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May 18

X-Men: Curse of the Man-Thing #1

Posted on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 by Paul in x-axis

“Curse of the Man-Thing, Chapters 7-9”
by Steve Orlando, Andrea Broccardo & Guru-eFX

So here’s one for the “technically an X-book” file.

X-Men: Curse of the Man-Thing #1 might sound like a one-shot, but it’s actually the final part of a three-issue miniseries. The other two chapters are Avengers: Curse of the Man-Thing #1 and Spider-Man: Curse of the Man-Thing #1. It’s what you might call an imaginative use of “#1”.

We’ve had this format once before, with a Typhoid miniseries. At root, it’s a tacit admission that Marvel would really like to do a story about Man-Thing, but that book obviously won’t sell at all, so maybe if we prop it up with guest stars it’ll work. Which is a bit of a shame for Man-Thing, as this is his supposed to be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his debut in Savage Tales #1. The poor bastard doesn’t even get top billing at his own birthday party.

Hanging over any celebration of fifty years of Man-Thing is the other guy. Swamp Thing debuted at the same time, he’s almost exactly the same concept, and he’s not just a mainstay of his universe – he’s the star of the book that blazed the trail for Vertigo. His stories are ambitious. Man-Thing is… probably best known for having a quarterly with a funny name and introducing Howard the Duck? And both of those were in the 70s. Sure, he’s a familiar feature of the Marvel Universe. He’s not nobody. But he’s not much either. He’s the poster child for how differently the same concept can turn out.

But let’s be fair. This isn’t a throwaway story – not if you’re interested in Man-Thing, at any rate. Steve Orlando hasn’t done much for Marvel before now, but he’s an established writer and he’s clearly been given some leeway to retool the character and make him a bit more viable. Maybe that was the remit. In amongst the barrage of guest stars, Orlando’s agenda here is to hammer the kinks out of Man-Thing’s origin story, make him functional as a protagonist, and generally try to create a status quo that, at least in theory, somebody might be able to work with.

This isn’t a ground-up reinvention by any stretch of the imagination. Swamp Thing was long since repositioned as an eco-warrior; Man-Thing remains firmly a horror monster. But Orlando is trying to find a role for Ted Sallis to be more than just a name in the back story.

The basic retcon is quite elegant. An oddity of Man-Thing’s origin story is that it involves Sallis as a scientist working on a replica of the super-soldier serum, who then stumbles into a magic swamp and Stuff Happens. He’s a very passive character even in his own origin, and the connection between the formula and the swamp is a bit random. Orlando’s solution is to remove the swamp as the source of magic. In the new version, Sallis made a deal with the devil to get his formula to work. He and the formula are the source of the magical elements; they created the Nexus of Realities; and now the whole thing becomes a more conventional Faustian bargain story. Sallis is established to exist as a sort of guiding persona in a world within the Man-Thing, where he can be visited (or drag people in, from the look of it).

All this makes Man-Thing less distinctive, of course. His USP was being an anti-protagonist, a shambling creature who didn’t drive the plot so much as wander through it while it revolved around him. But maybe there’s limited mileage in that – certainly if you want to actually sell any comics.

So sure, as a Man-Thing story, this works well enough. There are different artists on each issue of the series, but they’re not wildly at odds in tone. The X-Men issue gets Andrea Broccardo, who is fine – the art’s clear enough, but it’s more conventional superhero than suited to a story which is doing horror tropes. It’s lacking a bit in atmosphere. But he does a good Sallis, who by this point in the arc has embraced his role as the spirit within the Man-Thing and is starting to appear as a slightly sinister yet seemingly unremarkable presence. Maybe he’s meant to be a sort of horror comic host figure. I could see that working.

What does any of this have to do with the X-Men? Well, not much! The villain, Harrower, is the daughter of one of Hordeculture, a surprising use of the mad old botanists. They show up throughout this series, with the comedy aspects downplayed. Basically, Harrower wants to wipe out humanity and turn the world over to the plants; Hordeculture ultimately step in to keep her in line. It’s a little unusual to see them in a book like this, but hey, the concept is perfectly capable of being played straight, and here it is.

The X-Men – or rather, the cast of X-Men – are barely in it. Storm gets to chuck a bit of lightning around, but the main focus is on Magik. Perhaps New Mutants: Curse of the Man-Thing #1 didn’t test well. But there’s a pretty decent justification for using Illyana: Sallis made his deal with Belasco, and Magik inherited it when she became ruler of Limbo. That allows Magik to show up, lecture Sallis about his mistakes, but also advance the plot by offering to release him from the bargain. Of course, that would be disastrous for all manner of reasons and so he decides against it. It’s his story, not Magik’s – but her role makes sense.

At this point Orlando seems to decide that he’d like to annoy anyone who really did tune in to see the X-Men, and wheels out a makeshift team of bozo squad of Marrow, Shark Girl, Forearm (!), Mammomax (!!!) and Wolf-Cub. You know, Wolf-Cub. Chuck Austen used him. He was in Young X-Men. Got killed. Back now. Wolf-Cub. This borders on trolling, and at best it’s just random. There’s no apparent reason to use these guys (let alone for Magik to call them in) and really, they might as well have gone with the New Mutants. But hey, they’re only there to add a bit of action.

