Comicbook / Man-Thing

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"...and whatever knows fear... burns at the Man-Thing's Touch!"
Steve Gerber's signature tagline for the series

Man-Thing is the name of a Marvel Comics character. He first appeared in "Savage Tales" #1 (May, 1971). The character was co-created by author Roy Thomas and his editor Stan Lee. His debut story was scripted by Gerry Conway and drawn by Gray Morrow. Man-Thing is not to be confused with DC's Swamp Thing, which premiered within a month of Man-Thing. The two characters have many parallels, including their backstories (both partially written by Len Wein), swampy homes, and being re-imagined by notable comic writers. Both are also similar to an older horror character, The Heap.

Savage Tales was a one-shot publication, though it would be revived as a regular series in 1973. In the meantime Man-Thing gained a regular series in the horror anthology 'Adventure Into Fear'. He became an unlikely hit for writer Steve Gerber, who pushed genre boundaries with the character, providing inspiration for later writers like Neil Gaiman.

Gerber's Retool of the character helped the Man-Thing get his own series, prefiguring Alan Moore's similar reimagining of Swamp Thing; but while Moore's experimentation with the medium garnered him praise and notoriety, Gerber struggled throughout his career with censorship and creator's rights. Gerber introduced Howard the Duck in the pages of Man-Thing, and was soon fighting Marvel over creative control and ownership of the character, costing Gerber his job and leading to a legal case resulting in his bankruptcy.

Unlike Swamp Thing, Man-Thing was a mindless creature living mostly by instinct, hardly aware of his former life. An empathic creature, he often came to the aid of the weak and confronted those who expressed strong negative emotions, since, due to latent psychic empathy, strong negative emotions caused him great pain. Man-Thing has a particular loathing for fear, which comes up often throughout the series, since it is the emotion a giant swamp monster is most likely to elicit. The fact that reacting to that fear makes him secrete a deadly potent corrosive is good enough to scare knowledgeable people as well. Writing stories around a mindless, unchanging character proved difficult, but Gerber showed remarkable variance in the types of stories and characters he was able to fit into this rather limited concept. As usual, he tried to bring a sense of realism and psychological depth to the series, and fans responded.

Man-Thing became a member (of sorts) of the Thunderbolts, Marvel's team of redemptive villains, during Jeff Parker's run. Initially intended to be just the team's transportation, thanks to Hank Pym hacking into the Nexus of All Realities, he became one of the team's strongest and most unpredictable members. Eventually, he underwent a Re-Power, giving him a mind of his own and the ability to speak and be understood by anyone he spoke to. When that version of the Thunderbolts came to an end, Man-Thing returned to his swamp.

In 2007, a TV movie was released based loosely upon Gerber's plot about a thoughtless developer trying to drain Man-Thing's swamp. Outside of the authors it inspired, the series is best remembered for its larger collections, infamously titled 'Giant Size Man-Thing'.


This work contains examples of:

