Back Issues: ‘Swamp Thing’ planted on DC Universe

Streaming show is third series for horror hero

The latest character to star in a DC Universe streaming show is a veteran of the screen, with two feature films and a live-action and animated TV series under his belt.

Or rather, his vines.

“Swamp Thing” debuts May 31 on DC’s streaming service, and it promises to be rooted in the character’s horror origins.

The original Swamp Thing was introduced in 1971’s “House of Secrets” #92, a one-off tale of early 20th century scientist Alex Olsen, who was nearly murdered by his lab assistant Damian, who then married Olsen’s supposed widow, Linda. The explosion of chemicals engineered by Damian and his burial of Olsen in the nearby swamp caused the not-quite-dead scientist to mutate into a shambling plant monster. This Swamp Thing saved his love when Damian was about to kill her because she suspected the truth about her first husband’s death.

Writer Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson retooled the concept a year later, bringing it into contemporary times with scientist Alec Holland and his wife Linda inventing a chemical that allowed plants to grow in otherwise hostile terrain. Intended to address food shortages, it was stolen by members of an unscrupulous organization that blew up the Hollands’ lab, with Alec inside.

Doused with his formula, Holland plunged into the depths of the swamp and supposedly emerged as Swamp Thing. He made an enemy of the mad scientist Anton Arcane, who sought the powerful body as a replacement for his immortal-but-failing body.

The first series lasted 24 issues. The title was brought back in the 1980s, and the character really came into his own when Alan Moore took over writing duties, revealing that Alec Holland died in the flames of the explosion and his formula interacted with the plants in the swamp to spawn a being with his memories.

The creature eventually came to terms with his true origin and learned of his connection to the Green, an elemental force encompassing all plant life. He was the latest in a line of champions of the Green’s ruling body, the Parliament of Trees, and one of his predecessors was Alex Olsen from back in “House of Secrets.”

Swamp Thing grew close to Arcane’s niece, Abigail, and allied himself with the mystic John Constantine. Swamp Thing and Abby eventually married and, with the unwitting assistance of Constantine, had a child, Tefe. Her connection to the Green and the Red (its opposite number representing the animal kingdom) made her a powerful yet troubled being.

Swamp Thing eventually faded from the DC spotlight, although there was a push to revive him in the crossover event “Brightest Day.” Holland himself was resurrected along with several other dead characters and granted the elemental powers of the Swamp Thing for a while.

When DC sort-of rebooted with the New 52, Holland was trying to live a normal life, but the Green attempted to enlist him in the fight against the plague-bringer Sethe. Once again Swamp Thing, he went on to join the Justice League Dark, an incarnation of the team that deals with supernatural threats.

I’ve glossed over some of the more mature aspects of the stories, but be very careful in letting young kids read anything featuring Swamp Thing. There are some all-ages offerings out there, but most of them skew to R-rated territory, and the show likely will too, following in the path of “Titans” and “Doom Patrol.”


Recommended Reading

* “Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis” — Collects the first 10 issues of the original series and the first version of the character from “House of Secrets” #92.

* “Saga of the Swamp Thing” Book One — Writer Alan Moore transforms Swamp Thing from a garden-variety man-monster to a mysterious elemental being leaning more into horror than superheroics.

* “Swamp Thing: Raise Them Bones” — In the New 52 line, Alec Holland is drafted to become Swamp Thing (for real this time) in an effort to stop a malevolent force known as the Rot.