Writer Chris Claremont is usually associated with Marvel’s X-Men comics. Many popular X-Men storylines, including Days of Future Past and The Dark Phoenix Saga were originally scripted by Claremont and became the basis for multiple blockbuster film adaptations. Still, Claremont has written many other comic book titles—including one where he turned himself into Marvel’s grossest superhero, the Man-Thing.
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A somewhat obscure comic book today, Man-Thing #11 showed Claremont delving into meta-storytelling as he placed several Marvel Comics creators into a weird tale that explained why he couldn’t bring himself to continue telling stories of the grotesque swamp creature.
Who Is The Man-Thing?
Conceived by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Man-Thing was once Dr. Ted Sallis, a scientist seeking to recreate the Super Soldier Serum that empowered Captain America. Setting up his lab in the Florida Everglades, Sallis manages to come up with his own version of the serum, which he injects himself with after enemy agents attempt to steal the formula. However, he later crashes his car into the swamp where the serum and magical forces mutate him into the mindless swamp creature the Man-Thing.
Unable to think or speak anymore, Man-Thing is a largely reactive creature that responds to the emotions in the immediate area. If the beings around him are calm, the Man-Thing remains peaceful. However, negative emotions cause him pain and drive him to attack angry and hate-filled people. Worse, once these people—good or bad—become afraid, the Man-Thing secretes a powerful corrosive that burns whatever he touches. This leads to the Man-Thing’s infamous tagline: “Whatever knows fear, burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!”
How Chris Claremont Became The Man-Thing
After multiple Marvel writers, including signature Man-Thing writer Steve Gerber, wrote several Man-Thing stories, Chris Claremont took over the title. Since the character could only react to those around him, most stories tended to focus on the supporting players—and Claremont built a very creative cast that included a spoiled rich girl saved by the swamp creature, Doctor Strange, a man who was the personification of death, and a gang of sky pirates who rode a flying pirate ship.
By Man-Thing #11, however, Marvel decided to cancel the book, leading Claremont to write his weirdest issue yet. Beginning in a bar where Claremont showed himself chatting with Marvel editors and creators, the writer claimed reality and fantasy were starting to collapse into each other. He revealed that he’d seen the flying pirate ship he’d been writing about and had discovered Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. This led him to encounter Man-Thing himself onboard the pirate ship and become an unwilling participant in a spell cast by Thog, the Nether Spawn.
Seeking to rid himself of the Man-Thing, Thog used his magic to revert the swamp creature back to Ted Sallis. Instead of simply curing Sallis, however, the curse of the Man-Thing was transferred to Claremont himself! Claremont compared the experience to descending into senility as his mind and intelligence evaporated, although he was still somewhat aware of what was going on.
Fortunately for the writer, Thog’s negative emotions stirred the Claremont-Man-Thing to action, allowing him to defeat the nether spawn. In the aftermath, Doctor Strange turned comic book Claremont back into his normal human form (although this meant Ted Sallis had to become the Man-Thing again). The experience left Claremont so traumatized that he refused to write the Man-Thing comic anymore, and Marvel agreed to end the book. In the final panels of the story, Claremont’s bartender turned out to be Dakimh, a magic user who had been subtly planting the true stories of the Man-Thing in the minds of writers like Steve Gerber and Chris Claremont to help tell Ted Sallis’ story.
While Marvel is no stranger to weird metafictional tales, Man-Thing #11 ranks as one of the strangest. Man-Thing has since reappeared many times in Marvel Comics, in both his own title and as a guest in other comics, but these subsequent writers have wisely chosen not to put too much of themselves in the character.
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