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Longbox Junk Halloween 2023 Part 6 Man Thing #5

  • atom | Male | Utah

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I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!

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Welcome to Longbox Junk, where I just keep on writing comic reviews nobody asked me to!

 
October is here!  It's that special time of year when you can go to Wal-Mart to pick up Halloween candy, buy a turkey for Thanksgiving, AND check out the Christmas trees. . .all in one trip!  
 
But more important than any of THOSE middling holidays is the annual Longbox Junk Halloween Horror Party!  It's where I try to cram as many spooky comic reviews into one month that I can. . .and really, what's Christmas compared to THAT?
 
So let's keep this party going with a look at some Mighty Marvel-Style horror.  But first, let's just get the obvious jokes out of the way, so. . .yes, I DO wrap my Man-Thing in plastic. Yes, I DO handle my Man-Thing carefully.  Yes, I want you to look at my Man-Thing. And yes, I DO have a Giant-Size Man-Thing.
 
Are we done?  Okay.  LET'S DO IT!

MAN-THING #5

Marvel (1974)

 
 
COVER: Mike Ploog & John Romita Sr.
 
THE COVER:
 
Mike Ploog is a favorite Bronze Age artist of mine.  Maybe not as prolific as some other artists, but always a treat when I see his name on something.  This cover is no exception.  It's basically what I bought the comic for! 
 
Ploog's art is moody, detailed, and just. . .right. . .for Man-Thing.  There's been a lot of other artists putting their mark on Man-Thing over the years, but for some reason, I like Ploog's version best.  In other words, this is some great Bronze Age art right here!  Let's get inside.
 
NIGHT OF THE LAUGHING DEAD
 
SCRIPT: Steve Gerber
PENCILS: Mike Ploog
INKS: Frank Chiaramonte
 
THE STORY:
 
We begin our tale with the strange creature known as Man-Thing wandering through the swamp, pondering its existence. . .
 

 
 
Nearby, we find a sobbing clown with a pistol.  A single shot rings out, bringing Man-Thing toward the sound. . .
 
 
When Man-Thing arrives, he finds the dead body of the clown, along with a note that he can no longer read.  Man-Thing struggles to understand, but fails.  But during his struggle, he remembers that humans like to be put into holes in the ground after they die.  And so Man-Thing carries the dead clown into the swamp. . .
 
 
IN THE MEANTIME. . .
 
Richard Rory and Ruth Hart. . .two young people that have recently encountered Man-Thing (in issues 2 & 4) are exhausted and trying to find a motel room.  They overhear an argument between a woman and a man about someone named Darrel who has gone missing. 
 
When the man angrily strikes the woman, Richard can't just stand by.  He intervenes, knocking the man to the ground, but then Richard is attacked by a hulking man. . .
 
 
Richard and Ruth decide to leave before things get out of hand.  The woman, who introduces herself as Ayla, leaves with them.  The man, who Ayla tells them is Garvey, the owner of a Carnival that just arrived in town, and the hulking man, called Tragg, decide to follow them.
 
As they try to escape Garvey and Tragg, Ayla tells Richard and Ruth that she's an acrobat in the carnival and the missing Darrel is a clown that she loved, but betrayed.  Her betrayal led Darrel to fall into a deep depression and she's worried he might do something drastic. . .
 
 
They spot Darrel's car, and then find the clown on the edge of the swamp.  But he's acting strangely, like he can't hear them. As he turns and walks into the murky swamp, they find the suicide note.  They follow the clown into the swamp, determined to stop him from harming himself. . .
 
 
MEANWHILE. . .
 
In pursuit of his fleeing acrobat, Garvey and Tragg are speeding down the highway to the swamp, trying to catch up.  They spot the missing clown in the middle of the road, dancing in some sort of strange spotlight.  As they swerve to miss the clown, their truck slams into a tree!
 
 
With Garvey seemingly dead in the flaming wreck of the truck, Tragg pulls himself free and confronts the clown, who taunts the strongman into following him into the dark swamp. . .
 
