The most prolific spookmeister of our pre-teen years, R.L. Stine, has made his comic book debut with Man-Thing #1. Stine’s choice of main character is a logical one for the creator of the Goosebumps series, and his issue reads like one of those old stories. I love its retro tone and applaud the risky main character pick, but I’m unsure where he’s going with this opening story.
Man-Thing #1 is largely setup and flashback, which is a bit disappointing for the launch of a new title. The issue opens with Man-Thing struggling as an actor in a third-rate TV series. The producers have scraped the bottom of the superhero barrel, and their “star” just isn’t testing well with audiences. Not terribly surprising, seeing as how he is largely made of swamp matter. A dejected Man-Thing has officially hit rock bottom, and takes the opportunity to flashback to how he wound up as this grotesque creature strolling the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His pity-party is interrupted when a mysterious attacker gets the jump on him, leaving us readers with a cliff-hanger going into the next issue.
Man-Thing #1 (Marvel Comics)
I’m conflicted about this book. On one hand, I applaud Marvel for giving Stine free-reign to write the story he wants with the characters he wants. I love the risk taking. On top of that, Stine’s generous narration establishes a charming 50’s B-movie over-the-top tone, which is perfect for a story about a swamp monster. For those drawn to the book because of fond Goosebumps memories, you’ll find a similar feel here. Finally, setting the story in sunny LA is a nice contrast to the grimy main character. I hope Stine continues to build on that fish-out-of-water scenario.
On the other hand, I think I was hoping to get more… razzmatazz from this issue. This is a character most people (including me) know nothing about, but obviously Stine is a fan. The debut issue is his opportunity to really wow us and show us why we should be Man-Fans too (boom, just coined that). Unfortunately, the TV show plot felt kind of random, and the character’s backstory didn’t leave much room for Man-Thing-related awesomeness. I think Stine would have been better off opening with Man-Thing doing something really cool only he can do, and then leave the backstory for the next issue. One other rough spot is that Man-Thing apparently gained control over his monstrous side, allowing him to think and talk like a normal human. Its unclear if this is a recent development or what, but a big deal is made out of this fact without much explanation. It’s just kind of an odd status quo for a first issue.
German Peralta’s art is suitably dark for the bayou beast. His pencils, and Rachelle Rosenberg colors, really play up the dark Man-Thing/sunny LA contrast. I think Peralta’s best sequences are the sepia-tinted flashbacks in the swamp. It’s really the books only “horror” scenes, and Peralta infuses them with grime and darkness. Man-Thing’s transformation is probably the standout art from this issue. I’ll be interested to see how Peralta captures Stine’s retro tone.
Man-Thing #1 is a risky book full of charm, but it doesn’t quite sell the main character to newcomers. If the retro feel and the 4th grade nostalgia are up your alley, I think Man-Thing is worth checking out for at least a few issues.