The Swamp Thing is a fictional character created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson for DC Comics and featured in a long-running horror-fantasy comic book series of the same name. The character is a humanoid mass of vegetable matter who fights to protect his swamp home, the environment in general, and humanity from various supernatural or terrorist threats. The series has been continued by a number of writers, including Alan Moore.
The Swamp Thing has appeared in four comic book series to date, including several Specials, and has crossed over into other DC titles.
Swamp Thing has since fought many villains, most notably the mad Dr. Anton Arcane. Though they only met twice during the first series, Arcane and his obsession with gaining immortality, aided by his nightmarish army of Un-Men and the tragic Patchwork Man (Arcane's brother Gregori Arcane, who after a land mine explosion was rebuilt as a Frankenstein-type creature by his brother), became Swamp Thing's archnemesis, even as Swamp Thing developed a close bond with Arcane's niece Abigail Arcane. Also involved in the conflict was Swamp Thing's close friend turned enemy Matthew Cable, a federal agent who mistakenly believed Swamp Thing responsible for the deaths of Alec and Linda Holland.
Despite Wein's writing the first thirteen issues, only the first ten issues of the original Swamp Thing series have been collected in any shape or form, primarily due to the popularity of Wrightson's artwork, stopping rather than concluding the story arc. Wein ended his run as writer by having Swamp Thing reveal his identity to Matt Cable and ultimately avenging the death of his wife by defeating Nathan Ellery.
The appearance of Holland's brother toward the end of the series marked a series of plot developments, designed to provide the series with a happy ending, which generated much controversy. In Swamp Thing #23, Alec finally regains his humanity and while the creature was on the cover of the 24th and final issue of the series (albeit transforming into human), Holland appeared as human throughout the interior story. The cover illustration showed a yellow muscular creature, Thrudvang, beating up Swamp Thing; the interior showed Holland imagining Swamp Thing beating up Thrudvang, in similar positions but with roles reversed-- the issue itself depicting Holland and his new love interest (and his brother's research assistant) running away from Thrudvang. A battle between Swamp Thing and Hawkman was promised for the next issue, but actually occurred in vol. 2 #58.
During the short-lived revivial of Challengers of the Unknown, also by Gerry Conway, Swamp Thing returned as Alec Holland who, without continually producing and self-medicating with bio-restorative formula, reverted into the form of Swamp Thing. Holland, along with the Challengers of the Unknown, encountered the supernatural being known as Deadman (though they were unaware of Deadman's presence), a fact that would confirm the post-Wein Swamp Thing stories existence in DCU continuity years later when Deadman and Swamp Thing met again during Alan Moore's run as writer. Swamp Thing also appeared with Superman in DC Comics Presents and with Batman in The Brave and the Bold. In the former, by Steve Englehart, he tried in vain to stop Superman from committing what he perceived as genocide (using a compound developed by S.T.A.R. Labs) to sixty Solomon Grundys living in the sewers of Metropolis.
Martin Pasko's main arc depicted Swamp Thing roaming the globe, trying to stop a young girl (and possible Anti-Christ) named Karen Clancy from destroying the world. The series also featured back-up stories involving the Phantom Stranger by Mike W. Barr that led to a collaboration between Swamp Thing and the Stranger in a guest run by Dan Mishkin that featured a scientist who transformed himself into a silicon creature. The primary artist for the bulk of Pasko's run was Tom Yeates, but towards the end of the run, he was replaced with Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben (who began by inking Yeates's pencils) -- two-thirds of the creative team in the Moore era. Bissette and Totleben, who had known Yeates at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, had been ghosting various pages for Yeates, and were given the assignment on Pasko's recommendation.
In issue #6, editor Len Wein declared, in response to a published letter, that Alec never had a brother and that every Swamp Thing series story after issue #21 of the original series never happened. The letter, however, questioned why Swamp Thing had reverted, which had already been explained in the Challengers of the Unknown run. A later column pointed this out, so they said they would not deliberately contradict it, even though they would still go from the assumption that it never happened.
The arrival of Bissette and Tottleben came as Pasko, who wrote the second Brave and the Bold team-up shortly before he began the series, resurrected plotlines from the original series. Abigail Arcane and Matt Cable were brought back and shown to be married, though this development had a darker side: Cable had been tortured via repeated electro-shock treatment by his black-ops superiors over his decision to stop working for the government in order to marry Abigail. The electro-shock treatment caused permanent brain damage for Matt, resulting in him being unable to work and, ironically, granting him psychic ability in the form of being able to create lifelike mental illusions. Pasko also resurrected Anton Arcane, now a grotesque half-spider/half-human hybrid with an army of insect-type Un-Men who ultimately cannibalized their creator after Swamp Thing was forced to kill Arcane.
