Roots Of The Swamp Thing - An Introduction To DC's Horror Hero

Article by Steve J. Ray

Swamp Thing means a lot to me. I first encountered the muck encrusted mockery of a man when I was a child. I was just ten years old when I read "The Sixty Deaths Of Solomon Grundy" from DC Comics Presents (Vol. 2)  #8 published way back in 1979. This story was a standalone, single issue team-up between Superman and Swampy, pitting them against, well, Solomon Grundy... obviously.

I was no stranger to the concept of monstrous heroes, after already having fallen for the charms of the ever lovin' blue eyed thing and the Incredible Hulk. The main difference between those two heroes and Swampy, though, was that they were established, had their own titles and lived very much out in the open. "The creature who was once Alec Holland" was a figure from the shadows.

Nostalgia

Swamp Thing was different. There was a melancholy and loneliness that was much closer to the one beautifully played by Bill Bixby in the Hulk TV show, which was running at around the same time. This wasn't an action adventure superhero, though he often crossed paths with the best of them.

The next encounter I had with Swamp Thing was in The Brave And The Bold (Vol. 27) #176 from July 1981. A seed had already been planted in my mind when I'd read that old DC Comics Presents issue, after seeing the character re-grow his left arm, after Superman accidentally ripped it off. This was a totally different set of powers, and premise, than I'd ever seen before in comics. As a child between the ages of 6 and 12/13, I loved comics for the thrills, and the escape they provided for a lonely, quiet, fairly reclusive child. My best friends were comics, blank paper, pencils and felt-tipped pens.

Swamp Thing was the first comics character outside of Batman who made me think, and made me feel something. The Dark Knight showed me a hero who took a tragedy and made something positive of his life. Swampy showed me that being different, being alone and not like everyone else, while sometimes painful, was O.K. too.

The Original

Years went by, I grew up and things changed. Through high school I put on a brave face, learned to hide my insecurities and mask them with humour. I distracted people from my complete lack of any sports ability by drawing pictures. When I was about 15, almost as I was about to completely give up on comics, something strange happened.

Egmont magazines, a U.K. comics publisher, had been reprinting vintage DC Comics in an anthology magazine called The Superheroes. This was a large A4 sized publication which collected a few stories under one, gloriously lavish painted cover. I picked these up whenever I could and found myself reliving those old childhood memories, especially when one issue reprinted that old DC Comics Presents story.

This comic is the one that stopped me quitting the medium forever.

Re-reading this story as a young adult led me to draw Swamp Thing as a gift to a friend. It had rekindled old emotions and memories, and also revealed that I wasn't the only comics fan at my school. Several of my more "Bookish" classmates and I started swapping comics, and that's when I discovered the original, vintage Swamp Thing run by the character's creators, Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson.

That changed everything.

Alan Moore

What I didn't realise when I'd read those early Swamp Thing team-up stories was that, at one time, the character had his own series... and what a series it was! When I read those early Wein/Wrightson stories I was captivated. That's when I met Anton, Gregor and the wonderful Abigail Arcane. I read magical stories about witches, werewolves, crypts, clockwork killers, aliens and hell-spawned demons.

This is when I really discovered the origins and history of the Swamp Thing... or so I thought.

Years passed and, as I matured, so did comics. The mid to late 80s saw the rise of independent publishers, particularly from a fresh wave of innovative, literate and imaginative British writers and artists,amongst them; John Wagner, Alan Grant, Dave Gibbons, Alan Davis, David Lloyd and a gentleman named Alan Moore.

This writer is widely acknowledged to be the greatest, most influential and innovative comics author of them all. The reasons why are legion, but his work on Swamp Thing must rank very highly on any fan's list.

I was already a fan of Moore's work for two independent British anthology titles, namely Warrior and 2000 A.D. When a friend told me that Moore had recently taken over writing Swamp Thing, and that it was amazing, my interest was piqued.

I'd picked up the odd issue of the re-launched Swampy series Saga Of The Swamp Thing due to my love of the character. This book was fairly well written by Martin (A.K.A. Marty) Pasko and beautifully drawn by Tom Yeates. They'd been working on the character for 19 issues when Alan Moore took the book over, with issue 20. While their version was good, it was struggling. Editor, and Swamp Thing creator, Len Wein had also been reading Alan Moore's work and tapped him to take the series over.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Moore went on to show us that everything we knew about the character was wrong, ripped him to his component pieces and recreated him from the ground up. Brilliantly.

It's a great shame that movie makers and TV producers didn't do as great a job.

Rubber Suits And Cardboard Sets

Whilst the character's comics have, almost always, been of a high standard, previous attempts at bringing Swamp Thing and his cast of characters to life on-screen have not.

The first movie was released in 1982, before Alan Moore revived and recreated the character, so can be forgiven for being a product of its time. The 1989 sequel and the TV show, which unbelievably ran from 1990-1993 don't have that excuse. There was even a Fox Kids animated series which ran in 1990 and 1991, but this was less Swamp Thing, and more Plastic Man with leaves and branches.

After reading the magical tales woven by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, then Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben, and later Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala, watching these versions was painful and heartbreaking. Worse still, it made one of the greatest characters in all of comics a joke and a laughing stock. Sadly, though, more people know these movies and shows than have read the wonderful source material.

DC Universe

In 2018 DC launched their online streaming service, aptly named DC Universe. All of our readers know that their first original series was the brilliant Titans, which they followed up with the insane, yet incredible Doom Patrol.

When it was announced that the service would also producing an all-new, live action Swamp Thing series I was, understandably, a little nervous. As news emerged of the writers, producers and actors linked to the show, however, nervousness slowly turned into excitement.

My son, and fellow Fantastic Universes writer, Adam and I watched Titans together, and he reviewed every episode. I have been following and reviewing Doom Patrol. These two shows are so brilliant, that the excitement for Swamp Thing, plus seeing all the promotional material released by Warner Bros. and DC Universe over the last few weeks, have further grown that excitement into eager anticipation.

Swamp Thing will air it's premiere epsiode on the DC Universe streaming service on May 31st. I have been fortunate enough to watch the episode early, and will be reviewing it every week on this very website. Keep your eyes peeled because the best, as they say, is yet to come.

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