He’s not an undead warrior or a bionic redneck. He’s not the 9th Wonder of The World. But he is a force to be reckoned with, and he wants you to HAVE A NICE DAY! Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Mankind #1 awaits!
Writer: Steven Grant
Penciler: Jerry Beck
Inker: Curtis Arnold
Colorist: Atomic Paintbrush
Letterer: Oscar Gongora
Editor: Gregg Pisani
Publisher: Chaos! Comics
Cover Price: $2.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4.00
Previously in Mankind: Before we get too far into today’s Retro Review, we have to talk about the status of wrestling and comic books circa 1999. Both were coming off of a period of incredible popularity and public awareness, and both industries had spent the 1990s seemingly certain that the bad times were over forever. Those familiar with the speculator crash should realize the foolishness of that sentiment, as 1999 saw Marvel Comics trying to recover from its 1996 bankruptcy, while other publisher tried to find the root of what actually made comic books sell after years of tailoring everything to the speculator market. Chaos! Comics was actually riding relatively high circa 1999, with their Lady Death and Evil Ernie comics appealing to a rock ‘n roll horror crowd.
In wrestling, though, things were looking up for the then-WWF, as their rival WCW was spiraling their own drain and the fans were loving the antics of Stone Cold, The Rock and Degeneration X. In one of theose “You had to be there” moments, though, one of their big draws was Mankind, a masked madman who reputedly lived in the boiler room and wore a strange leather mask reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter. What did he look like, you ask?
This opening sequence takes place in a homeless encampment, as the helpless people there are rousted by agents of an unknown entity that wants them out immediately. Fortunately, Mankind arrives from… I don’t know where, actually. And the story makes no attempt to give us a reason or rhyme to it all, just suddenly throwing our tie-wearing loveable lunk into the fray and letting him crack the skulls of the hired thugs. “You think I’m just a psychopath, don’t you?” snarls the bearded warrior as his foes turn their cattle prods on him. “It’s not true! I’m a DANGEROUS PSYCHOPATH!”
The choice to use Mankind is a weird one, both for Chaos! and for comics, and this opening sequence is clear proof why: Unlike The Undertaker, who is an undead creature from beyond or Stone Cold, who is an effortless badass, Mankind’s schtick is more esoteric, carried mostly on the delivery and wit of Mick Foley. That wit doesn’t really come across on the printed page, especially since this is kind of a paint-by-numbers story, and the dialogue tends to regurgitate some of the successful catchphrases from his wrestling career. As for the battle against the invaders, Mankind’s ability to take pain and general demeanor as a six-foot-four instrument of violence scares away the thugs, but the people behind the attacks are not happy…
The conversation between the Mayor of the unnamed city and the mysterious Director should be our biggest hint at how much of a Movie-Of-The-Week plot Mankind #1 has going on (which is odd, as Steven Grant is a writer whose work I often admire for it’s complexity.)
Having run off the bad dudes (for now), Mankind bonds with a young girl named Nikki, whose parents aren’t thrilled about their child’s new friend. I don’t blame them, as Mankind isn’t really given a lot of character, other than ranting enthusiastically, in these pages, and he comes across as unstable and certainly dangerous. When The Director sends in literal Black Helicopters to gas and abduct everyone in the camp (!!), the melodrama quotient goes straight through the roof, as Mankind is taken into custody along with the homeless family, to be experimented on at something called The Prometheus Institute, where they are to be programmed into… I dunno, robot soldiers? It’s all a little vague, to be honest. Using his wrestling prowess (and a clever-but-not-particularly-subtle bit of playing possum), Mankind busts loose and starts dropping elbows on The Director’s staff…
This art in Mankind #1 is pretty wild, to be honest, right in line with what I expect from a Chaos! book, but not exactly to my liking. It feels like the cover of a talented high school kid’s geometry notebook and the garish coloring doesn’t help, adding a patina not unlike a black light poster in your favorite head shop. Confronted with Mankind’s preternatural strength, The Director busts out his big guns, twin muscleheads named Brute and Force who are nearly Mankind’s match, until he lights the place on fire and rides a gurney (with little Nikki strapped to it, mind you) right out a second story window, spouting one-liners as he goes. Once on the ground, The Director himself gets involved, ordering the escaping subjects at gunpoint to return to their cages… or DIE!
If you’re not familiar with 90s wrestling, choking people out with a sweat sock that has a face drawn on it in marker was Mick/Mankind’s actual finishing move, and it was remarkably popular with fans, myself included. That said, it feels particularly ridiculous in this comic book, especially as the big climax for the fighty-fighty. The escaped homeless folk are grateful, but eager to see their hairy savior move on, save for little Nikki…
Presumably, this was meant to be setup for more Mankind adventures down the line, in the vein of the company’s successful Undertaker series, but more appearances by our masked man never happened. By 2002, Chaos! itself declared bankruptcy, while Mankind’s run with World Wrestling ended in 2003 (though he has made appearances over the years since.) By nearly any metric, this comic is bizarre: The art is inconsistent, the story incredibly basic, the coloring garish… Even the choice of protagonist is kind of suspect, and I love Mick Foley as much as any 90’s wrasslin’ fan can, leaving Mankind #1 with a confused-and-a-little-bit-bored 1 out of 5 stars overall. Even if you’re a hardcore fan of the Hardcore Icon or of Chaos! Comics, the odds are you’ll only want this one out of a sense of completism…
But there is a reference to Mankind’s Chef Boyardee commercial, so… that’s something.