The Smell of Burning Fear: Huston talks "Legion of Monsters: Man-Thing"

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When you're stumbling around in a dark swamp it's easy to get scared; but if that swamp happens to be located in the Marvel Universe and in the heart of the Florida Everglades it's important to keep your cool. Because there's a monster lurking in those swamps and if you feel fear you'll get his attention and that attention usually means a painful, burning death. This March, that monster, the Man-Thing, returns and those who know fear will again burn at his touch in the pages of the Marvel Comics one-shot special, "Legion of Monsters: Man-Thing." CBR News spoke with writer Charlie Huston about the book

It was an e-mail from Marvel editor John Barber that sent Huston's imagination racing into the Florida swamps. "We had never talked about horror or anything like that, but he obviously knew the level of blood and guts in my other work, so I'm not surprised that John sent a line my way," Huston told CBR News. "He said that they were looking to do these stories that were 14 page one-shots and that they really wanted them to be straight up scary monster stories. That was one of the things that was most appealing to me."

The other thing that Huston found appealing about the assignment was the character he was being offered. "If John hadn't mentioned the characters they were looking at, I would have probably said no outright because I'm so busy right now," Huston explained. "But he specifically mentioned that one of the characters available was Man-Thing; not only was that a character I really dug, but literally two nights before I had dug out and read an old Steve Gerber issue of 'Man-Thing.' I had recently hauled my old comic collection out of my parent's attic and down to my place in L.A. I was looking at some old stuff. That was one of the issues I dug out to reread.

"So, there was this weird feeling of synchronicity and the character was on my mind," Huston continued. "That was it really. I told John that if I got a good idea in the next couple of days I was in. So, I brainstormed a little bit and I came up with an idea that I liked and he liked."

Coming up with an idea that he was happy with wasn't too difficult for Huston because of his affinity for the muck monster that used to be known as Ted Sallis. "The first comic books that got me into superhero comics were 'X-Men' and 'Daredevil.' The titles after that were 'Moon Knight' and 'Howard the Duck.' I got into 'Man-Thing' via 'Howard the Duck,'" Huston explained. "I loved the kinds of stories Steve Gerber told and the way he told them. They were these utterly human, authentic and realistic stories, but told with talking ducks and shambling mounds of swamp muck. I was a little kid, but for some reason those stories really appealed to me. It was something about the authenticity of those stories that really sucked me in and got to me."

The Man-Thing in Huston's story won't be much different than the one he enjoyed those many years ago; with the character the emphasis is still more on the monster than the man. "To me that's the nature of the character; he is a force of nature," Huston stated. "One of the things that I liked about those stories is that most of them weren't really about Man-Thing. Man-Thing was a force of nature that appeared in them. There was usually a different story being told and Man-Thing would somehow intersect with that story. This story is very much in that tradition. Man-Thing is a key element in the story, but the lead character is someone else. I went over my memories of the character and I also cross-referenced the Marvel Handbook to give myself a refresher on what he does and who the man was. The emphasis in there is likewise; that he's kind of a resonator for human emotions and that there's no real sentience there. Whatever is left of his humanity seems to key in on human emotions and that's part of why the Man-Thing has the reactions that he does to human emotions."

The human emotions that set off the Man-Thing won't be radiating from any familiar faces in the "Legion of Monsters" story, but the story does take place in a familiar locale. "It's the story of Citrusville, which is the town near the nexus gate that Man-Thing used to hang out around," Huston said. "In the story, Citrusville is in decline and a stranger comes to town. The plot of the story involves the overlords of Citrusville and their scheme to halt the decline of their town and Man-Thing gets involved. It's a fourteen page story so that's about all I can say."

In telling the fourteen page Man-Thing story, Huston utilized a new story telling technique. "When I used captions in 'Moon Knight' or the 'Ultimates Annual,' they were always either someone's interior monologue or their voice over; something somebody said in a previous scene carrying over. I haven't used straight up narrative captions. This story is really heavily narrated, which is part of the style of the old school, horror comics that I love."

Huston loves some of the weirder supernatural elements of Man-Thing, like the Nexus of All Realities, but wasn't able to fit them into his "Legion of Monsters" tale. "It's more in the tradition of the stories where it was a very simple story about people and the Man-Thing's collision with that story and less of the heavily supernatural," Huston stated. "I thought it might be cool to really get into the weird, creepy side of Man-Thing and the Nexus gate. I thought I might use another character, another force of nature that I really loved, D'Spayre. I thought it might be cool to do a Man-Thing-D'Spayre story, but fourteen pages didn't seem to be enough. Part of what made this possible for me was that I had a very simple straightforward story idea that could be told quickly and fit into my schedule."

"Legion of Monsters: Man-Thing" is a horror story, but it's more of a psychological horror story than a visceral one. "There's the requisite moment of horrific revelation," Huston said. "While it's definitely dark, it's not violent in the same way as my other comic book work, which has been lots of bloody knuckles and stuff. It's a different style. I don't know if I was a successful, but what I was hoping to achieve was creeping dread. I was hoping to give that sense of unease where you don't know where things are going and you don't know how bad things are going to be but you know it's going to be bed and you're just hoping that the people you like will come out okay but you're not sure that they will. That's the tone and effect I was trying to create."

Huston was very excited when he learned that Klaus Janson would be the one to bring his story of creeping dread to life. "It's cool for me because, like I said, 'Daredevil' was one of the two books that got me into comics as a kid," He said. "I grew up looking at his inks and later at his pencils on 'Daredevil.' So, when John told me Klaus was going to do it, that was very exciting for me. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with the story."

Huston greatly enjoyed writing "Legion of Monsters: Man-Thing" and would love for another chance to chronicle the exploits of Marvel's muck monster and to further explore the darker corners of the MU. "Doing a one-shot horror story was a ball," Huston stated. "There are lots of little characters out there and many of them I'm not really familiar with other than their names or having occasionally rubbed up against them but I dig this genre. It's something that I hope I'll be able to do again in this format; as with all my comic book work it's really schedule dependant."

In addition to Huston's fourteen page main story in "Legion of Monsters: Man-Thing," readers will also be treated to a back up story written and drawn by Ted McKeever featuring the Zombie. Huston is excited both as a writer and a reader to see Marvel doing more anthology style books. "I think it's really cool. I missed that stuff," he said. "I loved books like 'Astonishing Tales' and 'Marvel Comics Presents' where they would try out stuff and you'd get to read stories that you wouldn't read anywhere else. I'm glad that they're doing this and I hope that it's successful, so they can keep trying things out and experimenting with these little books to see if they can revive some of these characters. Also it gives writers and artists a chance to work in areas they wouldn't normally work in and tell stories that they couldn't ordinarily tell. Plus, it gives readers access to stories and creators that they wouldn't normally be exposed to."

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