Marvel’s Halloween special, Werewolf by Night, brings new flavors to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s the Hammer Horror of it all, and the stark black and white colors, and of course, the titular werewolf.
But there’s another monster making his debut in Werewolf by Night, with one of the most infamous names in Marvel Comics history: Man-Thing. And the hour-long special doesn’t even do him the courtesy of calling him by his name!
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for Werewolf by Night on Disney Plus.]
Werewolf by Night calls together a cadre of elite monster hunters in a competitive hunt to decide who will take up the coveted Bloodstone, which has some sort of power that forces monsters to reveal themselves. The story gets twistier than there, but suffice to say, the mysterious monster at the heart of the challenge is a big, craggy swamp creature named Ted, with the power to incinerate with his touch.
But in Marvel Comics, Ted goes by another name.
That’s Man-Thing, not Swamp Thing
Created in 1971 by writers Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Gerry Conway, and artist Gray Morrow, Man-Thing used to be Dr. Ted Sallis, a scientist who — like every other scientist in the Marvel Comics universe — was trying to reengineer Steve Rogers’ super-soldier serum. Fleeing less scrupulous mad scientists with the only evidence of his serum, Sallis injected himself with the chemical just before crashing his car into a magical swamp. There, he combined forces with the organic material and was transformed into the big, green, mush-faced swamp monster he is today.
Wait a minute, you’re asking, isn’t that exactly the same as Swamp Thing, the DC Comics character? The answer is, yes. At the time the that writer Len Wein was coming up with Swamp Thing, his roommate Gerry Conway had put Man-Thing on the page over a year previous. No accusations of plagiarism were ever made — though they have a shared origin and look, the two characters diverged pretty precipitously from there. Swamp Thing was eventually retconned to be an elemental force of nature who only thought it had once been a human scientist, and Man-Thing was always more of a cult fave than a best seller at Marvel. Legal action never materialized.
Another pretty big difference between Man-Thing and Swamp Thing is the former’s signature superpower: Lighting people on freakin’ fire. As the tagline of later Man-Thing stories would put it, “Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!” Man-Thing might not be able to talk, but he’s still a very empathetic monster who can sense strong emotions. He becomes agitated by negative ones, and burns his opponents with chemical-mystical fire.
And yes, everybody just knows him as Man-Thing! Not Ted!
Heheh, Man-Thing is kind of... uh... kind of a funny name, isn’t it?
Yes. And that’s what makes it great.