I decided that I wanted to mix things up with Graphic Content. Normally I review about three titles per installment. However, I also want to go beyond reviews and revisit classic horror comics. I won’t exactly be reviewing the titles so much as experiencing them and sharing my thoughts, issue to issue. I figured there is no comic book monster more deserving of a thorough re-read than the Swamp Thing.
So, welcome to Graphic Content: Just Swamp Things…
Swamp Thing is a particular favorite character of mine. While I have a great deal of background with the character, I don’t know everything about every version/continuity, nor have I read every single comic. My comic knowledge mostly revolves around Alan Moore’s run with the character, the movies, and the shows. So, a lot of material I am likely to cover is going to be new to me. I find that exciting.
Swamp Thing’s recent DC Universe show, now canceled, was my first real foray into special projects here at Haunted MTL. If you are unfamiliar with the character, you should read the primer I wrote prior to the premiere of the show.
Anyway, let’s trudge through the muck…
Swamp Thing #1 (1972)
We’re starting with the first issue of the first Swamp Thing series, published clear back in November of 1972. This first series, spanning 24 issues, began as a collaboration between Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson (“Berni” in the issue credits). As we make our way through the series we’ll note talent changes.
This wasn’t the first appearance of ol’ Swampy, however; that distinction goes to DC’s House of Secrets #92. I may go back and cover that story in the future. If you are looking for this issue to read yourself, I would check your local comic shop or DC Comics. Look for the collection Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis. It features the first 10 issues of the series as well as that House of Secrets short.
“Dark Genesis” opens a vengeful Swamp Thing who waits for his chance to get revenge on those who wronged him. It also serves as an origin story, depicting how, exactly, he became the Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing was formerly Alec Holland. Alec, his wife Linda, and their contact Matthew Cable, a federal agent, arrive in bayou country to work on bio-restorative research for the U.S. Government. After a few days of work and success in creating accelerated plant growth, they are approached by a man, Ferrett, along with thugs, who wish to purchase the Hollands’ experimental formula, possibly through force.
We are introduced to the mysterious figure who sent Ferret, Mr. E, who is connected to a group known as The Conclave. They seek to either control or destroy the bio-restorative compound. The end result: Mr. E’s thugs blow up the lab, sending a flaming Alec into the swamp.
I do not want to cover the entirety of the plot, but I want to discuss how solid this is as an origin story for the character. The issue does a good job seeding future conflicts, particularly elements such as The Conclave, the nature of the bio-restorative work that Alec and Linda were working on, and the introduction of Matt Cable, who is hugely important to the series. I also appreciate Wein’s very dramatic writing. It’s all very much of the period where characters need to speak out on how they are feeling in poetic ways. Yet, there is a gothic charm about the writing, such as when the birth of Alec into the Swamp Thing happens. Following Matt’s comment about the rain, the narration takes over, as though God himself is commenting on this strange birth.
Wrightson’s art is stunning, particularly for a 1970s horror comic. Specifically, Wrightson’s art evokes the 1950s EC Comics style, utilizing strong and dramatic shadows. The comic, had it not been in color, would be well suited to the pages of any issue of Tales From the Crypt. The shadow work does a lot as Swamp Thing seems almost always in shadow in the first issue, and second to the color green seems to be the color black. As far as the linework goes, the hatching is effective, not overdone, working to create that key transition from total darkness to the colored forms on the page.
And, oh, the colors. Comics of the 1970s sometimes have a sort of muddy coloration, comics of the 1970s weren’t exactly big business and of the best quality. But the color choices in this issue are strong, particularly between the past and present. The colors of Swamp Thing himself are still so effective. That strange olive green with brown roots is offset by the dramatic bright red of his eyes in sunken black pools of shadow. It’s gorgeous to this day.
As for where this series fits in with the lore of Swamp Thing, here is a very brief list.
- Alec’s quip about “a dozen Frankensteins” (p. 4) is pretty funny in that Swamp Thing is a sort of Frankenstein parable and other Frankenstein figures find their way into the series and the larger DC Universe.
- I am likely to mention The Incredible Hulk and Frankenstein‘s Creature a lot over the course of this series as the former and Swamp Thing pull heavily from the latter.
- We get our first “glimpse” of Anton Arcane, who would become Swamp Thing’s nemesis, though we see little beyond a cryptic final panel featuring a gnarled hand. Still, not a bad tease for a second issue.
- Of course, Anton Arcane’s family becomes a key component of the Saga of Swamp Thing as well. Exciting times ahead.
- We get a nice example of an unglued Matt Cable who blames Swamp Thing for the loss of Alec and Linda. Matt’s role starts as an antagonist derived from dramatic irony, but he comes much more to the larger DC Universe later on.
And that is our first installment of Graphic Content: Just Swamp Things… I hope you enjoyed this diversion from the usual review series. For those of you Swamp Thing fans, or even those of you who know little about the character, let me know what you think as we make our way through.