Marvel's bizarre, beastly Man-Thing turns 50 this year (first debuting in 1971's Savage Tales #1), and to celebrate writer Steve Orlando is penning a series of three one-shots under the banner Curse of the Man-Thing, which will pull in the Avengers, Spider-Man, and the X-Men as Man-Thing's odd fear powers are weaponized by a mysterious new villain known as Harrower.
Along with artists Francesco Mobili, Marco Failla, and Andrea Broccardo on the Avengers, Spider-Man, and X-Men one-shots, respectively, Orlando is planning an epic tale that will sweep across the entire Marvel Universe and show exactly what Man-Thing means to the publisher's legacy.
Newsarama caught up with Orlando ahead of the March 31 release of Avengers: Curse of the Man-Thing (followed by Spider-Man: Curse of the Man-Thing on April 28, and X-Men: Curse of the Man-Thing on May 5) to discuss Orlando's Marvel Comics debut, his own history with the publisher and with Man-Thing, and what he has planned for the milestone anniversary of one of the weirdest characters in mainstream comic books.
Newsarama: Steve, first off, how does it feel to be coming to Marvel Comics with Curse of the Man-Thing? Do you have the same in-depth history with Marvel you've expressed about other publishers?
Steve Orlando: It feels great! Everyone has been incredibly welcoming at Marvel, across the board, whether it's Curse of the Man-Thing, Magneto and the Mutant Force, or Planet of the Symbiotes.
I've been intimidated and excited stepping into a new ring, and I think that's how it should be! Just like when I was at DC, or on Power Rangers, people love these characters, I'm one of them, I know how much they mean to readers. These opportunities have really been an honor to get.
And as for my history with Marvel, it's funny.
Yes, I've spent a lot of time at DC, but I've always said the first books I bought were Marvel books. West Coast Avengers #16, to be exact, and a lot of that series along with it.
And then I also followed Spider-Man: The Clone Saga after the spinner racks at Walden Books when I was a kid, and was deep into the Jusko and Hildebrandt Marvel Masterworks card series. So I've also been with these characters from the start, and I've got my homemade Scarlet Spider sweatshirt in my closet for sure.
Nrama: On that note, this trio of one-shots celebrates Man-Thing's 50th anniversary, but Man-Thing is a deep cut for many readers who may know him best as the subject of many Marvel puns. What do readers need to know before picking up Curse of the Man-Thing: Avengers?
Orlando: If we do our job right, readers will get everything they need to know right in this series itself. If you're a longtime fan, of course some easter eggs and characters will mean a bit more to you, but the key for this celebration is to reward longtime fans and welcome new ones.
Our first issue covers what you need about Man-Thing, and by the end, he's been regrown in an even more powerful, even more fascinating way, and everyone will be on the same page.
This to me is the beauty of these anniversaries, as someone who became a Doctor Who fan thanks to that shows 50th Anniversary special. This'll be a jumping on point for new fans, and a high five for people who have been there from the start, or any time since.
Nrama: Curse of the Man-Thing centers around a new villain named Harrower. What can you tell us about her, and how she leads the Avengers, Spider-Man, and then the X-Men to cross paths with Man-Thing?
Orlando: Harrower is all about the boldness and folly of our early adulthood – as someone who was a pretty big asshole, and thought I had it all figured out in my late teens and early twenties, I think that energy is something wild and unwieldy to harness.
She's been learning under Hordeculture for years, but she's impatient with their relatively measured approach to returning Earth to a more balanced population.
When she presents them her plan to do them one better and completely wipe humanity from the table, teeing up Earth for another species to get a shot at the top in a few billion years, she's disowned. She turns her back on science and goes out on her own to show her mentors she's right and they're wrong, and uses her supernatural abilities of Bio-Fusion and Bio-Fission to hijack Man-Thing's powers.
Harrower can merge or separate plants or animals to create horrific hybrids. She merges Man-Thing's biology with her own and erects burning spore towers across the world, setting the fearful ablaze. The heroes of the Marvel Universe have no hope but to respond, but the only one who can really stop Harrower is Man-Thing himself…so they've got to get to work regrowing the swamp god before it's too late.
Nrama: Speaking of which, you're kicking off your Marvel writing tenure with a bang, bringing in the Avengers right away. Which Avengers are you using in this one-shot? How do you bring the skills you've honed writing other superhero team books into play?
Orlando: We are using the team right out of the current explosive Avengers run, and I'm very excited! Captain America is one of, if not my favorite Marvel character, so getting a chance to work with him in my debut is very excited. No pressure, Orlando!
