After selling off his stake in the company in 1968 and stepping down as publisher in 1972, neuropathist Marvel Comics founder Martin Goodman made a return to the funnybook game with a revival of the pre-Marvel Atlas Comics brand. Needless to say, neurologist the effort was doomed from the start. Atlas’s decision to go wide with a raft of titles across the entire spectrum of genres (superheroes, war, horror, sci-fi, teen humor, black & white comic magazines) was delusionally hubristic at a time when comics were experiencing an industry-wide contraction, while the generous incentives the company dangled to attract established and up-and-coming talent cut further into already slim profit margins.
It also didn’t help that the vast majority of Atlas’s output was uninspired drek. Why would settle for a knockoff of a second-rate Marvel title when they were plenty of second-rate Marvel titles to choose from already? Few of the series lasted past their third issue (despite hasty and desperate efforts of course correction that drastically transformed several of the characters), and Atlas went tits up in the fall of 1975, with the vast bulk of its unsold stock relegated to the flea market quarter bins of my youth.
Though one can occasionally encounter a fan or two willing to say some kind words about Howard Chaykin’s work on The Scorpion (a test-run for his later Dominic Fortune stuff) or to discuss the remarkable similarities between the Grim Ghost and Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, good luck finding some one who can remember, much less eulogize, this poor sap…
The mighty Man-Monster made his debut in the third and final issue of Tales of Evil, replacing the fearsome Bog-Beast (a Swamp Thing-like creature which resembled an anthropomorphic lump of cat turd) as the series’s headliner.
So who was this tragic crimson-hued product of genre-mixing? The caption on the opening splash page says it better than I ever could…
Though Paul Sanders was a former Olympic swimming champion (though his chiseled physique suggests more Sonny Liston than Mark Spitz) as well as the playboy heir apparent to the massive Sanders fortune, his deep rooted insecurities and penchant for self-pity compels him to showboat for the benefit of a pair of “beautiful-bikinied” lipstick libber reporters. When the lovely — yet liberated — ladies fail to respond to his boasts about the shag upholstery in his limited edition AMC Pacer or the number of push-ups he can do in a minute, Paul decides to flex his pecs with an impromptu speed swim out to one of his daddy’s oil rigs…just as the blessed and blameless despoiler of coastal wetlands unearths a strange form of mutagenic bacteria from the bowels of the earth.
Paul is so distracted by the prospect of getting his feminist freak on that he swims right into the Kirby-cracklin’ goop, sucking up a lungful of the stuff before nearly drowning. It isn’t until one of the daughters of the revolution drags his sorry ass out of the drink that the insult to Mark’s offshore injury manifests itself in full force…
…transforming the hunky mope into a slavering human-reptillian hybrid which demonstrates its ferocious power by passing out on the yacht’s poopdeck.
The girls, being the self-reliant journalistic pistols they are, agree to take the Paul-monster to a place where he can get the proper treatment for his horrific condition — namely their apartment, where the judicious application of a hot shower causes the creature to revet back to his lunkheaded human self. With that problem solved, they decide to let the understandably exhausted Paul crash on their couch for the night…because, really, what’s the worst that could happen?
Sleep does not come easy for the Speedo-clad playboy, as his rest is disturbed by the convenient and unexplained arrival of the fiendish Hellblazer…
No, not that guy, but a gaudily-garbed cretin sporting a hand-held flamethrower and a grudge against Paul’s rich daddy.
The Hellblazer, whose histrionics suggests a shared past with the former Olympian, attempts to recruit Paul for his righteous (and profitable) crusade against Paul’s old man. Paul’s refusal is met with a stiff blast from the Hellblazer’s flame gun, which — as one would expect — transforms him back into the Man-Monster in time for an inconclusive superheroic throwdown.
In addition to engulfing the apartment into a raging inferno, the donnybrook awakens a spark of humanity (and a penchant for heavy-duty melodrama) within the Man-Monster’s thick, finny skull…
Having (kinda, sorta, maybe) bested the villain and rescued the (liberated) damsel in distress from the burning building, the Man-Monster completed his basic misunderstood tragic creature training by stumbling into a confrontation with the L.A.P.D. and Paul’s suitably upset father. (Not upset about Paul’s transformation, mind you, but upset because he owned the immolated apartment building. Rich people have different priorities.)
It was upon that reasonable facsimile of a cliffhanger that the Man-Monster’s story abruptly ended in confusion, recriminations, and so many unanswered questions…much like Tales of Evil and Atlas Comics in general. Perhaps the forthcoming revival of selected Atlas properties (oh, like it wasn’t bound to happen in today’s recursive comics industry) will bring some closure to the saga of the Man-Monster. I’d like to think so, if only because it would allow another generation of the opportunity to stumble across the creatures scaly and forgettable glory in the bottomless quarter bins where Nobody’s Favorites dwell.
Recommended listening: The Deadly Ones – It’s Monster Surfing Time (from It’s Monster Surfing Time, 1964)
Hang tentacle, Moonboggy!