The movie cold opens with nightmarish flashbacks to a scene of a monstrous shadowed figure in a lab attacking a military woman. Quick flashes show several other scientists and guards' bodies strewn on the floor, and the woman being swallowed by flames as it is revealed to be Ellen Brandt , as she screams, “TED!”
Her screams cut to silence as we switch to the scene outside the bar in Iron Man 3 . We close-up on her now-scarred face, as she walks down the street, and “bumps” into Tony Stark . After the two part ways, instead of following Tony like in IM3, we follow Ellen. She goes to her car to gather some things, before returning to the bar to confront Tony, as she did in IM3. From here we follow the fight from Iron Man 3, but instead whenever the camera follows Tony, we again follow Ellen. The fight moves into the diner, and Tony eventually blows her up into the powerlines. We see her eyes close and the screen fade to black. We fade back into the scene after Tony has fought Savin and left, and it is revealed that the viewers are watching Ellen as a figure from the shadows, not just as the camera and audience. A monstrous shadowed figure steps out from hiding and gently retrieves Brandt's lifeless body off the powerlines.
Starting with just shots of his hand/partial body, etc., we eventually get a full reveal of Man-Thing, saving only his face, as he bathes Brandt in the magical waters of his swamp , bringing her back to life. He returns her to his swamp house/cottage/shack and nurses her back to health.
Lying in bed, she begins to stir, and wake. As she opens her eyes she sees Man-Thing’s face, as it is revealed to us for the first time as well. She initially freaks out, quickly stops, more confused than scared. She cannot remember anything about herself or her past.
“Where… where am I?” Ellen asks. “Who are you??”
The monster does not reply.
She lives with him in his swamp for a while, a shell of herself, equal parts catatonic, indifferent, and resigned to her fate. We jump from quick scene to scene, as time passes; she’s sitting in front of a fire in the rustic house; her and Man-Thing are sitting, eating in silence at a table; etc. At one point Man-Thing is about to leave the cottage, but she stops him and asks again, “Where am I?”
He replies with a very rough, “Home.” before leaving.
Out in the swamp we see a young couple on a boat, secluded, fishing. The two are exchanging playful banter, and enjoying each other’s company. They begin to kiss, as a large shadowy figure emerges from the treeline. The girlfriend shrieks and the two are stuck down, and the viewer is left with a slightly red bubbling in the water below.
We cut to a police car with ‘Citrusville P.D.’ written across its body, pulling into a small parking lot. We can hear the radio playing.
“So you know it’s gonna be a hot one! But stay out of the swamps, no matter how inviting the dark shade might seem! Who knows–” The voice on the radio is cut short as the car turns off.
A foot steps out of the car before Sheriff John Daltry exits and walks into the police station he just pulled up to.
“Evenin’ Sheriff!” officer Kyle Williams says.
“Good evening. So what was so urgent I was called in for?”
Williams is standing in front of a large bulletin board with dozens of missing persons photos, and the words, ‘SWAMP MONSTER!?’.
“Well, I mean Mr. Josefson is in the tank for dressing up as a viking and causin’ general misconduct… again. Buuut…” Williams steps to the side and points at the board with his thumb. “We’ve got two more for the board…”
“That’s a damn shame, and I mean it... but why was I called in for that?”
“It’s a little less the why, and more so the who…” Williams pauses for a second and gathers up two photos, “John Kowalski ,” he says, showing the first, “Sergeant. Toured Iraq. His personnel file says he shoulda been able to take on most of what could come his way… And Barbie Bannister ...” He holds up the second photo.
“Shiiit… Of the Bannister family??”
“Yessir. She shoulda been able to buy her way outta most of what could come her way.”
“Yeah, they’re wealthy folk, that’s for sure. And happy folk. Can’t see her eloping and running away, neither.”
“No sir, doesn’t fit her profile. The Bannisters say she and John were taking the day fishing in the swamp. Didn’t come home. They’re pushing for answers, sir. I don’t know what to tell them. Don’t know what it all means.”
“It means we’re dealing with something big.”
Back at the swamp cottage, Ellen is alone in the living room.
Man-Thing enters in through the front door. There is a quick beat before she says, without looking at him, “Why aren’t I allowed to leave here? When will I be allowed to go outside with you?”
“Swamp, danger – men, monsters.” His voice is a little clearer now, but it is almost like she can hear him speak it out loud, and in her head.
“I am beginning to remember some things…” she says, still looking away, “…Ted.” She looks at him for the first time.
We get a quick flashback to the scene from the start, with Ellen burning, yelling, “TED!”
Back in the present, Man-Thing’s eyes flicker with humanity and recognition, before he turns away, and walks back to the front door. He opens it, but instead of leaving, he turns back and gestures for Ellen to come with him. She follows tentatively, but with a trust that she’s not sure where it came from.
Man-Thing leads her to the Dark Waters of his swamp, where he previously bathed her. Wading into the water, and reaches out his hand.
“I can’t place everything… It’s like my brain has been scrambled...”
He grabs her by her wrist. At his touch and pull she begins to panic, but as she does, her wrist begins to burn and bubble where he is holding her, as acid begins to coat it.
She screams, but, perfectly clear now, in her head, again, she hers his voice. “Breath.”
She closes her eyes and breathes, relaxes. The burning stops, and a sort of soapy mucus instead begins to coat her wrist. He pulls her into the water again. The two submerge and instantly they are overtaken by memories and flashbacks.
We see a man, Ted, a scientist on his first day working for a S.H.I.E.L.D. research team, alongside Dr. Wilma Calvin and Bobbi Morse . There he meets Ellen, an Army officer, whose team is working jointly on the project. Ted and his team were attempting to make a Super Soldier Serum , and Ellen was there to assist and gather data and research as part of the Armed Forces' Project Rebirth continuation.
“Nice to meet you!” Bobbi says as she shakes Ted’s hand. The woman named Debbie shakes his hand as well.
“And here we have our Armed Forces counterparts. They too are interested in continuing the work on Super Soldier Serum!” Ted and Ellen shake hands and their eyes catch each other.
The memories jump to Ted and Ellen getting married at a small chapel service, and then to the two on a ferris wheel at night-time, at a fair where they share an embrace. We then jump to the two laughing and stumbling into a fortune teller’s tent at the fair, with a sign that says, “Madam Swabada ”. Inside she delivers them a tarot card.
