STORY BY: Daniel Warren Johnson and R.L. Stine
ART BY: German Peralta
COLORS BY: Mat Lopes and Rachelle Rosenberg
COVER BY: Tyler Crook
The much anticipated run by Goosebumps author R.L. Stine has arrived and it is undeniably okay. I will say right off I was not overly impressed by the debut issue. That being said I understand that this is the first issue and as such it has a lot of weight to pull setting up the new premise and establishing a new direction for an undeniably obscure character, so I tend to give the author some leeway. Still, my first impression upon reading this issue was to wonder just who the audience is for this?
Long-time fans like myself will be left scratching their heads about the radical changes to Man-Thing’s demeanor and abilities; while new readers may be put off by the rather uneven tone of the writing.
So what’s it all about?
The story begins with a bit of a fake-out. We are meant to think Man-Thing is in a pitched battle in the swamp only to have the perspective pull out and we find he is in fact on a movie set.
You see Man-Thing has recovered the ability to talk and all of his memories of his former self – Ted Salis. And of course, the first thing he does is go to Hollywood to become a film star because that’s exactly what a brilliant scientist in swam-monster form would do – become an actor. But apparently, he’s not bringing in the crowds so he’s going to be let go by the studio. This is again the first issue of a character we haven’t seen in a while so we of course get a recap of the origin story – it’s pretty much beat for beat as the original – except this time it has snarky dialogue and comedy – because that’s what was missing.
After the recap, we quickly come to the climax which has man-Thing meeting another Man-Thing and they fight all the while “our” man-Thing throws out witty banter.
Now I get it, it’s a reimagining. And not just that it’s a re-imagining as a comedy. But for me, the story falls down for the plain simple fact that this is not the character. It’s true to what the character is.
Man-Thing at his best is a force of nature; he is a conduit through which other stories are told. He acts as a moral compass, a kind of muck-covered conscience for other characters to revolve around. Making him a first-person wise guy it removes what is essential and unique about him.
And the humor is juvenile at best. I suppose it is attempting to be self-aware? For instance, during the origin re-cap, Man-Thing is going to throw the car with thugs in it into the swamp and one leans out to say, “Can we talk about this, I didn’t bring my swim suite.”
And when Ellen Brandt reveals her betrayal she states, “Did you really think I was interested in you?” and mimes gagging herself, you know that tried and true comedic stand-by that stopped being funny in the late 80s. It has all the comedic subtly as a Saved by the Bell episode. I guess, maybe that’s what he’s going for? Campy and meta-textual? Again, it makes me wonder who the intended audience is.
To put a positive spin on this it does have an interesting conceit. Stine is attempting to satirize the over-saturation of superhero movies. There are so many comic book adaptations they are literally scraping the bottom of the barrel – or swamp as it were. In that sense it is intriguing and could have potential…but it just feels so clumsy.
In the end, this particular take just doesn’t ring true to me – and maybe it’s because I am a purist, I have a fondness for this character and I feel that making him a snarky, sarcastic sit-com flunky was probably not the way to go. This story might have been better served by making this a new character and having this new “monster” try to get a foothold in the movie biz. That way Stine could graft on whatever characteristics and traits he wanted without stripping Man-Thing of everything that is his.
But as I said at the start this is just the first issue…and I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that this will get better and go in a different direction; one that hopefully does the character justice.
This review first appeared on the Nexus of All Realities – a Man-Thing Podcast