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Bad guy finally finishes first

Tuesday, August 14, 2001

By Rebecca Sodergren, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

After 28 years, Michael Barreiro is finally getting his due.

Humus Sapien (in back), a character conceived in 1973 by Michael Barreiro of Carrick, will make his debut in Marvel Comics' Thunderbolts series today.

In 1973, Barreiro, then a teen-ager, won a Marvel Comics contest for creating a comic book character. As a prize, he was supposed to see his character featured in a Marvel comic book.

Even more exciting: Marvel announced the character would be prominently featured in the popular "X-Men" series.

But years went by, and Barreiro's character, Humus Sapiens, was never included.

Barreiro wrote Marvel a letter but never got a response. In 1979, columnist Fred Hembeck wrote about the disappearance of Humus Sapiens in the "Buyer's Guide to Comic Fandom" -- but still no word from Marvel.

Barreiro forgot about the contest and went on with his life. Raised in Penn Hills and now living in Carrick, he became a carpenter and free-lance illustrator, even doing a little work for Marvel and Dark Horse comic books.

Three years ago, Tom Brevoort, editor of Marvel's "Thunderbolts" comic books, called Barreiro out of the blue and offered to resurrect Humus Sapiens.

Brevoort never saw the original issue of "F.O.O.M." ("Friends of Ol' Marvel," a fan magazine) announcing Barreiro's winning illustration, but he did see Hembeck's 1979 column, and "it stuck in my head because I remember a lot of obscure comic book stuff."

When "Thunderbolts" launched its own "create-a-villain" contest, Brevoort was reminded of Humus Sapiens and decided it was time to do right by Barreiro. Other Marvel staff liked the idea; in fact, Fabian Nicieza, who eventually became the writer for "Thunderbolts," had entered the F.O.O.M. contest himself.

Brevoort did a Web search and found Barreiro, in part because he was still living in the Pittsburgh area, and proposed his plan to include Humus Sapiens, whom Barreiro had originally created as a villain who wanted to wipe out the humans on the Earth, in an upcoming issue of "Thunderbolts." Barreiro got the opportunity to redraw his character, and he changed the name from Humus Sapiens to Humus Sapien because he wanted to emphasize that the character is "one of a kind."

"Humus" is a term for the organic material in soil resulting from the decomposition of plant and animal matter, and "Sapien" is a reference to humans. In a letter included in the Thunderbolts issue telling his character's story, Barreiro explains that Humus Sapien is "the next man coming from the dead things in the Earth," noting that he created the character during the anti-pollution, environmental fervor of the 1970s.

Nicieza worked with Barreiro to flesh out the character, who has lava for blood and a thin layer of gold skin over a changeable interior -- he can be soft as loamy earth or hard as granite.

For the past year, "Thunderbolts" issues have been dropping hints about the new character, even using "Foom" as a sound effect in one panel.

Humus Sapien was introduced on the final page of the "Thunderbolts" issue released July 18, and the character is fleshed out in the issue released tomorrow. Barreiro was permitted to ink one of the pages featuring Humus Sapien.

And the story line was written so Humus Sapien can be used again if Marvel chooses.

While most readers don't remember the winning Humus Sapiens announcement from the contest 28 years ago, Brevoort said Marvel has had positive responses to the character.

"People are thinking he was created by somebody like themselves, and Michael is finally getting the credit."

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