“The Kid’s Night Out!”

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We Got Letters!

Letters reacting to this story would see print in Giant-Size Man-Thing #5. First letter was from Bob Rodi:

Dear People,

WHO IS Steve Gerber? From the comics I’ve read in the last few months, he is a prophet, an empath, a seer. He can at once understand all that is perverted and disgusting (see MAN-THING #16) and then he can do a delicate, beautiful portrayal of the most fleeting, least tangible of all our possessions: the human soul.

“The Kid’s Night Out” was an experience. Being somewhat normal, I have experienced Edmond’s story from both sides of the coin, as the recipient of the cruelty, and also as the persecutor. Neither is a fond memory. It’s past now, and I feel well-adjusted and able to accept people for something more concrete than appearance, but Steve’s masterpiece is a jarring, disturbing reminder that there are those who still haven’t matured, who still are insecure enough to use another human being to boost themselves. A human being, mind you.

The story really wrenched me apart, because it was all so true. Fantasy? Forget it. Perhaps “The Kid’s Night Out” was a parable. I know that I have taken obesity for granted in other individuals, but the fact that such a thing can cause pain, can send an individual to the depths of despair … this was something I’ve never realized. I suppose most of us have experienced the shame of not being able to hit a ball quite as far as everybody else. And I have several times experienced the embarrassment of being the last one in the P.E. class picked for a team. Edmond is a character very close to me, and Steve has created a character who is more like us than any of us would care to admit … though we should admit it. We should.

What a brilliant piece. Thanks a lot for boosting comics to a level where entertainment is not only entertainment, but artistry … Steve Gerber is a craftsman, and he is a master at his craft….

GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #4 … from cover to cover, it was the kind of mag that keeps comic fans going strong in these dismal days. Congratulations.

…Next one from Ed O’Reilly:

Dear Steve,

“The Kid’s Night Out” was, perceptive, relentless, and amazingly- powerful. Truly the “comic”(!?) book has come of age. Congratulations and a profound thanks.

…From Randy Lompe:

Dear Steve,

GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #4 is quite possibly the finest comic story I have ever read. The cruelties of the high school “clique” system have never been more accurately portrayed. Ditto the nearsightedness of the vast majority of hi school physical education programs. I’m sure every readier with a high school background recognizes at least one of his phys. ed. teachers in the person of Lewis Milner. It is a fact that most phys. ed programs stress winning and skill instead of competition and conditioning, The injustice of such an emphasis is very effectively portrayed by the plight of Edmond Winshed.

…From David J. Roy:

Steve,

Re: GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #4. Fortunately, I read the instant classic Howard the Duck story [“Frog Death”] before the Manny spectacular because after such an emotional onslaught such as “The Kid’s Night Out” presented, Howard’s antics could serve to destroy the aura of it.

Steve, your writing style is never subtle, never gentle. When you attack something (usually the foolishness that life’s madness spawns) you do it skillfully and tactically, not wasting words. Keep it up, old boy, I love every minute of it.

One last thing. As I was reading “Night Out,” I had also been listening to Hawkwind’s Space Ritual. At the end of Chapter Two of “The Book of Edmond,” as I paused to flip the page, the following phrase came out of the speakers: “That this is reality, however grim.” Relativity’s invitation strikes again.

…And finally, from future comics pro Fred Hembeck:

Dear Steve,

In your story you used a fat kid/gym class type thing for your story. But you coulda also used the kid who was too shy to say anything in school, the kid who wouldn’t run with the gang and was looked down on for it, etc. etc. What you’re basically saying is that high school can be real hell if you’re an outcast. How true.

The high point of the issue was “The Book of Edmond.” You’re slipping these text portions into your stories more and more these days, and I for one am in favor of it. They have (so far) added greater depth to the stories while not hindering their development or flow one bit. This text portion was really well handled—in case you haven’t surmised, it really hit home with me.

The story on a whole was great. Admittedly, it was a little melodramatic (a kid dying of running laps; Alice hanging from the rings in the gym) but that is not bad. These stories are larger than life. You needed these seemingly absurd things to make your message come across.

…The editorial response:

Oddly enough, Fred, the story of Edmond’s death was based on a real-life incident that Steve heard about some years ago; it may have seemed melodramatic, but it was drawn from fact!

In any event, we extend our sincerest thanks to you, Mr. Hembeck, and to David Roy, Randy Lompe, Ed O’Reilly, and Bob Rodi, and all the others who showered us with praise and glad tidings on both “Frog Death” and “The Kid’s Night Out.” They were two of our favorite stories, too, and it’s good to know you feel the same way.

My Take

First off, this was a bold experiment on Gerber’s part. Regardless of whether anyone thinks it was a success, he still has to get an “A” for effort.

Having said that, I don’t think it’s much of a success.

My first problem with it is logistical: It breaks up the Mad Viking storyline and robs us of some momentum there. Ideally, a reader should go right from Man-Thing #16 to #17.

As for the story itself, well… remember last time, when I said realism didn’t matter in Man-Thing? Well, having said that, allow me to completely contradict myself now.

“Decay Meets the Mad Viking” was a madhouse tale featuring a crazy old man dressing up as a Viking and murdering people with a giant axe. It had outlandish characters in an outlandish setting. On the other hand, “The Kid’s Night Out!” features what are supposed to be mostly normal people in a mostly normal setting. The fact that these supposedly normal people behave in such outrageous fashion does hurt the story here. In fact, all sense of verisimilitude is pretty much shattered, in my opinion.

