I’ve been meaning to get to this for a while now. And since the day I’m posting this is my birthday, it seems as good a time as any. My favorite hero/comic character of all time is Swamp Thing. This is the character that I love above all else and I think I’ve read every solo comic featuring him. This will be a condensed summary of his history and share why I love him so much.
In July 1971, the comic anthology House of Secrets released its 92nd issue, which served as the character’s debut, written by Len Wein. Scientist Alex Olsen was working on an experiment when his assistant Damian Ridge betrayed him, causing an explosion by messing with the chemicals Alex was using. Damian then dumped Alex’s body in a nearby swamp. Alex’s wife, Linda, was grieving and Damian used that as a way to get close to her in the pursuit of making her his wife. However, Alex Olsen rose from the swamp as a mutated creature made of vegetation and sought Damian to kill him in revenge. He tried to reach out in a failed attempt to communicate with Linda, but she did not recognize him and ran away from him. Unable to speak and now with no hope of a reunion, he returns to the swamp for the rest of his days.
I got into comics back in college, which was not even 10 years ago when I’m writing this. Swamp Thing was one of the first characters I got into. The reason I connected with him so much is that, as much as I enjoy reading, Horror movies were my first love in regard to entertainment. Swamp Thing shares so much with the stories of the classic Universal Monster flicks such as Frankenstein & The Wolf Man. A man turned into something unnatural against his will and love doomed to end with tragedy, all presented in a setting dripping with a Gothic atmosphere. A perfect introduction to such a memorable character. But this is merely the first step of an epic story spanning decades.
The first volume saw Len Wein return to write the first 13 issues, the first volume running for a total of 24 issues. However, the main character this time around is Alec Holland. He and his wife Linda were working on a biological formula in the Louisiana Bayou under the protection of a government agent named Matthew Cable. However, people hired by a criminal organization attacked the Hollands and planted a bomb in their lab. The explosion killed Linda and Alec Holland’s body ended up in the water. The explosion mixed the formula with Alec Holland, turning him into the Swamp Thing. From here, the series focused on Alec Holland trying to get back to normal. Matthew Cable believed for a while that the Swamp Thing murdered both Hollands and tried to kill him. Once he found out the truth, he ended up being an ally. The first series saw the debut of Anton Arcane, arguably the one true archenemy of Swamp Thing and one of the most secretly disturbing villains in DC’s lineup. We also see the introduction of his niece, Abigail Arcane, beginning as a love interest for Matthew Cable for the first volume.
Many people just focus on the origin of the creature and then skim over the rest. But the first volume contains fun tales of Swamp Thing dealing with supernatural and pseudo-scientific threats. Sadly, the series struggled toward the end in terms of sales. We did get to see Alec Holland seemingly reversing his condition at the end, with the final issue ending in a cliffhanger that would only be indirectly resolved in the second volume. Alec showed up again following the first volume’s conclusion, joining with the Challengers of the Unknown, which also saw him turn back into the Swamp Thing. This first volume is still worth checking out. It’s where I got the image that serves as my profile picture.
In 1982, Wes Craven directed a movie based on Swamp Thing. I personally really enjoyed the movie and think it is underrated. And DC seemed to be pleased with it because, in addition to a comic adaptation of the movie, they launched a second volume for the character to capitalize on the movie’s popularity. Martin Pasko wrote the series for the first 19 issues, the main story when kicked off following Swamp Thing as he helped a young girl named Karen and stop her from becoming an Anti-Christ and destroying the world. Pasko’s run brought back Matt Cable and Abigail Arcane as a married couple as well as Swamp Thing’s antagonist, Anton.
After Martin Parko left, issue 20 became the debut issue of a then-new comic writer…Alan Moore. Yea, some of you were probably wondering when I was getting around to this era. To this day, Moore’s run on the character has defined Swamp Thing in terms of lore, personality & tone. The first thing Moore did was to completely re-write Swamp Thing’s origin. When Alec Holland was caught in the explosion that destroyed his lab, he actually did die as his body sank into the bayou. But the swamp vegetation consumed Holland’s body, absorbing his memories and consciousness as it created a new being that believed itself to be the deceased scientist. This was discovered after Swamp Thing was captured by the Sunderland Corporation and experimented on by Woodrue Wilson AKA The Fluronic Man. Both of these entities would be recurring characters in Swamp Thing’s lore. But the main thing this revelation did was establish a much more philosophical and existential approach to the character and how he interacted with the rest of the world.
