Plot: The origin of Man-Thing, updated with a new twist and an expletive.
Commentary: After reading Dead of Night: Man-Thing #1, I immediately wondered about the original story written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, and drawn by Gray Morrow in 1971. So I picked it up.
The two are not drastically different. Ted Sallis develops a super-solider formula in the swamps of Florida with his lover Ellen Brandt. She betrays him, but Sallis escapes with the formula. But he doesn't get too far, left for dead in the murky waters of the swamp. Clasping onto his chemical creation, he injects himself with the super-soldier serum. The watery unknown mixes with the unstable chemical to transmogrify Ted Sallis from man to Man-Thing!
In the original story, Sallis secretly brought Brandt to the swamp with him, unbeknownst to his government handlers. Ellen isn't so much a woman but a walking pair of breasts with a vivacious butt. Vivacious! She doesn’t know what Ted is working on but knows it's worth enough money to hire goons to get it from him. Ted eventually escapes but careens his car into the "bottomless" lake.
The update, however, takes a different spin on Sallis' relationship with Ellen Brandt, as well as her characterization. Ted brings Ellen to the swamp as his assistant/fiancé. In a very revealing teddy, she wraps Ted around her finger and discovers the purpose of his labor. The entrance of Ted's other assistant, Eric Schist, hurries Sallis back to work. Eric and Ellen are revealed not only to be agents of AIM but lovers. Betrayed and cornered, Ted escapes through the swamp with the only remaining serum. Ellen pursues him, shooting him the back. Ted falls in the lake, injecting himself with chemical.
Ellen is much stronger and smarter character in Dead of Night: Man-Thing #1, thus making her betrayal more engaging. Furthermore, the inclusion of Eric provides a more tangible focus of pure hate for Sallis. The man not only tried to steal his work, but stole his woman as well.
Yet the striking difference between the two stories is the storytelling. Written in the grand, winding drama of psychological horror, Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway weave a yarn of incredible introspection. Man-Thing fumbles to remember his humanity, the purpose of food, drink, and objects like cars. Even love. The narration in the classic tale posits: when does a man lose his humanity? The story has less to do with man-made weapons and powers of nature than the blinding power of human rage.
The update, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, uses the narrator Digger, a classic horror character himself, to relate the tale of Man-Thing. Certainly not as analytical or philosophical as the original, but Digger provides more comedic moments that nestle the reader into a cozy, safe place, allowing the horror to jump out more effectively.
Lastly, the art by Morrow is beautiful and grotesque. His Ted Sallis is the epitome of 1970s masculinity: hairy legs, thigh-high shorts and tennis shoes. Kano does a good job in the Dead of Night: Man-Thing #1 opting for more cartoon design than realism. Nick Percival does all the Digger scenes, making the rotting zombie host appealing and charming.
One is neither better than the other, but both should be read… if you dare!
Final Word: $3.99. Flash light and sheet not included.
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