Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Origin of the Swamp Thing character
He was originally Alec Holland, a man who was transformed into a "muck encrusted mockery of a man" after an explosion in his laboratory doused him with chemicals. Swamp Thing first appeared in House of Secrets #92 (June-July 1971), depicted in this story as Alex Olsen. Near the beginning of the 20th Century, scientist Alex Olsen is caught in a lab explosion set by his co-worker, Damian Ridge, intended to kill him so that Ridge may gain the hand of Olsen's wife Linda. Olsen is changed by the chemicals and the forces within the swamp into a powerful, monstrous Swamp Thing who kills Ridge before the latter can murder Linda. Unable to make Linda realize his true identity, the Swamp Thing sadly shambles back to his boggy home.
After the success of the short story in the House of Secrets comic, the original creators were asked to write an ongoing series, but updating the character to be in the present and to appear more heroic. Swamp Thing #1 (1st series, October-November 1972, by Wein and Wrightson) was then begun, fast-forwarding to the 70s, and relating a completely different origin for the frightfully foliaged character. Scientist Alec Holland, working on a secret restorative formula in the Louisiana swamps that can "make forests out of deserts", is killed by a bomb planted by agents of the mysterious Mr. E, who wants the formula. Splashed with burning chemicals in the massive fire, Holland runs from the lab and falls into the waters of a muck-filled swamp. Some time later, a creature resembling a humanoid plant appears. This creature, called Swamp Thing, was originally conceived as Alec Holland mutated into a vegetable-like being. Much of his later adventures would involve the Swamp Thing attempting to find a way to become human again.
The major difference between the first and second Swamp Thing is that the latter not only appears more muscular than shambling, but possesses the ability of speech. The speech impediment of Alex Olsen is a major reason why his wife was unable to recognize him.
Swamp Thing in the comics
The Swamp Thing series is considered one of the most important in comics history, specifically during the Moore era. There were four series in total, including several Specials, with the latest series being published now. Many of the best writers in the comic industry had their starting roots either in Swamp Thing or Hellblazer, which started out from ST.
The first volume of Swamp Thing lasted from 1972 to 1976 for 24 issues. Swamp Thing fought against the evils surrounding him, and sought a means to return himself to his human form, occasionally encountering the mad Dr. Anton Arcane, his nightmarish Un-Men, the Patchwork Man (a Frankenstein-type assemblage of body parts, revealed to be Arcane's own brother Gregori Arcane), even leaving his swamp long enough to battle Batman in issue #7 in what would be one of the few encounters with a traditional DC superhero for the supernatural star of the comic. Of note is Dr Arcane, who acted as his nemesis and has been killed several times, appearing in different forms throughtout the series (including an old man, a muscular zombie-like creature, a robot-spider-human hybrid, his nephew-in-law, and a devout Catholic). Supporting characters include Matthew Cable, who pursued Swamp Thing in the early issues believing him to be the murderer of Linda Holland (Alec's wife, who was in fact killed by Mr. E's henchmen), and Abigail/Abby Arcane, Dr Arcane's niece who posseses long white hair with a black streak.
As sales figure plummetted towards the end of the series, the writers attempted to revive interest by introducing fantasy, sci-fi aliens, and even Alec Holland's brother and sister-in-law into the picture (Holland's family was rarely, or never, brought up again in the series thereafter).
The appearance of Holland's family towards the end of the series marked the most awkward issues. Issue 23 featured an aging superhero called Sabre, hellbent on killing Swamp Thing. In the final panel Alec Holland was shown inexplicably returning into human form, with his brother crying "Alec Holland lives again!".
Although Swamp Thing was on the cover of the 24th and final issue, Holland appeared as human throughout the interior story, The cover 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. Holland, and his sister-in-law, spent most of the issue running away from Thrudvang.
The events in these issues, evident in the later series, were written out of continuity.
On May 1982, DC Comics revived the Swamp Thing series after the mild success of the Wes Craven film of the same name, despite how it is now universally known as one of Craven's weakest efforts. The series (renamed Saga of the Swamp Thing) ignored Swamp Thing's reversion to humanity, and continued the theme of Swamp Thing getting into superhero-like situations and his constant inability to find a cure. The early plot, written by Martin Pasko , had Swamp Thing travelling to many exotic locations, being possesed by demons, and preventing the girl-witch Karen Clancy from destroying the world. For a number of issues, the Phantom Stranger was included at the end as backup stories. On Issue 16, the artists were replaced with Stephen Bissette and John Totleben , two-third of the creative team in the later Moore era. According to both Bissette and Totleben, they tried to contribute story ideas to the title, but were not entertained by Pasko. During then, Swamp Thing returned to the swamp, meeting Matthew Cable and Abby, who was now Mrs Cable. Cable is revealed to be an alcoholic who achieved the ability to control otherwordly demonic beings, and Anton Arcane returned as a spider-robot-human monster to fight Swamp Thing. A 1982 annual of Swamp Thing was also published, its plot the same as the Craven movie.