Now, just because things got real serious almost instantly doesn’t mean joy can’t be found. There are moments during Moore’s run that touched on the beauty and spectacle of what his interpretation of the character has to offer. Early on, there is an issue that sees Swamp Thing and Abigail Arcane finally consummate a love that had been teased since the first volume. The way it is presented is a beautiful sequence and is essential to read if you wish to understand one of the most unique relationships in DC’s comic history.
Moore’s run started off as with the character being confronted with his identity and then slowly starts to accept it. Once he takes those first few steps of accepting he was never truly human and can grow beyond the limits his previous mentality put on his body, that is when the character’s true saga begins. Plenty of DC characters interact with Swamp Thing, including Etrigan the Demon and The Phantom Stranger. But a new mystical sorcerer enters the picture…John Constantine. That’s right, the Hellblazer himself and my second favorite hero/comic character ever makes his debut here in the 37th issue. John Constantine seeks out Swamp Thing and does help him realize all the abilities he can actually do. This is where Moore starts to introduce The Green, a mystical force/shared consciousness that connects all plant life on Earth. Swamp Thing is known as the Guardian of the Green, one of many to have been chose by the Parliament of Trees to maintain the balance between plants and humans. During this time, Swamp Thing become an integral part of stopping a new threat that has awakened, known as the Great Darkness. While the comic book event series Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths mentions Swamp Thing’s encounter with the entity, that story never really utilized what that actually meant for its story. As the Great Darkness battles Doctor Fate, The Phantom Stranger, Etrigan and so many other DC sorcerers, it is actually Swamp Thing that saves the day. Not through a fight, but simply talking to it. A discussion of philosophy and different viewpoints satisfies the Great Darkness and creates a truce, ending the conflict.
While some characters now see Swamp Thing as a hero and benevolent character, there are still those that fear him. And one way this is shown is when Abigail Arcane is arrested and put in trial in Gotham regarding the unnatural union between her and Swamp Thing. Enraged, Swamp Thing gives the city an ultimatum - release his love and he will destory Gotham. We see the how powerful and destructive a Guardin of the Green can become as he takes on Batman. You might be wondering how Gotham’s Dark Knight defeated such a powerful force of nature. Well…he doesn’t. Swamp Thing lets Batman go and the vigilante goes to the courts and he points out that what they are doing is a dangerous precedent. If they are going to get involved and force a separation between Swamp Thing and Abigial just because they aren’t the same species, then they have to enforce the same on other heroes that technically aren’t human but are lucky enough to look like humans - including Superman. That’s enough for them to reverse their stance and release Abigail…but not before a weapon created by Lex Luthor fires on Swamp Thing and seemingly kills him.
Don’t worry people! This is not the end. In fact, it is just the beginning of the home stretch for Moore’s run. The weapon severed Swamp Thing’s connection to the Green. But he was able to connect himself to plant life on a far away planet. From there on out, he journeys throughout the cosmos as he works his way back to Earth. He takes on various forms, my personal favorite being the blue form, and he meets various characters, including Darkseid and the New Gods. The final issue written by Alan Moore seens Swamp Thing and Abigail Arcane reunited. And the Guardian of the Green contemplates how he should interact with the larger world, how involved he should be. He decides on being more of a guiding hand when required as the two in love embrace each other once again.
Similar to the first volume, people tend to check out after Alan Moore is no longer involved. But that is a mistake because there is so much good the continued on after Moore left. The second volume kept going for over 100 more issues. The writers that wrote for the book (in order) are Rick Veitch, Doug Wheeler, Nancy Collins, Grant Morrison & Mark Millar. We won’t go into details, but let’s hit the highlights of what came afterward. Swamp Thing came face-to-face with Superman and he met Animal Man, the latter hero being Swamp Thing’s equivalent for The Red - the mystical force/shared consciousness for all animals. Constantine was then possessed by Swamp Thing so he and Abigail could conceive a child. The kid being a mix of human, plant elemental, and demon heritage due to Constantine having demon blood in his veins at the time. Due to events from the crossover comic Invasion!, Swamp Thing kept going backwards in time until he reached the origin of the Parliament of Trees.
Another mystical force/shared consciousness that was introduced is The Gray. This one is associated with fungi and we see a huge conflict between The Gray and The Green. We also see some ups and downs regarding Swamp Thing’s and Abigail’s relationship. When the final writer came on board, Mark Millar, we got a pretty ambitious storyline. Swamp Thing goes through a series of trials to gain powers from the other elemental parliaments until he became the planet Earth itself. This drastic evolution has him become a planet elemental, a representative of Earth in the Parliament of Worlds. I’ll admit to not being a huge fan of Mark Millar in general, but I’ll give credit and say he really nailed this concluding story arc. It shows the enormous potential of Swamp Thing while staying true to the philosophical elements Moore introduced.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. The 2000s saw several attempts to start up a new Swamp Thing title but none of them lasted that long. One genuinely good idea they had was to focus on the daughter of Swamp Thing & Abigail, Tefé Holland. But the execution was always off during this era. He also appeared during the crossover event Brightest Day and had one final story before Flashpoint. I won’t lie, I still don’t fully understand the how and the specific of what was going on. Basically Alec Holland and the Swamp Thing were separated and got pulled together but gives up the mantle of Guardian of The Green.