Pasko left the book with issue 19, which featured the (third) death of Arcane, the second of which, from vol. 1 #10, was reprinted in vol. 2 # 18. He would be replaced by British writer Alan Moore.
As Swamp Thing was heading for cancellation due to low sales, DC editorial agreed to give Alan Moore (at the time a relatively unknown writer whose previous work included several stories for 2000AD, Warrior and Marvel UK) free rein to revamp the title and the character any way he saw fit. Moore decided to retcon Swamp Thing's origin to make him a true monster as opposed to a human transformed into a monster.
Moore's first issue of Swamp Thing swept aside the supporting cast introduced by Pasko for his run as writer a year and a half earlier. Moore brought the Sunderland Corporation (a villainous group out to gain the secrets of Alec Holland's research for themselves) to the forefront, as they hunted Swamp Thing down and "killed" him in a hail of bullets.
For Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 (February 1984), Moore penned the famous story "The Anatomy Lesson", which had obscure super-villain Jason "Floronic Man" Woodrue autopsy Swamp Thing's body and discover that Swamp Thing's body was only superficially human, its organs little more than crude, nonfunctional, vegetable-based imitations of their human counterparts, meaning that there was no way Swamp Thing could have been human. This meant the Swamp Thing was not Alec Holland, but only thought that it was: Holland had indeed died in the fire, and the swamp vegetation had absorbed his mind, knowledge, memories, and skills and created a new sentient being that believed itself to be Alec Holland. Swamp Thing would never be human again because he never was human to start with. Woodrue also concluded that, despite the autopsy, Swamp Thing was still alive and in a deep coma due to the bullet wounds and imprisonment in cold-storage.
Moore would later reveal, in an attempt to connect the original one-off Swamp Thing story from "House of Secrets" to the main Swamp Thing canon, that there had been dozens, perhaps even hundreds of Swamp Things since the dawn of mankind and that all versions of the creature were supposed to be the "defenders" of the Parliament of Trees, an elemental community also known as "the Green" that represented all plant life on Earth.
Swamp Thing went catatonic due to the shock of discovering what he really was, killing Sunderland and going deep into the Green, which is the dimension that connects all plant life. Woodrue went insane after attempting to connect to The Green through Swamp Thing, and Abby had to revive Swamp Thing in order to stop Woodrue after he killed an entire village. He returned to the swamps of Louisiana, and encountered Jason Blood, The Demon, then gave a final burial for Alec Holland.
Matthew Cable, gravely hurt in the previous storyline, was revealed to have been possessed by Anton Arcane, and Abby unwittingly had an incestuous relationship with him. After a fight, Cable was thrown into a coma, and Abby's soul delivered to hell. In the second Swamp Thing Annual, modelled on Dante's Inferno, Swamp Thing followed Abigail, encountering classic DC characters such as Deadman, The Spectre, Etrigan, and The Phantom Stranger en route, and eventually rescued her.
The relationship between Swamp Thing and Abby deepened, and in issue #34 ("Rites of Spring") the two confessed that they loved each other since they met, and "made love" though a hallucinogenic experience brought on when Abby ate a tuber produced by Swamp Thing's body. (This served as a segment in the movie The Return of Swamp Thing, where the Swamp Thing produces a fruit and the ingestion of the fruit makes Abby to see the Thing as a handsome man, and then, they make love.) The controversial relationship between plant and human would culminate in Abby being arrested later for breaking the laws of nature and conducting a sexual relationship with a nonhuman. Abby ultimately fled to Gotham City, leading to this story arc featuring the fourth encounter between Swamp Thing and Batman. Before that, the "American Gothic" storyline introduced the character John Constantine (later to star in his own comic Hellblazer) in issues #37-50, where Swamp Thing had to travel to several parts of America, encountering several archetypal horror monsters, including vampires (the same clan he fought in vol. 2, #3), a werewolf, and zombies, but modernized with relevance to current issues. Around this time, Moore had Swamp Thing encounter Superman a second time, in DC Comics Presents #85. The storyline began with Swamp Thing's old body being completely destroyed, and growing a new one. Constantine encourages Swamp Thing to use the power for transportation, and Swamp Thing learns to do so with increasing speed. The "American Gothic" storyline ended with a crossover to Crisis on Infinite Earths, where Swamp Thing had to solve the battle between Good (Light) and Evil (Darkness). He also met the Parliament of Trees in issue #47, which was where Earth Elementals like him lay to rest after they have walked the Earth, and it was here Moore solved the continuity problem of the first and second Swamp Thing: the first Swamp Thing, Alex Olsen, was a part of the Parliament.
