My first contact with Swamp Thing was not actually comics. As a child I watched Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing film with a mixture of horror and delight. I found myself rooting for the monster to win for the very first time in my life. I had been captivated by the idea that a man could be turned into a monster and still be a hero. I love that film to this day, no matter how horribly dated it is.
Last week, DC’s Brightest Day #23 revealed a Black Lantern Swamp Thing, not more than a deformed husk of the character, coming to attack the magical forest in Star City. In the last few panels the White Lantern revives Alec Holland from a grave beneath a large tree bearing the White Lantern’s symbol. It proclaims Alec Holland as Earth’s greatest savior.
It really is no great surprise that the character has returned. Last year there were rumors that DC was reclaiming most of the characters that had ventured over to the Vertigo imprint over the years (minus John Constantine) to be used in the mainstream DCU. Personally, I do not understand why you cannot use them in both, but that is an argument for another day. This news sprung up after the cancelation of a new Vertigo Swamp Thing series that was in the beginning of its development. British sci-fi novelist China Mieville had written five scripts for the proposed series before Dan Didio made a big push to reclaim the Vertigo characters, Swamp Thing included, thus stopping Mieville’s run before it ever started. In case you are interested in what Mieville had planned you can check that out here.
Now, almost a year later, it seems that Swamp Thing’s return is ultimately what Brightest Day is about. (We still have an issue to go.) I am going to reserve judgment on this new predicament, except to say the execution is found wanting. I thought I would take the time to get to know Swamp Thing again, and speculate on the future of the character moving forward.
Swamp Thing was created by writer Len Wein and artist Berni Wrightson. Originally conceived as a short horror story in House of Secrets #92, the popularity of the concept gave way to an ongoing series, with a new version of the character set in modern times. In the ongoing series Dr. Alec Holland was working on a bio-restorative formula in the Louisiana swamps along with his wife Linda. A man named Nathan Ellery wanted the formula and had his men leave a bomb at Holland’s laboratory. Holland was caught in the explosion, dosed with chemicals, and he ran into the murky swamp to put out the flames. He emerges from the swamp, transformed into a humanoid plant man, who then uses his new form to fight against evil the likes of which caused his new state of being.
Probably the most famous take on the character came from the defining run of Alan Moore along with artist Steve Bissette. Like his revamp of Miracleman, Moore tweaked the origin of Swamp Thing. Instead of Alec Holland being turned into the plant-like Swamp Thing, it was revealed that Holland’s consciousness and memories were absorbed into the swamp. Moore’s version was that the Swamp Thing was not a man turned into a plant and instead a plant that thought he was a man. He further stretched this origin to include the original Swamp Thing in House of Secrets #92, dictating that there was always a Swamp Thing guarding “The Green,” a community that connects all plant life on Earth.
Grant Morrison did a four-issue stint co-writing the book with Mark Millar who then ran with the concept of Alec Holland being separated from a mindless, destructive Swamp Thing. This eventually led to the title’s cancellation. It was revived twice more, once featuring Swamp Thing’s daughter written by Brian K. Vaughan. A fourth volume came from writers Andy Diggle, Will Pfeifer, and Joshua Dysart respectively and attempted to return Swamp Thing back to the status quo. It also was eventually cancelled as well.
I found some interesting tidbits as I re-read Alan Moore’s run on the character this past week. In the second trade Swamp Thing’s consciousness releases itself from its plant body to venture through other planes of existence, ultimately leading to Hell to find Abby Arcane’s soul. The first spirit guide for him at the time is Deadman. Deadman is the bearer of the White Ring that returns Alec Holland to life in Brightest Day. In Moore’s story, right before Deadman and Swamp Thing part company, Swamp Thing thanks Deadman and says, “Perhaps… one day… I may help… you.”
In the first story in the same volume, Swamp Thing puts the body of Alec Holland to rest. He disappears into the murky swamp and retrieves Holland’s skeleton. Once he buries the body and says farewell to the man the creature thought he was, he rips out a branch from his arm to use as Holland’s gravestone. This branch I now believe to be the White Lantern’s tree in the magic forest.
This should come as no surprise as the Blackest Night crossover sprang out of old Alan Moore Tales of the Green Lantern stories, which hinted at the end of the Green Lanterns as foretold by a demon to Abin Sur. Johns likes to play with ideas presented by Alan Moore, even if indirectly.
I am curious where this will go. From Brightest Day we get the distinction that it is Alec Holland, NOT the Swamp Thing, who is Earth’s greatest savior. Will Alec Holland become the White Ring bearer? Is his human influence, his consciousness, needed to tame Swamp Thing? Will Johns in fact undo Moore status quo change and make Swamp Thing a mutated Holland once again? I do not know. There are definitely quite a few possibilities and directions one could take the material.
I am more than a little curious as to what DC does with this new revelation. I personally believe that topping the literary advancements Moore made with the character will be difficult in a non-Vertigo book. Of course, the previous Vertigo installments met with problems keeping interest in the character alive. If they do not have an amazing creative team lined up for a new Swamp Thing series after Brightest Day it will only make matters worse. I mean a year ago that had a well known British science fiction novelist lined up to tackle the character, you know? Personally I would like to vote for Scott Snyder – writer on American Vampire and Detective Comics – as my pick for the writer. With all do respect to Johns I have no desire to read a Geoff Johns Swamp Thing book.
I believe the only way to do it right, without stepping on the great Swamp Thing stories that came before it, would be to make a brand new character Swamp Thing. It would coincide with everything that came before, but allow this new direction to stand on its own. Even making Alec Holland Swamp Thing again is moving backwards, as that stopped being the case with Moore’s revamp. Here’s hoping whatever they have planned is worthy of a great character that deserves his day in the sun again. Pun totally intended.