Monday, January 7, 2019

Where Strikes Humus Sapien, There Follows... Death!

We've seen one example of how sometimes it could be a shot in the dark getting your foot in the door and becoming part of the creative team at Marvel Comics, with patience being a large part of the equation--even when a contest or some other initiative by the company virtually put out the welcome mat for you. But a twenty-eight-year wait is pushing it, don't you think? Let's take a look back to the spring of 1973, and the first issue of Marvel's new fan-based magazine, F.O.O.M., short for "Friends of Ol' Marvel" (egad)--an in-house effort at bringing together the rank and file of Marvel fandom, which this time didn't outsource the company's fan interest to a mail-order setup such as Marvelmania but, like the original M.M.M.S., returned its operation to the hands of Marvel staff and made the extra effort to reach out to and interact more with its very vocal readership.

And in its fervor to ignite the interest of those fans in this new endeavor by establishing a spirit of fan participation, this little ITEM! was nestled in with the magazine's introduction pages which would certainly give an indication of the level of fan response that Marvel was hoping to tap into:

As we'll see later, the response to the contest was quite a turnout, with some notables among those who made submissions: Chris Padovano, Fred Hembeck, Steve Rude, Andy Olsen (with a nod to Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool--quite a fascinating piece on Mr. Olsen, Rich!), Mary Jo Duffy, Marc Silvestri, Carl Potts, and Jerry Ordway. (And those were just the names that I was able to recognize.)

The contest remained open until the end of August of that year, when a winner was finally selected and presented in that quarter's issue of FOOM: Michael A. Barreiro, whose character, Humus Sapiens, a super-villain, also received a personal acknowledgement from Stan Lee, who went on to say that the character would be used in an upcoming "Marvel super-spectacular," with Barreiro receiving a page of original artwork where his character appeared--rewards which pretty much stayed within the parameters of the original contest notice.

In order to include some info on Barreiro, a follow-up on the contest appeared in the next quarterly issue (Winter, 1974, though its cover misprinted the date as '73). But quite a bit of discussion had apparently taken place in the Bullpen in the meantime, with Roy Thomas deciding to not only change Barreiro's character from villain to hero, but also nailing down where Humus Sapiens would appear: as part of the proposed new X-Men team, with Barreiro receiving a credit on the splash page. That would imply that Thomas was also designating the character to be a mutant.

As we know, however, Barreiro's character didn't show up in the new X-Men lineup, either in the team which premiered in 1975 or among any subsequent member additions thereafter--nor was there any mention or sighting of the character at all in the decades that followed.  By all indications, Humus Sapiens had turned out to be a nonstarter.

And that brings us within sight of another

Marvel Trivia Question

Whatever became of "Humus Sapiens"?

According to extensive notes provided in the letters page of the issue that would finally deal with this situation, Barreiro went on to a career in illustration, picking up pencilling and inking work at both Marvel and Dark Horse Comics. It would take until 1998 before the ball got rolling on the subject of Humus Sapiens again, when Thunderbolts writer Kurt Busiek and Editor Tom Brevoort created their own "Create A Villain" contest for Wizard magazine which, like its FOOM sister contest, would result in the new character appearing in print*--in this case, within the pages of Thunderbolts. The winning character was Charlie Burlingame, a/k/a Charcoal (created by Wallace and Nadja Frost), who had a troubled upbringing in the Secret Empire and felt that becoming a Thunderbolt would provide him with direction.

*All that time to shake out the flaws in this process, and no one thought to add the proviso, "...someday!" to assurances that the new character would score an appearance in a Marvel comic.

Both Busiek and Brevoort, being Marvel history buffs, were reminded by the Wizard contest of the situation with Humus Sapiens, and felt that it was long past time for the character to see the light of day in publication--and so they began laying the groundwork in Thunderbolts for his long-awaited appearance. In the meantime, they located and contacted Barreiro and gave him the 411 on what they were planning; and when Busiek's run on the book ended and Fabian Nicieza took the reins, Nicieza continued to drop hints in the book as to the identity of the ongoing story's "mystery character." When the time came for the big reveal, "Sapiens" had been changed to "Sapien," to emphasize that the character was one of a kind--and Humus Sapien made his publication debut at last, in a two-part story in the fall of 2001, 28 years after the fact.

As for Barreiro, having reached his mid-forties by this time, you can imagine his elation at discovering that Brevoort et al. had gone the extra mile for him and dusted off Humus Sapien for an honest-to-gosh story appearance; but not only did they follow through with presenting Barreiro with that page of original art, but Barreiro was also asked to contribute some artwork, as well as his thoughts as to the character's original look and Nicieza's own ideas for his background and motivations:

As we make our way through Part 1 of this tale, we find that the previous group of Thunderbolts, revealed to be former members of the Masters of Evil, had at last been pardoned by the government--and with their departure, a new group of Thunderbolts from the government's Redeemer program is being oriented, their backgrounds provided in a briefing by Captain America to their new leader, Citizen V. Meanwhile, one of the former Thunderbolts, Ogre, remains in a hidden location, fending off the determined probing being conducted by his successor on the team, Norbert Ebersol, a/k/a the Fixer. Two expert hackers, battling it out as only they can--and should the Fixer prevail, the being that Ogre is keeping in stasis, designated as HS-1 (guess what that stands for?), will gain his freedom, and thereby threaten the survival of all life on Earth!