  • Achilles' Heel: Man-Thing's is being dried out.
  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: At one point, Richard Rory has the misfortune to encounter a pack of them in the swamp. Subverted though as they become friends with him.
  • Alternate Universe: Man-Thing and several supporting characters find their way to a neighboring fantasy world of wizards and warriors during the same dimensional confluence that spawns Howard the Duck.
  • The Archmage: Dakimh the Enchanter.
  • Ascended Meme: In Thunderbolts, a mystical transformation Man-Thing goes through, combined with the events of Fear Itself, temporarily turn him into a literal "Giant Size Man-Thing"; he is even called such by Songbird. It's not the first time the meme's ascended, either.
  • Asshole Victim: Most, if not all, of the people who end up feeling the Man-Thing's touch.
  • Author Avatar
    • Perpetual loser Richard Rory, who appeared in several of Gerber's works.
    • The last issue also has Steve appearing as himself, telling us that he's just been retelling stories told to him by Dakimh.
  • Ax-Crazy: Several villains count, but the Foolkiller and the Mad Viking are the most obvious examples.
  • Barbarian Hero: Korrek.
  • Badass Grandpa: A villainous example with Josefsen the Mad Viking; a literal grandfather, he was still the hardest-working longshoreman in his home town, driven and dedicated to the point that he refused to stop working even after being formally retired. When his ex-boss demanded the police remove him, Josefsen went berserk; he grabbed his former employee and threw him at the cops, then stormed off home. There, he worked himself into a rage and ultimately went on a berserk killing spree in a stereotypical viking outfit.
  • Body Horror: What happens to those who drink the waters of the Fountain Of Youth, rather than bathe in it. Bathing in it rejuvenates a person with youth, but as Schist discovered, if you drink it, you turn into twisted, corpse-like wraiths cursed with Age Without Youth.
    • The transformation that turned Sallis into Man-Thing. Not only did he lose his mind, he lost all physical form, Man-Things body isn't flesh and bone, it's just swamp muck, roots and other vegetative detritus in humanoid shape.
  • Came Back Wrong / Inhuman Human: Man-Thing, beyond a shadow of a doubt. It's made quite clear that there is nothing left of Sallis beyond a few vague and dreamy memories that are usually locked away in the depths of Man-Thing's skull, and the few occasions when Sallis' mind is restored are so traumatic that reverting Man-Thing to mindlessness is treated as the only moral thing to do so long as a physical cure remains out of reach.
  • Captain Ersatz: Wundarr, a version of Superman who is left in his landing pod when the elderly couple who happens by proves too fearful and suspicious to investigate. He is educated and raised by the pod until discovered and unwittingly released by Man-Thing.
  • Chain Pain: One of the bikers in early issues attacks Man-Thing with a chain. It gets stuck to him and provides a catalyst to his escape from Schist's death trap.
  • Combo Platter Superpowers: The Man-Thing has quite a variety of powers after his transformation:
    • Empathy: His main plot-driving power; the Man-Thing isn't really sapient, but has the ability to sense emotions. In general, this draws him to places where plot happens, but specifically, the sensations of fear and hatred trigger an aggressive response that causes him to attack whatever is producing such unpleasant sensations. Meanwhile, "evil" is so much stronger and more hostile than fear that it mentally hurts him and drives him wild with fury.
    • Healing Factor: Because his "flesh" is just algae and moss draped over a flexible root-based skeleton, he can swiftly regrow any bits that get blasted away or chopped off.
    • Hollywood Acid: His most iconic power; when driven to true aggression by the presence of fear, his body secretes a highly caustic chemical that allows him to lethally burn whatever he touches.
    • Nigh Invulnerable: Man-Thing doesn't feel pain, disperses most of the force directed against him due to having such spongy "flesh", and can regenerate physical damage inflicted on him. He is very, very hard to hurt.
    • Super Strength: Man-Thing has immense strength, well beyond that of a human being.
  • Cthulhumanoid: In appearance at least, since his "face" is framed by several large root-tentacles, and a rare heroic example.
  • Death Trap: Schist has a scientist build one to try to end Man-Thing's meddling once and for all.
  • Elemental Embodiment: Man-Thing is the incarnate elemental spirit of the swamp he lives in.
  • The Empath: Man-Thing's main form of interpersonal interaction is his ability to sense emotions, which triggers an instinctive response.
  • Empty Shell: What Dr. Sallis becomes after his transformation into Man-Thing.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: As much as a monster he is, F.A. Schist has a wife and a daughter that deeply care for him. It is also what triggers Schist's wife to attempt an (unsuccessful) vendetta against Man-Thing after Man-Thing kills Schist. Schist's daughter eventually convinces her mother that Schist likely destroyed himself, and that Man-Thing isnt responsible.
  • Failure Hero: Author Avatar Richard Rory.
  • Freak Lab Accident: While working in a swamp trying to recreate Captain America's super-soldier serum, Dr. Ted Sallis is betrayed and injects himself in an attempt to escape, but crashes into the swamp where he is transformed...
  • Ghost Pirate: A whole shipful, cursed of course.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Giant-Size Man-Thing. Widely thought to be deliberate.
  • Healing Factor: As long as he is in the presence of moisture.
  • Hellgate: The 'Nexus of All Realities' in Man-Thing's swamp. Not to be confused with the other "Nexus of All Realities", the M'Kraan Crystal...though the two are connected on some level.
  • Hijacked by Ganon: Both original runs revealed near the end that The Netherspawn was the one pulling the strings.
  • Hollywood Acid: Man-Thing is scary enough for the unwary as a shambling plant monster, but the fact that he secretes a deadly corrosive when he encounters fear scares the hell out of people who know about him too.
  • I Thought It Meant: Made worse by the occasional issue of Giant Size Man-Thing.
