He’s a slimy green creature that lives in the swamp, one who looks like a cross between a human being and a marshland. You’re probably thinking we’re talking about Swamp Thing, the DC Comics star of many series, as well as a few films and TV shows. But that description also describes Man-Thing, Marvel Comics’ own swamp creature, who actually appeared before Swamp Thing did. And Man-Thing will be making his MCU debut in the upcoming Marvel Halloween Special: Werewolf by Night. Here’s the lowdown on Marvel’s mysterious man of muck.
Man-Thing’s Marvel Comics Origins
The Man-Thing was a character similar to Werewolf by Night and Morbius, in that he was part of a surge of horror and monster heroes Marvel introduced in the early ‘70s, once the Comics Code restrictions loosened up. His first appearance was in 1971’s Savage Tales #1, one of Marvel’s first attempts at a black and white, magazine format series for older audiences. Created by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, and artist Gray Morrow, that first story was a short one, an 11-page origin tale in the first issue.
A Tragic Origin Story in the Everglades for Man-Thing
Dr. Ted Sallis was a renowned biochemist who the U.S. military recruited into a secret project and whose purpose was to create soldiers that would survive bio-chemical warfare. While part of this project, Sallis created his SO-2 serum, which actually gave soldiers immunity from chemical weapons. Sadly, it had the unfortunate side effect of turning said soldiers into monsters. But that didn’t stop Ted from trying again. This time, he changed his serum by attempting to fuse it with the Super Soldier Serum that created Captain America. (This never goes well in any iteration of the Marvel Universe).
Deciding to start his research over, the future Man-Thing thought he should move his operations to a more secluded area, so he relocated to the Florida Everglades. Part of this was to be closer to his old friend Dr. Curt Conners, whose own research there led him to become the Spider-Man villain, the Lizard. S.H.I.E.L.D. funded all of this. But A.I.M, the terrorist organization, wanted Sallis’ serum too. And they had the help of Sallis’ own wife Ellen, who was bitter that her hubby was paying more attention to his work than to her.
Once Sallis realized an A.I.M ambush was imminent, he injected himself with the serum, and then burned all existing records of the formula. He fled, but his car crashed into the swamp. It was later revealed that to make the SO-2 serum work, he made a deal with the demon Belasco. This accident was the price of said deal. Instead of dying, the combination of the swamp, the serum, and some of Curt Conners’ own Lizard formula, and Sallis became a new and monstrous lifeform. He was now a creature later called the Man-Thing in Marvel Comics, and his intelligence and sense of self as being Theodore Sallis all but vanished.
Guardian of the Nexus of All Realities
Only faint traces of his human mind still flickered in Man-Thing’s lumbering form, which was an amalgamation of his own human DNA with the vegetation of the Everglades. But the swamp that made Man-Thing was no ordinary swamp, it was mystical in nature. In fact, it was the Nexus of All Realities, a doorway to every dimension in Marvel Comics’ multiverse. Soon, Man-Thing became the Guardian of the Nexus. Although incapable of speech, he was fused with the Nexus. He kept dangerous other dimensional interlopers out and welcomed friendly ones.
To the townsfolk of the nearby town of Citrusville, the Man-Thing was a local myth. But soon, others in the Marvel Universe found out the stories of Man-Thing were real, characters like Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Shang-Chi, Daredevil, and the Thing. Although he fought heroes occasionally, Man-Thing mostly used his existence to help others. So while “hero” might be too generous a term, Man-Thing definitely wasn’t a villain. Eventually, Man-Thing moved out of the Florida Everglades into the swamps of Louisiana and, apparently, took the Nexus of All Realities with him.
Man-Thing’s Marvel Powers and Abilities
Marvel’s Man-Thing had a power set was pretty bizarre. Man-Thing had the standard superhuman strength, a result of the Super Soldier Serum part of his DNA. In fact, he was slightly stronger than Captain America. But here’s where things got really weird. While his brain was incapable of reason, rational thought, or even long-term memory, he was emotionally empathic. Violent emotions in others caused Man-Thing to secrete an acid fluid that could maim or kill anyone it touched. When around humans who were exhibiting fear, he could grow larger and more menacing.
Man-Thing’s role as Guardian of the Nexus meant he could access all realities and teleport himself as well. The plant part of his body allowed him to become impervious to most harm, such as from bullets and sharp weapons. Fire could harm him, but as long as he was around other plant life, he could use it to regenerate himself. As a plant/human hybrid, Marvel’s Man-Thing could alter his form into something more malleable, so he was always very hard to capture.
Marvel’s Man-Thing vs. DC’s Swamp Thing
So who came first, Marvel’s Man-Thing or DC’s Swamp Thing? Technically, Man-Thing debuted in May 1971. Swamp Thing would debut in July 1971. But the Swamp Thing story would have had to be in the works already from DC, given the amount of lead time to make a comic book story. This resulted in a very similar scenario as Marvel and DC had with X-Men and Doom Patrol. Here’s an extra fun fact; both Man-Thing’s original writer Gerry Conway and Swamp Thing’s original writer Len Wein were actually roommates at the time. Thus, the similarities can’t all be a coincidence, can they?
However, perhaps this was the awkward truth behind all of it. Both Marvel’s Man-Thing and DC’s Swamp Thing were heavily inspired by a comic book character from nearly thirty years earlier called The Heap. He, too, was a man transformed into a shambling, mindless muck monster and appeared in the pages of Airboy. Marvel ultimately decided not to take legal action against DC over Swamp Thing. Possibly to avoid being sued themselves over Man-Thing’s similar appearance and origin as The Heap. Also, DC’s villainous Solomon Grundy had a very similar origin story to Swamp Thing. All of that might have made the lawsuit frivolous. Both Things, the Man one and the Swamp one, have co-existed peacefully on comic store shelves for fifty years.
Man-Thing in the MCU
Man-Thing will soon join the MCU and appear in the Werewolf by Night special on Disney+. He can be seen in the trailer, if only for a split second. He also once headlined his own self-titled movie in 2005. However, that notorious critical flop was not a part of the MCU, despite being a Marvel production. Although originally meant for theatrical release, it ended up premiering as a Syfy original film instead. The low-budget film only bore a superficial resemblance to the comics.
Man-Thing in Thor: Ragnarok
Although we haven’t seen him on screen yet in the MCU, there already have been references to the Man-Thing. We can see Man-Thing’s face in the sculptures on Sakaar in Thor: Ragnarok, in fact. According to his MCU Wiki entry, the Grandmaster captured and imprisoned Man-Thing, where he forced him to fight in the Contest of Champions. Because of his many victories, he received a sculpture on the Grandmaster’s palace. What happened to him after Sakaar remains a mystery.
Man-Thing in Werewolf by Night
So, who will play Marvel’s Man-Thing in the MCU’s Werewolf by Night? We have no idea just yet. He could be entirely CGI. Especially if they keep to his non-speaking status. But we imagine he’ll be more than an Easter egg, and we’ll see more of the Nexus Guardian in future MCU projects. In the meantime, we will soon meet the Man-Thing in the Werewolf by Night special dropping on Disney+ on October 4.
Originally published on September 19, 2022.