“Werewolf by Night,” Marvel Studios’ Halloween-themed mini-movie, has just hit Disney+. And it’s something to howl about.
A black-and-white creature feature directed by frequent Marvel Studios collaborator Michael Giacchino and styled after similar movies from the 1940s, it introduces us to the title character, whose human name is Jack Russell (get it?) and who, in the film , is played by the great Gael Garcia Bernal. Jack is brought to a remote estate with fellow monster hunters, where he is tasked with bagging the biggest, most fearsome beast yet. But can he accomplish his goal while also concealing his true identity?
That’s the big question. But today we are here to talk about an even bigger question: who is that big monster that everybody is after? What is his deal and where could he fit into the MCU going forward?
Major spoilers for “Werewolf by Night” follow. If you haven’t watched yet, turn back now.
Is his name really Ted?
In “Werewolf by Night,” Jack tells Elsa (Laura Donnelly) that she can gain the creature’s trust by calling him by his real name – Ted. This is a joke, of course (at the Fantastic Fest screening, it got a huge response). This is a nod to the character’s comic book origins and his original, human name of him.
He started out as a biochemist named Dr. Theodore “Ted” Sallis who is working in the everglades in an attempt to recreate the super soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. After a terrorist group infiltrates their camp, he flees with a vile of the serum. He injects himself but crashes his car almost immediately after; he’s swallowed by the swamp and aided by the region’s more supernatural properties. He emerges not as a man, but as Man-Thing, a giant, hulking monster who can barely think or talk and has scary, glowing red eyes. So yes, Man-Thing really is named Ted.
Where did Man-Thing come from?
Man-Thing first debuted in the pages of “Savage Tales” #1. He was created by the all-star ensemble of Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow. After the transformation, Man-Thing could secrete an acid that burns people (and other things) alive. (We see this put to good use in “Werewolf by Night.”) Various writers and illustrators have touched the character; Perhaps the most famous run was by Steve Gerber, the impish Marvel writer behind “Howard the Duck,” who added more fantasty and, yes, an appearance from Howard the Duck. Man-Thing has continually fought both the forces of supernatural darkness as well as the darkness that lurks in man, with a refreshingly environmentalist bent.
And if this all sounds familiar, yes, Swamp Thing, the DC Comics character, is almost identical. What makes things even weirder is that Man-Thing debuted two months before Swamp Thing, although discussions around the Man-Thing character predated his official first appearance by at least a year and a half and both characters shared a writer (Len Wein). By all accounts Marvel contemplated legal action against DC but ultimately chose to drop it. There was room in the swamp for both supernatural, plant-based creatures it seems.
What about this new version of the character?
While Man-Thing has been presented, in the past, more like a full-on monster (more on that in a minute), he’s also been a hero … or at the very least hero-adjacent. Giacchino, in “Werewolf by Night,” makes him ultra-lovable, a big sweetie who also has the ability to melt your skull in the palm of his giant hand. “Isn’t he great?” Giacchino said. “The way I kept explaining him to everybody was like, ‘Think of him like you’re hanging out with Jeff Bridges. That’s what it’s like. You’re hanging out with Jeff Bridges. He’s just a really sweet, cool guy who is on the level who’s not going to screw around. He just is who he is. You get what you get.’ Because I didn’t want him just to be goofy.”
Giacchino continued: “I wanted him to just feel like a real person. And anytime I started to get too big, I was like, ‘No, bring it back. He doesn’t need to be big. He’s already big.’ Always treat as if he’s a real person. And if you do that, I don’t think you can go wrong. And I think he’s turned out really well.” We think so too!
He should have his own movie, right?
Well, funny you should say that. In the pre-MCU days, there actually was a Man-Thing movie. Titled, simply, “Man-Thing,” the character was brought to life via an actor in a suit and the tone of the movie was more drive-in horror movie than elevated superhero fare. (It was directed by Brett Leonard, who had previously directed “The Lawnmower Man” and guilty pleasure “Virtuosity.”) The movie, part of the Marvel Knights suite that was being produced by Lionsgate and also included “Punisher: War Zone,” was intended for a theatrical release but actually premiered on the Sci Fi Channel (yes, this is pre-SyFy). In the movie, Australia doubled for the American marshlands. But hey, none of that matters, because Marvel Studios now has the character back and he is so, so great.
Could he be an Avenger in an upcoming movie?
Well, probably not. We know that there are two “Avengers” movies around the corner (in 2024), but we doubt Man-Thing, as lovable as he is, would be in the mix. That doesn’t mean that he couldn’t be part of another team, as he has been connected to Midnight Sons and the Legion of Monsters, two all-monster groups in the Marvel Comics continuity (oftentimes alongside Werewolf by Night). He was also an agent for STAKE, the organization within SHIELD that deals with supernatural occurrences. And given that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is showing its dark side, with projects like “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and “Moon Knight” and upcoming titles like “Blade” and “Agatha: Coven of Chaos,” we’re hoping we see Man-Thing sooner rather than later.
“Werewolf by Night” is on Disney+ now.