“The Tower”, she croaks as she reveals it, “catastrophic change…” Ted looks at Ellen with his eyebrows raised, playfully and mockingly intrigued.
Our flashback jumps to Ellen debriefing with General Thaddeus Ross . He throws down a Project Gladiator dossier folder onto the table in front of them, and three documents slide out: one with Dr. Abraham Erskine ’s picture with the title “Project Rebirth”, one with Dr. Bruce Banner ’s picture with the title “Bio-Tech Force Enhancement Project ”, and one with a photo of a younger Ted and the title “Project Sulfur ”.
“After Banner went postal, the military’s shutting us down and S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to terminate their side of the deal too.” Ross jabs sharply at the document with Ted’s picture, “Wainscroft is with me; they want to continue the research privately, but we can’t lose Serum SO-2, as well. Get me that research, I don’t care the cost.”
In the lab again, alarms are going off and the building is running on emergency power. A lightly bloodied and bruised Ted is kneeling over the dead body of Wilma. A gunshot is heard in the building.
“Ted! We have to go!” Ellen pulls Ted up and leads him out of the room. She leads him into his office, but in there are Bobbi, Debbie, and a few soldiers, dressed in black. She closes the door behind them, having led Ted into an ambush.
“I’m sorry Ted. I had no choice.”
“Ellen… what do you mean… what’s going on??”
“We’re going to need your research and your serum.”
“Ellen, you know it’s not complete! It’s useless at best and extremely dangerous at worst – even the most successful trial would make Banner’s… accident look like a supermodel!”
He takes a step toward her, but a soldier seizes him and tosses him across the room, next to Bobbi and Debbie.
“Ellen… you don’t have to do this… ‘Take temptation by the tail’,” he begins quoting a passage immediately familiar to Ellen.
“Ted–”, she replies pleadingly.
“'And be as a fury.'” He continues. “'Beat it– batter it– thresh it– flail it– Until it fears you and becomes as ashes in your hand!’”
“Ted, please... Wilma is dead. It is not how I wanted things to go, but it did. Our mission was to execute anyone not willing to cooperate, and I volunteered because if it wasn’t me, then it would have just been someone else – someone else who didn’t care if you lived or died. And now you are the only one who has complete access to the research and serums. Please, open the safe.”
Reluctantly, Ted bends over and unlocks the safe behind his desk. He takes out a vial of serum, and without anyone noticing, a USB stick. As he stands, he reaches for Debbie to help him up, using his minor injuries as an excuse, but covertly hands off the USB stick to Debbie.
“I have the serum,” he says, revealing it, “but all my research is downstairs on my computer, in the lab.
He begins to push for the door, but Ellen stops him, “Okay Ted, but give me the serum, first” she says, while reaching out for it.
Ted begins to hand it over, but then at the last second, clenches his fist around it and barrels past her to the door, knocking her down. Bobbi uses the momentary commotion as a distraction to take on the soldiers, and Ted escapes, but not before a stray bullet clears through his lower left side.
Ted flees in a car with the only existing sample of his serum, though bleeding profusely. While driving away, Ted begins to fade in and out. In a desperate bid to save himself and his work, he injects the serum into his body. But he begins to jerk and seize uncontrollably and loses control of his car, as he smashes through a guardrail and crashes into a swamp.
He should have died, but the magical energies of the swamp instead combined with the serum, causing him to transform him into a hideous, monstrous swamp-matter creature. His intelligence and control rapidly fading, he returns to the lab only to face Ellen and her team ransacking it.
Unable to speak, Man-Thing approaches the soldiers, but seeing such the hulking mass, they react in panic and fear and start shooting at him. Their reaction and fear elicits a reaction of fear and anger in Man-Thing, and unharmed from the bullets, he seizes the soldiers in a bear-hug and they begin to corrode in his arms, as an acid secretes from Man-Thing’s skin. Another soldier tosses a grenade at Man-Thing, lighting the room on fire, but barely singeing him. He lashes out and strikes the soldier with a swamp vine.
Man-Thing then finds his way to Ellen, who is looking a little worse for wear, but searching his lab, gathering his computers, and trying to get their hands on everything she can find. He approaches her, curious at her sense of focus and anxiety, but as she notices him and her emotions turn to fear, he lashes out again.
This time, he grabs Ellen by the arm, burning and melting it, as he pulls her in. He then moves his hand to grab a hold of her neck and face. Through his fingers he can see her watering eyes; her fear is not motivated by anger or evil, but by despair and sadness. He loosens his grip and drops her. Flames are building around them, but she looks at his own emotionless form, and whispers, “…Ted?”
Man-Thing is seemingly confused or torn. He shakes off the moment and roars at Ellen, the first noise we’ve heard him make, before bounding off. Laying on the floor, Ellen cries out, “TED!”
It is night now, as we cut back to the swamp. Man-Thing is pulling a half-drowned Ellen out of the water. She is alert, but terrified and weak; her memory restored, but confused as to where she is and what's going on.
“Ted… it… it can’t be.”
“I told you. The swamp is not safe.” Man-Thing’s voice is clear and articulate now.
Back in the house, the two tried to piece together what happened since their last encounter.
“When I woke up after the attack,” Ellen begins, “my face was scarred from fire and acid. I had lost my arm… My career was done, the military cast me out, I had betrayed you…” she trails off and her eyes begin to tear before she begins again, “I was pregnant… I didn’t have to go after you, we could have run together, but I gave it all up. I lost it all. I ruined both our lives.”
She takes a moment to regain her composure.
“My life was over...” a sniffle, “That is, until a company called A.I.M. approached me to take part in a new program – Extremis . They healed me, they gave me purpose… they used me. Once again, I lost control. The serum made me lust for blood and violence… I made the wrong choice, yet again. And my life was over, yet again, but this time physically. Until… you brought me back. After what I did to you, you saved me…
After the attack, I was told you were alive and under 'S.H.I.E.L.D. protection'. I tried to convince myself you and the thing in the lab were not the same… And then after seeing Ross turn into the Abomination on the news, I knew I was wrong… most days I told myself you were dead… on good days I told myself S.H.I.E.L.D. had cured you, and you were back working with them, happy.”
