Follow TV Tropes


Comic Book / Man-Thing

Go To
Whatever knows fear burns at the touch of... the Man-Thing!

Man-Thing is a Swamp Monster from Marvel Comics. 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.

Man-Thing is a biochemistry professor known as Dr. Theodore Sallis, who was working to try and recreate the lost supersoldier serum of Captain America and would end up doing so albeit Gone Horribly Wrong with Project Gladiator.

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. In 2021, as the 50th anniversary of Man-Thing's creation, there was a special 3-part Curse of the Man-Thing event which ran through The Avengers, Spider-Man and X-Men. In 2022, the character made his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Halloween Special Werewolf By Night.

"Whatever knows tropes... burns at the touch of Man-Thing!"

  • 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.
  • Arc Words: Thes series tagline ("Whatever knows fear burns at the touch of... the Man-Thing!" or "at the Man-Thing's touch!") often pops up in variations as a portentous saying. The room for ambiguity in "Whatever" (as opposed to "whoever") in particular tends to pop up a lot in varying contexts.
  • 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.
  • Body Horror: What happens to those who drink the waters of the Fountain of Youth, rather than bathing in them. Bathing in the Fountain rejuvenates a person, but, as Schist discovered, if you drink it you turn into a twisted, corpse-like wraith cursed with Age Without Youth.
  • 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.
  • Deal with the Devil: In the 2021 Curse of the Man-Thing event, it turns out Sallis made contacted one of the Hells and made a deal with Belasco to help with the super-soldier serum. This would lead to the creation of the Man-Thing.
  • Death Trap: Schist has a scientist build one to try to end Man-Thing's meddling once and for all.
  • Direct Line to the Author: 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.
  • 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 isn't responsible.
  • Evil Old Folks: 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.
  • Extreme Doormat: Debbi, wife of Col. Choate, in the "Elements of Terror" storyline (in Marvel Comics Presents). She has no will or life beyond him, and allows him to murder her to satisfy his sick urges.
  • Failure Hero: Author Avatar Richard Rory.
  • Ghost Pirate: A whole shipful, cursed of course.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Giant-Size Man-Thing.
  • 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.
  • Karma Houdini: The Scavenger of Atlanta murders two women (on-panel at least) but is never caught or punished as he vanishes after v1, #22. Possibly averted as his existence was torture to him and without the absorbing power granted him by the eventually defeated Thog he has no way to alleviate that torture.
  • Knight Templar: The Foolkiller.
  • The Legions of Hell: Thog the Nether-Spawn.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: "Elements of Terror" was partially inspired by rumors of CIA involvement in drug trafficking in the 80s and 90s (with a bit of Latverian arms sales and super-soldier serum thrown into the mix).
  • 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.
  • Simple Country Lawyer: Senator Wycombe in the "Elements of Terror" storyline is a politician variant. He has a heavy Southern accent and an extremely sharp mind.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Len Wein's story in Giant-Size #5 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".
  • Stripperiffic: Jennifer Kale when she becomes Dakimh's apprentice.
  • Swamp Monster: Man-Thing is one of the most famous examples alongside Swamp Thing, specifically of the Muck Monster variety. Both of them were inspired by The Heap.
  • 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".
  • Touch of Death: "Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing's touch!"
  • Third-Person Person: In the "Elements of Terror" storyline, Col. Jody Choate does this repeatedly.