I had not, before I started this issue, read the story to which it is a sequel. Nor had I read any previous Man-Thing material. I mean, I've seen the character here and there, and obviously I loved his recent appearance in Dark Avengers, but I'd never read a title or story starring him. And in some ways, I suppose I still haven't. Because, despite its title, Infernal Man-Thing #1 is less about the swamp creature itself and more about tortured writer Brian Lazarus. Man-Thing definitely has a major role to play, but what that will be is still a mystery. For now, he is a strange exploration of fear and confusion in their purest forms. Mindless, alone, and dying, he grasps futilely at some kind of understanding or control of his life. In that way, he is also a mirror for Lazarus.
Steve Gerber must have had a great affection for the character of Brian Lazarus, and it comes through powerfully here. Even though he's a pathetic, unstable guy, I found myself sympathizing with him, even rooting for him to find what he's after. He's a selfish, self-important jerk, this is true, but he knows it, he hates it about himself, and he's choosing to give in to it anyway. I may not want to hang out with him, I may not even understand him, but I feel for him all the same. It's a testament to the fullness of the character and of Gerber's script.
Even if you can't get behind Brian and don't care about Man-Thing, though, Kevin Nowlan's brilliant painted artwork should be more than enough to satisfy. I wish I could do it justice here, but I already know I can't. Man-Thing's overwhelming sadness and Lazarus' depressed weariness flood out through the artwork on every page. And the colors are somehow simultaneously muted and rich, I think mostly because of the wealth of emotion they contain. Nowlan makes Man-Thing look alive while Lazarus seems surreal. That surreality may be largely attributable to his imaginary accomplice Mindy the Tree, but I believe there's more to it than that. Nowlan gives Brian a detached, glossy-eyed look, yet his determined focus on the task in front of him is still clear. He's a fascinating protagonist to look at and to listen to.
This three-issue series is many, many years in the making, and its writer isn't even alive today to see it completed. But I'm grateful that Gerber's demise didn't kill this project outright, because this issue was a solid debut to what feels like a grand, unique story.