Every October I like to share two very specific types of stories with you in my Marvel Madness posts. Earlier this month I took you on another trip to the spooky town of Rutland, Vermont, and next week I’ll share another ridiculous adventure of the lord of vampires himself, Dracula. But I wanted to also share a special extra story with you. Because every now and then I attempt to find a story featuring one of my personal favorite weird Marvel characters. The Infernal Man-Thing. He’s a character that doesn’t get a whole lot of use in comics, and I think that’s kind of a shame. Man-Thing and Swamp Thing showed up at almost the exact same time, mere months apart, but Swamp Thing has gone on to have quite a storied career at DC, becoming a character with a shocking amount of depth and some truly remarkable stories under his belt. Man-Thing meanwhile is usually portrayed as a bit of a joke, a lumbering monster who lights people on fire if they’re scared of him. He’s ridiculous, weird, and doesn’t have a whole lot of great tales attached to him. But, I love him. He’s exactly the type of weird Marvel nonsense that I adore, and he’s easily my favorite monster in Marvel. So, since it’s the Halloween season, how about we talk about Man-Thing and a time he and Iron Man beat up an evil little girl? ‘Tis the season.
The story opens up in Citrusville, Florida, a small town that really only matters because it contains the Nexus of All Realities, a dimensional gateway that lets people transport themselves to any possible reality. Man-Thing is in charge of guarding the Nexus, and lives in the swamps, keeping people from accessing the Nexus. The only other interesting thing in Citrusville is a prototype city of the future called Omega City. It was built by some scientists who feature in Man-Thing’s comic, until it was destroyed by some other horrible monster. The destruction of Omega City is a huge disappointment for the scientists in charge of it. Luckily, they’ve found someone who potentially will want to buy the land and try to get Omega City back off the ground. Everyone’s favorite billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, Tony Stark.
Tony then starts walking through the wreckage of Omega City with Dr. Marshall and Paul Benton the guys in the screenshot above, looking at everything that was destroyed in the fight between Man-Thing and an evil cult that worshiped entropy, including the skeleton of the leader of the cult, a man named Yagzan. The place is really well and truly trashed, but there’s still some hopes for it. So, Tony Stark heads back into town with Marshall and Benton, getting ready to work up the plans to fix Omega City. And, of course, Tony also asks about the weird plant monster who lives nearby and saved the day, since that seems like something a superhero funding a project should know.
And, speaking of Man-Thing, as Tony and the scientists leave the wreckage of Omega City we find that he’s been lurking in the shadows, watching them. Man-Thing doesn’t really have a whole lot of sentience, and is instead a powerful empath, reacting to the world around him based on the emotions of every living creature around him. And, as he watches the men leave Omega City he picks up on some other emotions further in the swamp, and goes to investigate. He ends up finding a trio of children, all dressed as superheroes, playing in the swamp and having a good time. Man-Thing is drawn towards their fun, and watches as they run around, goofing off. But, things get worrisome when one of the children, a little girl dressed as Iron Man, finds what appears to be a magic wand inside some stagnant water. And, as she starts brandishing the wand, an alligator rises up to attack her, spurning Man-Thing to protect her.
Man-Thing really hates the emotion of fear, so when the little girl’s body starts pumping that out like crazy if causes him to fly into a rage, attacking the alligator with all of his might. And, it’s a pretty easy fight. Man-Thing is incredibly strong, and is able to wrestle the gator into submission while Cynthia, the little girl, flees in terror. Her two little friends immediately leave her behind while Cynthia runs deeper into the swamp. Man-Thing is able to kill the gator, but Cynthia doesn’t realize that, and ends up tripping in her fear, dropping into a deep body of water and sinking like a stone, still holding the strange magical rod she found. Man-Thing lumbers over to the pool that she vanished in, but he’s unable to find her. She’s vanished without a trace.
And no one is able to find her. Citrusville mourns the apparent death of little Cynthia, but time gradually goes by, and our story skips ahead several weeks. And, in those weeks, a lot of progress has come to Omega City. Tony Stark has been living in Citrusville, getting the experimental city up and running. But, one day, Tony hears some troubling news. News so troubling that he decides to hop into his Iron Man suit and investigate. Because a series of massive floating stone balls have suddenly appeared in the skies of Citrusville, threatening to fall and crush the people below. Iron Man flies up to check in on the mysterious orbs, and is immediately attacked by them. They fire a series of stone spikes at Iron Man, causing him to fly around, avoiding the heat-seeking pieces of stone. However, just as they’re about to hit him, something strange happens. Stranger, at least. They turn into giant smiley-face balloons.
