SPOILER: Super Friends #28 only sort of features Swamp Thing (and those other characters) as they were in fact party-goers changed by magic into the beings they were dressed as. Anyway, that was one brave dude who thought dressing as the Demon, an actual creature begat from the sulfurous pits of Hell, at least in the DC Universe in which they both live, was a good idea. Okay, maybe it wasn’t exactly public knowledge that the Demon was really from hell, but honestly, anyone actually living in the nightmare world that surely any superhero-filled reality would be should know better.
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And heeeere’s Part Two to “Mike Talks About Swamp Thing Because Someone Asked, and Not Because He’d Do It Anyway.” You can find Part One here, or pretty much most of the last 13 years on this site.
Let me be frank…I haven’t read the earlier Swamp Thing series in a while. Aside from poking through some older issues here and there for writings on this here blog, the most recent Swamp Thing comics I’ve read have been the New 52 run and other assorted recent endeavors. Now, that’s not to say I haven’t read many of those comics about a billion times and have a lot of the events in them committed to memory…in particular, the original ’70s series and the ’80s Saga of… relaunch. The series afterwards I can probably use a refresher on, and…well, more on that later. But ultimately, I am mostly giving general impressions here on the assorted runs, as asked by Rich a couple of weeks back.
And last time I left off at the end of the Marty Pasko run on Saga of the Swamp Thing. This was where Steve Bissette and John Totleben took over as artists, prior to their partnership with Alan Moore on the title. We get a standalone story that would have fit in nicely in the original series, about strange goings-on in a mysterious town, and then we get the return of Arcane and Matt and Abby, which, as I said last time, sets the stage for Moore’s run. It’s nice to have short-run, high-impact stories after the year-long…well, saga, as it were, and Pasko sends off one of his cast members in his final stories, leaving Moore to write out the other Pasko-created supporting cast in his first issue. As a whole, I think Pasko’s run with his various collaborators is quite entertaining and effective, bridging the gap between what could be called the original, classic Swamp Thing and the more modern take on the character we’re accustomed to now. A little text-heavy at times, perhaps, but I don’t mind that so much when it’s good writing, which this was. With a high-end reprint coming of those issues, we might be a little closer to current audiences rediscovering that work…though a single paperback reprinting Pasko’s run would be better for those purposes, I think.
As to the other major runs on this particular series (and I’m skipping over fill-ins and such, like I did that Mishkin/Bo & Scott Hampton Phantom Stranger/Swampy story in the middle of Pasko’s stretch):
- Rick Veitch had the unenviable task of following Alan Moore on the title, but he did so quite well, with stories that were perhaps a little weirder, creepier, and sometimes grosser than Moore was. A solid run, one that I would probably put at third place in the “classic Swamp Thing runs” contest here, marred only by Veitch not getting to complete his run as planned when DC balked at the last moment over his “Swamp Thing Meets Jesus” time-travel story.
- Writer Doug Wheeler had the even more unenviable task of following Veitch, trying to wrap up his storyline before moving into his own direction. It wasn’t bad, with some nice art by Kelley Jones here and there, and a “trip to Hell” story that was interesting. His run wrapped with the “Quest for the Elementals” storyline, that had great covers but I seem to recall that the art in some of these being a bit disappointing, like it was super-rushed. I mean, it’s been a while, and I’ll need to reread these to get a firmer opinion on them after all this time. Overall, I’d give this run an “OKAY.” Some good moments and issues here and there.
- Nancy A. Collins’ run (with some great art by Tom Mandrake and Scot Eaton, among others) was up next, focusing on Swamp Thing’s domestic life with Abby and their daughter Tefe in the swamp, with lots of weird monsters, and ghost pirates, and a crazy ongoing subplot with tiny flower people, created by Tefe, and the evolution of their society. Said domestic life is essentially dissolved by the end of this run, leaving Swamp Thing a solitary monster living in the swamp again…basically back to basics, setting up the next sequences of stories on the book. Would probably rank this above Wheeler, below Veitch.
- And seeing out this iteration of the Swamp Thing series was Mark Millar (kicking off with a four-parter cowritten by Grant Morrison), primarily illustrated by Philip Hester. His run of stories cranked up the horror again by quite a bit, with a hard-to-forget image of Swamp Thing trying to pass as human in the guise of Matt Cable, his human-ish face showing leaves and branches poking through. It’s basically about the alienation of Swamp Thing, as his grasp on what was left of his humanity slips away and others have to gather and put a stop to him. Would probably place this run just behind Veitch’s, but it’s very close.
