Swamp Thing confronts a pair of humans in a 1973 comic book. Artist: Berni Wrightson.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1972
Creator: Len Wein (writer) and Berni Wrightson (artist)
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Swamp Thing first appeared in 1972, but had roots in a story published a year earlier. DC Comics' House of Secrets #92 (June-July, 1971) contained a …

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… story by writer Len Wein (Teen Titans, Brother Voodoo) and artist Berni Wrightson (scads of mystery/horror stories for various publishers), about a man murdered and dumped in a swamp, whose body metamorphosed into a muck monster that rose from the mire to wreak vengeance upon his killer.

Like Marvel Comics' Man-Thing, which debuted at almost exactly the same time, this swamp creature was strongly reminiscent of a Hillman Periodicals character called The Heap — but few modern readers knew about The Heap, who appeared in the back pages of Airboy and Air Fighters Comics from 1942-53, so the concept seemed fresh and original. Response to the story was overwhelming, and plans were immediately made to launch a new title with a similar creature as the protagonist. Swamp Thing #1, by Wein and Wrightson, had a cover date of Oct-Nov, 1972.

In the ongoing series, the man in the muck was Alec Holland, a handsome young scientist, and his first mission in hideous, shambling post-life existence was to avenge the murder of his wife, done in by the same criminal outfit that put him in the swamp. In the course of the series, he found his body had become more plant than human — if a limb was cut off, he could grow it back. He ranged far from the Louisiana swamp he'd come to call home — even had an adventure in Gotham City with Batman — and he took on a wide variety of science fiction and supernatural adversaries. The series was both a critical and a commercial success.

But Wein and Wrightson were unable to stay with it beyond its 10th issue, and their replacements were not as well received by readers. The series ended with its 24th issue (Aug-Sep 1976), and the character was relegated to occasional appearances as a guest star.

In 1982, Swamp Thing was adapted into a movie — not exactly a record-smashing box-office bonanza, but DC deemed it a big enough deal to warrant reviving the comic book. The writer and artist this time were Marty Pasko (E-Man, Superman) and Tom Yeates (Timespirits, Dragonlance Saga). The new series limped along for a couple of years, then was taken over by writer Alan Moore (Halo Jones, From Hell), penciller Steve Bissette (Tyrant, Taboo) and inker John Totleben (Miracleman, 1963). That's when the character really took off.

In Moore's revamp, Alec Holland was truly dead. Swamp Thing found out he was simply a conglomeration of vegetable matter that had absorbed the fading memories of a corpse left to rot in the bog. Later, through the intervention of John Constantine (introduced for that purpose), he discovered his true nature — he was the current incarnation of a "plant elemental", with far-ranging powers over the vegetable kingdom. Reader interest soared.

Moore left the character in 1987, and the new writer, Rick Veitch (Greyshirt, The One) took it farther in that direction for a couple of years. But in '89, DC alienated Veitch by letting a major storyline go almost to completion before deciding it was too hot to handle, forcing an abrupt change of direction. The series staggered on for a few more years under a succession of creative teams, but never regained momentum. It was cancelled with its 171st issue (October, 1996). DC has reprinted some of Moore's stories in a series of graphic novels.

Meanwhile, a second movie was made in 1989. Although its theatrical release was very brief (it might as well have gone straight to video), it served as a template for a TV series starring Dick Durock in the title role, which ran on the cable station USA Network from 1990-93. Reruns of its 72 episodes are still seen on The Sci-Fi Channel. There is also a 1990 cartoon series made by DiC Entertainment (Captain Planet, Care Bears), but since only five episodes were made (and since the few who have seen it say it functions mainly as infomercials for toys based on the live-action series), it's rather obscure.

In 1999, DC started a third Swamp Thing comic book series — but this time, Swamp Thing isn't the main character. That position is held by his daughter, Tefe Holland, born to him and a human woman, Abigail Arcane, about midway through the second series. Tefe has a certain amount of her dad's power and outlook, but with feet firmly planted in two separate biological kingdoms, represents a new point of view. Time will tell if she has her dad's staying power.


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