“They tried…” Man-Thing now takes his turn, ”After the incident, I lost almost all of my intelligence… my control… my sentience. For years, memories would come back fleetingly, but then would be lost again. Sometimes I would be aware of where I was, who I was, but mostly not. Drawn to others’ emotions, I explored what I could, like a toddler, not knowing how the world worked. S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to find me, Bobbi tried to find me, but I retreated further and further into the swamp, as I lost more and more of myself. Everything that knew fear, burned at my touch, and everything feared me.
Nobody wants to befriend this, nobody who sees this reacts without fear – fear that enacts a rage inside of me!” Beat “Nobody except the man who owned this house…” Beat “I could not speak, but he could understand me… he said he was the protector of these swamps, but he was dying… He told me something was coming, and that I was brought there to take over from him. So I stayed.
Slowly, I gained more and more control, but not enough to venture outside of the swamp. I began to visit the Dark Waters more often, until, one day, the Dark Waters showed me your reflection. You were on-fire, just like how I left you, but your fire was inside…”
“Extremis…” she interjects quietly.
“I remembered who you were, clear as can be… so I found you.”
“I’m not afraid anymore Ted… but I can’t stay.”
With the renewed guilt and sadness of betraying Ted and losing her child, this is all too much for Ellen, and deciding there is nothing she can do for Ted and wanting nothing to do with him, she gets up to leave, but he won't let her.
“You can’t,” Man-Thing says, as he physically blocks her way. “My consciousness has only gotten clearer since I found you. This is the closest to human I have ever been. I can… talk. I can feel. And as I have told you: it is not safe out there. Something is coming.”
“How do you know?”
“All the creatures in the area are on edge. There’s been a rise in energy, corresponding with my clarity, the vision of you, your arrival. The shaman was right.” As he says that last line, we cut to the swamp. It’s agitated, bubbling, a red glow begins underneath the surface.
We smash cut back to the police station with Sheriff Daltry. It’s daylight now. Daltry is looking at the body of John Kowalski in the morgue, all torn up, and a small radio is playing in the background. The same voice from the care earlier is on the air.
“Hey, it’s not good news, but at least it’s a blessing that the family finally has an answer. Sergeant John Kowalski was 25 years old. This has been Richard Rory, and I’m going to take us out with Danny Dream ft. Spritz , ‘Always Stay Adorable, Dixie’!”
The song begins. “I met her in a nightmare all hunched over; I can still recall the neon sign she wore–”
Daltry reaches over and changes the radio station. A flautist plays quietly in the background, as Daltry continues his work.
"Ah, Ms. Masagi , you never cease to calm a southern gentleman", he says to the radio.
He leaves and walks over to the missing persons board, which has grown by a face or two more since we last saw it. He begins talking to himself as he pulls the picture of Kowalski off the board.
“Four unsolved murders, ten people missing… and then everything goes cold. Just stops. Now all of a sudden five more missing just this month, and Kowalski turns up, torn to shreds. All in the swamp..! What is the pattern??? What are we missing..?”
Daltry is interrupted by Williams’ arrival.
“Yes Kyle, what can I do ya?”
“Well, we’ve got reports ‘a some movement by the Dark Waters. Down near the ol’ shaman’s shack.” Williams says.
“Pete Horn ? He’s been missing for years now. He’s one of our first batch of ten..! We’ve either got ourselves a trespasser or he’s got some serious questions to answer.”
Daltry and Williams pull up in their truck, on the soft ground that leads to Horn’s cottage.
Ellen looks outside a window. “Ted, why are the police here?”
“They’ve found me.”
“What do you mean they’ve found you??”
“I haven’t exactly always been on their good side around here. People look at me and assume the worst, they get scared. And controlling these emotions is new to me. I never had this before you. We have to go.”
“You go. Go hide in the swamp. They don’t know me. I’ll tell them what they want, and send them away.”
“Ted. I won’t turn on you again. I promise.”
Man-Thing turns out the back door and slips away, right as a knock comes from the front.
Ellen opens the door. “Good afternoon officers, what can I do for you?”
“Good afternoon miss!” Daltry starts, “We heard reports of someone coming down this way. Didn’t know anyone was down at Pete Horn’s place. Thought we’d come say hi.” Daltry and Williams let themselves into the home.
“But… you’re not Old Pete Horn..!” Daltry says almost accusatorily.
“No… I’m not.”
“No, you’re not! But you’re here! And nobody has seen Pete for years!"
"Are you suggesting something!?"
"No", Daltry laughs, "Just kinda makes me curious how you got here.”
"Nobody has seen Pete for years, because Pete sold the cottage to me, years ago.”
“Oh, that’s right, yeah? Well, welcome to the town! You’ve been around, and yet we’ve never seen you around…”
“I bought it as a retreat. I come down only once a year. I’m ex-military,” she flashes a veteran’s ID from her wallet, “and sometimes need to get away from the world, and escape to my own corner.”
“And we still haven’t seen you, even once a year?”
“Like I said, I’m getting away. My whole point is that I don’t see anyone else.”
“Just seems a little odd that Peter would up and move and not tell anyone. He was a respected elder in the Native community, did you know? Did he say why he was selling or where he was going?”
“No… I never talked to him in person. Didn’t want to know, didn’t ask. Just sent him the money, and never heard from him again.”
Daltry takes a second, analyzing what she said, then quickly sits down in a chair.
“Alright! Sounds good to me! We just wanted to check in!” He seems genuine, and a wave of relief comes over Ellen. “Do you have any sweet tea? I’m parched in this heat!"
“Uh… sure, let me go get some.”
"Oh! Me too please, ma'am!" Williams takes a seat too as she goes to the kitchen. A minute later she returns with two drinks.
“Thank you, dear!” Beat “You know… you came to a small, quiet town to get away, but things aren’t exactly quiet around here these days.”
“How do you mean?”
“People goin’ missin’.” Daltry says this almost matter of factly.
"We thought Pete went missin’, that’s why we came to check on you”, Williams adds.
“Runaways?” Ellen inquires.
“More sinister than that… and they’ve started up again, seems. Have you seen anyone around, while you’ve been down here?”
“No sir. What kinda suspect are you looking for?”