And for now I’m going to have to beg off ranking the other Swamp Thing series that followed, for the most part, since those aren’t quite as firm in my memory. I enjoyed them, as I recall, though I can’t really nail down specifics at this point. There was one story about an underground cartoonist that I quite liked. As for the more recent comics…that mini-series that popped up just before the New 52 was not great, unfortunately; the New 52 series wasn’t bad, though I thought the back half of the series by Charles Soule felt more like classic Swamp Thing; and the recent mini was good but felt a little off in places.
So, Rich, in answering your question this made me realize that it’s probably time to do a thorough rereading of all my Swamp Thing comics again, since my mastery of the information contained within has slipped a little in recent years. And here is what I am going to do about it:
As I mentioned a while back, I was planning on some Patreon-only content, to maybe boost contributions there a bit. Like I’d said, it wouldn’t be exclusively Patreon-only forever and ever…like, contributors would get to see each post there first, and then a few months down the road, I’d put that post publicly on this site.
I was wondering what to do, when blogging sister Tegan made the suggestion that I do an issue-by-issue review of every Swamp Thing comic. And, you know, that’s a fine idea. One of the things I first did when I got my first Mac and access to Hypercard was try to create a stack-database of Swamp Thing comics, with artist/writer info, first appearances, significant events, etc. etc., that I could trade with all my Mac-owning, Hypercard-using, Swamp Thing-enjoying friends, of which I had none. But, now that I’ve successfully suckered…er, attracted readers to my site, some of whom may even be interested in Swamp Thing, maybe now I’d have the audience for this oddball project of mine.
Thus, starting probably next month sometime, will be Mike’s Swamp Thing-a-Thon, a Patreon-only series available on Patreon for Patreon contributors who contribute through Patreon. That seems like a long title, so I’ll probably just shorten it to “Mike’s Swamp Thing-a-Thon.” I’m still hammering out the details, like exact formats and timing and such. I’m planning on at least two entries a month, maybe more as time permits, so that’s the next decade or so sorted, pretty much. This will be available on Patreon for anyone contributing at least a dollar a month. The posts will eventually be made available here, so if you want to wait, you’ll get to see each entry eventually, probably six months or so after being posted for contributors. The first entry (about House of Secrets #92, natch) will probably be available for free, just to give you kids a taste. A nice, minty taste of Exclusive Swamp Thing content.
So hopefully this is a good compromise…I didn’t want permanently exclusive content on Patreon, but exclusive enough that people might want to drop a buck on me to get to see it early. Thanks for reading all this, pals, and I’ll be back on Friday with more…stuff.
Okay, I asked you for questions and/or topics, and you gave me some, and I’m going to start taking a crack at ’em today. And, if you want to add to the list…feel free!
Anyway, Rich asks
“How would you rate each of the various eras of Swamp Thing, in terms of the work each writer-artist team did during their tenure?”
Well, sure, Rich, start me off with something easy, why don’t you?
Now there’s the thing…I think, almost inarguably, the two pinnacles for the character are the original Len Wein/Bernie Wrightson comics from the 1970s, and the Alan Moore/Steve Bissette/John Totleben/etc. of the 1980s. Trying to pick which one is better than the other is almost impossible. Perhaps the Moore-era books are more effective in evoking a more modern-seeming feeling of horror, but they wouldn’t exist without the groundwork of the Wein/Wrightson stories. Also, few are the people who were better horror artists than Bernie Wrightson. In a way, both runs tread similar ground, in that they explored some of the more traditional horror themes (witches, vampires, werewolves, haunted houses, and so on) while giving their own particular twists on the topics.
Getting down to it, though, if I had to pick one over the other, I’d give the nod to Wein/Wrightson, setting the bar so high right out of the gate, which is probably mixing metaphors a bit but you understand what I mean. It’s because of them that we expect a certain standard of quality out of our Swamp Things, and it’s disappointing when that level isn’t reached. Moore ‘n’ pals would be a very close second, building on Wein/Wrightson’s creation and updating the storytelling for current sensibilities. Ideally, if someone were to ask me which Swamp Things they should read, these would be the ones.
