Of course I bring “The Death of Superman” into this.

§ July 29th, 2019 § Filed under swamp thing, television § 2 Comments

[SPOILERS ahead for Swamp Thing episode 9, “The Anatomy Lesson”]

So we get a whole lotta stuff goin’ on in the ninth (and penultimate) episode of DC Universe’s streaming Swamp Thing series. Titled “The Anatomy Lesson,” it is very loosely based on the classic Alan Moore/Steve Bissette/John Totleben story of the same name, in which Everything Is Changed and Nothing Will Ever Be The Same.

And, well, that was the case in the comics, least until the whole “Brightest Day”/New 52 stuff happened. That was the story where we learned that Swamp Thing wasn’t a transformed Alec Holland at all, but rather plant life, affected by Holland’s formula, that absorbed his memories and molded itself into a humanoid appearance. All these years thinking he was a human being and seeking a cure for his condition, only to find out there is no cure, this is what he always will be…it was quite the shocking change to the status quo after the then-12 years of this character’s existence.

This is what happens in this episode as well. Swamp Thing, after being brought down in the previous installment (by being frozen, not shot through the head as in the comic, so they missed out on one of the great cliffhangers in funnybook history) is dragged into a secret facility for Dr. Woodrue to examine. Yes, it’s still Woodrue…not the former Justice League “Floronic Man” villain like in the original, but still a Woodrue, cutting Swampy apart in delightfully gross fashion.

In the comic, we learn of the odd nature of Swamp Thing’s inner workings (lungs that don’t process air, a heart that doesn’t beat) as commentary from Woodrue as he’s rooting (heh) though the inert corpse. The TV show makes it…well, weirder, by having Swamp Thing awake, restrained by bonds and a magical Kryptonite-esque light that apparently weakens him somehow. As such, Woodrue tells Swampy to his face just what he’s finding during his biopsy, cutting and slicing into the body as Swampy groans in agony.

Like I said, it’s weird and gross and that’s all fine. But it does pale in comparison to the original on a few points. First, like the various media adaptations of “The Death of Superman,” Superman isn’t really away long enough for the impact of the supposed “death” to really be felt. He was goine in the comics for a while…the Superman series themselves were even briefly suspended. While the comic fans never really believed Superman was dead, the way it played out in the comics couldn’t help but make some small, irrational part of you think “…but what if he is?” The actual physical presentation of the story, with several months of Superman comics without a Superman, and even a brief time without Superman comics, made you feel that loss. Compare to the adaptations, where he dies and comes back in the same film, or he dies and comes back in the very next film…the latter being a slightly better translation of the loss, but still not really the same since it’s not like there were a bunch of Superman movies put out in between where Superman was just dead and buried.

That’s a lot of set-up for my rather minor analogy, in that TV Swamp Thing hadn’t really been around long enough, that we hadn’t really spent enough time invested in his and Abby’s search for a cure, for the Shocking Revelation to have anywhere close to the same impact. I mean, I get it, they probably wanted to get that out of way early so they didn’t spend the next couple of seasons explaining why Alec just didn’t go with Abby to a friendly clinic somewhere to help him. But that reveal hits a lot harder after over a decade’s worth of stories he was a Scientist What Was Done in by Science and trying to find a way out.

And just to say again, leaving out the bit from the comics where Swamp Thing is shot through the head and you’re left to wonder “hokey smokes how’s Alec getting out of this one?” ’til the next issue was a real missed opportunity. I so wanted to hear this iteration of Woodrue declare “you can’t kill a vegetable by shooting it through the head.”

The other big difference is that, since Swamp Thing was never “killed” in the show, we don’t get the comic’s cool revival scene where he grows back, fresh and new, after Woodrue disables the freezer where his body was being kept. And of course we don’t get the reason for that freezer shutdown, which is Woodrue’s elaborate plan to kill his “benefactor,” Avery Sunderland. No screaming Swampy chasing Sunderland through the corriders of his gleaming building, and no final kill. I’m sure they wanted Sunderland around for future seasons of the TV show, which is a moot point now.

A couple of other notes about this episode:

  • Blue Devil finally appears! It’s brief, and Dan Cassidy apparently can change (unwillingly) from human form to Blue Devil form (iinstead of being a dude magically stuck in his costume, which would have made for an interesting comparison to Swampy). Let’s see how this plays out in the future (“checks notes”) one episode.

    However I suggested on the Twitterers that maybe they can replace the Swamp Thing show with a Blue Devil show, and have Swamp Thing’s plots transfer over to that for continuation. DC is free to use my brilliant idea.

  • Another Marty Pasko-era supporting character turns up, this time Dennis Barclay as a doctor from a mental health institution. No connection to Liz Tremayne, like in the comics, but who knows? Probably not us, ever.
  • As a payoff to the “you were never Alec Holland” plot, we do get a reenactment of this cover to issue #28:

    …as Swamp Thing hauls Holland’s corpse out of the murky waters. Another version of this same cover was used in promotional material, but with Swampy holding a more skeletal body, like in the original, versus the slightly more enfleshed one we see in the episode. Anyway, it was nice to see this classic Swamp Pietà actually used in the narrative.

  • The big thing in this episode is that Officer Matt Cable gets in a car wreck…which, if you’ve read your Swamp Thing, like I knoq I have, then you know this is what leads to the return of Anton Arcane, Swamp Thing’s arch-enemy. Arcane, escaped from Hell following his death in his last match-up with our mossy hero, possesses Cable’s body and and wreaks some havoc, as is his wont.

    Of course, we haven’t had that Arcane in the series yet (despite all my crazy talk last time), though we may have seen him in that nightmare/flashback/vision thingie Abby had a few episodes ago…a cloaked figure obscured by the darknbess dragging Abby through the swamp. Now, in the TV show, that Arcane may also be long dead and could come back in Cable’s body, or some other ghost or dark spirit from the swamp could take him over. I don’t know, it’s all speculation, but we’ll see what they do with it next week. And only next week.

And that’s almost that. Unless some miracle happens, or a rich benefactor with the initials “M.S.” donates a hefty sum to Warner Bros. with the caveat that more episodes of Swamp Thing get produced, we’re just about at the end of the line. It looks like we have a few pretty significant plot developments that will have to get tied up next time, probably not in a terribly satisfactory fashion…but it was nice having a reasonably well-done Swamp Thing TV show while it lasted. But perhaps I’ll save the eulogy for next time…though I suppose I’ve been eulogizing it since the start.

2 Responses to “Of course I bring “The Death of Superman” into this.”

  • After finally seeing Dan’s transformation, I realized that they were setting him up to be this show’s version of Jason Blood and Etrigan.

  • Allan Hoffman says:

    Just looked it up, it was about two months and a bit that the Superman comics were suspended. For those who came in every Wednesday that was a long time. Then there was the four “Supermen” run before he came back.