“Well depends who you ask!” Williams pipes up, snickering.
“What do you mean?”
Daltry answers again, “These swamps have been rumoured haunted a long time. Mysterious lumbering shapes in the dark, walking trees… some say a half-gator, half-ape.”
“Ms. Selby says it’s ‘cause God is angry and wants us t’start banning books at the schools, and that’s to blame for the state of things.” Williams adds sardonically, and with a chortle.
“And… you… you believe that? Any of that?”
"The scary thing is I don’t know if I shouldn’t… for all I know they’re all unrelated or a bunch of copycat murders, but with aliens falling from the sky , people turning all shades of colours… and those bodies that were found years ago? Water-logged and gator teeth marks in them, sure… but did that come before or after the plant parts protruding from their bodies, or the acid burns on their skin and the crushed bones?”
Ellen begins to feel sick. She knows what he is describing. These were people Ted killed.
Daltry puts his head in his hands and rubs the bridge of his nose before continuing, “This last body though… it’s like whoever it is… whatever it is, has changed their motive. This body was like it was picked apart, shredded…”
“Sorry, miss.” Daltry interrupts himself, “What kind of lawman am I? Inviting myself in and telling you ghost stories. This probably isn’t helping you trying to get away from what you’re getting away from.”
He goes to stand to leave, but there is a sudden rap at the door.
“You expecting anyone else, today, ma’am?” Williams asks suspiciously.
The two officers stand and turn to face Ellen as she opens the door.
In the doorway there is a tall, dark man wearing yellow garb with a green travelling cloak. In his hand is a quarterstaff that he used to knock on the door.
“Where is Theodore Sallis?” the man asks urgently, inviting himself in.
“There is no Theodore Sallis here,” Ellen answers quickly.
“Ted. Ted Sallis. The matter is urgent.”
“The lady said there is no one here by that name. Now, can I help you?” Daltry interjects.
The man, barely looking at Daltry, waves his hand towards him, and Daltry is pushed back into his chair, and wisps of orange energy coil around his wrists and ankles and around the chair. Williams readies for a fight.
“He is not here, now. When will he be back?”
“I– He’s not–“
“You do not understand. I did not come here because he was not. The Nexus of Realities is in flux. The Sanctum has been tracking a convergence of energy right here, in this very swamp. If we cannot locate Sallis, then we may not be able to stop what is coming.” There is an urgency in his voice.
"Nexus? Sanctum?? Get this–!" Daltry blusters, but before he can finish what he is saying, a light crack can be heard outside, and the man raises a finger as if to silence everyone. Then a clatter can be heard on the porch outside.
“I don’t think we can fit anymore guests in here. The shack is pretty crowded as is!” Williams says. The man raises a finger again.
The clattering grows to crashing and banging until the noise is pounding on the front door. Ellen moves a curtain to peak outside the window but jumps back with a shriek as a demonic figure lunges at her, outside the window.
“Dykkors ! Everybody get back!” the man yells. He readies his staff.
Williams draws his gun and aims it towards the noises outside, and while Daltry cries to be untied, Ellen moves to him and instead takes his gun. Williams is shocked but impressed at how comfortably and deftly she brandishes it.
Outside, the noise grows louder and louder until it is interrupted by the sound of glass shattering. In through the windows start pouring dozens of miniature demons, ghoulish and orcish, and about three feet tall. Some of them are armed with swords, and daggers, some of them are armed with only their teeth and claws.
Williams fires the first shot and a demon slows, but is not stopped. Ellen follows up with her own, and the mysterious man begins attacking them with his wizardry.
The three of them take on as many as they can, but then the door is suddenly broken down and even more demons file in, and they quickly get overwhelmed.
“Let me out!” Daltry cries again. The man waves his hand in Daltry’s direction, without looking, and the orange bands disappear. Williams rushes over and helps Daltry up. Daltry grabs a sword from a dead demon, and joins the fight.
“We need to block that door again, and slow them down! Force them through the windows!” Daltry yells. The man waves his hands and erects a large, orange Eldritch door, where the physical one used to stand.
"It won’t hold for long, though!” he yells. For now, they are slowed, bottlenecked in the windows, but quickly, and surely, the magic door begins to falter. But just as it’s about to completely fail, a large crash is heard outside, and the demons’ attention is obviously diverted. A loud roar follows.
“Ted!” Ellen yells as she recognizes the sound. The man waves his hands to remove what is left of the magical orange door, and Ellen races outside. The others follow her.
“What in the-!?” Daltry yells as he sees the beastly figure out in the front yard. Around Man-Thing, the front yard is littered with bodies of disposed demons, one still in his grasp, burning still from acid, as Man-Thing reacts viscerally to its emotions. Williams raises his gun at Man-Thing in defense.
Man-Thing sensing their fear, confusion, and aggression innately turns his attention to them and tosses the now limp demon aside. He attempts to speak, but instead all that comes out is a loud growl. This in turn frightens the men even more, upsetting Man-Thing even more as well.
He leaps at Williams and Daltry, but just in time, Ellen jumps in between, to intervene.
“Ted! Ted, it’s okay!” Glancing slightly back, she then directs her next words to Daltry and Williams, “Stand. Down.”
The two are slightly hesitant, but they do so. As they calm down, Man-Thing is able to recompose himself.
“Ma’am…” Williams starts, “With all due respect… what is this?”
“This is why I am here.” The man interjects.
Inside, the four humans and Man-Thing are packed tightly into the little cottage. Drumm is addressing the group.
“My name is Daniel Drumm . I am a Master of the Mystic Arts , a charged protector of the Sanctum. I am sworn to protect this world from it’s mystic threats. We have been tracking strange surges of energy coming from this swamp. These surges are pointing to something dangerous approaching, and have coincided with Theodore Sallis’ growth in abilities. We wanted to ensure they are not one in the same.”
Drumm says this all very stoically. Williams and Daltry seem flabbergasted, but Ellen is following attentively. Man-Thing is watching Ellen.
“How do you know about him?? You’ve been watching him?” Ellen responds.
“We’ve known about Theodore for a long time. And we’ve been tracking the swamp for even longer.” Drumm answers.
