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Man-Thing: 15 Things You Need to Know

by  in Comics, Lists, Comic News Comment
Man-Thing: 15 Things You Need to Know

It was recently announced that famed young adult horror novelist R.L. Stine (creator of the famous “Goosebumps” series of young adult horror novels) will be writing a “Man-Thing” series for Marvel Comics. Each issue will feature a main story drawn by David Peralta plus a back-up story drawn by a different artist each issue (the first issue’s back-up story will be drawn by Daniel Warren Johnson).

RELATED: 15 Things You Must Know About Captain Marvel

Getting such a high-profile writer is obviously a big pull for such a relatively minor Marvel character, but the Man-Thing’s offbeat horror roots are very much in the same vein as Stine’s writings, so it seems like it will be a good fit. Before the new series comes out, though, we thought we’d fill you in on 15 things that you should know about Man-Thing.

15. Stan Lee Really, REALLY Liked the Name “Man-Thing”

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As a consummate showman, Stan Lee always had a particular interest in names that he thought were catchy. He specifically had Marvel come up with characters named “Daredevil” and “Captain Marvel” just so that they could get a hold of the trademarks for those names, as he felt that they were very catchy (both names were used by popular superheroes in the Golden Age). Another name that Lee really enjoyed was “Man-Thing,” which he used a few times in Marvel’s 1960s science fiction and horror comics, including 1960’s “Tales of Suspense” #7.

So when Marvel decided to create a new character to star in their new black and white comic magazine, Lee was adamant that the character be called “Man-Thing.” Roy Thomas was less impressed with the name, as he felt that it was too similar to an already popular Marvel character, the Fantastic Four’s Thing. However, Lee ultimately won out and Man-Thing made his debut in “Strange Tales” #1 in 1971.

14. Man-Thing and Swamp Thing had Awfully Similar Debuts

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Comic book history is filled with stories of surprising coincidences, like Marvel and DC both releasing new superhero teams in 1963 whose leader was a professor in a wheelchair (the Doom Patrol and the X-Men) and both Marvel and DC devoting their 1993 Annuals to introducing brand-new characters. One of the most famous coincidences was the fact that “House of Secrets” #92 (by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson), introducing the Swamp Thing, came out just two months after “Savage Tales” #1 came out, introducing Man-Thing.

Both characters were the results of experiments that left scientists transformed into a swamp creature. And amazingly enough, both characters were created in part by writers who were roommates at the time! Gerry Conway, who helped created Man-Thing for Marvel, was living with Len Wein, who created Swamp Thing for DC. Wein insisted that it was just a coincidence and no one really seemed to necessarily disagree with his position. It’s still amazing either way.

13. They’re Both Basically Riffs On The Heap

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The major reason that Marvel never made too much of a fuss about the similarities between Swamp-Thing and Man-Thing (on top of the fact that the two characters both veered off dramatically from each other following their respective debuts) is the fact that both of them seemed to be based on the same character – the Heap.

Created by writer Harry Stein and artist Mort Leav in 1942’s “Air Fighters” #3 from Hillman Periodicals, the Heap was a German World War I fighter pilot who was shot down over a Polish swamp. Through the magic of Mother Nature, the pilot was re-animated decades later, now with his body made up of the swamp that he landed in. In the 1970s, Marvel production manager Sol Brodsky left to help form the new comic book company, Skywald, which launched their own version of the Heap. Roy Thomas later recalled:

I was also responsible for Skywald Publishing introducing a Heap character. I had lunch with Sol Brodsky soon after he left Marvel Comics to co-found Skywald. He was looking for heroes to do. I couldn’t write for him, so he was kind of picking my brain, and I wanted to help without getting too involved, since Stan wouldn’t have liked that. I told Sol, ‘Well, we have the Man-Thing, so you ought to get someone to revive the Heap.’ He remembered the character since he was a comic-book artist in the 1940s.

12. The Initial Attempt at Launching Man-Thing Failed

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As noted before, Man-Thing made his debut in the first issue of “Savage Tales” in 1971, but as it turned out, that was it for that version of “Savage Tales.” You see, while Warren Publishing managed to have some success with their line of black and white comic book magazines in the 1960s with “Creepy” and “Eerie,” Marvel was always wary of getting into that market.

The main reason was that, since they were magazines, they did not have to submit for approval from the Comics Code Authority, and Marvel’s publisher, Martin Goodman, was afraid that if Marvel tried to circumvent the Comics Code through magazines, they would draw the ire of the powerful oversight authority. Marvel had first tried doing a black and white magazine with “Spectacular Spider-Man” in 1968, but dropped that title after two issues. “Savage Tales” did not even make it to issue #2. As a result, Marvel had an unused “Man-Thing” story written for issue #2 that they did not get to use for a few years. In 1973, after Goodman had sold Marvel, Marvel re-launched “Savage Tales” and had a lot more success this time around. Man-Thing, meanwhile, would only have to wait until late 1972 to move over to Marvel’s color line of comic books.

