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SWAMP THING Redux

From Roots to Revival

By Chad Derdowski     June 16, 2010
Source: Mania


Comicscape: SWAMP THING
© Mania

When Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson conceived of Swamp Thing in 1971, they probably had little inkling that the character would become a cultural icon. Originally created to appear in a short story in House of Secrets #92, Swamp Thing offered a heartwrenching story about a scientist who, betrayed by his partner, escaped death and was transformed into a shambling, muck-encrusted mockery of man. The story was in part inspired by The Heap, a golden age muck monster, and by recent romantic woes that both creators were going through. It didn’t take long for DC to comission an ongoing series which saw the turn of the century character reinvisioned for modern day.

This new Swamp Thing turned Alex Olsen into Alec Holland and introduced such memorable characters as Anton Arcane, Swamp Thing’s eternal foil, Arcane’s niece Abigail and federal agent Matt Cable. This supporting cast, along with a few additions here and there, carried the book for 24 issues and have become as intrinsically linked to Swamp Thing as Lois Lane is to Superman. However, as so often happens, the original creative team of Wein and Wrightson left the book after thirteen issues and while it carried on, it never quite recovered or showed the brilliance of it’s early issues.

Fast forward to 1982, when Wes Craven directed a Swamp Thing feature film. Hoping to capitalize on the movie, DC got the ball rolling with a new series written by Martin Pasko. After a year and a half of writing the book, Pasko’s other commitments forced him to give up the title, which fell into the hands of a British writer named Alan Moore. And the rest, as they say, is history.

 

The Moore Years

With “The Anatomy Lesson”, Alan Moore showed us that Alec Holland wasn’t actually a man transformed into a monster. In fact, Swamp Thing had never been human at all; he was a walking mass of vegetation with the knowledge and thought patterns of a dead man. Disconnected from his humanity, Swamp Thing eventually found that he was the latest in a long line of Plant Elementals, a community of creatures born in flames and created to safeguard earth. He discovered The Green, a spiritual community that exists between all plant life, and The Parliament of Trees, which was made up of former Swamp Things who had taken root after serving their time as Plant Elementals.

In doing this, Alan Moore accomplished several things. He perfected the art of the retcon, completely recreating a character from the ground up while denying none of the established continuity that had been laid down by previous Swamp Thing writers. He approached horror comics from a literary point of view for the first time in years and managed to tell a story which encompassed ecological, political and spiritual stories within the context of a mainstream DC comic book. Swamp Thing became the first mainstream comic to completely abandon the Comics Code Authority and write for adults and paved the way for the entire Vertigo line.

He also wrote one hell of a great comic. Together with John Totleben and Steve Bissette, Alan Moore crafted one of the finest works in his illustrious career, a run that stands the test of time with mindblowing concepts and storytelling. Comicscape will gladly put Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing up against anything the creator has done before or since and for that matter, we’ll put it up against any comic being published today. It’s just that good.

 

The Perils of Awesomeness

Of course, when something is that good, whatever follows it up is bound to be judged rather harshly. After all, where can you go once your protagonist stands revealed as an avatar of the earth itself with the abilities of a god? It’s kind of hard for the next guy to come in and write a story where Swamp Thing fights a werewolf.

Rick Veitch continued along a similar path as Moore before leaving the title in a highly publicized dispute with DC editorial. Horror writer Nancy A. Collins overhauled the book, restoring it to it’s pre-Moore roots followed by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar who just sort of fumbled the ball. Brian K. Vaughn’s run on the series focused on Tefé Holland, the daughter of Swamp Thing, and a later revival… well, we’re not even sure what that was about. We certainly weren’t reading it. The point is that these revivals, even the ones met with positive reviews, never lasted particularly long and certainly did not manage to capture the public’s attention like the Wein/Wrightson or Moore eras. Furthermore, there just doesn’t seem to be much more that can be done with ol’ Alec Holland. He’s a swamp god… now what?!?

 

The Roots of Revival

Perhaps more than any other character, Swamp Thing lends himself to the idea of a complete overhaul. In just his second appearance ever, the character was completely reimagined. It’s been firmly established that being a plant elemental and protector of The Green is something that is passed on when a Swamp Thing chooses to take root. Just like Swamp Thing did during Moore’s run, it may be time for readers to accept the fact that Alec Holland is dead, make our peace with it and move on. Break free from the baggage of the past and stop trying to continue the story; just start over with a brand new cast of characters.

Of course, one then runs the risk of simply retreading hallowed ground and telling a story which we know the ending to, even if it does feature a different lead. So maybe the best idea is to reintroduce Swamp Thing to the DCU proper? DC’s been making a push toward some more magic based characters (Zatanna, Dr. Fate) … maybe Swamp Thing should be next on the list? After all these years of Vertigo exclusivity, who wouldn’t love to see Swamp Thing team up with Batman again? Or Superman? Hell, we’d settle for a Captain Carrot team-up just to see Swampy in the DCU again! Or could the best option be to take a Tales From the Crypt route? Have Swamp Thing play a Crypt Keeper-esque role in a new horror anthology series, simply introducing a story, maybe narrating a few and cracking a joke at the end?

Hey, Comicscape doesn’t claim to have all the answers; we just know how to point out the problems. All we know is, we want more Swamp Thing and we want it now!

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 23
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cdale78 6/16/2010 12:28:31 AM

I remember seeing the ads for the movie in comic books all the time as a young lad, with Swamp Thing holding Adrienne Barbeau(?) with her breasts practically hanging out of her shirt.  It was a nice treat for young me.   

dbrock06 6/16/2010 6:06:49 AM

Spinner Rack

Interested in where they are going to take Dark Wolverine.  Don't want to spoil it if you didn't read the last story arc, but there was a major change in the character and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.