Man-Thing speaks up now. We, the audience, hear a low, growly, beastly voice, but can see his words subtitled as he speaks to Ellen, “Ellen, this is what I was telling you about. This is what the shaman warned me of.”
“A shaman?” Drumm’s attention is suddenly turned to Man-Thing.
Now Man-Thing’s attention is suddenly turned to Drumm, breaking away from Ellen for the first time. “You can understand me!?”
“Ellen can understand you due to the special connection you share with each other. Not only are your souls intertwined, but she has also bathed in the waters of the swamp, as you have. I can sense it on her. The reason I can hear you is not as special.” There is a short beat. “X'zelzi'ohr. ”
“Pardon?” Daltry interrupts, hearing the seemingly made-up word.
“X'zelzi'ohr.” Drumm says again, “The Universal Language.” He waves his arms and a slow, soft golden rain begins to fall in the cottage, though nothing it touches gets wet, and as quickly as started, it stops.
“I think you will find there will be no more confusion of what is being said between the present parties anymore. Every voice spoken, will be heard in a way accustomed to the person hearing it.”
He turns to a stunned and amazed Daltry and Williams. “Do not take this gift lightly… for I fear your help will be needed in the near future.” He turns back to Man-Thing, “This shaman?”
Man-Thing begins speaking again, but now his voice can be heard by all. “This shaman-”
“Pete Horn…” Daltry interrupts.
“...Yes. This was his home. After my accident… he never judged me for what I was. I couldn’t speak to him, but he understood me; he was calm. He was dying, but before he passed he warned me… said something was coming.
He told me of a time, long-past, the story passed on through oral tradition by his ancestors. A time when demons crawled the Earth and great threat came from the Earth.”
At this point we flashback to centuries ago, united Calusa and Tequesta pre-contact bands are working together to fight off demons. Warriors, shamans fighting to save the Earth, as well as temper the fires consuming the Everglades .
“Thog …” Man-Thing continues, is voice playing over the fiery flashback, “A beastly and relentless Demon, who suffered his victims to feel the torment of Hell. His only goal was to open the passage from Earth to his nether world, and wreak havoc, consuming this world with his own.” In the flashback, we get a look at Thog the Netherspawn, in battle, the landscape on fire. “The ancient priests managed to banish Thog back to his own realm, but prophecy states he will come again to finish his work.”
We come back to the scene.
“The Shaman made me swear to protect the swamp - the Om-Point, he called it, your Nexus, a concentration of energy… he gave me his house, to stay as "Protector of the Swamp", before he walked out into the wilderness, and I never saw him again.”
“Thog...A Hell Lord . Master of Eldritch Magic and Hellfire … Horn must have been sensing the same disturbances we have been at the Sanctum. Each surge of energy has been stronger than the last. Have you seen the Dykkor before, Theodore?”
“The demons? No. Not in person - but I have seen their aftermath. Though they have not come in these numbers before...”
“So what do we do? How do we find the source of them, how they’re getting here?” Ellen asks.
“The energy will surge again, and then we can track it… but for now… we wait.” Drumm answers reflectively.
The scene jumps forward to Drumm, near-meditating, eyes closed, waiting for the smallest sense, while the others sit around. Williams and Daltry are clearly not fully comfortable yet with Man-Thing, who is lurking like a large silent golem, in the dark corner. Ellen is staring into the fireplace. Time has clearly passed outside.
Suddenly, Drumm’s eyes flash open.
“I can feel it too” Man-Thing adds.
“It is time.”
We jump to the gang outside, following Drumm as they enter into an oddly quiet clearing in the swamp, with a small lake.
While the others are silently musing and sussing out what is going on, Daltry slowly nears the water. He stares quizzically at his own reflection in the dark water, almost as if he sees something below, but he’s not quite sure. A faint orange glow begins below the surface of the water, where he is looking. It begins to glow brighter as he is still trying to figure out what he is seeing.
Suddenly, a hand breaks through the water and reaches for him, but he just gets out of the way, falling backward. A demon follows that hand out of the water, and jumps on the supine Daltry, but he quickly tosses it off himself.
More demons pour out of the lake before a massive disturbance begins right in the centre of the water.
Next follows a large mystical cube that emerges from the swamp, levitating. A crooked, red-skinned form, with pointed ears and an arrow-head tail, materializes out of it.
Thog has arrived.
Much to the group's surprise, Thog and the demons are initially ignorant to the gang, almost as if in a focused trance, and Thog begins his work to turn the swamp into his own world of Sominus . Around Thog, swamp is being transformed into sandy brick and stone, and reddish hellscape.
Daltry is the first to snap out of awe, and steps up to confront Thog.
“Now wait a second–”.
Without even looking at him, Thog banishes Daltry to the cube, stretching him thin and fluid-like, spaghettifying him, as Daltry dematerializes into the box.
“John!” Williams cries out in despair.
Drumm reacts immediately and sends a blast of magic at Thog, but he blocks it perfectly with a blast of Hellfire. He glances over briefly as the two sustained blasts match forces.
Keeping the Hellfire going, Thog turns to face the group.
“Thog! In the name of the Masters of the Mystic Arts and Kamar-Taj , protectors of the Earth and all of it’s realms from threats mystical and preternatural, I command you to stand down!”
Thog ignores the warning and with his other hand waves it at Williams. Williams reacts as if in pain of his worst nightmare. The fear and pain is beginning to make Man-Thing tic.
Williams' blood-curdling screams of agony are also enough of a distraction for Drumm to break concentration for a split-second, and Thog sends a fireball at Drumm, knocking him back and ending the magic-lock.
Without missing a beat, and still with no words, Thog banishes Drumm to box too, leaving Man-Thing and Ellen with the reeling Williams. Demons begin to close in on the trio.
Man-Thing roars, overwhelmed by Williams’ panic and fear and Thog’s actions. He lashes with swamp vines at the demons before lunging at Thog, but Thog waves his hands one more time and the remaining three are banished as well.
Inside the cube, Man-Thing “awakens” to find himself in a field of Kirby Dots and floating abstracts. Cosmic colours and floating rocks with flat circular tops and stalactite bottoms drift around. Spread across the abstract abyss he finds Ellen, Drumm, Williams, and Daltry in bouts of tormented comas, on top of the floating stones; he makes his way to Ellen. She is hunched over, with neon blobs behind her.
