Michael Conteh was a very well known name in industrial development. His early investments led to fast-paced advancement of the Conteh Energy Corporation in Nigeria and, soon thereafter, most of Africa. He worked across multiple levels, ruthlessly undermining competing companies and destroying small communities to get access to their resources. By the time he was thirty, he controlled over 80% of the refineries in the southern hemisphere.
In his early thirties, Conteh began having terrible dreams. Dreams of grasping vines, pulling him down into the earth, and of all manner of animals stampeding through his bones, which turned to the very skyscrapers he’d built. Each morning, he woke to the feeling of his bones reforming themselves, but he put it out of his mind as mere remnants of awful dreams. Until the morning he woke up as a gazelle. Panicked, he crashed through a picture window and escaped into the wilderness, pursued by his own confused guards. He spent months living as a gazelle, unable to determine what had happened.
One day, he heard the sound of soothing drumming, and was drawn to the beat. He found a tall, white man with blazing red hair standing in a clearing, playing a djembe. The man turned to face the panicked gazelle. “Hello, friend,” said the drummer. “You are certainly far from home.”
The Argent Adept went on to explain to the transformed Michael Conteh that he had been cursed by the primal spirit Akash’Bhuta. The musician claimed he could help him return to his human form, but it would take time and a journey. Equally furious and scared, but unable to communicate, the former oil tycoon merely hung his head. The Argent Adept produced a stringed instrument and plucked a dissonant tune. The gazelle felt heavier, and thought he was being lulled to sleep. However, the weight increased even more, and he felt his bones start to shudder and split. With an awful rending pain, his thin furred hide split to reveal a thick, wrinkled, grey skin. He hauled his now ponderous bulk to his newly stubby feet. He was now a rhinoceros. When he realized he no longer heard music, he turned to face where the musician stood, but there was no longer anyone there.
Months passed, until one day, a rhinoceros that vaguely remembered being something both more and less than a rhinoceros heard the trill of pipes. Not a bird, but silvery pipes, played by a tall, red-haired stranger. The Argent Adept had returned, and now played a different tune. The rhino charged at the man, angry at what he didn’t know, but what he knew was coming. However, he feet fell out from under him, throwing him to the ground in a cloud of dust. His form shrunk in on itself, and thick, green plated flesh took the place of his former comfortable skin. The massive crocodile, seething at earth spirits and red-haired men, slunk into the river.
Meanwhile, years had passed since anyone had heard the name Michael Conteh, but his corporations still ran, at the cost of both the environment and a great number of people. So, when a bedraggled Mr. Conteh walked into the corporate headquarters of Conteh Energy and declared it the beginning of the end, most feared the man had gone insane. The controlling shareholders of Conteh Energy quickly kept him from having any legal control of the company, but Michael Conteh was not interested in control. Leaving his name and his company behind, he returned to the wilderness.
The Naturalist now works to protect the environment and the world from those who would destroy or exploit it for their own means. From corporations which bleed the planet dry, to mad scientists who attempt to pull the moon into the earth, The Naturalist has his watchful eye over the world, its resources, and its people, and he has learned a few tricks from his time in the wilderness…
- He generally winds up being a side character during big crossover events that the card game tends to model.
- His first appearance was in an early issue of the anthology book Tome of the Bizarre when he's cursed by Akash'Bhuta. His appearance in #24-26 depicted his journey through mastering his power (see the flavor text on his Form cards) with the help of Argent Adept, but even in these issues he was the "B" story - even though it's only 3 issues of a title, his story takes place over years. This happens shortly before the Vengeance event and the writers decided to pull him into the broader stories rather than letting him be just a one-off character in their weird Twilight Zone-ish book.
- He also wound up being a supporting character in Nightmist's book for a while (as one of a number of contacts she had regarding different types of magic than her own) and from that connection would occasionally also show up in Dark Watch stories or others dealing with magic-using villains (namechecking Matriarch and Apostate - again, unsure about why Matriarch is mentioned here given that her "only" villainous outing would have been in FFA #2 decades prior to his introduction unless told in flashback).
- His first big story, however, was against The Organization. He shows up and brutally murders the Muscle in the sewers of Rook City (see card art for "Feral Fury" - Rook City Renegades #5 is also cited on Setback's "Looking Up" further showing the connection to the Dark Watch vs. the Organization struggle). The Operative still manages to take down the team by the end of the issue and it's a pretty bleak book in any event as she and the Chairman discuss how the heroes did basically nothing of concern.
- Given his change in outlook after his ordeal becoming the Naturalist, he winds up at odds with the board of directors for his oil company and they wind up hiring Equity to kill him. Nothing really comes of that, it just sets up conflicts down the line, namely...
- We next see him on Insula Primalis, hanging out with the dinosaurs there ("Blend into the Pack") - a lot of his solo appearances involve him "walking the earth" and communing with nature, etc. This appearance is during Citizen Dawn's big push after getting the Mobile Defense Platform (an event also involving Parse and Citizen Truth - which I assume also means Fanatic is involved given the art on "Critical Multiplier"). He doesn't do anything particularly notable in the event, but is part of the team that faces off against Dawn herself in the finale.
- He's got kind of an odd progression. He will show up in an event, then fade into the background and not be seen for a while, but then in his next appearance he'll be a slightly more notable presence, increasingly at odds with how he's depicted in his solo stories.
- His next major story is Deadline, where he's at the forefront (along with Scholar) due to their connections with the natural world and stuff like the ley lines. They try to defend the latter as much as possible, but they can't prevent Deadline from severing a few of them, and they can't repair them afterwards. This is bad, for both the environment and for magical reasons, and the repercussions of this are felt through the end of the Multiverse era.