This is Magik and some minor X-characters guest starring in the final issue of a Man-Thing miniseries. Still, at least it’s a decent enough series on its own terms, and at least it finds a way for her to fit organically into the plot.

Bring on the comments

  1. Chris V says:

    I have a great fondness for the original Man Thing series written by Steve Gerber.
    I find it is the superior series between 1970s Marvel swamp monster vs. DC’s Swamp Thing.
    Swamp Thing has had just as hard a time of making a go at having his own series as Man Thing.

    The only difference is that one of Alan Moore’s most prominent comics during the 1980s happened to be his Swamp Thing.
    Otherwise, no one tends to look that fondly back on any of the other Swamp Thing periods.

    DC keeps dragging the character back out, mostly because of nostalgia caused by the Moore run, and the series fails to catch on and falls by the wayside again.

    Really, without those Moore issues, Swamp Things fairs as badly as Man Thing.
    The book was in a pretty terrible place during the ‘80s and on the verge of cancelation until DC took a chance by letting Moore play with the character.
    The two runs that followed Rick Veitch (and Veitch’s run depends a huge deal upon the massive goodwill of the Moore run which preceded it) on Swamp Thing (Doug Wheeler/Nancy Collins) were terrible, then Mark Millar finished off the Vertigo series.
    Miller’s run had its moments, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a “classic”.

    So, without those Alan Moore issues in the middle of the character’s history, I would give the quality of the Steve Gerber-Man Thing priority over Swamp Thing.

    I still rank Gerber’s Howard the Duck and Man Thing as two of the best books ever published by Marvel.

  2. Si says:

    Harrower wants to kill all the humans and have plants take over? Didn’t we just do Empyre?

    But yes, I think Gerber’s Man Thing is definitely on par with Moore’s Swamp Thing, and its lower profile is undeserved.

  3. Mark Coale says:

    JMDM has also done some good Man Thing stories over the years, as you might expect given his fondness for mystical stories.

    I like Gerber stuff but it’s very 70s, so YMMV.

  4. Sam V says:

    Agreed on Gerbers run – a rich and unique work. While its hurried end means it still feels somewhat incomplete, I’d also rate the DeMatteis/Sharp Man-Thing series from the 90s as one of the great lost comics. It came along for me at 17 just as I was getting my first inkling of what else the medium could offer, and made a huge impression.

  5. Chris V says:

    I agree about the “Strange Tales” Man Thing series also, but it was cut very short by low sales. It seemed like it could have stood alongside heralded Vertigo titles at the time, but DeMatteis didn’t get the chance to accomplish what he intended.
    The Paul Jenkins’ Werewolf by Night was another quality casualty of the “Strange Tales” line failing to attract Marvel readers.

    It was superior to any of DC’s attempts to bring back the Swamp Thing character after the initial Vertigo series ended, in my view.

  6. Mark Coale says:

    I think the BKV Swamp Thing isnt too bad, but far behind any of the Moore, Veitch or Millar runs. ‘I may like the Millar/Hester more than most, since its very continuity heavy and i was still talking to Mark regularly back then.

  7. Scott B says:

    Wakanda Forever also used this format. I’m not a fan, it doesn’t make it clear what part of the story you’re reading or even that it’s multi-part at all.

  8. This was also the format of the 2001 Sentry sub-series, although those were only technically numbered; the number #1 wasn’t on any of the covers, as I recall.

  9. Joseph S. says:

    Seems as though Swamp Thing just has greater mainstream-recognition due to the films and tv series, and even those are 30+ years ago at this point, so I doubt very much the character would register with young people.

    It took me a few pages to realize this was an installment on an ongoing story. The numbering is really confusing. Not that I had much interest in reading the other parts, but at some point these gimmicks must be counterproductive, no?

    As for Magik’s bunch of losers, I think there’s maybe more going on than trolling. I understood it as a mutant analogue to the STAKE version of Howling Commandos (Man-Thing, Hit Monkey, Teen Abomination, Warwolf, Vampire-by-Night, etc). Orlando clearly chose (body) horror inspired characters for this purpose. Anyway it’s nice to see someone use existing characters.

    Oh, and the RL Stine Man-Thing mini from a few years back was kind of fun. Though Zdarsky’s Howard the Duck was probably the best recent take on the Nexus of All Realities.

  10. Mark Coale says:

    There was a recent (2019) Swamp Thing series on the DC streaming service, not just the Dick Durock 80s version or the USA network version (or the cartoon).

  11. The Other Michael says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Krakoan attitudes towards their own villains is WEIRD.

    I mean first they invite all their villains, murderers, terrorists, psychopaths and serial killers to the island to live in uncomfortable harmony. They even appoint some of the very WORST to the ruling body!

    Then they repurpose the name of a band of mutants who slaughtered HUNDREDS of mutants and maimed some of the X-Men, into a piratical endeavor led by one of the X-Men who suffered the most at their hands.