Initially she is unresponsive to him, but he manages to stir her. Unfortunately, as she awakes, she begins to thrash as she begins to feel all of her sins, overwhelming her at once. Man-Thing, still holding her gently, begins to burn her skin with his touch, and let’s her go.
He turns to Drumm now. He stirs Drumm enough to wake him as well; he too is panicked.
“Drumm. Drumm?? Can you hear me?”
Drumm’s eyes focus on Man-Thing, but he doesn’t say anything.
“Drumm. Thog has brought us here in this… realm, to torment us.” Drumm’s eyes flicker around, and back to Man-Thing. “I live everyday with this empathetic fear, the banishment is not having the same effect on me.”
“Theodore… We are in… a Splinter Realm … a split... of what you would call Hell ... Only the darkest of magic could have brought us here, and… only dark magic can return us.” Beat “Ted, I am… I am not powerful enough to get them out… Not with the fear… and panic consuming me.” Beat “What I ask of you is not fair… Allow… allow me to transfer my fear and emotion to you.”
“I– I will not be able to control my bodily reaction – I will burn you, Drumm.”
“It is the only way.”
Man-Thing puts his hands on Drumm’s shoulders and almost immediately they begin to burn; Drumm winces. They burn even more; Drumm screams in pain. And then, finally, Drumm is seemingly at peace. He opens his eyes wide and magic begins to pour out of him. The black magical energy surrounds each of the five of them, and everything turns white.
Back in the swamp, Ellen, Daltry, and Williams are all drained and exhausted on the ground, but okay; Drumm is passed out and burnt badly. Thog’s transformation of the wetlands has progressed an inexplicable amount; a great stepped pyramid, half-constructed and in the centre of the swamp, is surrounded by floating stones and tended to by demons.
Man-Thing is enraged. He is irate and violent. Catching him by surprise, he attacks Thog.
Thog fights back, and in the scuffle, he manages to injure Man-Thing’s limbs, but they regenerate with plant growth, almost immediately, Man-Thing’s body and swamp mutagens in overdrive.
Thog sends his demons to attack the humans instead. Ordering them, “Remove these vile creatures from my sight! If they cannot be satisfied with their perturbations, return them to Sominus and take their grotesquerie with them!”
But in one fell-swoop Man-Thing takes them all out. Now Thog is getting seriously annoyed.
“Enough with these games!!” he roars.
Low gutteral noises emit from Thog, as Daltry begins to levitate.
“No…” Williams whimpers on the ground, still frozen and helpless with extreme fear and guilt and emotional pain.
And then it is complete. Daltry drops to his feet, no more or pain or suffering. Thog has him under his control.
“Punish these mortals for their insolence.”
Daltry raises the demon sword that he has been carrying since the fight at the cabin and charges at the three humans on the ground, taking first aim at Ellen.
Man-Thing intercepts the charge and steps between the two, and Daltry’s sword pierces right through Man-Thing’s chest. Daltry withdraws the sword, blood following it, and Man-Thing crumples to his knees, clutching his chest. He gasps in shock.
“That… will not… stop me. Already I can feel the swamp pulsing through me. Healing me," mocking Thog despite his condition.
“Death was not my goal.” Thog cooly replies.
Thog begins chanting gutturally again, and raises his hands. As he does so the blood that had leaked out of Man-Thing’s chest begins to levitate as droplets. Thog waves one hand towards Daltry, and he takes the blade of his demon sword and cuts his wrist with it. The blood from his wound begins floating upwards as well.
The droplets of the blood begin to drift towards each other. They mingle and coalesce. Thog pushes his hands out, waving them downwards, before quickly rushing them back together. As he does, white essences of energy are pulled out of each of Man-Thing and Daltry’s bodies and sent crashing into the other’s.
Daltry’s body begins twisting, deforming, and growing. Grey-black forms of vegetation, vines, and plant matter take the place of his clothing, his hair, and his skin. Opposite him, Man-Thing is shrinking, his defects retreating.
When all is said and done, where Daltry once stood is now a monstrous form of a new swamp-thing ; and where Man-Thing knelt is a spindly middle-aged man: Ted. His wound mostly healed, but a large cut remains on his chest. He falters backwards onto the ground. A still panicked Ellen manages to gather herself enough to go to his side and try to tend to the wound.
Daltry-Thing, new to his existence is instantly overwhelmed with the surrounding pain, anger, guilt, and rage. Instinctively, the hulking mass begins to move towards Williams, lying on the ground, helpless and immobilized, only intensifying Williams’ fear which in turn intensifies Dalty-Thing’s innate reaction, poison bubbling out of his vegetative flesh.
Before the monster can make its way to Williams though, a bright, shining tao mandala of Eldritch energy blocks its path. Drumm has stirred, and blocked Daltry-Thing’s advance. The monster tried to break past it, but Drumm blocks it with another mandala.
In turn, Thog saids a blast of Hellfire at Drumm. Drumm breaks his concentration on Daltry just in time to protect himself from the blast, absorbing the fireball into the Mirror Dimension , but dropping the mandalas allowing Daltry to advance again.
Drumm casts an explosion spell at Thog, knocking him back slightly. He then sends spindles of Eldritch whips to contain Daltry. The beast is brought to his knees, his limbs strapped together; he strains against the magic-whips, and Drumm strains against his resistance. The bonds slowly begin to stress and snap, bit by bit.
“He won’t give up…”, a very weak Ted calls out to Drumm, “Even if… it kills him… he won’t stop trying… the call is too strong… the curiosity… the desire has… taken over him…”
Drumm grunts as Daltry’s bindings begin to break even more.
“You need to remove him from the emotion… from the swamp… it’s where our power comes from. As long as he is emotionally provoked, he won’t stop.”
Drumm gets it. He releases the Eldritch whips, and Daltry-Thing rampages to his feet, and charges again for Williams. Feet away from his target, the monster leaps at him, but as he does a portal opens, and Daltry flings himself until the awaiting desert on the other side. Drumm closes the portal he opened with his sling ring .
Thog, annoyed, conjures two more demons and sics them on Drumm.
A number of large cracks rings out – CRACK, CRACK, CRACK, CRACK – as the demons drop in front of Drumm. Ellen has gathered herself beside Ted, her arms outstretched with Daltry’s gun.
