing, but also for the amazing, deft and insightful treatment he showed to Doctor Strange in the latest issue (# 155).
Behind a sweet cover by Arthur Adams, issue # 154 bridges the question most obvious to any fan of Man-Thing (and it was the first thing this reader wondered about when hearing of the plan to turn Manny into a team player)... "As guardian of the Nexus of All-Realities, can Man-Thing be away from that post for long?"
Parker addresses this question hand-in-hand with the reasoning that Man-Thing is even a part of the "Thunderbolts program" to begin with - he is, in theory, (if not in practicality,) a PRISONER - apprehended for two-fold reasons;
1) Because he "refused" to register for the 50-state Initiative.
(Seriously, read Marvel Comics Presents v2 # 12 and then Dark Avengers # 10 - or my old post [HERE] for a recap.)
2) He is known to have caused the deaths of many people in Florida over the years.
(Actually, THAT is a serious - and true offense - not minding the fact that those who he killed seriously had it coming.)
At the start of the issue, the story alternates between a team of Government bureaucrats who, thinking that Man-Thing is too dangerous to be used as a field agent, seek to have him removed... and scenes from the Florida swamp, where a wave of other-dimensional invaders (the hunters of Vellus-Kar) have emerged only to hunt and kill many native Indians.
So, long-time friend-of-Manny; Jennifer Kale - sorceress, High-Priestess of Zhered-Na, and some-time apprentice of Doctor Strange - seeks to rescue Man-Thing from his incarceration (and perceived indentured servitude) by returning him to the Florida swamp from whence he came. This is so that he may continue to satisfy his role as Guardian of the Nexus, in this case, to put to rout the invaders and preserve the boundaries of our world.
However, once the danger has been eliminated, Man-Thing uses his teleporting ability to return to the Thunderbolts - ostensibly because... he wants to.
Thus, he is not a true prisoner at all, but a potentially willing participant.
This new desire to be among "humanity" (or at least other pseudo-monsters) is alluded to as perhaps starting during Man-Thing's time spent with the new "Legion of Monsters" (in the pages of Punisher / FrankenCastle and Marvel Zombies v3 and v4). His time spent among those of his own kind seems to have touched upon the spark of consciousness that Jeff Parker has been stoking in his treatments of Manny over the past few years.
In the issue, Jeff Parker shows the true import of the Man-Thing's role as protector, but gives Manny, and us, a desire to continue with the new life opportunities presented by staying with "friends" in the Thunderbolts.
Parker also seamlessly give a 2-panel origin recap, because it seems that not all of the Thunderbolts are aware of Man-Thing's former human identity as Ted Sallis, and gives long-time mystic nomad; Jennifer Kale a new mission; that of the temporary new Guardian of the Nexus until the Nexus grows a new one.
Along the way, we are also given another look into the custom-tailored habitat which was constructed for Man-Thing, and we meet Dennis; one of the "swamp-keepers", a zoologist / botanist whom, after being burned by Man-Thing, still strives to care for the needs of the unique life-form. As any true animal-lover or animal behaviorist will attest, you can't get angry or blame the beasts for behaving true to their nature.
It isn't the shark's fault for eating things that bleed into their waters, it isn't the lion's fault for mauling whomever wanders into its space. It isn't the Man-Thing's fault for burning you if you don't understand it - and feel fear.
Sadly, in the issue Ms. Kale is not dressed in her old metal-bra and g-string sorceress garb, but the new, unflattering, bland and masculine Initiative uniform. This is not the fault of the artistic team, since the new uniform that Jen wears seems to be her new look (since Marvel Zombies v3 - or v4).
The issue ends with Man-Thing given a passing grade by the Government agents, who, after seeing him in action, and witnessing his willing return to the facility, decide that he is a valuable asset.
It also sets up the next issue, wherein due to the apparent ease with which Jennifer kale was able to infiltrate the prison, the team's mystic weaknesses are to be addressed... with the aid of
The NEXT Issue (# 155) can perhaps be nominated as a contender for my all-time favorite comic book.
At least my all-time favorite that teams Man-Thing with Doctor Strange (and yes, there have been several others over the years).
More on this issue in the NEXT INSTALLMENT (part II) of this review. *
* Sadly, Part I of the post was written more than a week ago, but I was hoping to post both parts as ONE entry, so I postponed posting this until it became obvious that I wouldn't be able to post part two for a few more days.
Keep your eyes open for it.