MAN-THINGMedium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1971
Creators: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway (writers) and Gray Morrow (artist)
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comics readers who are just a little bit hazy on the dates. Like X-Men/Doom Patrol and Vision/Red Tornado, they came out far too close together for one to have "inspired" the other — the Marvel character beat the DC one, even in preliminary form, into print by one scant month. By an even odder coincidence, the muck monster both used as a template, The Heap (which Hillman Periodicals published from 1942-53), underwent an unauthorized revival by a very minor publisher at just about the same time.
Man-Thing debuted in the first (and for a couple of years, only) issue of Savage Tales, dated May, 1971. The story was written by Roy Thomas (All-Star Squadron, Infinity Inc.) and Gerry Conway (Werewolf by Night, Ms. Marvel), and drawn by Gray Morrow (Zatanna, Creepy/Eerie). Savage Tales was an experiment on Marvel's part, to see if a comic book designed more like the kind of magazines adults read (larger size, black and white interior, along the lines of Mad magazine or Vampirella) might help them reach a new demographic. It would be a few more years before they made a long-term commitment to that format, tho, so Man-Thing, like Femizons, the only other feature introduced in Savage Tales #1, quickly sank.
But unlike Femizons, who have yet to make much of an impact, Man-Thing came back and became a star. Reader response convinced Marvel he had a future in regular-format comics, and he almost immediately made a guest appearance in that format, with Ka-Zar. With its ninth issue (October, 1972), they gave him a slot in Adventures into Fear, which had hitherto featured non-series fantasy thrillers. This was part of a growing trend at Marvel, horror-style comics featuring ongoing characters, such as Tomb of Dracula, Brother Voodoo and Tigra the Were-Woman. Man-Thing's Fear run didn't last long (Morbius the Living Vampire crowded him out in 1974), but it was followed by a couple of stints of having his own comic, one or two series in other black and white magazines, guest shots, specials, back-up stories, etc., to the point where he's seldom out of sight for long.
Like your average muck monster, Man-Thing started out human, died in the swamp, festered in a mixture of the yucky life forms found there and exotic chemicals he brought in himself, and eventually rose again as a shambling, disgusting, quasi-human form, reeking of rotting vegetation. In this case, the human is Ted Sallis, a research biochemist on the run from AIM, a Marvel Universe subversive organization. The exotic chemical is an attempt to duplicate the lost Super Soldier Serum that superheroized Captain America. And the yucky life forms inhabited a swamp that was weird even by swamp standards.
His brain having more-or-less turned to goo with the rest of his body, Man-Thing couldn't think. But he sure could feel emotions — not just his own, but any that might be in the vicinity. His response ranged from placid calm when the emotions of those around were positive, to physical attack when they became unpleasant and strong. Since he himself was generally the most fearsome thing on any given scene, and since the few people who weren't scared of him were usually grossed out, he attacked often. He didn't even notice bullets and could ooze right through a chain link fence, making him more fearsome yet. And when he touched someone who feared him, the touchee would burn — sometimes to death.
Man-Thing's swamp, located in Florida between the Seminole reservation and Lake Okeechobee, happened to contain the Nexus of All Realities. That made it possible for him and his human companion, Jennifer Kale (who turned out to have come from a family of weirdos, including both the 1980s and 1990s Ghost Riders), to have any kind of adventure from pirate stories to sword & sorcery. Just as an example of the variety of oddballness available through this resource, that's where Howard the Duck came from. Man-Thing became the Nexus's guardian on this plane of existence, so he is never away from his swamp for long.
For a long time, Man-Thing's only penetration into other media was a book-and-record set, where the book contains a story in comics form and the record provides a sound track for it. It came out in the mid-1970s, along with similar sets about The Fantastic Four, Superman and other characters licensed from comic books. But he was later adapted into a feature-length movie, broadcast on The Sci-Fi Channel April 30, 2005. It wasn't well received by critics, but does have the saving grace of having named characters after comic book creators closely associated with the character, Steve Gerber (also known for Omega the Unknown), Val Mayerik (Frankenstein) and Mike Ploog (Weirdworld), in the cast.
Back in comic books, he remains a minor but memorable and durable denizen of the Marvel Universe.