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Fanboy of Fear Chris Gage Review by
Chris Gage
WRITER: Brian Michael Bendis
ART: John Totleben
ART ASSIST: Ron Randall.
Marvel Comics

If you ever stood in line to play DRAGON'S LAIR, or dressed like Robert Smith of The Cure, or recall what New Coke tastes like, you probably remember Alan Moore and John Totleben's SWAMP THING, the best horror comic ever produced. Well, get ready for a warm rush of 80's nostalgia, because Totleben is back illustrating muck monsters in the pages of ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP #10.

Now, don't go expecting anything on the level of SWAMP THING; if you do, you'll be disappointed. This is, after all, MARVEL TEAM-UP, and it has all the inherent limitations that have plagued the title (in its various incarnations) for my entire lifespan: a thin plot; unlikely coincidences; and too many characters to really develop any of them. But, despite those restrictions, there's some decent stuff here.

The story by Brian Michael Bendis, one of the best (and most prolific) writers in the biz, is pretty straightforward: Dr. Curtis Connors, a one-armed scientist, is striving to duplicate the regenerative abilities of reptiles in humans. When his funding is cut off at a crucial stage, he tests his serum on himself, and it works: his lost arm grows back; but he also turns into a horrible lizard-like creature, and flees. With the media speculating that Connors is the "sewer monster" terrorizing the city, Spider-Man goes looking for the good doctor, and finds him: but also finds more than he bargained for in the shambling mound of swamp matter known as the Man-Thing.

That's about it, folks: no twists, no multi-layered schemes. Still, within the narrow playing field he's stuck with, Bendis manages some nice touches: Spider-Man's urge to seek out Connors because of a feeling that "there but for the grace of God go I; the Doctor's anguish over the danger he poses to his family; and the way the Man-Thing just dissipates with the breeze when his work is done, suggesting that there's more to this incarnation of the creature than the version Marvel readers are used to. These bits, and knowing what Bendis is capable of when he has room to stretch, made me wish the story was longer: I'd much rather this storyline have lasted three issues than the previous Daredevil/Punisher tale: but I'm sure artist Totleben's medical condition rendered that impossible (he suffers from an eye disorder called Usher Syndrome Type II that makes drawing a laborious, uncertain process).

But, medical hurdles be damned, it's the art that's really the joy of this book. As far as I can see, Totleben's work has not suffered in the least. From the opening panels of the unkempt lowlife muggers who are to be the sewer monster's first victims, I felt the same sense of creepy foreboding I got from his art in my days of big hair and bad teenage mustaches. His rendition of the Lizard is fabulous, very different from the classic Steve Ditko look: more realistic and iguana-like - but every bit as eerie. The sewer segments are especially well done, highlighted by panel borders drawn to look like spider webs - full of atmosphere, fetid water, and reptilian slitherings. The Man-Thing looks much like the traditional Marvel version, but, as he did with the Swamp Thing, Totleben adds plenty of roots and protruding twigs to really bring out the sheer, well, swampiness of the monster. Overall, I can't give the book as a total piece of work more than three rabid fanboys (which is still a pretty good rating in Headmaster Gage's harsh grading system), but anyone who's ever enjoyed John Totleben's art should pick this one up: and let's hope we see much more from him in the future.

Review copyright 2001 by E.C.McMullen Jr.

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