Reading the comments for this article yesterday, I came to the realization that many people still haven’t read the bizarre weirdness that was Steve Gerber’s Man-Thing. Alan Moore gets a ton of credit for reinventing Swamp Thing in the ‘80s, but Steve Gerber had already done all of that and more with Man-Thing in the ‘70s. In fact, Gerber’s run is probably weirder than Moore’s. So let’s take a look at one of the most seminal issues of his run, issue #5, “Night of the Laughing Dead,” written by Gerber with art by the inimitable Mike Ploog.
The first thing you have to understand about Gerber’s writing is that he wrote a lot of purple prose. And he wrote in the second person, too. And yet, for some reason, it all worked.
Every issue pretty much began with a recap of Man-Thing’s origin, about how he used to be a chemist named Ted Sallis, but was transformed by his serum and the swamp into a giant muck-monster with a wang for a nose.
Of course, most of the time, stories about the Man-Thing were never actually about the Man-Thing. He would just stumble across something else, an adventure already in progress or something of that sort.
Or, you know, a suicidal clown. Who kills himself in the first pages of the book.
So Man-Thing finds the clown’s body and some deep down part of him remembers that dead bodies require funerals, so he goes to bury him.
And then we cut to Richard Rory and Ruth Hart, two protagonists from a prior issue of Man-Thing, as they try to rent a motel room, but end up running across a carnival troupe, including Tragg the Strongest Man in the World, who hits another woman in the troupe, who is looking for, well, a clown. Richard and Ruth, being good people, intervene and manage to give the woman a lift.
Perhaps at this point, you are thinking: well, this is pretty straightforward. They are going to follow the tracks until they reach Man-Thing and we’ll get more backstory, perhaps the circus troupe is criminal or something like that. Typical Marvel stuff, right?
That’s right: he’s a ghost clown. And that’s not even the creepiest part, nope.
When Tragg and Garvey (the owner of the carnival) go in search of Ayla, they, too, run across the ghost of Darrell the Clown. Except this time, he’s in the middle of the street and they end up swerving and hitting a tree.
Now that is creepy.
So Richard, Ruth, and Ayla venture into the swamp looking for Darrell, but end up coming across Man-Thing and Darrell’s lifeless body. They make the mistake of thinking that Man-Thing killed him, until they see the, you know, giant bullet wound in his head and realize that, hey, Darrell’s been dead this whole time.
And then Tragg finds them and we get a pretty awesome Tragg/Man-Thing fight scene. Usually, you see, when people see the Man-Thing, they are frightened and the Man-Thing hates fear, so he will touch them and a chemical mixture in his skin will burn them because WHOEVER KNOWS FEAR BURNS AT THE MAN-THING’S TOUCH (sorry, the phrase is obligated to be used in every issue of Man-Thing). Except Tragg the Strongest Man in the World isn’t used to being afraid of anything. So they just end up hitting each other.
Since Tragg is human and the Man-Thing is a muck-monster, however, the Man-Thing ends up winning.
Yes, that’s right: Man-Thing nearly drowns Tragg until interrupted by the ghost of a suicidal clown returning to his dead body. Surely, it can’t get weirder than that, right?
Oh yes it can. (And don’t call me Shirley.)
And that’s where the issue ends, because of course this is a two-parter.
Now, if you think that this is the weirdest issue of Man-Thing, you would be wrong. It’s not even close. Hell, Marvel decided, in fact, that this issue would be perfect to adapt as an audio drama, as part of their short-lived “Book and Record Set” done by Power Records.
You can listen to this entire issue (with some changes) here and here. That’s right: they decided the best issue to turn into an audio drama was an issue of Man-Thing about a clown who commits suicide. Because why the fuck not?