11. Man-Thing’s Creation Owes a Debt to Captain America

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The origin of the Man-Thing is surprisingly connected to Captain America. As any fan of Captain America would tell you, Steve Rogers turned from a scrawny reject from the Army into becoming Captain America through the use of a special Super-Soldier Serum. However, the scientist who invented the serum was murdered while the formula for the serum existed only within his mind.

Ever since that point, scientists had been trying to replicate the Super-Soldier Serum in their own fashion. One of those scientists was Dr. Ted Sallis, who was working on a project called “Project: Gladiator.” However, his wife, Ellen, betrayed him to the evil Advanced Ideas Mechanics (A.I.M.) and they came for the serum. Sallis escaped and decided to inject himself with the serum to keep it out of enemy hands. While driving away, however, he crashed into the swamp and the serum merged him with the swamp to become Man-Thing.

10. Man-Thing Launched Steve Gerber’s Career

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As noted before, Marvel brought Man-Thing to their comic book line in 1972 when the character took over the lead feature in “Adventure into Fear” #10. Up until that point, the book had been a reprint of old Marvel horror comics from the 1950s and 1960s. Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow helped launch the character, but for the second issue, a new writer was brought on. Steve Gerber had corresponded with Roy Thomas back when Gerber was a teenager involved in the fanzine scene.

After he graduated college and began work as a copywriter at an ad agency, Gerber contacted Thomas and Thomas hired him to write three books, all of which had cover dates of December 1972. One of them was “Adventure into Fear” #11, starring the Man-Thing. In that issue, Gerber coined what later became the phrase most associated with Man-Thing – “Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!”

9. How Does Man-Thing Know What Fear Is?

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As we just mentioned, whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch. So what does that mean, exactly? The Man-Thing’s body secrets a poisoning chemical and, whether through science or some sort of magic, this chemical then burns anyone who is touched by the Man-Thing while they are feeling fear. Obviously, that’s pretty much everyone, as the Man-Thing is a huge monstrous swamp creature.

As to how Man-Thing knows that people are feeling fear, it turns out that while Man-Thing is not really sentient, the creature is highly empathetic. It can sense human emotions and is actually specifically drawn to fear. As a result, it often ends up getting pulled into conflicts because of how it senses the fear of attack victims. Typically, the aggressor of most attacks will turn on the Man-Thing while the victims will cower and stay away. As a result, it tends to only be bad guys who are actually burned by the Man-Thing.

8. The Nexus of All Realities

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You might be asking yourself “how do you manage to tell stories about a creature who isn’t even sentient?” Well, in “Adventure into Fear” #11-13, Steve Gerber came up with a brilliant solution to this problem. He revealed that the section of the Everglades swamp that Man-Thing lives in just happens to be the Nexus of All Realities. That means that his swamp is the centerpiece of a gateway system through various realities.

Beginning in “Adventure into Fear” #13 (by Gerber, Val Mayerik and Frank Bolle), Man-Thing became the guardian of the Nexus of All Realities. As a result, Gerber had literally every dimension in the world to play with for future stories, as he could pluck whatever character he wanted to and have them interact with Man-Thing. Later on, Man-Thing himself would become the personification of the Nexus of All Realities, so that he could leave the swamp and still be the guardian of the Nexus.

7. Gerber’s Man-Thing Was a Major Influence on Neil Gaiman

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Once Gerber established that Man-Thing was the guardian of the Nexus of All Realities (and after giving him a supporting cast centered around the young sorceress, Jennifer Kale, who later became a fixture of Marvel’s magic-based comic books, so that there would be someone who could talk in the comics), he opened himself up to all manners of different stories. This includes when Man-Thing and Jennifer were taken to a magical world in “Adventure into Fear” #11 (by Gerber, Mayerik and Bolle).

If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman‘s “The Sandman,” you might recognize that there is a similar quality to what Gaiman did with The Dreaming in “Sandman.” Unsurprisingly, Gaiman was a big fan of Gerber’s “Man-Thing” stories. The acclaimed writer wrote on his blog when Gerber sadly passed away in 2008:

Steve’s comics were the quirkiest, the most personal, the coolest. When I grow up, I thought, if I’m lucky, I’ll write comics like that.

6. Mockingbird’s Man-Thing Connection

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The adventures of Man-Thing introduced a number of interesting characters to the Marvel Universe. One of the oddest characters to be created for a Man-Thing story, though, has got to be Barbara “Bobbi” Morse, the hero known as Mockingbird. Odd because she wasn’t really invented for a Man-Thing story. As we mentioned earlier, “Savage Tales” was canceled so abruptly that there was a second “Man-Thing” story created for “Savage Tales” #2 that did not see print. The story was written by Len Wein and was drawn by Neal Adams (yes, right after creating a Swamp Thing story for DC, Wein wrote a Man-Thing story for Marvel. That is, indeed, weird).

