Why Swamp Thing Is The Next DC Superhero Who Deserves A Movie

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I spent a decade of my life happily working in a comic shop, so I got used to people asking for my recommendations. Most of the time, customers were happy to try out the books I suggested. However, my toughest sell was always one of the comics I was most passionate about: Swamp Thing.

Alan Moore’s seminal run on the book — more on that later — was something I discovered very early on in my own reading journey due to the writer’s undeniable impact on Neil Gaiman, who served as my introduction to comics via “The Sandman.” Once I had finished every Gaiman book I could find, I got started on the work of Alan Moore, whom he had cited as a major influence.

Of course, I loved “Watchmen” and “V For Vendetta,” both undisputed classics, but it was Moore’s work on “Swamp Thing” that truly blew my teenage mind. Much like the customers I would eventually recommend the comic to, I had no initial interest in “Swamp Thing.” The book taught me a really important lesson, which is that a great creative team, in this case, Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben, could make me fall in love with any character. There were other artists on the comic as well, including Rick Veitch, Shawn McManus, and Ron Randall.

I’ve already written about why DC heroes such as Zatanna and Animal Man deserve their own live-action film adaptations, but up next, let’s discuss why DC’s muck monster deserves more time in the spotlight than a streaming series canceled shortly after its pilot aired and a few bad movies. Okay, I’ve never seen the ’90s TV show, but it’s past time for Alec Holland to return to the cinema. Let’s get some justice for Swamp Thing!

Swamp Thing And Man-Thing

First, let’s briefly address the other muck monster in the room. 

There are some pretty wild coincidences when it comes to the creation of certain Marvel and DC characters. X-Men and Doom Patrol debuted within two months of each other in 1963, and though each evolved into its own entity, the similarities at the time were striking. Long-deceased former sidekicks Jason Todd and Bucky Barnes were both resurrected in 2005, as villains who eventually became heroes, Red Hood and Winter Soldier, respectively. Those are only two of many examples, but perhaps one of the strangest coincidences is the fact that Marvel’s Man-Thing debuted in May of 1971, and Swamp Thing showed up in July of that same year. Both creatures certainly owed a debt to the Heap from Hillman Periodicals, another swamp monster who first appeared in 1942.

The early instances of similar characters make sense, considering how common it was for DC and Marvel to share talent. Although Swamp Thing co-creator Len Wein and Man-Thing co-creator Gerry Conway were roommates at the time, Wein always maintained that Swampy was “an independent creation.” Interestingly, Wein also wrote the second Man-Thing story, though it went unpublished for some time. I’ve always been more of a Swamp Thing fan, but honestly, that’s mostly because there simply aren’t a lot of Man-Thing stories worth reading, while Swamp Thing has several excellent runs.

The Birth Of Swamp Thing

While I could go on all day about the run from Moore, Bissette, and Totleben, the truth is Swamp Thing had, um, strong roots to begin with. He was created by the legendary team of Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, and debuted in a short story appearing in “House of Secrets” #92 in 1971. Initially, Wein and Wrightson wanted that to be all there was. Wein explained in his intro to the collected volume “Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis” that he pitched the idea of Wrightson drawing the book at a party, shortly after the artist had gone through a difficult breakup, as a means of “exorcising his personal demons.” The eight-page tale about Alex Olsen’s death and subsequent transformation into a creature from the depths of the swamp was a huge success — it’s also heartbreaking.

DC wanted the team to capitalize on the story’s popularity, but it meant a lot to both men as it was, so they continually refused. However, it eventually occurred to Wein that he and Wrightson could begin the book by introducing a different Swamp Thing, an idea that would later greatly expand the character’s mythology. Thus, Alec Holland was born.

Who Is Swamp Thing?

Alec Holland was a scientist, who, along with his wife Linda, had created a bio-restorative formula that could work wonders for the world’s food shortage. Experimenting at their lab in the Louisiana bayou, it wasn’t long before a sinister organization had taken interest, one Alec and Linda had no plans on helping. Knocked out, Alec awoke just in time to discover the bomb they had planted right as it went off. In flames and covered in the formula he’d made, the scientist hoped to save himself in the swamp, but was transformed into a plant monster instead. He may have been preternaturally strong, but Alec was still too late to save his wife, soon a victim of the same thugs who had taken him out.

The original comic ran for 24 issues — Wrightson left after 10, with Wein exiting three issues later. Wein’s work is really strong, but the book is worth reading for Wrightson’s exceptional art alone. The comic was revived as “The Saga of the Swamp Thing” in ’82 in the hopes that the Wes Craven movie, released the same year, would generate interest in the character. To be honest, I’ve never read that stuff, so I can’t speak to its quality. What I can say is that the book was on the verge of being canceled when Moore took over in ’84 and wow, did he immediately make some major changes.

A New Era

I’m sure I don’t have to convince anyone of Alan Moore’s importance to the medium, but if my comic shop customers were any indication, you might need an extra push to read his run on “Swamp Thing.” Wrapping up the previous arc the issue prior, Moore’s story truly begins with #21, “The Anatomy Lesson.”

