Who is Man-Thing - the powers, enemies, and history of the Werewolf By Night Marvel monster

Man-Thing in the MCU
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Man-Thing is now officially part of the MCU, making his debut in the Werewolf By Night Halloween Special, now streaming on Disney Plus. 

An all-too-brief glimpse of the classic Marvel monster in the Werewolf By Night trailer seemed to key in on Man-Thing's classic catchphrase, "Whoever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing's touch!" And the streaming special itself makes good on this promise more than once.

But what does that mean, and for that matter, who or what actually is "Man-Thing?"

Though the part Man-Thing may play in the future of the MCU remains undefined, his place in Marvel Comics has been well established for 50 years, ever since Man-Thing first debuted in 1971 in the horror/fantasy anthology title Savage Tales #1 - beating DC's somewhat similar Swamp Thing to the page by 2 months.

With Man-Thing making his MCU debut (which is actually his second live-action adaptation), we're unpacking the mysterious history of the cult favorite Marvel monster and his intrinsic connection to Marvel's Multiverse.

Who is Man-Thing?


(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Man-Thing was created as part of the first wave of Marvel Horror characters, along with Werewolf By Night and Dracula, who were introduced into the Marvel Universe following the loosening of restrictions placed upon the depiction of horror creatures by the Comics Code Authority. After years of dancing around ideas like vampires, werewolves, and other monsters, Marvel jumped right into fully depicting them as soon as the CCA allowed it.

Somewhat like Werewolf By Night, Man-Thing was named and initially conceived by Stan Lee, who assigned then editor Roy Thomas to come up with a plot for the character's introduction, which he then handed off to writer Gerry Conway (who later also wrote DC's Swamp Thing) and artist Gray Morrow for Savage Tales #1.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

In the story, Man-Thing is revealed as the mutated form of Dr. Ted Sallis, a scientist working on developing a new version of the Super Soldier serum that empowered Steve Rogers. When a group of saboteurs try to steal the formula, Sallis ingests it, retreating into the Florida Everglades - where he's mutated into a swampy, plant-like creature with the power to destroy the criminals, including a burning, acidic touch that scorches those who feel fear in his presence.

Following this first story, Man-Thing started appearing in his own feature in the title Astonishing Tales, before his stories moved to the anthology title Adventure Into Fear (sometimes shortened simply to Fear), where writer Steve Gerber took over writing Man-Thing. Gerber became Man-Thing's definitive writer across several titles (including the infamously named 1974 series Giant-Size Man-Thing, possibly a prurient joke from the notoriously satirical Gerber). 

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Gerber expanded Man-Thing's mythos by introducing the sorceress Jennifer Kale, who became Man-Thing's long-time companion, and by revealing that rather than simply being an increasingly mindless, terrifying monster, Man-Thing is also the guardian of a mystical swamp known as the Nexus of All Realities, where all the worlds of the Marvel Multiverse touch.

Following this development, Man-Thing's adventures took on a much more psychedelic and psychologically terrifying bent, with stories often revolving around his multiversal nature - especially as Man-Thing began meeting the wider Marvel Universe.

Man-Thing in the Marvel Universe

Man-Thing #22 page

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Despite the easy assumption that a character as weird as Man-Thing might mostly stick to his own lonely corner of the Marvel Universe, he's actually well connected to other heroes and villains and has been since very early in his creation. Bobbi Morse, AKA Mockingbird, and supervillain scientists AIM were retroactively added to his backstory, as was a connection to Curt Conners AKA Spider-Man villain the Lizard.

He battled the Hulk in the '70s, and later She-Hulk as well. He also battled the Molecule Man, a villain who later developed his own connection to the Multiverse. And he developed an odd sort of friendship with Gerber and artist Val Mayerik's creation Howard the Duck, who first appeared alongside Man-Thing in Adventure Into Fear #19 - a partnership that would recur into the modern Marvel Universe.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Bizarrely, when Gerber departed Man-Thing's title in the late '70s, he used the concept of the Nexus of All Realities to introduce himself as a character in the story - a twist later repeated by Gerber's successor, famed X-Men writer Chris Claremont.

In more recent years, Man-Thing has been part of a team called the Legion of Monsters alongside none other than Werewolf By Night and Morbius, the Living Vampire, as well as several other monsters.

But perhaps more oddly, he was also part of one iteration of the upcoming MCU team the Thunderbolts, in which the team consisted of criminals who were part of a program to turn them into heroes, led by Luke Cage. 

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Rather than a reformed criminal, however, Man-Thing was the team's transportation hub, using the power of the Nexus of All Realities to teleport them around the Marvel Universe - and later to an alt-reality where the team became a version of the Dark Avengers.

And continuing the strange trend of Man-Thing's adventures, he recently appeared in the 2021 Avengers story 'Enter the Phoenix' as one of several contestants vying to become the host of the cosmic Phoenix Force, being knocked out of the tournament by none other than the Black Panther.

Man-Thing in the MCU

Man-Thing in the Werewolf By Night trailer

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Man-Thing makes his MCU debut in October 7's Werewolf By Night Halloween Special, now streaming on Disney Plus. But he's actually been in a movie before - his own eponymous 2005 horror movie, which was one of the earliest Marvel Studios productions, predating the concept of the MCU, which started with 2008's Iron Man.

That ill-received film was a kinda generic monster movie, in which Man-Thing was a swamp creature murdering teenagers, with barely any connection to the comics - and definitely little to no hint of Man-Thing's nature in the Marvel Multiverse.

The Marvel Studios of 2022 - which is almost entirely different - seems to take few if any queues from the poorly remembered 2005 film, instead putting the new MCU version closer to his comic book counterpart.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

More than once in the special, Man-Thing engulfs those who fear him in flames.

While not only being some of the most brutal kills shown in an MCU project yet (this is Marvel Horror, after all), this simple but effective imagery shows off one of the core aspects of Man-Thing as a character right off the bat.

In keeping with Man-Thing's odd nature, there's already a subtle MCU connection between an established character and Man-Thing's comic book origin which involves ingesting an experimental version of the Super Soldier serum. 

That's similar to the MCU origin of Emil Blonsky, the Abomination. Blonsky, a supporting character in the current She-Hulk streaming show, became the Abomination through a combination of an experimental Super Soldier serum and a dose of Bruce Banner's own Gamma-irradiated blood.

As for what's next for Man-Thing in the MCU, that's anyone's guess - but Man-Thing looks to be a foundational addition to the burgeoning MCU horror wing, which also includes Werewolf By Night, Blade, Moon Knight, and more. And with Jack Russell and Man-Thing's Han and Chewie-esque friendship now well established, the connective tissue between the MCU Marvel Horror characters is getting even stronger.

Speaking of Marvel Horror, check out the best Marvel Horror comics ever.

George Marston

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)