On Issue 20, the British comic book writer Alan Moore was brought in to replace Pasko. Relatively unknown then, Moore has only written several books for 2000AD and Marvel UK; as Swamp Thing was slated for cancellation, the editors were willing to take whatever risks Moore proposed.
The "risk" Moore took was to, in one fell swoop, destroy the entire concept of the Swamp Thing. In #20, Swamp Thing was shot in the head and captured by the malevolent Sunderland corporation. In #21, the now-legendary The Anatomy Lesson, his body was delivered to minor supervillain Jason Woodrue , who had been hired by Sunderland to perform an autopsy.
During the autopsy, Woodrue discovered that the Swamp Thing's physiology was only superficially human, its organs little more than crude, nonfunctional, vegetable-based imitations of their human counterparts, and that there was no way that the Swamp Thing's body could have been derived from a human corpse. This meant the Swamp Thing was not Alec Holland, but only thought that it was: Holland had indeed died in the swamp vegetation, and the swamp vegetation had absorbed his mind, knowledge, memories, and skills. Alec Holland would not ever be cured, because there was nothing to cure. Woodrue also concluded that, despite the autopsy, Swamp Thing was still alive, as "you can't kill a vegetable by shooting it through the head".
With that, Moore redefined the Swamp Thing as a "Plant Elemental", which left the character open to much broader interpretations, giving him the ability to control plants, and to travel through "the Green".
During the Moore era, Swamp Thing went catatonic due to the shock, going deep into "The Green", which is the dimension that connects all plant life together. 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 (now revealed to be situated in 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 possesed by Anton Arcane, and Abby had been unwittingly having an incestuous relationship with him. After a fight Cable was thrown into a coma, and Abby's soul delivered to hell, but in an issue modelled on Dante's Inferno, Swamp Thing followed Abigail, encountering characters such as The Spectre 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 both have been loving each other since they first met, and "made love" though the hallucinogenic tubers produced by Swamp Thing's body. The controversial relationship between plant and human would cultimate in Abby being arrested in Gotham City later for "obscene behaviour", the second 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), where Swamp Thing had to travel to several parts of America, encountering several archetype horror monsters, including werewolves and zombies, but modernized with relevance to current issues. The American Gothic storyline ended with a subtle crossover to Crisis on Infinite Earths, where Swamp Thing had to solve the battle between Good and Evil. Here he also met The Parliament of Trees , 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 (through a loophole Batman pointed out, where they would have to arrest Superman and Lois Lane too for being in a similiar alien-human relationship), Swamp Thing was ambushed and his soul sent into space. He would travel to several planets, including Rann, before returning home to exact revenge on his attackers. The high point of this plotline was issue 56 "My Blue Heaven", a poignant psychological story on depression and the lengths what one would do due to it. Swamp Thing, unable to return to Earth, recreated a blue plant version Houma in his image, with a plant Abby who followed his whims and fancies, but was unable to capture her soul.
What Moore did produced a profound effect on mainstream comic books - It was the first "horror" comic to approach the genre from an adult-oriented, literate point of view since EC Comics' horror comics of the 1950s; and it gave rise to DC's Vertigo comic book line, which was written with adults in mind and which 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.
Moore broadened the series' scope, retaining its horror roots while using his new concept of Swamp Thing's nature (an entirely nonhuman "plant elemental" created by the Earth itself) to introduce ecological and spiritual concerns. He borrowed many obscure DC characters to create a complex mythology defining the role of magic in the DC Universe, which has since provided the basis for numerous Vertigo titles, notably The Sandman, Hellblazer, and The Books of Magic.
Moore wrote the series for 45 issues and was then replaced by artist Rick Veitch, who continued the story in a roughly similar vein for 24 more issues. Hellblazer also began then, and the two series had storylines which crossover to each other. In Veitch's stories, the Parliament of Trees, believing Swamp Thing already dead, grew a Sprout to replace him. Unwilling to sacrifice an innocent life, he convinced them that he would take the Sprout as his own child, and impregnated Abby (now his wife) with it by possessing John Constantine's body. Later, during the Invasion event, Swamp Thing was thrown into the past, and went through time trying to return to the present.
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 due to controversies arising from the Martin Scorsese film The Last Tempation of Christ , despite having previously approved the script. Artist Michael Zulli had already partially completed the art. The move disgusted Veitch and he immediately resigned from writing, as that episode was supposed to be his last. Writers Neil Gaiman and Jamie Delano , who were originally slated to be the next writers, sympathetically declined to take up the helm.
Doug Wheeler wrote issues 88-109, a run widely resented by fans, although he did in fact have Swamp Thing meet Jesus in issue 88 (proving that it was Veitch's depiction of Christ, rather than the event of Him appearing that caused the censorship). Wheeler had the unfortunate task of writing under the shadow of Moore and Veitch, and also Neil Gaiman, who just finished the Swamp Thing Annual and a Black Orchid miniseries previously. His writing may not be awful (as compared to many other comics during the time), but was genuinely inferior to the three authors. It did not help that he was accompanied by regular artist Pat Broderick , whose bright and clean artwork worked badly in a horror title. Ironically, his run had some of the best covers in the series, illustrated by John Totleben . A major plotline revolves around the birth of the Sprout, whom Swamp Thing and Abby named Tefé Holland.