    NOW they repurpose the name of a DIFFERENT team of mutant/etc killers as a… monster mutant strike force??? (Dark Riders, of course, was one of Apocalypse’s “winnow out the weak” schemes.)

    How long before someone “ironically” revives the Alliance of Evil as a mutant biker gang, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants as a fraternity for college-age mutants, or, God help us, the Mutant Liberation Front as a peaceful protest organization?

    How soon before they decide that Krakoa needs a standing army/homeland defense team called… The Sentinels?

    Because right now, I wouldn’t be surprised by any of these. After all, we have the fucking Shadow King mentoring young mutants, Emplate and Selene helping to make sure that Krakoa, which eats mutants, doesn’t eat too many mutants, and Mister Sinister just doing whatever the hell he pleases with the DNA of every mutant in the world.

    Talk about letting the lunatics run the asylum or the fox guard the chickens.

  12. Taibak says:

    “How long before someone “ironically” revives … God help us, the Mutant Liberation Front as a peaceful protest organization?”

    I could honest to God see Quentin Quire doing that.


    About Swamp Thing: I don’t think that the live action movies and series have much to do with the character being well-known except indirectly.

    IIRC the 1980s series was a motivator for releasing the second ongoing, which was written first by Martin Pasko and then by Alan Moore (and many others).

    Once Moore made Swamp Thing well praised and well known, the rest was history. The Trade Paperbacks and the role in introducing John Constantine and creating the concept of Vertigo are probably more of a factor ever since than anything involving actors and a script.

  14. Mark Coale says:

    “Liberation Front of Mutants. Effin’ Spliters.”

  15. I don’t know, I quite like the idea of THE SENTINELS as a group of overtly colourful and superheroic mutant defenders (like a “good” X-Force), and at least there you have the angle of the mutants reclaiming the name from their oppressors, which has real-world analogues in civil rights.

  16. Chris V says:

    You mean like when that African-American guy pretended to be a white dude and led the Sons of the Serpent?
    Because I don’t remember the civil rights movement having a group which called themselves the “Ku Klux Klan”.

    I think the real-world example would be a group of mutants calling themselves the “Genejokes”.
    Which, if there was a comedian act on Krakoa, that might be a great name for them.

  17. Ben says:

    Not just the Typhoid Fever One-Shots, but also the way that Alan Davis used Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and Wolverine annuals to wrap-up an untold plotline in his cancelled ClanDestine series.

    And it’s not a million miles off from the Cloak and Dagger and Shang-Chi minis in the middle of the Spider-Island events.

    As either a backdoor pilot, reboot, or capstone, using events and guest-stars to justify helping out characters that can’t, at the moment, sustain their own sales isn’t the worst idea in the world, especially for audiences who miss those characters. Based on the amount of Gerber chatter here, there are probably others who would enjoy more regular exposure to some Man-Thing (fnar!).

  18. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Hey I had a Swamp Thing toy that turned from brown to green in the tub, and I had never read a Swamp Thing comic as a kid.

  19. Chris V says:

    I don’t really want to see more Man Thing comics, no.
    Most writers have no idea what to do with the character.

    Steve Gerber’s run was so special because it was a very personal series for him, much like Howard the Duck.
    It’s a character fondly associated with one author.

    Yes, the J.M. DeMatteis book was also excellent, while it lasted.
    So, if the right writer with a compelling idea were to launch a new series, of course it would be worth reading.
    I don’t want to see a new series just for the sake of it though, and I didn’t find Orlando’s take to be worth pursuing.

  20. Mark Coale says:

    My favorite Swamp Thing figure from the cartoon line was the glow in the dark one.

    Have we mentioned the theme that’s a rip off of Wild Thing?

  21. Mike Loughlin says:

    While Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleban, & Rick Veitch made Swamp Thing a respected and somewhat popular character with their landmark run, the original Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson series is a classic. Wrightson’s creepy cartooning was perfect for a series featuring bogs, castles, magic, and monsters,

    I like the new Ram V/Mike Perkins Swamp Thing series so far, it has the feel of ‘90s Vertigo.

    I’m a fan of Gerber’s work on Man-Thing (and his other comics) as well. I wish Mike Ploog had drawn more of the run, his art was almost on par with Wrightson’s. Val Mayerik’s & Jim Mooney’s art was decent, but Ploog’s matched the loopiness of Gerber’s scripts. If you haven’t read the Gerber/ Kevin Nowlan Man-Thing mini from a few years ago, I recommend it.

  22. Chris V says:

    Yes, Infernal Man Thing.
    It’s a sequel to what I consider the greatest Man Thing story, from the 1970s series (“Song Cry of a Dead Man”).
    I would definitely say it is one of the best works ever written by Steve Gerber.

  23. Nu-D says:

    The only Man-Thing story I’ve ever read was his guest appearance in Uncanny X-Men, teaming up with Cyclops to fight D’Spayre.

    Ive never read a Swamp Thing story.

  24. neutrino says:

    Bringing in Belasco, making Ted Sallis a sorcerer seems to add kinks instead of removing them. Belasco has never been portrayed as making deals for souls, and the Nexus of Realities was described as a long standing natural phenomenon.

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