As for the portions of the series by other creators…well, they all succeed at certain things in their own ways. The issues that followed Wrighton’s tenure featured beautiful artwork by Nestor Redondo…while the comics are not the legendary classics of the preceding issues, they are still excellent in their own right, and only probably overlooked now due to their lack of reprints (a situation about to change with the forthcoming omnibus).
The Marty Pasko/Tom Yeates run that opened the Saga of the Swamp Thing series that returned the character to newsstands is one worth revisiting as well. Its lengthier storyline, pulling together a new cast of supporting characters and giving more of a focus on ongoing subplots, was one that, if I recall some of the letter columns correctly, met with some resistance from older fans of the character. Things were maybe a little too wordy, and subplots stretched out a little too long, for their tastes, though I suspect that’s more a generational change in reader expectations from serialized comic books. Multi-part soap opera-esque stories were more the norm at DC as the 1980s rolled on, perhaps inspired by the success Marvel had along those lines in their own books. Looking back, the initial story wrapped up after only 13 issues, which…well, come to think of it, many stories nowadays come in 5 to 6 issue easily-trade paperback-able chunks, which are only approximately half the size of this Swamp Thing story. But, the point is, people are more used to not getting done-in-one stories in their comics today, which they weren’t back then, which may have affected their perceptions of this then-new Swamp Thing comic. Particularly since it couldn’t help but be compared to the classic ’70s run, which was mostly self-contained stories with only the barest minimum of subplots connecting issues together.
That’s all discussion about structure, not content, I realize. I think Pasko/Yeates put together a fine run, presenting effectively scary stories within the confines of the Comics Code Authority that weren’t necessarily variations on traditional horror topics…okay, there were the punk rock vampires, but there was also a story about Vietnam vets, a story inspired by a then-recent spate of child murders, a medically-themed body horror story, a weird alien-possession tale, and the whole storyline ending up with [SPOILER ALERT, I guess] Swampy going toe-to-toe with the Anti-Christ, which was probably not something anyone expected, but there it is. It wasn’t the Swamp Thing of the 1970s we were used to, but Pasko/Yeates certainly expanded the character’s scope, paving the way for the Moore/Bissette/Totleben stories to follow.
I hadn’t yet touched on the stories Bissette/Totleben did with Pasko pre-Alan Moore, but I think I’ll do so in Part II of “Mike Discusses How Good or Bad Certain Runs on Swamp Thing Were.” Yeah, there’s going to be a part two. At the very least. And I may eventually mention how this particular topic may be related to the special Patreon-only (at least temporarily) content I was talking about a while back. Stay tuned!
That we live in a world with sights such as these.
Courtesy reader Steve from Palm Springs, who went above and beyond the call of duty to produce this for my benefit, and now for your benefit too:
Gaze upon it and weep, for you have never before witnessed such beauty.
Thanks, Steve! Now if only it were a real comic….
So Former Employee Aaron (in that he’s no longer doing my cruel, heartless bidding…he’s still at my former place of employment) has a buttonmaker, and I’d featured some of his creations on the site before. Well, the last time I saw him, when I stopped by the old shop to do a little horse-tradin’, he had a surprise for me. Another handmade Swamp Thing pin:
Why yes, that is Swamp Thing as drawn by Steve Bissette and John Totleben from Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 (1984). Now to await a formal occasion for which I may use said pin as the perfect complement to my coat and tails.
In other news:
- So Brian Cronin over at Comic Book Resources put up an article discussing the old Nickelodeon TV show Video Comics, which I talked about myself, due to the Swamp Thing connection, about four years ago. Brian was good enough to link back to my old post, since I had a few additional memories about the show not covered in his article. Thanks, Brian!
- Hey, Matt Wilson is running a Kickstarter to fund his next comics project, Everything Will be Okay, done in conjunction with Joe Hunter, Rodrio Vargas, and Josh Krach. Looks like it would be fun, and they have a little ways to go yet on reaching their goals, so pitch in if you can!
- Bully, the Little Punching Bull presents…Daredevil versus Hitler! (No, not that Daredevil.)