Will like to see the team Dynamic in New Avengers #1.  Seems like in the past couple of meetings that there has been some interest between Ms. Marvel and Spidey,  Now that they are on the same team....  It also seems like there are a lot of "tanks" on the same team.  Will be interesting to see how this works out.

Ultimate X #3 comes out.  Seems like it has been a while since the last issue came out, but the first two were pretty good.  Hopefully they can get on track.  N

New Mutants Continues a great X-men X-over.  Read it if you haven't been. 

Will check out Black Cat #1, but not sure if I will pick  it up.

Still reading Brightest day,  Not sure why, but I am.  Hopefully it will pick up.  In all honesty, it has been a little better than Blackest night.

EvilMonkey 6/16/2010 6:38:45 AM

What ??? You talk about Moore's Swamp Thing but no mention of John Constantine.  Outrageous.

 

 

 

 

 

j/k, I'm not really outraged.

karas1 6/16/2010 9:16:25 AM

I had lost my entire collection of graphic novels and last year I was in a financial position to replace them.  I got the Alan Moore run of Swamp Thing again and they are just as great now as they were then.  Wow!

shac2846 6/16/2010 9:22:36 AM

Swamp Thing is a great character and I'm glad you guys gave him an article. I have always told my other comic collecting friends if I had to give away all my graphic novels/comics and only keep one series it would be the alan moore swamp thing. It's just freakin' brilliant. It's got horror/adventure even superheroes. And since Moore wrote them the dialogue is sharp not hokey like a lot of older comics and the plots aren't tired retreads. Moore was forced to work in crisis on infinite earths and did a better job than the actual crisis title itself. They are collecting them now in nice hardcover editions, currently they are on volume 2. You are spot on about the continuity as well, since dc put out "dc comics classic library roots of the swamp thing" you can read wein's stuff and then Moore's and it's like the title never skips a beat, even the artwork. If you have never read the Moore stuff do yourself a favor and read them.

Teddyray1 6/16/2010 11:09:08 AM

Spinner Rack:  This is what I'm having pulled for me this week.  I'm over a month behind on actually buying my books...just picked up my books from May 5th.  Anyway, here's my list this week:

  • Age of Heroes #2
  • Atlas #2 (This IS a Heroic Age tie-in, right?)
  • Black Widow #3
  • Dark Tower Gunslinger Journey Begins #2
  • Lockjaw and Pet Avengers Unleashed #4
  • Marvelous Land of Oz #7
  • New Avengers #1
  • Ultimate Comics X #3
  • Web of Spider-Man #9

Just curious...what do the rest of you use to find out what books are coming out each week?  Oh, and thanks for telling me about this secret meeting place of Spinner Rack devotees!

Rheul_home 6/16/2010 11:09:37 AM

I have never read Moores run on Swamp Thing. I did like the movie. Adrian Barbeau's topless baithing is something Ill remember forever. HBO would show the movie in the afternoon. It was the only time you could see boobies before 8 PM. Im off to Amazon to finally order the Moore Swamp Thing TPB.

lister 6/16/2010 11:25:33 AM

Spinning the Rack:
WOW! Not much at all this week that is super-compelling... I'll check out a few extra things, but these are my only essentials...


 
DC Edition:
R.E.B.E.L.S. #17--One of the only DC books I read regularly. Now that L.E.G.I.O.N. is back, the intrigue is heating up again!    MY TOP PICK!


 
Marvel Edition:
Lockjaw & The Pet Avengers Unleashed
--I like read this one to my dog, Tippy! Yay Tippy!

New Avengers #1--Well, let's see what happens. Like having the Thing. Is the Torch the only FF member who has never been an Avenger?



Atlas #2--Last issue went a LONG way towards making me not hate 3D man. Now I just dislike him intensely.


New Mutants
--Kinda wish this was a regular issue, instead of a tie-in. I'm ready for these guys to have a nice long story arc. What's that? The Fall of the New Mutants? They just brough them back together! Ugh, Marvel... could you let us build a little bit of a foundation first before your start a "very special" event!



X-Factor #205--This will once again be the best of the X-Books, once they can get back to their own story line.



X-Men Legacy #236--This is the slum of the X-Books. But it's a tie-in to one of the best X-overs in a long time.


Go away Jeff Loeb.



dbrock:
SPOILER ALERT
Dark Wolverine didn't seem like all that a big of a change. What are you referring to? The declawing? It was just the one, right. He's got lots more! I just skimmed it... did I miss something else?

SPOILER OFF

dbrock06 6/16/2010 11:39:11 AM

Lister,

X-factor, and X-men Legacy are 2nd Prints so be careful you didn't get them already.

Spoiler Alert

I think it is a big deal he got de-clawed.  I know he will get them back, but it will be interesting to see how low he will go to get them back.  It was a pretty crappy crossover with Wolverine otherwise to be honest with you.

Spoiler off

To get my List, I go to:   http://www.grahamcrackers.com/newcomics.htm

It also gives a little blurb for each book too.

I will also get Amazing Spidey this week.  I think it is picking up and Age of Heroes as well.   Forgot to mention those before..

Pck of the week is New Mutants because of the X-men X-over.

Otherwise it would be New Avengers #1

 

lister 6/16/2010 12:47:20 PM

Thanks dbrock, I should have looked harder at the list. I was sure there was only one tie-in this week, then I blunderbussed.

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