Welcome to this week’s Comic Character Spotlight! As promised, the month of October guarantees a spooky subject around every corner, so this week we’ll be delving further into the horror-inspired realm of the Marvel Universe.
If you got the chance to check out Marvel’s Halloween special on Disney Plus entitled “Werewolf by Night” (2022), you might remember a strangely friendly creature referred to by the special’s protagonist as Ted. This “Ted,” otherwise known as the Man-Thing, was originally Dr. Theodore Sallis as a human. He was created by the writers Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and artist Gray Morrow, first appearing in the comic series “Savage Tales” #1 (1971).
As a young biochemist Dr. Theodore Sallis, from Omaha, Nebraska, works in the Everglades as part of Dr. Wilma Calvin’s Project as they aim to recreate the Super-Soldier Serum that empowered Captain America. However, upon being ambushed by two thugs and betrayed by his wife, Ellen Brandt, he injects himself with the serum in a desperate attempt at self-rescue. Yet, in his panicked fleeing, his car crashes into a swamp nearby the facility which leads to a supernatural transformation. As he morphs into a slow, humanoid swamp creature with red eyes, he becomes “Man-Thing.” With faded memories, he attacks his ambushers and wife with an acidic substance he now has the ability to secrete when experiencing negative emotions. His abilities extend beyond acidic secretion, as he also possesses superhuman strength, durability, stamina and physiology.
Afterward, Man-Thing suffers a difficult shift in environment as he’s captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. for both confinement and observation. Despite being freed later when the organization’s files are publicized, he ends up in another form of imprisonment on the planet of Sakaar. On Sakaar, he falls into the clutches of the Grandmaster, who forces captives to battle in his Contest of Champions. Through winning a multitude of fights in the Contest of Champions, Man-Thing eventually wins the title of Champion of Sakaar – even gifted with a sculpture built in his honor – and finally returns to Earth.
Here, as referenced in “Werewolf by Night” (2022), he meets Jack Russell and forms a friendship with the werewolf who seeks to protect others from dangerous transformation. Unfortunately, in the special, he once again is confronted with imprisonment – this time by Verussa Bloodstone who uses him as the target in a monster hunt. Verussa cruelly utilizes the bloodstone – a mystical gem – to weaken Man-Thing’s typical prowess for the hunt, intending to search for a successor for her late husband.
Luckily Man-Thing is rescued through the cooperation of Jack Russell and Elsa Bloodstone, free from the debilitating effects of the bloodstone. In addition, he is able to take down his captor through a joint effort with Elsa, as he burns Verussa Bloodstone to death.
I personally didn’t know much about Man-Thing before watching Marvel’s “Werewolf by Night” special on Disney Plus – it was shocking to see the bits and pieces of his story from the comics that were vaguely hinted at throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For instance, in the film Thor Ragnarok (2017), the statue erected in Man-Thing’s honor can be seen in the landscape of Sakaar. Additionally, he’s briefly mentioned as the reigning Champion in the Contest of Champions, yet he does not get much of a spotlight.
Nevertheless, with “Werewolf by Night” (2022) finally giving Man-Thing his deserved focus, maybe we’ll see the empathic creature appear more throughout the MCU. I’d love to see more about his origin and even an adaptation of the first time he met Jack Russell, the titular “Werewolf by Night.”