It’s an abnormal circumstance for Gerber’s Man-Thing, but so was this story. I don’t think any other Gerber Man-Thing story centered this far away from the Man-Thing himself and/or his regular environment. Naturally, connecting back to the Man-Thing is kind of a narrative necessity, as he is the title character. Of course, you could have still kept the two spheres (school & swamp) separate; have the action in the school run its natural course while periodically cutting back to the swamp to show Manny’s empathic reactions. But the book wouldn’t have had a lot of comic-book action that way. Ultimately, Gerber painted himself into a corner with this story.

But even if Gerber could have somehow kept the Man-Thing separate from the school world, the school reality was still too preposterous. I mean, the idea of Edmond’s Uncle Sam punching Alice, a teenaged girl, right in the face and physically ejecting her from the funeral service without ANYONE trying to stop him or even PROTEST is ridiculous. Then all the adults gathering in the school gym to try and intimidate her into giving up the diary was just silly. Plus, weren’t there classes in session? Wouldn’t someone—or more accurately, a whole lot of people—notice what was going on? And what the hell was holding her up on those rings, anyway?

Then there was the symbolism, which was just too on-the-nose to bear. The aunt had her lips sealed forever because she refused to speak up when it mattered most—so now she’ll never speak another word again! POETIC JUSTICE, PEOPLE! Ditto the gym teacher getting his heart burned away.

The art here was also very hit or miss. Ron Wilson was just starting out and still very green and it shows. I don’t think Frank Springer was the ideal match as an inker for him, either. Ed Hannigan, who did the spot work for the text pages, was probably the illustrative high point of the story.

gs-mt4cAs mentioned before, those text pages were probably the best part of Gerber’s efforts, but they still weren’t great. The idea of Edmond seeing himself in the Man-Thing was an interesting one, but the rest of it felt cloying and maudlin. Then the bit where the Man-Thing storms in at the end to rip all the villains apart is just simplistic, juvenile revenge fantasy. Gerber was capable of much better than this.

If you try and read this story as just a bullied teenager’s fever dream, it might have some appeal. Apart from that, it’s just too over the top. As it turned out, it would later sound like Gerber agreed with this assessment.

Gerber Speaks

Gerber touched on some of the practical problems with this tale in a later issue of Foom (specifically issue #9, March 1975, p. 30):

FOOM: How about expounding on your theory of comic books as self-therapy.

STEVE: As self-therapy? Some of the recent issues have been written about subjects which have bothered me. The story about the fat kid in GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #4 had a lot to do with my personal experience of growing up. Edmond’s family experiences were all fictionalized. Almost everything else was true. All the school experiences were things that came out of my own past. Except I didn’t die. That happened to another kid. It’s true. That was based on an actual incident. It’s not so much therapy, exactly. I guess it is, in a way. It’s a means of getting out rage. The trouble is, that when you let it just become therapy it sometimes weakens the story on the whole. I don’t like the last chapter of that story, where Man-Thing comes into the gym and basically tears everyone limb from limb. It came out as pure revenge. While I think it had some exciting visual things that made it good for the comic book medium, it was not a true ending for that particular story. The true ending to that particular story should have been that nothing happened. Alice read the manuscript to the kids, they said, “Maybe we’ll print it, we’ll see.” She went back to the locker, put it away, and that’s the end of the story. Nothing happened. There was an alternate end to the story, and that’s what I did in the following issue [Man-Thing #17].

FOOM: Speaking of that story. The one you just mentioned. She put the manuscript in the locker, and then they jumped her without looking in her locker. If they wanted the manuscript…?

STEVE: They didn’t know the combination of the lock. They didn’t want to vandalize school property. They didn’t mind beating up the girl, but they did not want to damage school property. That was actually what was going through my mind at that time. I felt that was a little extreme, too, to be perfectly honest. We talked about this before. The scene the way I had written it originally had her just on the floor of the gymnasium, encircled by Edmund’s parents, the gym teacher, and these other people. I decided, basically for visual impact, to use something a little stronger than that— having her hang from those gym rings. I don’t think that was exceptionally realistic any more than I think the rest of the story was realistic. The next two issues of MAN-THING were in a sense an apology for that story. An apology for myself. I don’t know what the readers are going to say. The other thing that could have happened as a result of Edmund’s death was a severe reaction against the high school for all the wrong reasons. That’s what happened to the book burning…. Those books were written about things I was concerned about but I think it becomes a problem when it really becomes therapy.

Summing Up

As mentioned, I think I bought this issue circa 1990 at the Montclair Bookstore, just a few doors up from where the Complete Strategist used to be. (Oooh, memory burn! The Complete Strategist, where I purchased nearly all of my Villains & Vigilantes RPG material in the mid-80s! Haven’t thought about that place in many years.) At the time, I wasn’t that far removed from high school and middle school and the ugly memories they held. Thus the revenge fantasy had a lot of appeal for me. As time went on, however, those old school memories receded further and further back into the past, and the story began losing its appeal. Today I look at it and view it as fatally flawed. But again, I give Gerbs a lot of credit for the experiment.

Next time we get back on track in a major way with “A Book Burns in Citrusville.”

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