Wein and Wrightson had crafted a very memorable horror comic, one which Moore then steeped in existential dread. Swamp Thing had died in a hail of gunfire in #20 and when Jason Woodrue, aka the Floronic Man, performed an autopsy, he made a shocking discovery: the Swamp Thing was never human to begin with. His insides were comprised of essentially useless vegetation merely imitating life-giving organs. Alec Holland had died in that swamp, his consciousness absorbed by the surrounding plant-life, which grew into a semblance of a man. Swamp Thing had, from his inception, been a distorted facsimile of a human being, but never Alec Holland himself. This also meant that the bullets couldn’t have actually killed the creature, so our hero had survived. Whether he wanted to be alive with this knowledge was another issue altogether.

What Does It Mean To Be Human?

This was a gut-wrenching development for Swamp Thing. Many of the character’s earlier adventures had revolved around the idea that perhaps one day Alec could be human once more. It was this thought that kept him going. However, the knowledge that he could never be Alec Holland because he never had been him to begin with left the creature understandably distraught. Much of what followed was about Swamp Thing laying Alec Holland to rest and coming to terms with who he is.

Moore’s run is overflowing with heady concepts and unforgettable characters brought to brilliant life by Bissette, Totleben, and colorist Tatjana Wood — seriously, those colors are incredible. There’s also an epic romance between Abby Arcane — niece of Swamp Thing’s arch nemesis — and Alec (a name which the creature eventually accepted being called again), which includes some pretty steamy plant sex. I’m not kidding. Plus, there’s the introduction of John Constantine — let us have this movie crossover please — as well as the fate of Matthew Cable, Abby’s husband who dies only to later be resurrected as the raven for a certain Dream King. After all, Moore had to get him out of the way to make room for Abby and Alec’s relationship.

There are plenty of cool cameos as well, from the Spectre to Etrigan — truly a treat when Moore writes the rhyming demon — to Batman himself, but Swampy is undeniably the star here. I don’t want to spoil too much of this run, because honestly, everyone should read it. Moore’s writing is just astounding, and not only in terms of plot. When doing a recent reread, there are so many sentences that made me pause, completely awestruck.

More To Explore

There is so much to explore where Swamp Thing is concerned. Moore has already proven to me how much I can love a, as Wein put it, “muck-encrusted mockery of a man,” and going back and reading his origins after already falling hard for the character only served to make me care about him more. Aside from those original tales and Moore’s run, there are other Swamp Thing comics worth checking out as well!

As such a huge fan of Swampy, I was quite hesitant to give a chance to the 2011 New 52 “Swamp Thing” run from Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette — whose art on the title is admittedly absolutely stunning. I’m happy to report that any misgivings I had were laid to rest almost immediately because their comic is fantastic! Plus, it crosses over with the similarly awesome work Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman were doing on “Animal Man” at the time. Aside from that, Ram V and Mike Perkins crafted some pretty exciting developments for an entirely new Guardian of the Green in their own “The Swamp Thing,” which recently wrapped.

Swamp Thing is a character who was born of tragedy, and while his reinvention was soul-crushing as well, the end result was that this “monster” found his place in the world. He developed meaningful relationships and became a hero many times over. Perhaps most crucially, he also learned to accept himself for who he is, rather than who he wanted to be.

Why Swamp Thing Deserves A Movie

I bring up all these Swamp Thing comics because there are lots of phenomenal stories to pull from and a ton of room to grow a franchise. One Swamp Thing movie will never be enough for me. Moore wove so much political commentary throughout his work, and “Swamp Thing” was no different. Much like an Animal Man movie could focus on humanity’s gross mistreatment of so many of Earth’s creatures, surely a Swamp Thing film would be a great lens through which to explore environmentalism.

Swamp Thing is immensely powerful, with the full reach of his abilities only becoming clear to him thanks to an assist from Constantine. As the Guardian of the Green — the elemental force responsible for all plant life — Swamp Thing is basically immortal. He can let his body die and find new plants to reabsorb his consciousness, which also enables him to travel pretty much anywhere, growing himself a new body wherever he wishes to go. Learning he wasn’t human was a huge blow, but in a way, this knowledge also set him free to realize his full potential.

Whether people will come out to see a movie about a plant monster is another story I suppose, but with Marvel recently proving just how rad Man-Thing can look in live-action in “Werewolf By Night,” now seems like the perfect time for DC to resurrect their own creature from the swampy depths. There are a lot of changes taking place at Warner Bros. Discovery now that James Gunn and Peter Safran are heading up their own film division, DC Studios. Hopefully, one of those changes will be giving Swamp Thing a film of his very own. Gunn has, after all, already made audiences fall head over heels for a talking tree.

Read this next: What These DC Villains Really Look Like Under The Makeup

The post Why Swamp Thing Is The Next DC Superhero Who Deserves A Movie appeared first on /Film.

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