She then turns her focus on Thog, and points the gun at him. He raises his hand in response. Slowly the handle of the gun begins to glow bright red, and she is forced to toss it aside, as it burns her.
Drumm uses the distraction though to cast Eldritch whips on Thog, binding him. Barely burdened though, Thog tears through the bindings. Drumm next, instead, digs deep and conjures a binding spell. Thick, blue metallic bands conjure from Drumm’s hands and entangle themselves around Thog. Thog again tries to break them, but is startled to find he cannot immediately do so. Panic peaks into his eyes, as he flexes and presses against the bonds.
Finally, Thog is able to overpower the deep magic, and shatters the bonds, releasing a frustrated and primeval scream. The escape sends a shock wave back at Drumm, knocking him down.
Thog casts a ring of fire around Drumm, to try to separate him. The intense heat sears his already burning shoulders, but he clears the ring of fire with a wind spell; a wave of golden light bursts forth, scattering the flames in a stunning display of sparks and embers.
Drumm then follows that up, conjuring a display of thick smoke and vapours that begin to fill the swamp clearing, concealing his location (as well as Ted and Ellen’s) from Thog. The smoke is accompanied by the sound of drums meant to disorient and unnerve Thog, as the smoke rapidly spreads and encircles him.
Obviously disoriented and the sound of drums beating in his skull, Thog shoots black lightning from his hand, in all directions, hitting Drumm.
The smoke dissipates and drums die off, revealing Drumm’s location, now squarely between Thog and Ted and Ellen. Thog sends one more blast of Hellfire at the small group.
“Sorry brother”, Drumm says to himself, pulling something out from underneath his tunic and robe.
The blast of Hellfire hits Drumm squarely in the chest, except he channels the energy into the gris-gris he pulled from his tunic.
With the blast contained, Drumm departs his body into the Astral Plane . Time slows, and in astral form, Drumm approaches the demon.
In a French Créole, Drumm speaks, “Kalfu, Papa Legbe , jete sa a zobop, epi montre figi vre l 'yo. Konjure destriksyon ou, ak ban li doulè li yo ak lapenn.” (“Kalfu, Papa Legbe, cast out this zobop (false god), and show his true face. Conjure your destruction, and banish its pain and sorrow.”)
Drumm’s spirit enters into Thog’s body, wherein he breaks the gris-gris and releases the Hellfire inside of the demon.
The blast tears through Thog’s body, dropping him into a crumbling pile. Drumm’s soul is tossed from the explosion and scattered on the ground, unconscious, away from his body.
With Thog seemingly destroyed, his magic fades. The self-building pyramid stops, as does the creeping sand and hellscape. Still shaken by the experiences, but no longer under Thog’s direct influence, Williams begins to come back to, and the emotional burden on Ellen lightens as well.
Just as all begins to seem well, the magic controlling Ted’s transformation begins to fade as well, and slowly his body begins to twist and grow and deform. His shouts of pain slowly devolve into animalistic grunts and roars as Ted once more turns into Man-Thing. (Daltry is still nowhere to be seen.)
His previously grievous wound begins to heal again, but Man-Thing is lost and confused and picks up on the residual fear and emotion of his companions. His curiosity piques and he begins to lash out. Ellen steps in and tries to calm him.
“Ted! Ted! This is not you! You can fight it again!”
He grabs her wrists and they begin to burn her. She closes her eyes and gathers herself, before opening them again, and saying his name, “Ted…”
A glint of recognition forms in Man-Thing’s eyes, but as it does, the crumpled mass of Thog’s body begins to stir. From Thog’s broken form emerges a skeletal moth-like demon with wings and thin body that tapers into a tail.
Thog, out of pure anger, hated, and panic reacts like an animal whose territorial imperative has been violated and charges at the couple. Reacting to such strong vitriol emotion, Man-Thing throws Ellen to the side, and defends his sensibilities, charging back.
The two collide and Thog begins clawing, ripping, flailing, and thrashing with his teeth, wings, and tail at the returned Man-Thing.
The extreme volatile emotions make Sallis’ intellect recede even further into the swamp monster, and almost all humanity is lost in Man-Thing’s eyes. His protective nature is lost almost entirely to the hunger and curiosity; any reason or thought is lost to the feeling of Thog’s emotions.
The two trade physical blows, but slowly Thog gains the upper hand and pins and constricts Man-Thing, with his serpentine tail.
From behind them, Ellen speaks, “‘Take temptation by the tail’,” she begins the familiar passage, “'And be as a fury. Beat it– batter it– thresh it– flail it– Until it fears you and becomes as ashes in your hand!’”
Hearing her words, atavistically and savagely, Man-Thing grabs Thog, roaring. Acid begins to weep out of Man-Thing’s body, coating the demon. And the more acid came, the more Thog panics, and the more severe the acid touch becomes, burning him alive.
Thog’s body disintegrates into ash, and collapses before them. In turn, his pyramid collapses and turns to dust too, sinking into the swamp.
Thog is defeated.
Man-Thing, however, is still in a state of vexation. He turns to the humans on the ground, and Ellen tries to intercept him.
“Ted. Ted, it’s me Ellen. I know you are in there.” She steps close to him; he makes low guttural noises as he tries to intuit where the residual emotion is coming from. She calls his name again, this time raising her hands, showing off the red and blistered burn marks around her wrist. “Breath…” He eyes her hands and then her face. Slowly recognition fills his eyes, and they turn slightly human again.
And then his eyes go back to her wrists and he realizes what the marks are. “Ellen…” he takes her by the hands, calm now, and a soft soapy mucus leaks out and heals soothes her wounds.
Williams, free from Thog's influence, manages to gather himself and rushes over to Drumm’s lifeless body, and tries to wake him.
“Mr. Drumm… Mr. Drumm!” There is no response.
Just as Williams accepts that Drumm is gone, Man-Thing steals over and begins soaping Drumm as well, coating his shoulders. Drumm’s eyes slowly open; his soul has returned to his body and he wakes up.
“Mr. Drumm, you’re alive!”
Drumm immediately begins to get to his feet, but Ellen tries to slow him, “Whoa there! Don’t over do it!”
