50 Years Ago, Marvel gives Birth to the Man-Thing
It started in Savage Tales number one. A government scientist hides out in the swamps of the Everglades, holding the key to a chemical that, if in the wrong hands, could be used as a catastrophic weapon. He has to destroy it. His girlfriend does not understand the immediacy of the situation. . . or, does she? An ambush. It was a set up! In a desperate attempt to escape, Dr. Theodore “Ted” Sallis loses control of his car and drives into the swamp. Sinking. The chemical solution mixes with the murky swamp water changing Sallis into the Man-Thing!
Parallel to DC’s Swamp Thing, Man-Thing was a new multi-faceted experiment for Marvel. A Hugo-esque creature turned superhero tortured by his own creation. Marvel paints Man-Thing as “The Monster” turned empathetic monster.
In 1971, Marvel made a second attempt (the first being a two-issue run of The Spectacular Spider-Man) to enter the comic-magazine market dominated by publications like Eerie, Creepy, and Vampirella. Savage Tales made it to issue one before taking a multi-year hiatus before surfacing again in 1973. The issue featured the following fantasy adventure stories:
- An adaptation of The Frost-Giant’s Daughter powered by Conan the Cimmerian,
- A dive into the fury of Ka-Zar,
- An Amazon-like Femizon story by Stan Lee,
- Dennis O’Neil’s African-American inner-city defender Black Brother, and
- The Man-Thing origin story.
Martin Goodman, publisher of pulp magazines, did not want to do a non-[Comics] code comic because of not having the parental seal from The Comics Magazine Association of America. Marvel had a reputation to uphold, and Savage Tales was a new risk based on the risque nature of the Man-Thing story. Savage Tales got shelved. If it was Goodman’s decision, the magazine would cease to exist. It was not until after Goodman left did Savage Tales resume publication.
Roy Thomas, who worked with Gerry Conway (co-creator of The Punisher), penned the origin story like a gritty pulp horror set up. Creator of many science fiction covers as well as DC’s El Diablo, Gray Morrow inked Man-Thing to life. A visual abomination with a face that looks like inspiration to Jeff Goldblum’s The Fly, Man-Thing feels more like a monster with its characteristics. Although predictable, I love the mood and tenseness of the situation. For Dr. Sallis, there is no happy ending. His destiny is complemented with torment.Maybe because of Savage Tales—I think the publication is partly responsible—Roy Thomas became editor-in-chief of Marvel.
What followed eventually became a twenty-two issue comic book series and later a multitude of Man-thing spin offs and variations. For Savage Tales, the magazine saw eleven issues and one annual.