Dead of Night featuring Man-Thing resurrects three different characters and concepts. Dead of Night was one of those fantastic Marvel Comics horror anthologies of the 1970’s. Because these titles were always low-sellers, Marvel’s editors’ often used them as proving grounds for young artists to audition their skills. Consequently, many outstanding artists got their start by doing these short horror stories and often times, the art was better in these titles than Marvel’s main comics. This title, published under Marvel’s Max line re-introduces fans to not only the Man-Thing, but also to Digger. Digger was Marvel’s version of EC Comic’s Crypt-Keeper, making his debut in Tower of Shadows #1 in 1969. Digger was essentially the storyteller, introducing the tales in that title as well as Chamber of Darkness. I think like a lot of people, I had completely forgotten about ol’ Digger. I have to take my hat off to Aguirre-Sarcasa for returning Digger to life, so to speak.
Digger is our Master of Ceremonies for the new unveiling of Man-Thing. Contrary to popular belief, Man-Thing actually appeared BEFORE DC’s Swamp Thing. His first appearance was Savage Tales #1 (May 1971) while Swamp Thing’s first appearance was in the June/July 1971 issue of House of Secrets #92. Aguirre-Sacasa largely keeps Man-Thing’s original origin intact for his re-boot while adding some modern elements and making the story a little more graphic and horrific. Scientist Ted Sallis is working in the Florida swamps to try and replicate the Super Solider formula that created Captain America during WWII. Ted discovers his lab partner has already been performing human experiments with the formula with disastrous results. Ted will soon find out that the terrorist organization know as AIM has their eyes on the formula and Ted must do whatever he can to keep it out of their hands. The mix of Super Soldier formula and swamp will give rise to the creature known as the Man-Thing!
Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Jose Angel Cano Lopez have delivered a story that is very much in the vein of old EC-style horror comics. Even the cover has been designed to look like an old issue of Tales from the Crypt and it comes off as a very fitting and respectful tribute. While adding some variations on Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway’s original story, Aguirre-Sacasa still manages to stick to the spirit of Man-Thing’s origin. This is not an easy character to write. Man-Thing is basically non-intelligent. His only motivating force is the emotions of those around him and thus he’s almost devoid of any personal character, and yet his reactions to emotions are what ultimately drive the story.
Man-Thing works much better in a horror title and outside the realm of the normal Marvel Universe. We don’t need to see Man-Thing team-up with Spider-Man or The Thing as we did thirty years ago as it simply would not fit logically. Keep Man-Thing as a force of nature and I think you’re really onto something, especially for a four issue mini-series. One thing I loved about the art is that the “Digger” segments were fully painted while the rest of the story was done in traditional comic art. This created a nice contrast in the book’s overall look. The painted portions are beautifully dark and moody. This is a wonderful new look at Man-Thing yet with a nod to creators and concepts of the 1970’s.