The Infernal Man-Thing mini-series is a posthumous work by the great Steve Gerber. It is a sequel to Gerber's fantastic “Song Cry of the Living Dead Man!” from The Man-Thing #12 (December, 1974). You may want to check out Jason and Daniel's reviews of Gerber's run on Man-Thing (Part 1 and Part 2) and before reading this review.
Daniel Elkin: Okay, Sacks, how weird was it reading Gerber from beyond the grave?
Jason Sacks: Depressing and weird and kind of exciting all at the same time
Daniel: My sentiments exactly. It was like, BOOM, there we were, right back into it, but it all seemed to be thick with a foreboding foretelling of the future for Gerber.
Jason: Gerber was clearly a really depressed, unhappy man based on this story, Which is so sad for me. For all his greatness, Steve never reached his full happiness and never achieved the success he hoped to achieve. At least that's a takeaway that I get from this story.
Daniel: Me too. The story drips with his sense of his failure as an artist and the fact that he felt he left nothing of any importance behind — that his whole output was Phegraw and he was just a "Bag of Meat and Pain," all told. And the fact that this was published after his death makes it even more poignant and sad.
Jason: Poor Brian Lazarus. When we last saw him in Man-Thing #12 he had hope for transcendence — a happy life that ended up being ephemeral as any you can imagine. Gerber revived one of his characters who had hope, and, instead, he was filled with despair. How about that ending — wow (no spoilers).
Daniel: The ending just sums up the entire progression of character and sentiment. I looked back at what we wrote about when we looked at Man-Thing #12, and neither of us had much hope for Brian and Sybil's relationship. Turns out, we were correct. I just didn't imagine that Gerber would go so far into the pit with these two, though.
Jason: So, so far into the pit…
Daniel: I am surprised that Marvel even consented to publish this, however posthumous it is. I would love to hear the story behind that…
Jason: Yeah, because no matter the circumstances or details, this is an incredibly bleak story. The whole book is a primal scream against the American Dream and the wish to transcend it.
Daniel: Even Feebo, the pro-social alien in the book, blows his own brains out. Bleak is absolutely the right word for this. It is nihilism, it is darkness, and it is existential horror. Wow.
Gerber has Brian say, "I just want you to hear the story, that's all. Someone has to" — I get the sense that this was Gerber's motivation for this tale.
Jason: "The end. The death of everything."
Daniel: "Dying isn't nice, just a little less complicated."
Jason: It's brutal. Brian tried to live a happy life, tries to transcend his pathetic existence, even to create great art. And instead Brian is a loser who can't create a good children's show, thrown out and discarded to the curb by an uncaring and unfeeling corporation.
Daniel: He tries to be Norm Normal…. but he remains Brian Lazarus.
"Last time I only wounded my soul. Now it has cancer."
“Married a Linda, fathered a Jason, committed to a 30-year variable-rate mortgage.”
Norm Normal's life.
So Daniel, do you think Brian's problem is that he thought he was exceptional but is really just pathetic?
Daniel: Not at all. I think that Brian had a powerful creative force inside of him — so powerful that his ideas often spilt over into reality — coalesced as it were — but the forces of the world, or at least the society, called this psychosis and did everything it could to tamper and temper until Brian could only break. I think Gerber was blaming the social structure and not the individual.
Jason: Brian is the metaphorical square peg trying to play the game of being a round peg. But the despair and kind of pathetic banality of the lifestyle crushed him. I think part of the problem is Brian thinks he's pathetic, which is just as important. I mean, we all think we're pathetic at times, no matter what we've achieved and how beloved we are.
Daniel: Remember Lazurus' own "Song Cry of a Living Dead Man" from Man-Thing #12? I think that summed it up perfectly. "KILL YOUR MIND!" I don't think that Brian thought he was pathetic, really — I think he felt abject defeat in the face of a social structure that had no place for him and his ideas and his vision.
I don't think you're pathetic, by the way Sacks.
Jason: Nice of you to make me feel good, thanks.
"Most of all, I came to terms with the limits of my talents as a writer. I could be clever, but I was never going to write anything 'deep'."
I think Brian dreamed of being deep as a kid, but ended up coming to accept that he was just not the writer — or even the man — he thought he was.
Daniel: I don't know. I read it as what the greater social structure thought of as "deep" was something that Brian could never attain — rather his view of the world would always be regarded as off-kilter or slightly askew. I don't think that Brian saw his abilities as lesser, rather just that the grind of the expectations of the norm wore him to the quick.
Maybe it got to the point where Brian, after years of trying to fit in and not really making it started to define himself by THAT form of failure. And THIS is what broke him.
Jason: Hmm, that's an interesting insight!
Daniel: Either way, though, this was a powerfully depressing read.
Jason: It's impossible to not see Gerber in this story of failure — the attempt to transcend by working in TV, only to find some measure of despair.
Daniel: I agree that this seems like Gerber's story — which, especially posthumously, makes it all the more depressing.
Jason: Sure, though this would be depressing no matter what — a whole deeper level of depressing than the original in Man-Thing #12 because at least a young Gerber had hope for happiness; as he grew older
he shows us here that he just felt despair.
Daniel: Do you think the art added or detracted from the power of this series?
Jason: I missed Ploog! Or Perlin!
Daniel: Nobody misses Ploog like I do.
Jason: The art is lovely, but it feels so, so different… Not necessarily in a good way.
Daniel: What did you think of the depiction of Man-Thing? Interesting choice, huh?
Jason: At first it bothered me, but Man-Thing is so tangential to this story that it almost is immaterial how he looks. In that way, too, it's pure Gerber — the real monster is mankind, as usual with this series.
Daniel: The whole thing had such a detached sort of feel. I found the art to be evocative of the confusion, but distancing when it came to the horrific aspects.
Jason: I agree. I've always loved Nowlan, but his coloring, especially, distanced me from the events. Though the animated characters are lovely.
Daniel: Overall, I am going to give this 4.5 stars out of 5 as a series — this fucked my shit up for a full 24 hours — and that's saying something, as my shit is not easily fucked up.
Jason: Hmm, you liked it a bit more than me. I was bugged by the art and the feeling that the story was a bit padded somehow — in the old days this would also have been a quick one-shot
Daniel: I agree, and I'm probably letting some sentiment seep into my judgment — but still, the emotional power of this HOWL across the starboard just…. just… well, it hurt. And you don't get that kind of intensity often in comics.
Jason: No, never. Not this unadultered screech of existential despair. And that's what makes it so Gerber.
Daniel: Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing's touch!
Jason: Phegraw! Phegraw!
Daniel Elkin has been reading and commenting on comics since the mid '70s when he used to wear a great deal of brown corduroy. Currently he lives in Northern California where brown corduroy is slowly becoming fashionable again. Daniel has worked in bars, restaurants, department stores, classrooms and offices. He is a published poet, member of MENSA, committed father, gadfly and bon vivant. He can over-intellectualize just about anything and is known to have long Twitter conversations with himself (@DanielElkin).
P.S. He keeps a blog, Your Chicken Enemy.