Man-Thing: Who is the Nexus Guardian

Whatever Knows Fear Burns at the Man-Thing’s Touch!

Man-Thing: What e’er you fear is shadow mist! All worlds are dream and sleep. Become this truth, sweet fated child, and God is yours to keep.”

Man-Thing #4 (1998)

You look out from a balcony. The capital is running efficiently. Loyal subjects keep quiet, slaves perform menial tasks, and dissidents are publicly flayed. Your wisest scientists have created a portal to other universes. You lead troops through it as you begin a campaign to conquer the multiverse!  

Your first impression of the new universe is stifling humidity. You are knee deep in water, surrounded by trees and buzzing insects. A scream sounds as several soldiers disappear underwater. The soldiers open fire, even as a misshapen form rises from the water and smashes through them.

You fire a laser that doesn’t slow the shape. Its light shows glimpses of the thing’s human-like form: tendrils hanging from its face, roots snaking through flesh, and hellish red eyes. It lifts you by the throat as fear blooms in your heart. FIRE! Its touch has set you on fire! You cannot even scream as the Man-Thing burns you alive.

Man-Thing is one of Marvel’s most misunderstood characters. He’s a muck monster who looks like he shambled out of a Fifties theater, but he’s on the side of the angels. So who is he? Where does he come from? What’s the difference between Man-Thing and Swamp Thing? Let’s find out.

Swamped: Man-Thing’s Backstory

Ted:I’ve given you the means to sacrifice our humanity to the cause of profit! And if you use it… you’re a fool!

Fear Itself

Man-Thing debuted in Savage Tales #1 in 1971. He was created by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gray Morrow, and Gerry Conway. They were inspired by Marvel’s old monster comics and Hillman Periodicals’ The Heap. They briefly considered suing DC because Swamp Thing’s backstory was too similar to Man-Thing’s, but agreed to proceed as if it was a coincidence.

Dr. Ted Sallis was a scientist working for Project Gladiator. He was assigned to recreate the Super Soldier Serum that had empowered Captain America. Sallis briefly worked with Dr. Curt Connors (the future Lizard) and included some of his research in the formula.

Dr. Sallis grew frustrated with his inability to solve the problem. He turned to black magic and summoned the demon Belasco to help him. Belasco gave Sallis an infernal equation that completed the formula in exchange for an unspecified great cost. I always suspected that math is evil.

Terrorist organization AIM learned of Sallis’ formula and began hunting him. Sallis destroyed the notes, but was betrayed by his girlfriend. He injected himself with the only sample and fled to the swamp. His body merged with the flora there while his mind was ravaged. Ted Sallis was gone. In his place stood The Man-Thing.

The Legion of Monsters: Man-Thing’s History

Jack Russell: “You okay?”
Man-Thing: [rolls his eyes and grunts]
Jack: “Well, you keep saying you’re gonna be careful and here we are!”

Werewolf By Night

Man-Thing wandered the Florida swamps, encountering heroes and villains. He discovered the Nexus of All Realities, a portal to the multiverse that further empowered him. Man-Thing became the Nexus’ guardian and prevented monsters and villains from invading. He was aided by sorceress Jennifer Kale and the newly-arrived Howard the Duck.

Monsters often stumble across Man-Thing’s path. Werewolf by Night, Morbius, Manphibian, Frankenstein, he’s like catnip to them. They eventually learned to communicate with Man-Thing and call upon him to fight mutual threats. He’s protected supernatural sanctuaries with the Legion of Monsters and fought the Marvel Zombies alongside the Midnight Sons.

Ecoterrorists called The Hordeiculture captured Man-Thing and tried to weaponize him with Belasco’s help. The Avengers and Spider-Man took down the terrorists while Magik, another Belasco victim, helped Ted Sallis free himself from the demon’s deal. Ted took control over his mutated form and was last seen torturing Belasco for revenge.

Cursed Capsaicin: Man-Thing’s Powers and Personality

Cyclops:Your power’s broken with me, D’Spayre! I still feel fear, as do all living things, but I don’t let it control me! I don’t despair!
D’Spayre: [grabbed from behind] “MAN-THING! I sense no fear from him, only a reflection of the courage and strength emanating from Cyclops! My powers no longer affect him!”
Cyclops: The swamp monster’s set D’Spayre afire! He’s tearing the demon apart!”

The Uncanny X-Men #144

Man-Thing has superhuman strength, durability, and strong empathic abilities. He is drawn to emotional displays, but hates fear and other negative emotions. His body produces a magical acid he uses against anyone feeling fear. It doesn’t matter if the target is stone, ice, gas, a fire demon, an embodiment of despair, or The Hulk, whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch.

Man-Thing uses the Nexus to open portals through the multiverse. He can also control plant life and absorb vegetation to heal injuries if he is in contact with the ground. Absorbing enough muck allows him to grow into a kaiju, The Giant-Sized Man-Thing! Wait, what’s with the laughter?

Man-Thing is barely sapient and unable to speak. He keeps to himself until provoked by strong emotion or Nexus activity. Very little of Ted’s mind remains, although it occasionally surfaces. The remnants fade quickly because of Ted’s horror at his new form.

The Actors Who Play Him

Dave Boat – The Super Hero Squad Show
John Olson – Hulk: Where Monsters Dwell
Conan Stevens – Man-Thing
Carey Jones and Jeffery Ford – Werewolf By Night

Didya Get All That?

The Guardian of the Swamp.

Image by Cedric Dumler courtesy of Marvel Studios / Disney+

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