Although Abby was eventually released (Batman pointed out that there were probably several non-humans, such as Superman, Metamorpho, and the Martian Manhunter, partaking in relationships with human beings), Swamp Thing was ambushed by soldiers using a weapon designed by Lex Luthor. Luthor's weapon destroyed Swamp Thing's body, leaving him presumed dead as his soul was forced to flee to outer space for a lengthy trek before he could return home. He would visit several planets before returning to reunite with Abby. A particularly popular story in this sequence was issue 56, "My Blue Heaven", an allegory of depression in which Swamp Thing populated a lonely planet with mindless plant replicas of Abby and other reminders of his lost Earth.
In issue 60, "Loving the Alien," the Swamp Thing actually becomes the father of the numerous offsprings of an alien cosmic entity after she "mates" with him against his will.
Moore's run included several references to obscure or forgotten comic characters (Phantom Stranger, Cain and Abel, Floronic Man) but none so prominent as in issue 32, when he broke with the serious and moody storyline for a single issue. In the story "Pog", we see Walt Kelly's funny animal comic character Pogo (created in 1943) and all of his woodland friends show up as costumed visitors from another planet, looking for an unspoiled world after their own utopia was overrun by brutal monkeys. More than a simple homage to Kelly, the story is a commentary on the lost innocence of the old comics, the cruelty of humans (who are referred to as "the loneliest animal of all"), and the destruction of a natural beauty that can never be reclaimed.
Alan Moore's Swamp Thing had a profound effect on mainstream comic books, being the first horror comic to approach the genre from a literary point of view since the EC horror comics of the 1950s, and broadened the scope of the series to include ecological and spiritual concerns while retaining its horror-fantasy roots. Moore began a trend (most notably continued by Neil Gaiman) of mining the DC Universe's vast collection of minor supernatural characters to create a mythic atmosphere. Characters spun off from Moore's series gave rise to DC's Vertigo comic book line, notably The Sandman, Hellblazer, and The Books of Magic; Vertigo titles were written with adults in mind and often contained material unsuitable for children. Saga of the Swamp Thing was the first mainstream comic book series to completely abandon the Comics Code Authority and write directly for adults.
It was during this time Swamp Thing first encountered the Black Orchid in Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's three-part graphic novel. Later, during the Invasion event, Swamp Thing was thrown into the past, and went through time trying to return to the present. The story was published in Swamp Thing #80-87. One issue of this storyline [#84] focused upon Swamp Thing's regular supporting cast. In this issue Matthew Cable passed away from his coma into the land of the Dreaming, where he encountered Morpheus and Eve. Cable would later be written into The Sandman by Neil Gaiman as Matthew The Raven.
Veitch's term ended in a widely publicized creative dispute, when DC refused to publish issue #88 because of the use of Jesus as a character despite having previously approved the script. The move was said to be made due to controversies then arising from the Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ. Artist Michael Zulli had already partially completed the art. The move disgusted Veitch and he immediately resigned from writing. Neil Gaiman and Jamie Delano, who were originally slated to be the next writers, sympathetically declined to take up the helm. Gaiman, however, was cooperative enough with the editorial staff to write Swamp Thing Annual #5, featuring Brother Power the Geek, to fill the series hiatus, which led into the run of the new Swamp Thing writer, Doug Wheeler. The annual was reprinted in Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days.
Wheeler's run was drawn by Pat Broderick, whose artwork was more low-key than previous artists on the series. John Totleben continued to contribute painted covers up to issue #100, at which point Simon Bisley took over as cover artist.
Collins dramatically overhauled the series, restoring the pre-Alan Moore tone of the series as well as incorporating a new set of supporting cast members into the book. Collins resurrected Anton Arcane along with the Sunderland Corporation as foils for Swamp Thing. Collins also moved the series, which had focused on Swamp Thing's time travel adventures and explorations into other-dimensional realms, back to normal society by having Swamp Thing and Abby set up shop in South Louisiana and attempt to live a normal life with friends and family, culminating in the introduction of the elemental babysitter Lady Jane into the supporting cast. It was during her run that DC officially launched the Vertigo imprint and Swamp Thing #129 was the first issue to carry the Vertigo logo on the cover. Collins wrapped up her run by having Swamp Thing promise Abby that he will never leave her side. He then breaks his promise and creates a secret double to stay and protect Abby as he goes into the Green during an environmental crisis. Abby feels betrayed and leaves a despondent Swamp Thing behind. He retreats into the Green, and when Lady Jane reaches out to him, it sparks into a love affair. Arcane returns and arranges an abduction of Abby, to force Tefe to use her powers to grown him a healthy body. The ongoing stress from constant attacks and dealing with Tefe's powers, leads to Abby rejecting Tefe and eventually leaving town with her new boyfriend. Fearing for Tefe's safety, Lady Jane betrays Swamp Thing and kidnaps Tefe into the "Green", so that she can be trained by the Parliament of Trees.
