Who Is Marvel's Man-Thing From Werewolf By Night? Here's What You Need To Know

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand, stranger and stranger characters from the bottomless depths of the Marvel Comics universe are going to begin appearing. At its inception in 2008, the MCU still took place in a world that struck at least a passing resemblance to our own. Sometime in 2016, however, when Scott Derrickson's "Doctor Strange" announced that magic is real, the MCU effectively left much of its connection to the real world behind. By 2022, so many extraordinary super-beings and omnipotent space deities have been introduced that nothing seems impossible anymore. 

Michael Giacchino's new TV special "Werewolf by Night," now available on Disney+, takes a swing that, in earlier years, might have been considered bold for the MCU. As it so happens, monsters are real in the Marvel universe, and they have secret societies and superhero teams of their own. The title character in "Werewolf by Night," played by Gael García Bernal, is indeed a werewolf named Jack Russell who isn't so different from Lyle Talbot in George Waggner's 1941 film "The Wolf Man." Hair, fangs, full moons, the whole schmear. And, wouldn't you know it, the werewolf is old friends with a lumbering, nine-foot swamp monster named Ted. Over the course of the film, Jack Russell endeavors to free his moss-man friend from a stone labyrinth. 

Ted is Dr. Ted Sallis, aka Man-Thing, a Marvel Comics character that was invented in 1971 by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Gray Morrow. And, like all Marvel characters, Man-Thing has a storied and colorful history worth looking into. 

Meet Dr. Ted Sallis

In the comics, the backstory of Man-Thing is the stuff of 1950s monster movies. Dr. Ted Sallis was working in a remote lab in the Florida Everglades aiming to reproduce the powerful steroid, the SO-2 Serum, that would protect soldiers from chemical warfare. This was a time when Agent Orange and Agent White were being used by the United States in the Vietnam War, so the research was topical. When a terrorist group breaks into Dr. Sallis' lab, he flees in his car and hastily injects himself with the rudimentary formula, hoping to obtain emergency superpowers. Instead, he crashes his car into a swamp and fuses with the fungus, mosses, and lichens therein, emerging as Man-Thing, a cryptid with facial tendrils and large red eyes. 

It was later explained that Man-Thing's transmutation was due to, in addition to the SO-2 Serum, a vague haze of otherworldly magic that hovered around the swamp where Dr. Sallis crashed. So Man-Thing is also vaguely mystical. 

Man-Thing is large, slow-moving, and doesn't speak. There was even briefly some debate as to whether or not he was even sentient. Man-Thing is vaguely psychic and can read the emotions of others. He can excrete corrosive goop that will burn a victim, but only if they feel fear. In "Werewolf by Night," Man-Thing scorches a person's head with his hand. In the comics, Man-Thing also has healing blood and can seep through small cracks. 

Over his printed history, it has additionally been revealed that Man-Thing is, in fact, one of an abundant species of their own in other dimensions, and multiple Man-Things (Men-Things?) have appeared periodically. Sharp eyes might have seen a Man-Thing represented on a building sculpture in "Thor: Ragnarok."

Man-Thing on film

Man-Thing also previously appeared in his own straight-to-video horror/crime thriller in 2005. Directed by Brett Leonard ("The Lawnmower Man," "Virtuosity"), the aptly titled "Man-Thing" reintroduces Ted Sallis as a Seminole chieftain who, as the story goes, sells a tract of Florida land to a corrupt oil tycoon. The tycoon claimed that Ted Sallis kept all the money for himself and disappeared into the swamp, when, in actuality, he was the victim of a land-snatching scheme. Sallis was killed and buried in a magical swamp and returned to life as the Man-Thing, committing acts of revenge and sabotage in the shadows. 

Leonard presents Man-Thing as a monster who lurks and terrifies. He has a crown of gnarled branches, and appears to do real harm. This is not a gentle empath, but a spirit of vengeance. He is the natural world's wrath in humanoid form. As Marvel movies go, "Man-Thing" is passably good. It's dank and spooky and atmospheric. It's also rated R, denoting its scariness and violence. It merely spends far too much time investigating, and not enough time killing and scaring.

Plans for the "Man-Thing" movie first arose in 2000 when Artisan Entertainment managed to secure the film rights to multiple high-profile Marvel Comics characters. Artisan's plan was to make a Captain America feature, and a Thor TV series, too. Other characters announced to be part of the Artisan Marvel Universe included Deadpool, Ant-Man, Black Panther, Morbius, Iron Fist, Longshot, The Power Pack, and Mort the Dead Teenager. "Man-Thing" was announced in 2001. That was the same year Artisan, faltering, elected to abandon the Marvel properties. As "X-Men" and "Spider-Man" were doing big business, other studios began buying the rights. In 2009, Disney bought Marvel and the rest is history. 

Man-Thing vs. Swamp Thing

Attentive readers will note that Man-Thing bears a very, very strong similarity to Swamp Thing, a character out of the DC comics canon. Both are shambling, gentle moss men who were transformed into muck thanks to magic and/or science. Swamp Thing has also appeared in films and TV, having been first adapted to cinema in 1982 in his own self-titled movie from director Wes Craven. "Return of the Swamp Thing" was released in 1989, and most recently, a "Swamp Thing" TV series aired in 2019

Man-Thing first appeared in Marvel Comics in May of 1971. Swamp Thing debuted in July that same year. Two major companies introducing lumbering swamp men within two months of each other, and they are both called "Thing." This was far too close together to have been a coincidence, and the timing, as some fans have speculated, could implicate either company in a scheme to rip off the other. 

As it turns out, it actually was a coincidence. Man-Thing's co-creator Gerry Conway and Swamp Thing's creator Len Wein were roommates in college where they, no doubt, discussed their favorite comics and laid out their creative plans for the future. It's likely they both drew their swampy inspiration from a 1942 comic book character called The Heap ("The Nightmare That Could Not Die!"). The Heap was a WWI German pilot who was shot down over a Polish swamp and spent a decade magically musing with the silt. He emerged in WWII as a mossy monster. There is no doubt that Conway and Wein were Heap fans, and merely each updated the character in their own idiom. 

Curiously, there has never been a lawsuit between Man-Thing or Swamp Thing. 

"Werewolf by Night" is currently on Disney+.