Welcome back to the Haunted MTL comic review column, Graphic Content, as we continue our special series that covers just Swamp Things! This week we cover the third issue of the comic which introduces a character who would become nearly iconic to the series as ol’ Swampy himself. So, what does Swamp Thing #3 offer?
Swamp Thing #3 (March 1973)
Swamp Thing #3, or “The Patchwork Man” is another issue credited to Len Wein as the writer and “Berni” Wrightson as the artist. The issue is a direct follow-up to the second issue. You can, as always, find this issue in the collection Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis. Please order it through your local comic shop!
The story continues the intense Frankenstein-vibes that have haunted the series since the first issue. Swamp Thing finds himself seeking a cure within the castle of Anton Arcane. He falls through a floor and is nearly rescued by the mysterious Patchwork Man, first seen at the end of the previous issue. Matt Cable, obsessively pursuing Swamp Thing, arrives in the same village where Swamp Thing is. There Matt encounters, conveniently enough, one miss Abigail Arcane, adopted niece of Anton Arcane. All the while, we learn more about the strange Patchwork Man, who is none other than Grigori Arcane – Anton’s brother and Abigail’s father – who was forged into a misshapen monster by Anton.
The plots converge when a disassociated Patchwork Man attacks Matt, carrying off Abigail, only to find himself confronted by Swamp Thing for the requisite fight sequence. The usage of the second person puts the reader in the head of Grigori, unable to communicate his thoughts to others, but they become clear to the reader, creating a sad, grim irony. Eventually, Swamp Thing and The Patchwork Man clash as Swamp Thing sees an imperiled Abigail Arcane. Their fight is ultimately broken up by a pitch-fork and torch-bearing mob, led by Matt. Soon enough, Abigail finds herself holding on for her life across a chasm at the site of Arcane castle when the two monsters come to an unspoken agreement to save her. The Patchwork Man falls to his apparent death, while Swamp Thing hands over Abigail to Matt and the villagers.
Wrightson’s Balkan setting is just vague enough to work but can be comically non-specific with signage in English, for example. Mercifully, the village feels modern enough and does not dip into Balkan cliches. It ultimately is the mountains in the background that does most of the heavy lifting on the setting, here. The work on the characters is fantastic as ever: Abigail is striking with white hair and a black streak, something that may look strange on the screen but works quite well in the comics. She is also drawn with the necessary sex appeal that would eventually work its way into a film adaptation of the series, where Heather Locklear would play Abigail. The real draw of this issue is the contrasting looks of Swamp Thing and The Patchwork Man, however. The hulking mass of Swamp Thing, generally expressed as monstrous within the comic is firmly rendered as heroic whereas The Patchwork Man, crude and misshapen, is at first glance quite horrific. His tragic truth, his life as Grigori, runs counter to the design in a very endearing way. By the end of the issue, you feel for the misshapen creation of Anton Arcane. Again, not unlike Victor Frankenstein and his Creature. Pitiable, sure, but still fairly gross.
Major foundations are laid down in this issue. The tenuous relationship between Matt Cable and Swamp Thing gets its first moment of their future, albeit strained alliance. Abigail is introduced and, in a somewhat strange turn, joins Matt to travel to the US, her justification sort of working. Overall, this is a fine issue, definitely stronger than the second issue, “The Man Who Wanted Forever.” The conflict is more compelling and Grigori Arcane is a more well-rounded figure than Anton Arcane was. Grigori is the heart of the issue, driving the narrative. Len Wein turns the focus from Swamp Thing to this new, strange monster, which is a good move given the relatively basic plot that the character of the Swamp Thing engages with. Swamp Thing, ironically enough, does not need to be the focus of Swamp Thing all the time.
As for where this series fits in with the lore of Swamp Thing, here is a very brief list.
- I definitely cannot say enough about Abigail Arcane, who after Swamp Thing and Matt Cable makes for one of the longest-tenured characters in the series and has romantic links to both of them. Linda doesn’t necessarily count because she spends a lot of time… well, dead.
- A fun fact about Abigail is that she is one of the few DC characters that ages in real-time due to her being part of the now-defunct Vertigo imprint. She is around 17 years old in this issue and was around 50 years old in 2005. Her age has probably regressed due to recent company and imprint changes, however.
- The Arcane family will haunt the pages of Swamp Thing for decades to come, but this is not the last time we see The Patchwork Man, though it won’t be until the 1980s. (Vol. 2 #59) We see Anton again here, in flashback, but he will not make a proper return until issue #10 of volume one.
- Look, I am going to bring up Frankenstein a lot over the coming weeks. So many nods: the angry mob with torches and pitchforks, sure, but there is also Grigori’s memory of Abigail as a little girl.
We are back to comic reviews in next week’s Graphic Content. For now, please share your thoughts on the column, issue, or just about anything Swamp Thing-related.