What the hell is a Man-Thing anyway?

In my recent post about Agents of SHIELD finally getting good, I mentioned that they name dropped the Man-Thing.  I realized after writing that post that there are probably a lot of people who have no clue what Man-Thing is or why anyone would be excited by the name drop.  Since Man-Thing is also a bridge to the golden days of Marvel’s horror comics, I thought I’d put together an explanation for the lay person of what Man-Thing is and why you should care.

First off, let’s get the obvious out of the way….this is Man-Thing:


As you can see, it’s a big plant monster thing with sort of sad eyes.  It was originally a scientist named Ted Sallis, who was working on a type of Super Soldier serum (because every scientist in the Marvel Universe is).  His project was usurped by AIM (the bad guys from Iron Man 3!) and Ted tried to destroy the formula.  Unfortunately, he was betrayed by his wife, and, mortally injured, injected himself with the formula as he escaped into the Florida Everglades.

Wait a minute, you say, that sounds almost exactly like the origin of Swamp Thing, and heck, they kind of look alike…

You’d be correct – the two monsters have a sort of weird shared origin.  Man-Thing was originally conceived in the mid-1960s.  It was sort of derivative of an existing creature, the Heap, but had a completely different origin and story, and was really “created” in 1970 during a conversation between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. Man-Thing debuted in Savage Tales #1 in May 1971, in an 11-page feature. Roy Thomas, the writer, then turned the character over to Gerry Conway to script the first actual comic issue with the character.  At the time, Conway was roommates with Len Wein, who in July 1971 debuted his “new” superhero, Swamp Thing, for DC comics, with almost exactly the same origin story as the Man-Thing.  Marvel apparently considered suing DC over the blatant plagiarism, but let it go since other than the origin, the two characters were nothing alike.

So for all those who think Man-Thing is Marvel’s rip off of Swamp Thing, sorry, it’s the other way around.

But as stated above, there’s not much similar between the two creatures other than their origins.  Man-Thing is pure vegetable.  There’s nothing of the human Ted Sallis left inside (thus why I use “it” and not “him” when referring to the creature).  Between the formula and the mystic nature of the swamp, the creature that resulted was less human and more a force of nature.  In fact, the Man-Thing is the protector of the “Nexus of all Realities”, the point where all the various universes in Marvel come together.  Also, unlike Swamp Thing, there’s no real human intelligence inside Man-Thing.  It may be more a case that because its body is so different than that of a human it simply can’t think in the same way – its brain is spread across its body in a neural network and its sensory organs are completely rearranged.  Also, it’s a walking swamp monster and that’s got to cause some major psychological trauma.  The Man-Thing has a difficult time communicating, though that recently changed, but it has always shown signs of at least basic sentience.

The primary super power of the Man-Thing, other than being made up of muck, slime and plant matter that is virtually indestructible (not even fire can kill it, it just re-forms from existing plant material), and being a giant, super strong monster, is that it is empathic, able to sense emotions and motivations in humans.  Positive emotions make Man-Thing curious.  Negative emotions, especially fear, actually hurts Man-Thing and can drive it into a rage.  It generally attacks anything the shows fear, excreting a powerful acid that burns the person on contact.  While most people will fear a giant walking plant monster, its power typically is coupled with the person’s motivation, only truly burning evil people.  Man-Thing can spit this acid from its body but usually just grabs the victim and pulls them into its squishy form.

Man-Thing also has powers as the guardian of the Nexus.  It can transport itself and others across vast distances.  Originally Man-Thing couldn’t leave its swamp for long, but that limitation has been removed in more recent appearances.  The Man-Thing isn’t exactly a hero, more like Frankenstein’s monster with a built in moral compass that comes from its empathy.  It will, for example, save a child from bad men, even deliver that child to a doctor for help, but you couldn’t convince it to go fight Hydra or smash Loki into the pavement.  It just does what it does, without any real conscious direction.


There are a lot of connections between Man-Thing and the Marvel Universe.  Bobbi Morse, Mockingbird, originally appeared in the Man-Thing comics.  The sorceress Jennifer Kale was deeply involved with Man-Thing, and Doctor Strange has often crossed path with the monster.  One iconic Marvel Team-Up issue had Spider-Man teaming up with Man-Thing, which it a great way to remember both of them need the hyphen in their names! Recently, Man-Thing served as Steve Rogers’ team’s personal teleporter, which led to the Man-Thing being given access to the Universal Language so that now anyone can understand it when it speaks.  It still doesn’t say too much, though…and now I’m really wanting there to be a Man-Thing/Groot team-up.

Man-Thing also starred in its own terrible direct to video movie from Lionsgate.  It gets played on Sci-fi sometimes.  Perhaps if you want to see a Man-Thing movie, you could just watch the classic Wes Craven Swamp Thing movie from the 1980s.  It’s pretty much the same story, except Man-Thing wouldn’t be making time with Adrienne Barbeau after becoming a monster.  Also, it wouldn’t need to reach into sunlight to regrow its arm…it would just regrow instantly…or maybe it would forget it needed one.  In any case, given the shout out on Agents of SHIELD and the appearance of Man-Thing’s evil ex-wife in Iron Man 3, I would guess Marvel owns the rights to the monster again.

Before I close this out, I do have to mention one last thing…Man-Thing is well known for starring in issues known as “Giant-Sized”.  Giant-Sized issues of Marvel comics were basically double sized issues, consisting of about 68 pages instead of the standard 34, and were a little more expensive but not twice the price.  They were basically a marketing ploy.  The most famous is Giant-Sized X-Men #1, which introduced Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Thunderbird I, and brought a little known Hulk villain, the Wolverine, to the team.  But for much of the 70s and 80s, Man-Thing appeared in “Giant-Sized Man-Thing”.  Now look, folks, for all his clean cut exterior, we all know Stan Lee has a dirty sense of humor, and there’s no way he didn’t realize that “Giant-Sized Man-Thing” certainly sounded like a euphemism for a penis.  Make your own jokes about Stan wanting kids to have his Giant-Sized Man-Thing in their hands…god knows plenty have been made.  The fact is, they just make it all the more funny that Maria Hill actually said, “What’s a Man-Thing”.  We think you know, Maria…we think you know…


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