  • Knight Templar: The Foolkiller.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: "The Prison Without Walls", an episode of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon penned by Steve Gerber after his fallout with Marvel, features a Shambling Mound (a monster from the tabletop game derived from Man-Thing, Swamp Thing and The Heap) which has been visually redesigned to clearly reference Man-Thing hmself.
    • Man-Thing frequently appears as one of the members of the Parliament of Trees in Swamp Thing.
  • The Legions of Hell: Thog the Nether-Spawn.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: In the final issue, Gerber tells us that the stories were provided to him by Dakimh the Enchanter, and that he's decided to stop writing them after being dragged into the story, himself.
  • Logical Weakness: He burns anyone who feels fear. This of course means that if something can make Man-Thing feel even a flicker of fear than he'll be immolated by his own powers. He's actually died this way twice.
  • Mad Artist: Eugene Spangler is a singer and poet that is unhealthily obsessed with chaos, degeneracy and madness, and doesn't even care when the Mad Viking bursts in his camp and starts murdering his mates and then himself.
  • Meaningful Name: Land Developer F.A. Schist, who tries to destroy Man-Thing's swampy home.
  • Moral Guardians: Olivia, a shrewish fundamentalist Christian who serves as the secondary antagonist in the Citrusville storyline. She's so revolted to read her daughter's schoolbooks and find out they contain such horrors as a factual discussion of human sexual biology and sexuality, political texts that mention the positive concepts of Communism alongside the negatives, stories about atheists and raising the possibility that maybe god isn't the ultimate source of life that she whips her neighbors into a frenzied mob, resulting in a murderous book-burning party.
  • Plant Person: Light on the 'person', but Man-Thing counts as one, if only in the sense that he's a mobile plant in a vaguely humanoid shape.
  • Nature Hero: By virtue of living in and defending a swamp.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Man-Thing frequently crosses paths with alligators, although it usually turns out badly for them. Eventually they start to avoid him like the plague.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: Man-Thing has the Healing Factor and Feel No Pain combination; because his body-mass is all slimy plant-muck, he doesn't feel any damage when his body is struck and quickly replaces any bio-matter that's scoured away by attackers.
  • Nominal Hero: The Man-Thing doesn't really intend to do anything heroic, being a mindless and instinct-driven abomination. It's simply good fortune that its instincts and empathic nature cause it to violently lash out at anything causing/feeling fear and that evil hurts it like a burning brand in the brain, driving it to attack the truly monstrous.
  • Offing the Offspring: The Mad Viking ultimately ends up murdering his own granddaughter before the Man-Thing kills him.
  • Original Man: Adam K'ad-mon is theorized to be the first human being (and is where the trope gets its name). Disturbingly, it looks almost exactly like the Man-thing and guards the prime matrix, focal point of the "multiverse".
  • Posthumous Character: Edmond in "The Kid's Night Out" is run down by a cruel, uncaring world, but a certain shambling mound is prepared to balance the scales.
  • Public Domain Artifact: You can't have a fantasy in the Florida swamp without a Fountain of Youth and some ancient Conquistadors.
  • Pulling Themselves Together: Almost every Man-Thing combat seems to involve pieces coming off... and then clumping back into shape.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: For those who know fear burn at the Man-thing's touch! And there is plenty of reason to be afraid of an ugly nigh infinitely regenerating giant with super human strength and corrosive secretions who does not want you in its swamp.
  • Ruthless Modern Pirates: Modern pirates make an appearance in an issue introducing supporting character Barbara.
  • Sad Clown: Darrel the Clown in "Night of the Laughing Dead" and "And When I Died".
  • Savage Wolves: When Man-Thing is accidentally teleported to Himalayas, he is instantly attacked by wolves.
  • The Speechless: Out of necessity, seeing as how Man-Thing has no mouth.
    • Suddenly Voiced: Is able to speak a Universal Language at the end of his Thunderbolts appearances, which carries into his more recent Red She-Hulk appearances. But he still has no mouth.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: One issue had a pair with obvious Romeo and Juliet parallels.
  • Stars Are Souls: In one issue, Korrek recounts a story where a man ventured into the sky to pick a star to his lover. The stars are made of the souls of warriors, so upon bringing the thing down it turns into one, kills the man and steals his woman.
  • Starts with a Suicide: Again, Darrel in "Night of the Laughing Dead".
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: See Meaningful Name above.
  • Stripperiffic: Jennifer Kale when she becomes Dakimh's apprentice.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: Jeferson the Mad Viking in a nutshell; a traditionalist macho he-man type, being retired from work caused his resentment of "sissies" like musicians, artists, pacifists, hippies and basically other "liberal types" to boil over, causing him to start dressing up like a viking and go on a murder spree against "new man" to try and restore "true man".
  • Was Once a Man: Until he tried to keep a recreated version of Captain America's Super Soldier serum away from foreign spies. Cornered and with no options left, he injected the serum into himself, moments before the spies gunned him down. The serum, combined with the mystical energies of the swamp, transformed the scientist into a shambling, mindless monstrosity.
  • Weirdness Magnet: It's not so much him as his habitat, but since Man-Thing's swamp is a Nexus Of Realities, not to mention saturated with mystical energy, weird and strange things tend to pop up there more often than not.
  • When Trees Attack: Man-Thing fights one infected with a personification of hate.
  • Wipe That Smile Off Your Face: Man-Thing's "face" can only be described as rudimentary; it has three roots forming a crude frame of a face, and two large, staring eyes, but no semblance of a mouth.

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