Swamp Thing Annual #7, published around this time, was the final annual issue as part of the Vertigo "Children's Crusade" crossover event. Collins also wrote a Swamp Thing story for the anthology one-shot, Vertigo Jam. Shortly after Collins' departure, Black Orchid series writer Dick Foreman wrote a two-part crossover between the two titles, Black Orchid #5 and Swamp Thing #139.
However the end was near for the series. Explanations for the cancellation vary, from low sales, to Millar himself having become bored with the series. No matter what the cause, Millar decided to leave the title, which in turn caused DC to cancel the series.
Millar was given the job to wrap up the series, which would end with Swamp Thing #171. John Totleben would return to illustrate the covers for the issues #160-171.
Millar's final arc for the series had Swamp Thing, due to his success in beating the other Elemental Parliament Champions, become godlike and unapproachable by mortals, even as his estranged wife Abby returned to try and reconcile with him. With help from John Constantine, Abby sought to keep Swamp Thing from destroying humanity so that the Parliament Elementals could claim control over Earth. In the end, Swamp Thing unites all of the Elemental Parliaments into one collective hivemind with him in control of it. Achieving a global sense of consciousness, Swamp Thing sees through the world-view of every living thing upon the planet and find the good and the potential in even his worst enemy. This is shown most notably with the final resurrection of Anton Arcane, who during his most recent stay in hell, befriended a priest unfairly condemned to Hell and in the process renounced evil and became a born again Christian.
Swamp Thing thus spares humanity and becomes a planet elemental, representing the Earth itself, and joins the Parliament of Worlds, which is made up of all the other "enlightened worlds." (The only others actually named were Mars, who greeted Swamp Thing into their number, and Oa; due to its destruction some time before [in Green Lantern #0], Mars lamented Oa could not witness Earth's induction.) This was the most significant change made to the character since Moore's reinterpretation, though in the Michael Zulli story "Look Away" (found within the 2000 Swamp Thing Vertigo Secret Files special) Swamp Thing ultimately returns to normal and renounces his status as a "Planetary Elemental", due to his belief that he was more effective a figure as a normal elemental being living in the swamp.
After being overlooked for inclusion in countless DC Universe crossovers since "Invasion", Swamp Thing reappeared in the coda for the "Final Night" DC Universe event, appearing at Hal Jordan's funeral alongside John Constantine. In 1997, Swamp Thing was written into Aquaman #32-33 by Peter David and attended the funeral for the ghost of Jim Corrigan in the final issue of The Spectre, #62, by John Ostrander.
Early 1998 saw the production of John J. Muth's Vertigo graphic novel, Swamp Thing: Roots. The Sandman spin-off The Dreaming #22-24 written by Caitlin R. Kiernan saw Matthew Cable's return to human form, his uneasy reunion and final departure from his ex-wife Abby (now married to Swamp Thing) and Cable's restoration to his dream raven form. Matthew The Raven died in The Dreaming story "Foxes and Hounds" in issues #42-43, a fact that was later touched upon by the 2000 Swamp Thing Vertigo Secret Files Special. The final week of 1999 saw Swamp Thing teaming up with other Vertigo heroes from the DC Universe in the one-shot special Totems.
The idea of using a teenage female protagonist was a fresh one, but many long-time fans rejected the series, which cast Swamp Thing as a guest star in his own book. Also, many fans were wondering what happened to Swamp Thing's status as a Planetary Elemental, which culminated in the story being told in the pages of the 2000 Swamp Thing Vertigo Secret Files Special. Tefé's story was discontinued at Issue 20, whereupon after eating from the Tree of Knowledge she saw two visions of possible futures, and chose neither. Vaughan would later write the critically acclaimed Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina. Swamp Thing would not appear again until Mike Carey's run on Hellblazer in issues #184-185 and #192-193, leading into the fourth Swamp Thing series.