So, that was weird. Iron Man lands back on the ground, hoping to figure out what the hell just happened, and instead finds a whole bunch of angry citizens of Citrusville waiting for him. They have no idea what’s going on, and assume that Iron Man being in town has brought this heat down on them. They throw some tomatoes at him, and before Iron Man can lose his temper at them another strange thing happens. A torrent of magical water come bursting out of the ground, throwing Iron Man and a random towns person into the air. Iron Man is able to catch himself in midair, flying back down to the ground, but the random guy ends up plummeting to the ground, dying.
This obviously makes the fury of the citizens of Citrusville even more palpable, and Iron Man is forced to flee before the crowd rips him limb from limb. Tony then heads out to talk with Marshall and Benton, asking them for advice. They tell Tony that this snafu is going to dampen the town’s already meager interest in Omega City, and that the only way to fix it is to figure out what’s actually causing the strange occurrences and fix them. They worry that this is somehow related to the evil cult that destroyed Omega City, and recommend that Tony go talk with a local DJ who was framed by the cult to get some leads. So, Tony goes to talk with the DJ, who actually does have an idea. This doesn’t seem to be the work of the cult, it sounds more like the deeds of the Molecule Man, another supervillain who has made Citrusville his home at one time.
Now, in case you’re unfamiliar, the Molecule Man is a bizarre Fantastic Four villain who has the ability to manipulate molecules of any nature, making him one of the most powerful being in the Marvel Universe. But, he’s never been particularly great at using his power, requiring a special wand that he created to help him focus. And, as you probably guessed, that wand is the thing that Cynthia found in the swamp. The last time the Molecule Man had shown up in a comic was when he took a trip down to Citrusville to mess with the Nexus of All Reality, necessitating the combined force of Man-Thing and the Thing to defeat him. Which they did. The Molecule Man appeared to die, and his wand sunk into the muck, hopefully never to affect the world ever again.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Because as soon as we get all of this information given to us we see that deep in the swamp a strange metamorphosis has occurred. Because Cynthia isn’t dead. The wand has kept her alive, and has been transforming her, turning her into a reincarnated version of the Molecule Man which is called the Molecule Person for the rest of the issue. Apparently Owen Reece, the Molecule Man, put his consciousness into the wand before he died, and it’s now infecting Cynthia, attempting to turn her back into himself. He even makes her create a version of the old Molecule Man costume to wear. And, while all of this is going on, Man-Thing is awkwardly spying on her, trying to figure out what’s going on. And, to make things more confounding, the Molecule Person uses the rod to transform her bike into some sort of jetbike, and flies away on it.
And where is the Molecule Person going? Well, there’s still part of Cynthia inside the mind of the Molecule Person, and that bit has led her back to the home of Cynthia’s family. And, as you might have guessed, they’re more than a little shocked to find their daughter a) alive and b) a supervillain. But, before we get to see how this is going to play out, we cut to Tony Stark, who is driving back from meeting with that DJ. However, as they’re driving they end up crashing into the Man-Thing, who is just lumbering around in the middle of the road.
Tony’s driver is knocked unconscious, giving him the opportunity to put on his Iron Man suit, since this was still during the baffling time period when Tony Stark pretending that Iron Man was his body guard. He hops out of the car, ready to fight Man-Thing, since everything about the guy seems to scream “mindless monster that will hurt people.” But, no matter what Iron Man does to Man-Thing, the big pile of muck doesn’t fight back. He just kind of stands there while Iron Man fires all sort of lasers and gadgets at Man-Thing, accomplishing very little. Until Iron Man decides to toss a powerful cryogenic device at Man-Thing, freezing the big guy in a giant block of ice.
But, before Iron Man can figure out what to do with a frozen swamp monster, something strange happens. A giant emerald castle rises up out of the swamp, clearly becoming a bigger problem to deal with. And, inside that castle is the Molecule Person, holding her mother hostage. Molecule Person clearly doesn’t have a good control of her mind, because she’s now full of omnipotent power and a bunch of pre-teen hostility toward her mother. And this takes the form of using her newfound powers to turn her mother into a living doll, something to play around with and torment.
Which is when Iron Man comes crashing through the wall of the castle, ready to fight what he presumes is the Molecule Man. He’s more than a little confused to find a little girl wielding one of the most powerful artifacts on the planet, and the mind of Owen Reece is not pleased to see old Shellhead. He’s been trying his best to push Cynthia out of the body, to take full control, and is worried that seeing Iron Man, her hero, will be detrimental to that. So, Molecule Person causes a wave of gelatinous goo to cover Iron Man and distract him while the Molecule Person flies off into the night. And, by the time Iron Man is able to get out of the goo, the Molecule Person is long gone, and she doesn’t show up for several more weeks. On the day that Omega City is ready to open to the public. But, as a crowd of people arrive to check out Tony Stark’s latest business venture, something terrible happens.
