It may start off on the wrong foot with Man-Thing trapped in a fantasy world he never made, but the book quickly rights itself, getting back to the horror-based basics, with the slime creature generally playing second banana — but what an imposing banana! — to an ever-rotating cast of ne’er-do-wells, including a poor, would-be poet; a former dock worker who thinks he’s a Viking; and a group of devil worshippers.
A nightmare sequence pits Man-Thing against Spider-Man, Daredevil, Shang-Chi and The Thing all at once, but he teams up with Spider and Thing for reals in subsequent issues.
The stories get serious with an arc about a high school boy driven to suicide by unloving parents, hateful classmates and cruel teachers, so Man-Thing — who knows a little somethin’ somethin’ about being different — shows up to even the score. In another arc, a right-wing religious nut seeks to have her daughter’s school textbooks burned, and the resulting uproar yields tragic circumstances — and that’s before Man-Thing arrives on the scene.
When the first run of MAN-THING failed to take off, Marvel simply waited five years before a relaunch. It lasted all of 11 measly issues, but the adventures are just as good, with the monster zapped to the Himalayas, battling Doctor Strange, thwarting the crime spree of a no-good fraternity, sparring with sky pirates and avenging the death of a young couple in love when their bickering parents hunt them down.
The last issue gets all meta, with writer Chris Claremont starring as himself, telling the rest of the Marvel crew why he can’t write for the character ever again. The idea doesn’t play out for the entirety of the issue, but MAN-THING is a book that was an ideal realm for exploration. Most of the time, the playing around paid off. —Rod Lott
OTHER BOOKGASM REVIEWS OF THIS SERIES:
• ESSENTIAL DEFENDERS: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL GHOST RIDER: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL GODZILLA: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL IRON FIST: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL KILLRAVEN: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL MAN-THING: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL MARVEL HORROR: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL MARVEL SAGA: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE: VOL. 2
• ESSENTIAL MOON KNIGHT: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL NOVA: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL RAMPAGING HULK: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL SAVAGE SHE-HULK: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL SUPER VILLAIN TEAM-UP: VOL. 1
• ESSENTIAL TALES OF THE ZOMBIE: VOL. 1