In the story, there was a blonde woman. Barbara Morse had been introduced in the pages of “Astonishing Tales” as a Ka-Zar supporting cast member. In “Astonishing Tales” #12, they decided to work the unpublished “Savage Tales” story into the story as part of Barbara’s back story, revealing that Morse was a scientist involved in the same Super-Soldier Serum project that Ted Sallis was working on. So, in a way, Barbara Morse was created in a Man-Thing story!

5. Howard the Duck Was Created as a Man-Thing Gag!

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Clearly, when the history books look back on the story of Man-Thing, the most historic thing associated with the book is the fact that Howard the Duck debuted in the series. In “Adventure into Fear” #19, Steve Gerber, Val Mayerik and Sal Trapani were in the middle of an epic storyline that involved the Nexus of all Realities going a bit haywire, and people showing up on Earth from all different alternate Earths.

As a gag, one of the people who showed up on Earth wasn’t a person at all, but Howard the Duck, a creature from an Earth that was populated by funny animals, like the Disney films or the “Looney Tunes” cartoons. He was there just as a gag, but the character amused Gerber, so he began to use him more and audiences responded. Soon Howard got his own best-selling comic book series and became one of the most popular comic book characters of the 1970s, even getting his own newspaper comic strip (rare for any comic character). Sadly, Gerber got into a dispute with Marvel over the rights to Howard, so Gerber ended up leaving Marvel and Howard the Duck’s popularity soon faded without his creator writing him.

4. Yes, They Got the Joke About Giant-Size Man-Thing

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After the Man-Thing feature in “Adventure into Fear” was successful, Marvel gave the character his own series, titled, appropriately enough, “Man-Thing,” by the same Gerber/Mayerik/Trapani creative team. Meanwhile, in 1974-1975, Marvel was doing this thing where, instead of doing extra-length annuals, they would do multiple giant-size one-shots for their various titles.

Naturally enough, “Man-Thing” also received one of these one-shots and the combination of “Giant-Size” with “Man-Thing” was an unintentionally suggestive title, “Giant-Size Man-Thing.” While unintentional, Marvel did get the joke at the time. Roy Thomas once recalled, “‘Giant-Size Man-Thing’ later had a decidedly funny ring to it, but not ‘Man-Thing’ in itself.” Years later, in the pages of “Thunderbolts” #162, in a crossover with the “Fear Itself” event, the increase in fear around the world ended up overloading Man-Thing and thus, writer Jeff Parker and artists Matthew Southworth and Valentine De Landro gave us a literal “Giant Sized Man-Thing.”

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Much fun was had by all.

3. Chris Claremont Once Became the Man-Thing!

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At the end of the original “Man-Thing” series, Steve Gerber appeared in the issue himself to reveal that he had not actually come up with the stories, but rather, the stories of Man-Thing’s adventures were being told to him and that he was just reporting what had actually happened. He was now going to move on, though, so the series had to end.

With that ending already established, then, when the second volume of “Man-Thing” also came to an end with 1981’s issue #11, the writer of that series, Chris Claremont, also wrote himself into the comic. This time, Claremont took it a step further and actually had himself transformed into the Man-Thing! The trauma from the events of the issue led to him resigning and Marvel decided to just end the book out of respect to Claremont’s traumatic experience. If you can think of a better way to explain a book’s cancellation than that, I invite you to let us know!

2. Man-Thing – movie star!

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Surprisingly enough, Man-Thing was actually the star of his own movie! Released in 2005, the film, written by Hans Rodionoff and directed by Brett Leonard, debuted in the United States on the Sci-Fi Channel (now known as Syfy)but was released in theaters around the world. It deviated dramatically from the comic book version of the Man-Thing. In the film, Ted Sallis is a Native American shaman in the bayou of Louisiana who was murdered by an oil tycoon and buried in the Dark Waters of the bayou.

Sallis comes back to life as the Man-Thing, able to control the vegetation of the bayou to get his revenge on the tycoon, both by interfering with the bad guy’s plan to drill for oil but also by murdering henchmen of the tycoon. In the end, Man-Thing succeeds in killing his rival and retreats back into the Dark Waters. It was not a particularly well received film.

1. Is Man-Thing Sentient?

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The question of Man-Thing’s sentience has always been a controversial one. In general, it is accepted that Sallis lost his sentience when he transformed into the Man-Thing, but at the same time, the Man-Thing has done things over the years that were not exactly consistent with just being drawn to a human’s fear. For instance, it has saved people before, so there seems to be some bit of Sallis at the heart of Man-Thing. Over the years, also, Sallis has been temporarily cured of his Man-Thing curse, and at other times, Sallis has temporarily gained the ability to communicate.

Interestingly, though, in Stine’s upcoming “Man-Thing” series, Man-Thing will be sentient. Stine explains:

He can talk and he’s very sarcastic. I’m going to do a lot of action and a lot of great violence and make it creepy, but I’m going to make it funny at the same time. It’s what I try to do in my books.

What’s your favorite Man-Thing story? Let us know in the comments section!

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