Yep, the skeleton of Yagzan, the leader of the Cult of Entropy, has come back to life and grown to a massive size, only to begin attacking the crowd outside Omega City. This project is cursed. Iron Man suits up and attacks the giant skeleton, trying to draw it away from the crowds of pedestrians. And, after a fight that ended up much more difficult than Tony was expecting, he’s able to destroy the massive skeleton, hoping assuage some of the terror that the people of Citrusville were feeling. And, all of that terror has reached the Man-Thing, who thawed from Iron Man’s little ice weapon, and who begins lumbering towards Omega City.
As the crowd of people stand around trying to figure out what a massive skeleton just attacked them though, things get worse. Because Cynthia comes stumbling out of the swamp, still in the Molecule Person costume and holding the wand. And the news isn’t good. Owen Reece appears to have won the war for Cynthia’s mind, and seems to be in complete control, ready to get his villainous vengeance on Citrusville and the world. They start attacking the pedestrians, causing a whole lot of chaos. And, before Iron Man is able to do anything to stop them, the Molecule Person is able to use the wand to turn Iron Man to solid iron, taking him off he board. Which is when the Man-Thing comes bursting out of the foliage. Man-Thing grabs a hold of Molecule Person’s hand, causing whoever’s in control of the body to react with intense fear. And, we know how that’s going to work out.
The Molecule Person’s arm then bursts into flame, burning them so bad that Owen Reece is unable to keep control over the body of Cynthia. She ends up dropping the rod of the Molecule Man, which severs Reece’s consciousness, letting her become Cynthia once more. She drops to the ground as everything starts turning back to normal. Iron Man comes back to life and Cynthia’s mother is no longer a doll. But, before anyone can celebrate, they watch as a snake slithers up to the rod, getting attracted by Owen’s powers. And, with another sentient host, Owen Reece is able to take over the body of the snake, using his powers to transform it into a horrible snake monster that he can take complete control of.
Iron Man leaps into action, attempting to stop the horrible Molecule Snake before it can use its powers to kill everyone in sight. He dodges several blasts of energy from the wand, and an attempt to cause the ground beneath his feet to explode, and is eventually able to blast the snake monster in the face, causing it to drop the rod and turn back into a normal snake. Iron Man then attempts to pick the rod up, keeping it from affecting anyone else, and in turn gets affected. Owen Reece starts trying to take over the mind of Tony Stark, and for a moment it seems like he’s going to win. Tony starts turning into the Molecule Man, until he gets some surprising help. Man-Thing takes a hold of the rod, but Owen’s whole transference relies on sentience, and the Man-Thing doesn’t really have that. So, the mind of Owen Reece gets lost forever inside the inner workings of the Man-Thing, never to tempt another person. And, with the villain defeated and the day saved, Man-Thing lumbers back into the swamp, leaving everyone confused at what in the world just happened.
I was a little concerned at first that this story wouldn’t be a good fit with Halloween. Man-Thing is a monster, and that kind of makes him automatically a Halloween-centric character, but other than that I was worried that nothing spooky would happen. But, this story ends up having giant skeletons, snake people, and an omnipotent little girl turning people into dolls like that episode of the Twilight Zone. It all happens in sunny Florida, but other than that I feel like this is a pleasantly macabre little story, featuring a delightfully weird villain. Man-Thing is honestly a perfect character for these Marvel Madness posts, because he’s almost never the most important part of a story, and whenever he shows up things get weird. I mean, there are a lot of strange thing in the Marvel Universe, but a semi-sentient monster made of swamp muck who guards an inter-dimension portal and causes people to light on fire if they fear him is going a step beyond the usual nonsense that I love from Marvel. And this story utilizes his weirdness in a perfect way. We don’t get an insight into Man-Thing, and his presence seems almost tangential for most of the story. He doesn’t team up with Iron Man or anything, he just shows up at the end of an ongoing story, saves the day, and wanders off. He could almost be cut from the story. But his presence elevates it from a goofy Iron Man story to the type of transcendent weirdness I love from Marvel. So, I hope that this Halloween season you’ll hunt own a Man-Thing story and enjoy my personal favorite Marvel monster.
Iron Man Annual #3 was written by Steve Gerber, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Jack Abel, colored by Janice Cohen, and lettered by Gaspar Saldino and Irving Watanabe, 1976.
Categories: Marvel Madness