Nancy A. Collins
Horror writer Nancy A. Collins began scripting the issues in 1991, writing roughly 28 issues. She brought a familiarity with the setting of the series in South Louisiana, writing her stories with more focus on fantasy and myths. It introduced the fan favourite character Lady Jane, tied up several loose ends during the Moore era (mostly involving Anton Arcane), and the trouble-ridden series was able to gain fan interest again. The series ended with Abby, due to Swamp Thing cheating on her and creating a clone that deceived her, leaving him, and Lady Jane took Tefé away as he was considered a "bad influence". Swamp Thing was officially placed in the Vertigo line in Issue 129.
Mark Millar, largely unknown in the US at the time, took over the title at this point. An initial four-issue storyline was co-written with fan favourite Grant Morrison, who by that time had finished writing both Doom Patrol and Animal Man. It depicted a human Alec Holland waking up from "a dream". Although it was later explained how Swamp Thing became human-like, the shock value of this storyline heightened reader interest.
Most of Millar's run is divided into several smaller arcs, in each of which Swamp Thing first learns of the existence of, then becomes the champion of, the Parliaments of the various other elements. In order, these are Stone, Waves, Vapour and Fire. In the final six issue, a fitting end to the whole series, Swamp Thing became so much beyond humanity that he is no longer approachable, practically becoming a God willing to rid the world of the human plague in order for the other elements to survive. This sequence culminates with Swamp Thing becoming a planet elemental, the elemental of the Earth itself, and joining the Parliament of Worlds. It was the most significant change made to Swamp Thing ever since Moore's reinterpretation of the character, far beyond what the other writers have done for him.
Millar's run was more like those of Moore and Veitch than those of his immediate predecessors, especially in its use of guest stars from the wider DC Universe. One of his achievements include the reintroduction of Anton Arcane, resurrected but converted to devout Catholicism, raising the question of whether evil could indeed be changed after all.
Written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli in 2000-2002, the third series focused on the daughter of the Swamp Thing, Tefé Holland. Even though she was chronologically 13, the events which occurred in the previous run caused her to appear as a teenager. Due to the circumstances when she was conceived (Swamp Thing, possessing John Constantine, was not aware he was given a blood transfusion by a demon), she held power over both plants and flesh. While the idea of using a teenage female protagonist was a fresh one, the series was lacklustre, committing several grave continuity errors (the omnipotency of Swamp Thing was never mentioned) and containing characters (such as a vegetable samurai named Kudzu) less important than redundant. The script did shine at certain moments, such as an encounter between Tefé Holland and John Constantine, and Vaughan would later write the much better comics Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina. 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.
The fourth series is begun in 2004, with rotating writers of Andy Diggle , Will Pfeifer and Joshua Dysart . The series is solicited to Issue 15 as of March 2005. In the current series, both Tefé Holland and the Swamp Thing is reverted back to his original "muck monster" status after the first storyline, and he is now working to regaining at least his powers over plants. As of the latest issue (13) he is still shambling in the Louisiana swamps being confused and depressed.
Swamp Thing on film and television
There have been two movies based on Swamp Thing (the first was directed by Wes Craven), and an animated cartoon and a live-action television series. Fans often consider these versions inferior in terms of inventiveness and creativity compared to Alan Moore's re-interpretation of the Swamp Thing legend.
The label of the chalk is especially curious - a text bubble hovers above the little figurine with the words "I'm Chalk!".
DC Comics rival Marvel Comics had a strikingly similar rival to Swamp Thing in the 1970s with the Steve Gerber-scripted Man-Thing. Due to the close premieres of each comic, it is unlikely that either comic was directly derivative of the other - although in an interview Gerber noted that Wein and Man-Thing creator Gerry Conway were roommates, and had simultaneously came up with similiar characters by coincidence. Gerber later asked Wein to describe the premise of Swamp Thing, and rewrote it to be as different as Wein's creation as possible.
The best-known precursor to both characters was the shambling muck-monster The Heap , who first appeared in a 1942 Hillman comic. But the Heap (and consequently, both Swamp Thing and Man-Thing) may owe its existence to a 1940 horror story by Theodore Sturgeon titled "It ", in which a shambling monster, made from decaying plant life and a human corpse, creates havoc for a farm household.
The Heap was mentioned by Alan Moore in his introduction of the Parliament of Trees, though never by name.
The Brazilian character "Morto do Pântano ", created by Eugenio Colonesse two years before Swamp Thing, resembles in many ways Wein and Wrightson's creation. "Parliament of the Trees", a Moore-scripted Swamp Thing episode from 1986, includes visual nods towards these other "muck monsters" when various past and present plant/human "tree spirits" assemble together in the Amazon Rainforest.
- entries in Don Markstein's Toonopedia:
- Roots of the Swamp Thing
- SequArt Swamp Thing article
Swamp Thing is also a techno song by the British band The Grid.
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