A powerful and nearly mindless force of nature, the macabre Man-Thing instinctively protects the innocent and burns all those who know fear.
Allegedly, before Earth was formed, a creator being from before time spawns the Fallen Stars, each an embodiment of one of its thoughts. On Earth, the creator makes a woman, Cleito, representing the nature of reality. Cleito spawns Adam K’ad-Mon, the first Man of Lineage, and their birth site becomes the Nexus of Reality, a focal point uniting all dimensions. Descendants of K’ad-Mon served as Nexus guardians, but over time the Men of Lineage become less concerned with this mission, until eventually one man abandons it completely: Theodore “Ted” Sallis.
A biochemistry professor at Empire State University, the sheltered Sallis has no knowledge of his destiny and prefers books to people. The United States Army recruits him into “Project Sulfur,” which sought a means to survive biochemical warfare. Sallis developes “Serum SO-2,” which grants immunity to all known toxic biochemicals, but its mutagenic effects would transform people into monsters. Ted’s friend, the free-spirited girl Sainte-Cloud, convinces him to denounce the Project, shutting it down before any serum was produced. Ted proposes to Sainte-Cloud, but she refuses due to their many differences. Returning to teaching, Sallis falls in love with one of his students, Ellen Brandt, a naive and impassioned girl of nineteen; the two elope following a secret affair. After their honeymoon, they visit the fortune teller Madame Swabada, who foretells a catastrophic change.
Sallis tries to put his creation of a mutagenic serum behind him for fear of its military applications. But when S.H.I.E.L.D. assigns him a new super-soldier project, “Project Gladiator”, set in the Florida Everglades, he reluctantly reopens old wounds to fashion a new version of the lost Super-Soldier Serum that created Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America. Unfortunately, his neglected young bride Ellen allies herself with the criminal science cabal Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) to betray Sallis and capture the serum for malevolent purposes.
After an A.I.M. ambush, a desperate Sallis memorizes his notes before burning them, and injects himself with the serum as he attempts to escape his attackers. Unbeknownst to him, the swamp surrounding him contains the mystical Nexus of All Realities, a focal point for otherworldly energies that when combined with the serum’s transformative properties changes the scientist into a new being composed completely from the swamp flora. As the hulking Man-Thing, Sallis kills the A.I.M. agents and disfigures Ellen while the last remnants of his humanity slip away forever.
As the Man-Thing, Ted Sallis’ body comprises an eclectic collection of algae, moss, root bundles, tubers, and other vegetation. Nearly seven feet tall, the humanoid creature sports long forearms ending in twisted hands with long claws, a massive torso, and a face made up from dangling tendrils. In addition, the Man-Thing exhibits a strong odor of rotting plants.
This strange collective of plants provides the beast with a kind of invulnerability stemming from the ability to reform after damage to its body, as well as a talent for compressing its mass to ooze through small openings. Due to some arcane chemical process within its structure, the Man-Thing can burn any living being that exhibits a strong sense of fear.
With nearly no vestiges of Sallis’ original mind left in it, the Man-Thing operates almost entirely on instinct, being attracted to emotional broadcasts from others and even experiencing a kind of pain itself from them. The creature seems to be able to remember and recognize individuals that interact with it in extreme situations, though in the end the Man-Thing is normally beholden only to itself.
Though the Man-Thing cannot be said to possess the capability for friendship or love, several beings have fallen into the beast’s orbit that might be classified as allies, either consciously or unconsciously.
Magic-users and spellcasters seem to be prevalent among the Man-Thing’s encounters. The sorcerers Dakimh and Jennifer Kale rank chiefly among them having had more than one adventure with the swamp creature. Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme Dr. Stephen Strange, AKA Doctor Strange, may also be counted in this group, being sympathetic to the Man-Thing’s existence as a protector of realities.
Other odd alliances include those with the costumed hero Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man, and the anthropomorphic duck from another world, Howard the Duck, Korrek, warrior of Katharta, as well as fellow “monsters” Dr. Michael Morbius, AKA Morbius, the Living Vampire, Johnny Blaze, AKA Ghost Rider, and Jack Russell, AKA Werewolf by Night. In addition, the Man-Thing has battled alongside teams of champions like the Legion of Monsters and the Howling Commandos, and the Thunderbolts under Luke Cage’s leadership, but usually as a partner of happenstance, not conscious purpose.
Perhaps the most complicated relationship the muck-man lays claim to would be that with Ellen Brandt Sallis, the wife of Ted Sallis. Though she betrays her husband for her own gain, she later makes contact with the Man-Thing and whatever might still be left of Sallis inside it for the benefit of others. Unknown to Sallis, Ellen had been pregnant before transforming into Man-Thing, though she gives up their son, Job Burke, for adoption.
As much as true relationships elude the Man-Thing, so, too, do earnest enmities. Many evil entities have interrupted the creature’s path through the swamps, almost always with intentions to usurp its abilities or role in the cosmos, but for whatever reason demonic abusers top the list. These include the demonlord Thog, the wicked Termineus, and even a host of Hell-Lords.
Beyond unearthly evil, the egomaniacal sorcerer Baron Karl Amadeus Mordo, AKA Baron Mordo and Elder of the Universe Taneleer Tivan, AKA the Collector, have also attempted to capture the Man-Thing for their own purposes. Although, they learn too late that such a force cannot be contained or controlled in the end.