Curse of the Man-Thing looks to slip Marvel’s big, mucky boy back into the high-tension action of his peers in celebration of his 50th birthday. If I were turning fifty, I might want a much lower-key party, preferably one with less punching, but I don’t know that Spider-Man has any day without punching.
The primary premise of the series, established in last month’s Curse of the Man-Thing, revolves around Harrower, a magical young woman related to plant-based X-Men foes Hordeculture (who, let’s face it, are delightful) who has the bright idea to weaponize Man-Thing in an attempt to wipe humanity from the earth and reset the biosphere. Some real Poison Ivy vibes, in other words.
That issue was pretty cursory with the actual Man-Thing mythology, opting instead to dive straight into the high-octane city destroying endemic to big crossover stories — Man-Thing pillars releasing pollen, and whoever knows fear burns at the touch of . . . pollen-thing. A psychic specter of Ted Sallis, the initial Man of the Man-Thing, shows up near the issue’s end, and writer Steve Orlando finally begins to address Manny, challenging our understanding of the creature’s origins.
Spider-Man: Curse of the Man-Thing carries the world-threatening thread lightly, even as literally every spider-person enters the conflict; rather than high action, Orlando dives deeper into the mythology, seeking to tie us, retroactively, into the larger Marvel Universe. Sure, Ted Sallis was working on the super-soldier serum in a mystical swamp back in his first appearance fifty years ago, but Orlando and co. seem to feel that these origins could be more exciting with a latticework of other super-scientists and other supernatural forces.
Rather than an intriguing and fresh take, however, these new additions, misdirects, and implications of retcon seem to say that the creative team finds Man-Thing’s place in the Marvel Universe tenuous, tedious, and unimportant — as if they are not firmly fans of the character and his stories. While this second issue begins to play with the aspects I love most about the character — the foundational spooky and mysterious bits — it does so almost begrudgingly, as if it needs to check the boxes before moving on to more clever superheroics.
Marco Failla and Minkyu Jung feel as if they’re only half-committed to being on the job — the artwork is sometimes jagged and unfinished, while other times it’s perfectly serviceable. The first appearance of Spider-Man features a mask so glaringly misdrawn that I’m not sure how either of the editors on the book managed to let it slip, and despite some fine character work in the back half, that low-level disregard remains constant.
Sadly, with its second issue, Curse of the Man-Thing does not seem to be a vital experience for fans of the creature. The whole experience seems to have improper motivation, as if any book with Manny on the cover would count as a celebration for his birthday, regardless of its contents. I can applaud the use of fresh new characters alongside the creature — Hordeculture and the newly minted Harrower are perfectly suited for the job of plant-botherers — but lament the oncoming retcon to the creature’s origins. Even a character reveal, on the final page, which has huge implications vis a vis the neglected supernatural angle of the story, does little to relieve the misdirection of the project.
Even the insistence that “Avengers”, “Spider-Man”, and “X-Men” all get top-billing on the cover over the character we’re meant to be celebrating seems like a dig and the poor guy. The project seems to assume that Man-Thing isn’t strong enough of a concept to survive without shuffling him alongside the money characters, and it’s sort of insulting to both the character and those fans who are left.
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