“I’m alive, but if I don’t pull your friend from the Taklimakan Desert soon, he may not be.”
Standing, Drumm opens a portal. Without hesitating, Ellen looks at Drumm and says, “You better not close that thing” and leaps through. Williams is shocked and begins to move forward, but Drumm stops him.
“One is enough… she will find your friend.” The stand looking at the portal into the barren land for a moment, before, finally Ellen returns, carrying Daltry in her arms.
She sits him on the ground, but he stays there, catatonic.
“What’s wrong with’im??” Williams asks, looking at Ellen, then at Drumm, concerned. It is Man-Thing that speaks up.
“What he felt, when he was in that form… your brain is physically broken up and scattered across your body… all you feel is others’ emotions and fear… it’s animalistic… it’s too much.”
“You can tell him whatever you feel he needs to know,” Drumm adds, “but if you want any chance of your friend returning to any sort of quality of life, I need to clear his memories of what happened. I need to relieve him of that empathetic trauma.”
Williams nods understandably.
“We must get him back to the shaman’s house immediately."
Back in the cottage, Drumm lies Daltry onto the floor in the living room, and turns to Ellen and Williams.
“I need a small white candle, a glass of water in a white cup, and a bottle of rum, if you have some. Preferably white, as well.” He then takes off his green cloak, and then his yellow tunic. He kneels in front of Daltry and uses the yellow tunic to dress Daltry. He is putting his cloak back on as Ellen and Williams return with his requests.
Drumm lights the candle and closes his eyes. He kneels in silence for a moment before picking up the water and pouring out three drops: one to the right, one to the left, and one in the centre, in a straight line in front of the candle. Then he speaks.
“Papa Legba! Louvri wout la pou mwen.” Beat “Damballa ! Chèf nan lide a, ranje lide kase l 'yo, epi fè l' sonje pa madichon an nan Thog, oswa transgresyon yo nan kò anòmal l 'yo… Belie Belcan, si gen jistis, lè lide li yo ak souvni ki fè pati l 'nan jou sa a yo te pran, pran tou krentif pou ak doulè ki pa fè pati l'! Ayibobo!” (“Papa Legba! Open the way for me. Damballa! Ruler of the mind, fix his broken mind and make him remember not the curse of Thog, or the transgressions in his unnatural body… Belie Belcan, if there is justice, when his thoughts and memories that belong to him of this day are taken, take too the fear and pain that does not belong to him! Ayibobo (Amen)!”)
He opens his eyes and lays his hands on Daltry, causing orange dimensional energy to course through Daltry’s body. Daltry opens his eyes, and looks around at the strange faces gathered around him in the strange room.
“Who– Where–”, and then he says Man-Thing in the back corner. “AGHHH!”
“It’s okay! it’s okay!” Williams rushes in to console him, and he takes him into the corner to explain and comfort him.
Ellen approaches Drumm.
“I gotta ask you… What happened with Thog..? One minute he was sending a massive fireball at your chest… the next, he was crumpled on the ground, his magic broken, and you, you were broken too… and then with John… that was not the magic of your ‘Sanctum’, was it?”
Drumm is slightly reluctant to answer, but he does. “No… it was not, and the Ancient One , my mentor, probably would not be too impressed with me for turning to it”, he laughs lightly, “but that was something from a past life, a time many years ago, before she found me, but one that taught me to defend the defenseless. One that ultimately brought me to Kamar Taj, to the Sanctum, and to here.” Beat “But it looks as though you and Ted are not defenseless”, he says with a soft smile.
“Theodore?” He addresses the shadow lurking in the corner, “Tell me what the swamp is saying to you now.”
“It is healing. Still uneasy, but healing. The threat that Horn described has been removed.”
“Then you will be safe here.”
“I do not know that to be true.” He turns to address Ellen now.
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“As long as I am here, I will also be a threat to the people of this town, to the animals of this swamp… to you. While my duty is to protect, my nature is still too unpredictable. You see me lose control with Thog. It’s only a matter of time before I react to a scared creature, and slowly revert back to my old ways.”
“So we leave! We get somewhere far away from any other people.”
“My power is tied to the swamp, and I have not mastered how to harness that outside of its reaches, yet. If I leave here I will be little more to you than a withering stump at best, and at worst, I will lose control even faster, becoming animalistic before becoming a withering stump. But in the end, either way, I will lose my humanity and enter dormancy.”
“So where does that leave us, Ted?”
“It leaves me where it started… With S.H.I.E.L.D., we can learn more about how this works, and they can keep me isolated until we do. They searched for me after the accident, and they’ll be happy to find me now.”
“With everything that happened with A.I.M., and… I only just found you now, Ted. I can’t lose you again!”
“You won’t. Once they understand what happened, they’ll understand. Besides, it’s the only way I’ll agree to go with them. They’ll probably be interested in a monster like me, I’m sure it’s pretty slow for them these days!”
She laughs with tears in her eyes, “I’ve got a lot to catch you up on.”
After the stylized credits, we see a tall skyscraper-like building on a beach. A title card reads: “THE FRIDGE – LOCATION CLASSIFIED”
Cutting inside we see Man-Thing motionless and dormant inside of a cell. Two people are outside the cell looking in.
“This one kind of makes you appreciate the weeds in the garden, doesn’t it?”
After the credits, we return to Man-Thing dormant in his cell. The title card again reads: “THE FRIDGE – LOCATION CLASSIFIED”. The card then changes, as if hacked, to read “THE FRIDGE – HYDRA UPRISING ”
An alarm goes off in the background, slowly building to the audience.
None other than John Garrett approaches the cell and stands, looking in, where Fury was before. He blasts the cell open and walks in.
His smile of joy and mischievousness disappears into disappointment as the Man-Thing doesn’t flinch or react to is liberation. Garrett kicks him, but still to now reaction.
“Lion-Paws was more fun.” Garrett turns and leaves.
Slowly, a small rift in space opens up behind Man-Thing and he is sucked through, getting stretched out, fluid-like and spaghettified.
On the other side of the rift, Man-Thing is dumped into a scrap heap on Sakaar .
A nearby scrapper immediately takes note of the swampy green mass dumped before him, and tentatively gets close.
But Man-Thing is dormant no more! We cut away as he lashes out at the scrapper’s confusion and curiosity.