There are a lot of fantastic illustrations by Bernie Wrightson in those early Swamp Things, but this is the one I keep coming back to:
The strange perspective, the incredible detail, the full page reveal coming late in the story after we’d already seen the werewolf a couple of times…all combining to make this an image that impressed itself into my brain for all time. Funny that it’s a pic from this series that doesn’t even feature the title character, but this splash from #1 does take a close second in the “Bernie Wrightson Drawings I Think of When I Think of Swamp Thing” category.
But flip through pretty much any issue of Wrightson’s Swamp Thing and you’ll see no end of intricately-detailed illustrations, their impact diminished not at all by the cheap printing and yellowing paper. If anything, the impact is enhanced, the drawings made even more moody and mysterious by the decaying pulp on which they are presented.
Wrighton’s covers from the period are eye-grabbers as well, looking like nothing else on the shelves. This Lovecraftian critter on this House of Mystery clearly represents something that should be unnatural and repellent, but Wrightson’s linework makes it endlessly fascinating. You want to pick this comic off the rack and see just what’s going on here:
…And this cover here…where do you even begin? This was 1971, and Wrightson, in his early 20s, had only been in the comics business for a couple of years. And here he is, already creating images as perfect as this:
And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the man’s work. These drawings are all from the early years of his career…his impossibly-detailed Frankenstein work was still ahead of him. His “Captain Sternn” stories, both the short in Heavy Metal and the later mini-series (plus the related back-ups in Dreadstar. The Weird. Batman: The Cult. National Lampoon strips and illustrations. Tons of horror shorts for Warren magazines. The Hulk/Thing graphic novel. Batman/Aliens. The “Howard the Duck for President” button. The Spider-Man: Hooky graphic novel. The comics adaptation of Stephen King’s Creepshow, plus all the other illustrations he provided for King’s novels. Even Punisher comics…and much more, besides.
Saying “he was a great talent and he will be missed” doesn’t seem like enough. He embodied a particular aesthetic that took inspiration from horror comic artists and fantasy illustrators that preceded him, and formed it into something unique, something so his own that the term “Wrightson-esque” easily conveys its meaning. He didn’t just redefine the horror genre. He was his own genre.
So long, Bernie. Thanks for letting us see, for so many years, what your wonderful imagination created.
And you didn’t think I was going to let this go without at least one picture of Swamp Thing, did you?
images from Swamp Thing #4 (April-May 1973); House of Mystery #204 (July 1972); House of Mystery #195 (October 1971); Swamp Thing #6 (September-October 1973)
There were some good comments regarding DC’s “hardcover/softcover” publishing move for their comics in the 1980s. I plan on returning to the topic soon, but, like I said in that post, I still want to ask my old boss Ralph a question or two about how they sold for him/what customer reaction was like to this program, since that was just before my comics retailin’ time. What I’m really curious about is if anyone pooh-poohed that newfangled New Teen Titans comic on the fancy Baxter paper and just stuck with the regular Tales of the Teen Titans series, figuring the stories will get reprinted there eventually anyway, for a cheaper cover price. Anyway, I’ll see if I can get any more info about customer buying patterns on these books from Ralph, and I don’t see why I wouldn’t, since it’s only been a little over 30 years and surely still fresh on his mind.
In other publishing news, I’ve been emailed and tweeted at regarding the Swamp Thing Bronze Age Omnibus, with plenty of details as to what said omnibus would contain at that link. Now, I’ve discussed this forthcoming volume before, about a year ago, at which point its Amazon listing described it (and still describes it) only as containing House of Secrets #92 and Swamp Thing (first series) #1 through the unpublished #25 (which was likely a typo).
The newer content listing contains a boatload of Swampy comics, much more than that older listing. It almost seems like it’s too much for one volume, but a quick comparison to what’s in my Man-Thing Omnibus shows it’d be about the same size. I forget how huge these volumes can be. Also, given what’s in the book means there won’t be a Swamp Thing: The Bronze Age Vol. 2 since we’ll be well into the 1980s with any follow-up material, which is the Copper Age or whatever name people are trying to saddle that particular period of comics with in order to make them sound more marketable.