 
IN THE MEANTIME. . .
 
Richard, Ruth, and Ayla continue to follow Darrel into the swamp, but lose sight of the clown.  It isn't long before they spot the massive bulk of the Man-Thing!  Richard is surprised.  He though he'd seen the last of the creature.  They follow Man-Thing to an island in the swamp, where he begins to dig a hole with a stick. . .
 
 
 
After a few moments, Ayla finally spots the dead body of Darrel.  She rushes out and so do Richard and Ruth, mistakenly thinking that Man-Thing killed the clown, Richard shouts at the creature, driving it back into the darkness of the swamp in confusion as Ayla sobs over the dead body of her former lover. 
 
 
As Man-Thing watches from behind the trees, trying to understand what's going on, Richard realizes that the clown has been shot.  Man-Thing couldn't have been responsible for his death.  As the three of them try to figure out what's happening, Tragg stumbles onto the scene!
 
When Richard tries to stop Tragg from manhandling Darell's dead body, Tragg brutally attacks him, attracting the attention of Man-Thing, who leaps into battle with Tragg. . .who is confused, but welcomes a stand-up fight at last!
 
 
A brutal brawl ensues between the carnival strongman and Man-Thing.  While Tragg feels no fear and Man-Thing can't burn him, it's not long before the creature gains the upper hand and begins to drown Tragg in the murky swamp water as the terrified trio of humans look on.
 
But vague memories of humanity keep Man-Thing from killing Tragg.  And as he lets the defeated carnival strongman up from the water, something strange happens. . .a ghostly spirit rises from Darrel's dead body!
 
 
As the spectral spirit laughs, Ayla asks it what it wants from them.  It answers that they will be witnesses and actors in some sort of show based on the clown's life. . .and that his very soul hangs in the balance!
 
 
TO BE CONTINUED. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Well. . .THAT escalated quickly.  Unfortunately this is not a complete story, but part 1 of a two-part tale.  That said, this issue sets up the conclusion well enough that I want to read more!  I DO have the next issue and (in my humble opinion) in these two issues Steve Gerber gives us one of the strangest and most compelling Man-Thing stories of them all!
 
But even without the second part, this issue is just a great read.  Steve Gerber is a writer that many comic fans place on a pedestal, and with stories like this, it's easy to see why.  This tale is dark, creepy, and strange.  It's setup for even MORE strangeness to come, but on its own it's the sort of weird story that grabs the reader.
 
And speaking of grabbing the reader, Mike Ploog's art is the perfect style for this weird little tale.  It's as dark and twisted as the story itself.  Every page is a feast for the eyes, and his depiction of the swampy backgrounds of the story are fantastic and nightmarish!  They couldn't have picked a better artist for this story.
 

CONCLUSION

 
This Man-Thing ghost story isn't complete, but you can find it in complete form fairly easily in a number of collections.  I highly recommend this issue (and really, the entire first volume of Man-Thing) to any fan of Bronze Age horror comics looking for something a little different.  
 
The writing and art through the whole 20 issue run is top notch Bronze Age comic book greatness that, if you haven't read it, you're in for a treat.  It's Halloween. . .you deserve a treat!
 
Finding the individual issues might be a bit of a challenge because both Swamp Thing and Man-Thing got caught up in a bit of a speculator grab not long ago.  Before that, it wasn't hard to find Man-Thing in the back issue bins.  I haven't seen one for a while now, though.  But, like I said above, there are a number of collections.  
 
If you're looking for some dark, strange, and creepy horror/suspense comics with some great Bronze Age artwork, then Man-Thing is definitely something to keep your eye out for.
 
UP NEXT. . .
 
I keep telling Ed Gosney over at COOL COMICS IN MY COLLECTION that I'm going to hit some Atlas Comics here at Longbox Junk one of these days.  I think it's time to make good on that with Atlas' TALES OF EVIL!
 
Be there or be square.
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