The dust has settled on Werewolf by Night and a clear breakout star has emerged - but it isn't Gael García Bernal's charming (if underdeveloped) hero who has captured the imagination of fans, but rather his surprise sidekick Man-Thing.


As a longtime fan of the swamp monster – I became oddly fixated on reading his entire solo bibliography in the summer of 2014 – this is a bittersweet moment. The character stands to become more prominent than ever off the back of this appearance, but Marvel Studios has reduced him to his most superficial form in pursuit of that popularity.

As alluded to in the special, Man-Thing previously lived as human scientist Ted Sallis, who was grotesquely transformed one fateful night in the Florida Everglades. He had retreated to a remote laboratory while attempting to replicate the lost Super Soldier Serum that turned weedy Steve Rogers into the formidable Captain America.

Only his wife, Ellen Brandt, was aware of his location. Unfortunately, she was a deep cover HYDRA agent. When she called in the cavalry, Ted made a desperate escape but crashed his car into the murky waters. As the elements poured in, he took the work-in-progress serum both to save his own life and keep it out of dangerous hands. It didn't go to plan.

Ted Sallis went into the bog. Man-Thing came out. But while Werewolf by Night's interpretation of the character seems to retain his exact personality, right down to an apparent love for sushi, the comic book version is a far more tragic figure. Not only are all memories of his past life destroyed, but so too is any conventional thought, understanding or means of communication. He is essentially mindless, but experiences a physical reaction to emotions felt by others in his vicinity.

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Most notably, negative feelings such as anger, jealousy and fear cause him unbearable pain, which motivates him to intervene in misdeeds out of nothing more than primal instinct.

So, why should we care about this aspect being lost in adaptation? Well, classic Man-Thing stories have an interesting dynamic distinct from anything else in the Marvel Universe. In the character's seminal run, written by Steve Gerber, he was almost a supporting player in his own stories. Most of them focused instead on people who entered his orbit, such as young sorcerer Jennifer Kale, absurd hero Howard the Duck, or even Brandt herself, who later enjoyed something of a redemption arc.

All of these characters would come to have a bond of sorts with the monster, but not anything as rudimentary as what we see between Ted and Jack Russell (Bernal) in Werewolf by Night.

Man-Thing grabs Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal) in Marvel's Werewolf by Night
Man-Thing grabs Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal) in Werewolf by Night. Disney

The relationships featured in Gerber's run and some others had genuine pathos. Many characters came to understand that Man-Thing was once a person too, but robbed of all agency in a cruel twist of fate. They knew the soul of Ted Sallis remained lost somewhere inside that monstrous exterior, buried so deep that it couldn't be retrieved, doomed to eternal dormancy.

Indeed, many stories ended with a weighty sense of melancholy as Man-Thing returned to the depths of the swampland. Marvel Studios has passed up the opportunity to tackle this challenging concept in favour of giving us a repackaged Groot; another plant-based being with an unusual speech pattern. But this one also likes sushi! He doesn't even have a mouth!

For this reason, I just can't get excited about the MCU version of Man-Thing. He certainly looks the part (ripped straight off the comic book page, in fact), he retains those gleefully morbid powers ("Whoever knows fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing"), but all nuance has been completely removed.

Between Thor: Love and Thunder's gross mishandling of both Jane Foster and Gorr the God Butcher, and the brutal character assassination of Wanda Maximoff in Multiverse of Madness, this is becoming a recurring theme throughout Marvel's Phase Four.

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