I'm excited for the whole team, but especially enjoyed working with him and the Hulk. Jennifer has been a joy, and Jennifer with a titanium baseball bat from the Avengers Armory, even more so. I'm bringing my best to this, learning from both the triumphs and pitfalls of my previous team books, so I can raise the bar for the Avengers.
Nrama: You're working with Francesco Mobili on Curse of the Man-Thing: Avengers, Marco Failla on the Spider-Man one-shot, and Andrea Broccardo on the X-Men issue. What does each of these artists bring to a title like this, that invokes both classic Marvel concepts and nightmarish body horror? How do you lean into the strengths of each artist while maintaining your themes and plotlines across three one-shots?
Orlando: The key for me with everyone, across the board from Francesco, to Marco, to Andrea, is respect and communication.
All three of these folks are in their own way masters, delivery rich, haunting energy that's perfect for this story. So my main job as their co-creator is to give them room to do what they do: deliver. That means knowing not everything will always be exactly as you script it, but that with that fact comes having co-creators that are valued, and know they're key to the story, not cogs turning.
Francesco has begun the visual story here, and from him to Marco to Andrea it's a bit of visual telephone, with Marco adapting a bit of his style to take the handoff from Francesco's inkwashed style, heavy in shadowy geist. Likewise, Andrea is doing the same from Marco, adapting a bit of what he does into his own trademark pop action page style, a perfect fit for modern era mutants.
So perhaps paradoxically, I lean in by giving them room, giving them trust, and by believing they'll do what they do best.
Nrama: What's different about working on a series of three one-shots versus a formal limited series, aside from the technicalities? How does the format of the title play into the way you approach the story beats?
Orlando: I would say they're pretty similar, actually. In any format, story has to rule all. Yes, there are challenges in planning out a series of one-shots with different focuses on co-stars, but they're just different hills to climb in the story phase.
In either case, limited series or oversized one-shots, my first priority is telling the best story possible, in his case about Man-Thing. So the work is in making sure that happens, and stays fluid and intriguing, as co-stars move in and out.
It's a great opportunity actually, to have three whole sets of co-stars to challenging Man-Thing in their own unique ways.
Nrama: There's at least one bit of buried treasure among the Curse of the Man-Thing news – a new X-Men team of Dark Riders comprised of 'monstrous' X-Men like Shark Girl, Marrow, Forearm, and Wolf Cub, led by Magik. What can you tell us about the new Dark Riders?
Orlando: The Dark Riders were a great get for us! It just felt right that as we celebrate one of Marvel's greatest monsters, we showcase some of the lesser-known monstrous mutants coming out of Krakoa. These are all people that identify with Man-Thing's struggle, with being misunderstood, and with having to fight to take back their life from the expectations of everyone around them.
On Krakoa, their Magik's team of mutants who couldn't pass in the days before Krakoa, working through those times in their life and finding field trips where they can cut loose in healthy ways. They're there to help their fellow monstrous mutants, and thanks to Magik, they're there to help Man-Thing.
Nrama: The obvious question is, what are the chances you and the new Dark Riders will ride again, following the finale of Curse of the Man-Thing?
Orlando: I'd love to work with them again! Magik and the Dark Riders… it sounds like people looking to get into trouble! There's always a chance, and if that chance comes around once they've debuted, I'd leap over many a human to take it.
Nrama: You had a long tenure at DC, and you've been ramping up your creator-owned work in recent months. Marvel's already announced one more project with you in Magneto and the Mutant Force, as part of Heroes Reborn. What's on the horizon for you? Can we expect more Marvel work?
Orlando: Hell yes, I hope so! There's at least one thing coming you folks will see in 2021. But my time at the House of Ideas has been energizing in ways I never imagined, and if they call, I'll always answer.
Nrama: Man-Thing has been part of the Marvel Universe for 50 years now. What does he represent to you as both a reader and creator? What do you see as his ultimate place in the Marvel Universe?
Orlando: I think this is a question that's best answered by the series itself, since we show that very clearly once we're done with the celebration. But I am not dodging, I'll answer in my way here too.
Man-Thing represents something primal in the Marvel Universe. After all, who among us, hero, villain, or otherwise, hasn't felt fear? So who among us at times hasn't potentially been in danger of burning at the Man-Thing's touch?
I love those primal, chthonic concepts – he is terror and fear incarnate, lumbering silent, acting on instinct, in some ways even more a force of nature than other muck monsters. Because what is nature if not indifferent in its might?
By having Man-Thing not speak, by having him be so unknowable, it feels like he could burn anyone. He can't be reasoned with, he can only be reacted to. This plays out in our series, and by the end, Man-Thing is more of a crucible for the Marvel Universe's fearful than ever before.
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