- He's then involved in the fight against the young La Capitan (i.e. her VotM incarnation), but he's almost immediately flung through a rift in spacetime and "overclocks" his power (see "Chronological Hotspot") and he wakes up on Dok'Thorath during the civil war there (this is really confusing for people just reading his solo book as now he's all of a sudden on this alien planet fighting Infinitor alongside the Prime Wardens).
- The Prime Wardens bring him back to earth, he's got a handle on his powers again but their still in flux. His comic also has a return to more down-to-earth stories after the reader backlash to the weird space stuff he got involved with for a while. This sets up the next few events for him, though, now in the Hunted variant.
- Bugbear is now after him (read: wants to eat him) to consume his unique magical essence - blood magic is gross. This isn't a standard "superhero fight" story - it's a chase, and generally a stealth one where Bugbear is just this relentless pursuer. He's not particularly fast in his pursuit, but tireless and doesn't give Naturalist much time to rest. In the middle of this, he also has to deal with the Slaughter-House Six who have been hired by his old oil company to finish the job they started with Equity. They manage to capture him (Glamour is namechecked specifically, see the "Freak Show" card in MMFFCC), although he does break out eventually.
- Aviva Natasha Aldred (the last heir to the family who ran Aldred Industries until the whole Omnitron incident) now runs an environmentalist non-profit and he approaches her - she's good at this whole business thing and he doesn't want to be stuck in an office so he can do his animal-in-nature routine. He sells his 40% share in Conteh Energy to her for $1 so he can wash his hands of it (and get the board members off his back - although he gives her the goods on them too).
- This frees up his time for heroics rather than running away and he confronts Professor Pollution. She's got "radioactive waste powers" and seems like a natural foe for him, and he defeats her. They don't mention much about this fight itself, but it does set up one of the most important arcs for him.
- One of the things that Prof. Pollution is doing, as a side-effect, is leaching toxicity into the dormant Akash'Bhuta (dormant, recovering from the fight with the Prime Wardens). This results in something like a cancer in her which Michael becomes aware of due to his connection to her (from when she cursed him). He communes with her to convince her that she needs to change in order to survive - paralleling his own origin story - and this is what results in the creation of Akash'Thriya and they kind of become an odd "team-up" duo, fighting against Revo-Corp and Plague Rat, Omnitron IV, and others.
- Bugbear is back on his trail, though (after getting sidetracked in a fight involving Nightmist), who is now more viscous in desperation given that he hasn't been successful in fueling his blood magic. He gets Naturalist dead-to-rights until Akash'Thriya steps in to save him (which is really the first altruistic "hero" action she took that wasn't purely in his own self-interest). They remain in this duo arrangement leading into OblivAeon.
- Naturalist isn't really involved in the "main" lead-up events to OblivAeon, but his involvement with getting Akash'Thriya up to speed as a hero was important.
Variant: Originally revealed during the Villains of the Multiverse preorder event.
First Appearance: Virtuoso of the Void #30
Those hunting Michael have drawn ever closer. It's only a matter of time before they catch him. Cornered as he is, the Naturalist has been losing his grasp on humanity, struggling to maintain focus and keep a single, stable form. The Argent Adept found Michael Conteh once again in an inhuman state, but this time, the Naturalist was not a specific animal. Instead, he had the characteristics of several different animals, including animals he had never taken form of before. The musical magician helped his old ally calm and focus his mind, but his form continued shifting. Now, the Naturalist fights those who hunt him, though his powers are in continual flux.
- Vengeance is his first really major "superhero" appearance and he's involved in the major set-pieces: in Ruins of Atlantis he can communicate with the Kraken to help take out Doc Tusser (see "Environmental Allies", Vengeance has a lot of "mini-Nemesis fights" where heroes wind up fighting members of other heroes' rogues galleries), he's part of the team that takes down Fright Train (whose incap art shows Naturalist along with K.N.Y.F.E. and Setback), but ultimately lost, along with Haka, in a fight against Proletariat (see "Flanking Maneuvers"). He's then out of the public eye for a while.
- His main deal during the OblivAeon events proper involves the general magical weirdness going on at the time - he only has specific animal forms tied to specific events and he gets another one here: a giant vulture. This becomes very important as a means to get from battlefield to battlefield as OblivAeon moves. He's still part of the main fights, but as usual for him, he's still kind of a side character involved in the protection of the environment rather than your standard "fighting" contribution of most heroes.
This information is from the Miststorm Universe, one of two branching timelines. Products in this timeline are: Sentinel Tactics (and expansions). Prime War (and expansions)
- Akash'Thriya is very badly damaged during the OblivAeon fight and, afterwards, goes off alone to recover but she takes along a bunch of OblivAeon shards which allows her to regain power much more quickly than she generally could (more in her episode) and is kind of reverting to "her old self, but worse". As a result, Naturalist is losing control of all the various magics running through him while also trying to access many new forms, resulting in blended forms and he becomes a "Chimera" - a primal force of nature rather than a hero or villain. He's not as far gone as Plague Rat, but the heroes still have to try to help him regain something of his humanity.
This information is from the Sentinel Comics Universe, one of two branching universes. Products in this timeline are: Sentinel Comics RPG.
- Akash'Thriya is still seriously damaged and needs to draw energy from the Nexus of the Void, but rather than using OblivAeon shards to accelerate this, the Naturalist helps her enter some kind of chrysalis state in the Akash'Flora in downtown Megalopolis. He returns to his "walk the earth" roots, but gets a few more forms, including the hyena and vulture. He's got more "far future" stories they've imagined that gets him more forms, but that's like an entire new episode's worth of stuff. His role in the RPG setting is a shaman-type character that heroes can get information/guidance from as he keeps an eye on the natural world while his ally Akash'Thriya is in hibernation.