And thus, we enter the New 52…yay. To be truthful, the Swamp Thing title of this era wasn’t terrible. It got off on the wrong foot by having it reference the events of Brightest Day even though the whole point of the New 52 is that the DC universe is starting over again. But it helps that the first writer was Scott Snyder, the same guy who wrote the main Batman book. I have mixed thoughts on this volume. I’ll say that the best thing this book did was introduce the concept of The Black or The Rot. This is the mystical force/shared consciousness for the dead and decaying, with Anton Arcane as their Guardian. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost. Anton was removed as the Guardian for The Rot and Abigail Arcane was chosen. It’s an interesting idea, but it means that she and Swamp Thing can never be together. And at the time I’m writing this, she hasn’t been seen in any significant context since that change, and maybe only mentioned briefly a few times. The two of them had their troubles, certainly, but I still miss them together.
Following Rebirth and the event comic Dark Nights: Metal, Swamp Thing became a member of Justice League Dark for the team’s second volume written by James Tunion IV. This series was great and I recommend it for those who enjoy reading the magic based characters of the DC universe. Swamp Thing ended up sacrificing his body to help imprison the Upside-Down Man in his own dimension, but I don’t think he is technically dead. I recall the Holland version of Swamp Thing making a cameo in Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths but I don’t think he had any significant role to play.
In 2021, we got a new volume of the character, initially planned for 10 issues but then got extended to 16 due to sales. This volume, written by Ram V, introduced a new character chosed as the Guardina of The Green - Levi Kamei. This is the volume that truly felt like a worthy successor to the second volume.Levi grew up in India with his brother. A rift formed between Levi and his brother and father after he was hired by Prescott, the rift being mainly about how he views the world and nature as opposed to the rest of his family. But him being chosed as the next Swamp Thing did allow Levi to patch things up with his father just before he passed. As Levi settles into his new role, he finally begins to understand what his father and brother wanted Levi to understand. Levi’s brother is still an antagonist character in this volume, but the true villain is Prescott as they wanted to use Levi to fulfill their own corporate greed. This entire volume plays on ideas and the power they wield over individuals and the human species. I highly recommend this run.
A post dedicated to Swamp Thing like this would feel incomplete without some mention of how he was shown outside of comics. To circle back to what I said earlier, Wes Craven’s 1982 film is a fun and fairly well done interpretation. It isn’t perfect, but it has a tone and style that is very similar to Universal Monster films and other old Horror movies. And there is an element of tragedy and emotion that anchors it. It got a sequel but it isn’t worth talking about that one. The character got a live-action and an animated TV show in 1990 & 1991 respectively, both were short lived. He has made appearances and cameos in various DC animated projects starting in the 2000s, including the animated movie Justice League Dark and the TV show Harley Quinn. Of course, the one project you probably want me to mention…the 2019 live-action show that aired on the DC streaming service back when they did their own shows. I love this show! The atmosphere was dark and gloomy, the characters were well written, and it had some great sequences. And yes, I’m still mad they cancelled the show ONE DAY after the series premiere aired - and that’s on top of them cutting a couple of episodes from the first season’s length. It’s still somewhat unknown on why exactly it was cancelled. Some say it was due to budget and tax break issues, others say it was fighting between the show and studio execs on the tone and direction of the show. Regardless, I love this show. To this day, the poster on the left still serves as my phone wallpaper.
And that, my friends, is the condensed version of Swamp Thing. So what exactly is this character about once you look over his history? Well, I don’t think the character represents any one idea, but rather a mix of several different ones. The story of Swamp Thing is one where what we see as horrific can actually be beautiful, which also means that what we traditionally perceive as good has a secret dark side to it. His story is also about being put through some of the worst things anyone can go through, but still finding the will to move one and do some good. It’s also about opening up your mind and soul so that you can grow as a person while also helping the world change for the better. And his story is about finding inner balance. Without it, you can’t hope to be happy or make any positive change around you. It’s up to you how you perceive Swamp Thing’s epic tale. Read his stories for yourself - it’s one thing for me to tell you them, another to experience it yourself. Thank you for sticking through this very long post with me as I talk about my favorite DC character.