Anyway, this will be the first time the majority of the post-Wrightson issues of the original series will be reprinted, I believe (after getting #11 – #13 reprinted a few years back in a hardcover), and the first comprehensive reprinting of the pre-Alan Moore Saga of the Swamp Thing, though leaving out #19, the conclusion of Marty Pasko’s run on the book. Maybe it’s seen as a…transitional issue, between Pasko’s run and the beginning of Moore’s run, though traditionally Moore’s first issue on the series, #20, has been seen as the transitional issue, left out of early trade paperback reprintings of his initial storyline. And #18 seems like a weird issue to stop on, as it was a reprint of #10 from the original series, with 4 pages of new wraparound by the then-current creative team, and something of a cliffhanger-y issue to boot. Does this mean Original Series #10 will appear twice in this book? Again, like the inclusion of issue #25 in the initial Amazon listing, maybe this too is just a typo and Saga of the Swamp Thing #19 will be in here. We’ll find out soon enough, I guess.
So pretty much in every media adaptation of Swamp Thing, be it cartoon or live action TV show or two fantastic movies or video game, hearing him refer to himself out loud as “Swamp Thing” always sounds just a little goofy. Some kind of weird combination of self-importance and “…seriously, that’s the name you’re going by?” And look, I’m saying this as the guy that, some of you may know, kinda likes this Swamp Thing character. But sometimes, something that reads okay on paper just doesn’t seem to translate to actual spoken out-loud dialogue, and, well, what can you do. And maybe they hit the “I AM THE PROTECTOR OF THE GREEN” thing a little too hard. Still, though, it was nice to see an animated Swamp Thing that had purpose beyond selling toys. Would love to see a standalone Swamp Thing animated movie at some point, but it would have to probably have to shoehorn Batman or Superman into it like they do with pretty much all the direct-to-home-video DC cartoons, like they did with this one, so I’m not holding my breath.
Oh, and by the way, “this one” is Justice League Dark, as some of you probably surmised, teaming up DC’s spooky characters, like Deadman, the Demon, Zatanna, and John Constantine, mispronouncing his name as they have in, I think, every TV and movie version of him:
…but What Can You Do? Despite that particular issue only I care about, I enjoyed the film well enough. It’s still weird seeing Constantine just straight-up casting magical spells like Dr. Fate in an overcoat, which is not something you saw him really do too much in the early comics but is perhaps a bit more frequent in modern funnybooks. But beyond that, it was a good showcase for all the characters, all of whom got something to do, with a variety of action sequences and creepy locations, but that one scene with the cast being chased by a hurricane with a face felt more like something out of Scooby-Doo There was just enough left unexplained in characters’ backgrounds to maybe urge the more inquisitive viewers to Read More About It. Hopefully in the comics, that is, and not just on Wikipedia.
As mentioned above, Batman does appear in the film to help sell it to people for whom the “Justice League” in the title isn’t enough to entice them, but other JLA members appear as well. Alas, though we’ve all moved on to the “Rebirth” era in the comics, the movies are still in their “New 52” phase, so that’s the Superman we get, whose New 52 costume is somehow even worse in animation than it is on the page. Fortunately he’s not in there that much, since that costume more than anything dates the film (to, like, the early ’90s, frankly). Wonder Woman’s New 52-era costume makes an appearance, too, though that’s slightly more tolerable.
I haven’t really gone through the extra features (available on the Blu-ray version) just yet, beyond the “Story of Swamp Thing” short, in which Len Wein and Kelley Jones discuss the character’s origins and history. There are other short pieces titled “Did You Know? CONSTANTINE ORIGIN” and “Casting Deadman” and the like, plus a preview of the New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract cartoon, originally announced years ago, which is finally coming out. (Not that it was made years ago and has been sitting on a shelf, but…well, you know what I mean.) There are also the usual “From the DC Vault” cartoons, this time a couple of episodes of The Brave and the Bold featuring the Demon.
…And speaking of Deadman, Nick Turturro does the perfect voice for him. I don’t know that I ever imagined what Deadman would sound like as I was reading the comics, but now this is the voice. So great.
Overall, an enjoyable film, I thought. Not really expecting a sequel, despite the fact it would be nice to see some…resolution to the seemingly final fates for some of the characters. But, despite what I said above about the possibility, I’m still holding on to that faint hope that maybe, just maybe, now that we’ve cracked the seal, we might see some kind of solo Swamp Thing animated effort. Well, even if it does have to guest-star Batman…whatever it takes, I guess.
Here is Swamp Thing, as he appears in the video game Injustice 2:
Will be starting my “Buy Mike a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One” GoFundMe campaign shortly.