The name of Ogre will likely sound familiar to those of you up on your X-Men lore from 1967--a character who worked with the organization known as Factor Three and whose history with HS-1 indeed goes back that far. Factor Three's involvement here will become clear in a moment, in what would be a very resourceful use of that group by Nicieza--because the Fixer's persistence (driven in no small part by his ego) has assured that HS-1 will shatter the safeguards that Ogre and Factor Three put in place to contain him, a breach announced by a booming sound effect that cleverly takes us back to the character's beginnings in '73.

Final page above inked by Michael Barreiro

Free at last (and, needless to say, appearing at last), Humus Sapien is confronted by the Thunderbolts and immediately trashes them as well as their mountain headquarters. The battle results in a number of fatalities, though not in Mt. Charteris; that, too, will be explained shortly, as well as the fact that Humus Sapien spares Ogre, whom he considers a combination of captor/tormentor/friend. Artist Patrick Zircher has changed little in Humus Sapien's appearance as conceived by Barreiro--the coolest change by far being his chest emblem, which has been further defined as the Earth and which shifts along the contours of his torso depending on which angle we're viewing him from. It seemed an appropriate adjustment in its look, given how much it factors into the character's makeup and how closely Humus is linked to and motivated by "Gaea," the Earth spirit who has made Humus her instrument of vengeance against "the blight" (that is to say, homo sapiens) that has defiled her world.

At the insistence of Citizen V, Ogre provides the Thunderbolts with information on the teenager named Sonny Baredo, a mutant who at 14 appeared to be responsible for the deaths of his entire family. From there, thanks to Factor Three, his life became even more of a living hell.

With the horrifying secret of the source of Humus Sapien's power revealed, the Thunderbolts begin working on a way to remove his link to the Earth's bio-field, by removing him from Earth entirely. And the clock is ticking--because with each use of his power, the body count is growing.

It's interesting to note that several of the elements that Barreiro provided for the origin of Humus Sapien have been dropped by Nicieza. For instance, growing up outside of Pittsburgh with a bona fide family, it's obvious that Humus wasn't "created whole and spewed out of a volcano"; nor, as Sonny Baredo, did he have "lava for blood and a thin layer of gold skin" or was he "crowned with vegetation" (at least, not until his mutant power began to change his appearance). Barreiro did, however, appear to have Humus set to be a sort of environmental champion, empathizing with the damage being done to the Earth and acting in accordance with the outrage that Gaea would be feeling, traits which we've seen very much play a part in the character that Nicieza would help bring to life.

It's a satisfactory conclusion to the efforts of Busiek, Nicieza and Brevoort, rectifying a loose end on Marvel's part that lingered unresolved for nearly three decades--perhaps a trivial matter, given that Barreiro's winning entry was acknowledged and given due recognition, albeit shorn of the subsequent bonuses which Lee implied would be forthcoming and that any 18-year-old fanboy would appreciate. As for Humus himself, the door is certainly left open for the character to return, in some fashion; but to return to Earth would mean certain death for the innocents who would die to supply his power. And with his link to the planet unavailable to him, we have to assume that, out in space wherever he is, he's completely powerless--so how would he continue from this point? Perhaps we can all agree that, when it comes to rising from obscurity, Humus Sapien could surprise us again one day.

From FOOM magazine, some of the many character contest entries!


Big Murr said...

I'm constantly in awe of your scholarly aptitude in researching and writing these blogs. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Humus Sapien, we hardly knew ye, laddie.
I thought Borgo had some potential.
It is a cool post!


Justin said...

First, I'm gonna echo Big Murr--the stuff you dig up here is really impressive!

Second, is Ogre an alternate dimension version (or something) of Tom Thumb from the old Squadron Supreme? It's been awhile, but he looks close enough in concept that I wondered if there's a connection.

Third, I like how the Friends of Ol' Marvel (FOOM) origin of the character was subtly worked into Nicieza's story as sound effects.

Comicsfan said...

Murray, M.P., and Justin, thanks for the nice words. It's a great deal of fun to roll up the sleeves and dig into these stories from the past--I'm glad you're enjoying the look back as much as I am. :D

Justin, there's no formal connection between Ogre and Tom Thumb that I'm aware of. As a former operative of Factor Three, and in essence taking up residence in Mt. Charteris (one of F3's many hidden bases), he's seen that base fall into the hands of a number of other organizations in the years following its abandonment by F3 (the Sons of the Serpent, Hydra, August Masters and his private army, as well as the new Crimson Cowl's Masters of Evil), until the arrival of the Thunderbolts, who finally brought him out of hiding and took him under their wing as a key engineer and support member. It's interesting that, with the T-bolts, in a way he found the kind of redemption that they were all there to find.

Colin Jones said...

One of the contest entries is called Captain U.S.A.

Gosh, full marks for originality :D

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