Swamp Thing was a character that I can remember from as early as Kindergarten. In fact the beginning years of the 90’s marked a resurgence of his popularity with the live action TV show, animated series, and a line of action figures. My cousins even had a few of these that we used to play with. Despite this, I was never that into him, but like so many things, after giving him a shot I have come to realize how fantastic the Swamp Thing series is. Scott Snyder taking over the rebooted series was the catalyst to get me interested, and his excellent writing is what has kept that interest alive, but going back and reading the original series created by writer Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson is what has me sold on him. These original 70’s stories are phenomenal.
The graphic novel “Roots of Swamp Thing” collects the first thirteen issues of the series and lays down the metaphorical roots of the character. Within lies the rebirth of Alec Holland as the Swamp Thing, the introduction of the villainous Conclave that brought about his fiery death if not his leafy resurrection, the wicked Doctor Arcane, his angelic niece Abigail Arcane, Matt Cable, as well as other story material rife for future retelling.
What Len Wein did well was setting the atmosphere of the piece. When reading these original Swamp Thing issues, the world is portrayed as very tragic and lonesome. Perhaps this is overly pessimistic, but considering the subject material it is most likely as accurate to the world of the 1970’s as it is to the world of the 2010’s. Alec Holland is a lumbering monstrosity with a limited capacity to communicate and form discernible words, but a vibrant, healthy mind that is as keen as before his accident. When he ventures out into the world he is judged by his appearance and not by his deeds. Most that only meet him once curse and hate him, regardless of the good he does for them. Those with whom he interacts on a more regular basis tend to take a very long time to put his altruistic actions together to give him the benefit of the doubt. Similarly, the stories feature a cadre of horror show creatures such as a Frankenstein’s Monster-esque patchwork man, a werewolf, a space alien, and mutated earthworms. In all of their cases they are also judged superficially and in two cases, Swamp Thing, who is himself misunderstood attacks them without provocation as he himself has been attacked. Through these issues, Wein gives a very thorough account of humanity’s greatest flaws. It makes one think. Perhaps the most resonant issue is the one featuring a Swiss village comprised of clockwork men and women modeled after persons who died violently before their time. This Utopian village is heavily suggested to have a sinister side, but upon further inspection and reading, it is exactly what it tries to be: a Utopia. And for this paradise to exist, it has to be free of human beings. Truly a sad thought.
Bernie Wrightson’s art is the other half of this perfect equation, as his lines and colors are shaded and macabre, bringing out the eerie atmosphere dripping from the dank stories of Wein’s Swamp Thing. Len Wein sets the tone, but Wrightson is the one who cements it, sharing in equal parts the success of the series. If Scott Snyder was able to bring the series back to prominence, its largely due to the quality of the source material that fuels his plots and inspired him to write about Swamp Thing in the first place. As stated above, I was never a Swamp Thing fan, but I am an evangelical convert of the title and say now that people should seek this or any other original collection out and read about Swamp Thing’s genesis. These issues are some of the classics of beginning of comic’s Bronze Age.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Swamp Thing #3: Cover and Art by Bernie Wrightson
Swamp Thing #11: Art by Nestor Redondo