The Floronic Man returns in #27-29, his mind splintered in the aftermath of Infinite Crisis. Issue #29 is the final issue of the fourth volume, which has been cancelled due to low sales numbers despite fan-supported efforts to save the series.
The Dysart series deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the last 12 chapters of the series. Most notable, is the fact that real estate tycoons had been wanting to develop the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
After the success of the short story in the House of Secrets comic, the original creators were asked to write an ongoing series, depicting a more heroic, more contemporary creature. In Swamp Thing #1 (October-November 1972) Wein and Wrightson updated the time frame to the 1970s and featured a new version character: Alec Holland, a scientist working in the Louisiana swamps on a secret bio-restorative formula "that can make forests out of deserts". Holland is killed by a bomb planted by agents of the mysterious Mr. E (Nathan Ellery), who wants the formula. Splashed with burning chemicals in the massive fire, Holland runs from the lab and falls into the muck-filled swamp, after which a creature resembling a humanoid plant appears some time later. The creature, called Swamp Thing, was originally conceived as Alec Holland mutating into a vegetable-like creature, a "muck-encrusted mockery of a man". However, under writer Alan Moore, Swamp Thing was reinvented as an elemental entity created upon the death of Alec Holland, with Holland's memory and personality intact. He is described as "a plant that thought it was Alec Holland, a plant that was trying its level best to be Alec Holland.. This was Alan Moore's second "re-invention" of a comic book character, the first being Miracleman.
The major difference between the first and second Swamp Thing is that the latter appears more muscular than shambling, and possesses the power of speech. Being able to speak only with great difficulty, Alex Olsen's speech impediment is a major reason why his wife could not recognize him. In Swamp Thing #33, Alan Moore attempted to reconcile the two versions of Swamp Thing with the revelation that there have been many previous incarnations of Swamp Thing prior to the death and "rebirth" of the Alec Holland incarnation. Three others are notable: Albert Hollerer was mentioned and Aaron Hayley appeared in the Swamp Thing: Roots graphic novel (1998) set in the 1940s, and Alan Hallman, the Swamp Thing of the 1950s and 1960s, introduced in Vol. 2 #102 (December 1990) and eventually, after being corrupted by the Gray, killed by Holland. As a result, Holland is known as Swamp Thing IV by the editors of the DCU Guide. The principal two Swamp Things are also connected in that Holland's first wife is Linda Ridge, a descendant of Damian Ridge.
The aforementioned film series rejected the popular Alan Moore revision of Swamp Thing's origin and portrayed Swamp Thing with his original origin as a man turned into a plant-like entity. They also heavily featured Anton Arcane, who now became the man responsible for causing Alec Holland's transformation into Swamp Thing.
DiC Entertainment's Swamp Thing animated series debuted on FOX Kids in April 1991, with Len Carlson providing the voice of the title character. Anton Arcane took the role of the main villain, along with his three Un-Men. The animation style followed a trend similar to Troma's Toxic Crusaders. However, the series only lasted five episodes.
Much like the films of the 1980s, both the live action series and animated series followed the original version of Swamp Thing rather than Alan Moore's vision. Neither of these incarnations were highly critically or commercially successful, but the live-action series developed a cult following. A moderate collection of merchandise was also produced for the animated series, including an action figure line by Kenner and video games by THQ.
In the Justice League Unlimited episode entitled "Initiation," an unknown creature aboard the Justice League Watchtower who is never identified looks remarkably similar to the Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing also has a small cameo at a cantina in the episode "Comfort and Joy," which first aired December 13, 2003. Swamp Thing can also be seen on a poster in the episode "Wake the Dead."
Swamp Thing has so far been collected in the following trade paperback collections published by Vertigo:
The entire Alan Moore run (save his first issue, Swamp Thing #20, which has yet to be collected in any shape and form) from #21 to #64 was first collected in the UK in the late 1980s as a series of black and white trade paperbacks. Because DC had been reluctant to reprint the complete Moore run, these trades became highly popular amongst fans of the series, a popularity which was further fueled by them not being distributed in the US. Hardcover reprints are upcoming in 2009.
The original Swamp Thing story is parodied in The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror comic (2005), in which Homer is killed by Moe (who is in love with Marge) while attempting to create a gelatin/beer fusion. Homer emerges as a beast made of lime gelatin, saving Marge from Moe as he is about to kill her, having discovered it was he who sabotaged Homer's experiment, presumably killing him. The story ends with Marge charging the local children money to drink the material of Homer's body as a means of income.