Anybody with an even passing interest in Man-Thing needs to buy this issue of The Thunderbolts.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Man-Thing. Unlike Swamp Thing, the creature was always more rooted in fantasy than horror. Swamp Thing only met the World’s Finest. Man-Thing has teamed up with Spider-Man, Daredevil, The Thing, Shang-Chi and Cyclops. Whereas, DC always tried to isolate Swamp Thing. Man-Thing became a keystone to the Marvel Universe. Man-Thing also had a more magically based supporting cast, including sorceress Jennifer Kale.
Jennifer Kale guest-stars in Jeff Parker’s Thunderbolts, and naturally Parker’s skill in characterization, something honed on the whetstone of many a Marvel Adventures issue, comes to the fore. Parker’s Jennifer Kale is simply wonderful. She treats Man-Thing as a friend and sweetly refers to him as Ted. Ted Sallis and his super-soldier formula served as Man-Thing’s basis. Man-Thing even reverted back to Ted Sallis for a short period.
Jennifer teleports Man-Thing out of T-Bolt Headquarters and back to the Everglades, where a portal to another universe opened. There again lies a difference between Swamp Thing. Parker reminds the reader that Man-Thing shares more in common with Gamera than Alec Holland. Man-Thing is the guardian of the Nexus of All Realities centered in the swamp. Swamp Thing became the champion of the green, but only much, much later. Previously, Alec was simply a credible monster-hero. Steve Gerber gave Man-Thing greater complexity, and Parker follows suit.
Artist Daclan Shalvey hammers the point home. As the Big Bad targets its innocent prey, the Man-Thing appears, literally out of nowhere to stop him cold in a memorable four panels. Like Gamera, Man-Thing must win. If he fails, the earth and its populace will be the toys of myriad vicious races.
Shalvey’s art is perfect for Man-Thing. It’s not exactly the traditional kind of superhero piece you’ve seen, but it’s also not the dark, dank illustration prevalent in modern horror books. Instead, Shalvey’s style straddles the fence. The monsters preying on humans are horrific beasts, but Shalvey’s Man-Thing is a powerful elemental vanguard from dark fantasy. Jennifer Kale is not a superhero but nevertheless has the poise of one. She sports the regality of an arch sorceress but also the smile of a genuine earthy woman.
Parker’s terrific stand-alone neatly encapsulates Man-Thing’s history and his future with the Thunderbolts. Rather than throw out all that made Man-Thing appealing in the first place, he revisits old friends and, with Daclan Shalvey, he finds a perfect ally. “Whatever knows fear, burns at the Man-Thing’s touch,” but the Man-Thing’s fans need not fear. Man-Thing is in good hands.