Swamp Thing-a-Thon #2, Swamp Thing #1 (October/November 1972).

§ March 6th, 2021 § Filed under Swamp Thing-a-Thon § 1 Comment

Originally published as a Patreon-exclusive entry…ahem, quite some time ago, here is entry #2 in my ongoing attempt to do an overview of every Swamp Thing comic book. My House of Secrets #92 coverage can be read for free here, and issues #2 through #7 are currently behind that Patreon paywall. And as I’ve noted before, I’m doing some audio bits on there as well (just an intro piece and a five-minute thing on comics shipping so far) and a new entry in the Swamp-Thing-a-Thon is also coming soon.

Thanks, pals, and we’ll see you Monday.

ISSUE: Swamp Thing #1 (October/November 1972)

TITLE AND CREDITS: “Dark Genesis!” written by Len Wein, illustrated and colored by Berni Wrightson, lettered by Gaspar Saladino. Cover art by Berni Wrightson.

IN BRIEF: Scientists Alec and Linda Holland are threatened to reveal the secrets of their bio-restorative formula…and Alec is seemingly killed when a bomb destroys their lab in retaliation for their refusal. However, Alec rises from the surrounding bog, changed by the explosion and the formula into the muck-encrusted mockery of a man that can only be called…SWAMP THING. He then exacts his vengeance on the same men who “killed” him after they kill his wife Linda, then disappears into the night as government agent Matt Cable swears to discover the connection between this strange swamp monster and the deaths of the Hollands.

MIKE SEZ: And awaaaaay we go, with the simple perfection of that standalone short story from House of Secrets #92 retooled and revamped into a similar premise designed to support an ongoing regular title, complete with subplots and cliffhangers and all that other fun stuff required for a adventure strip. As I noted in our last Swamp Thing-a-Thon installment, our hero, the Swamp Thing himself, has been redesigned from a sad, indistinct shadowy mass into a more muscular-seeming dynamic type who kicks ass and takes names and demolishes a car, even. Swamp Thing’s been around for so long, it’s easy to forget what a masterpiece of design the character is…a body that is recognizably humanoid, but covered with twisted roots and vines and topped with that amazing, distorted face. Not so hideous that he repels us, but hideous enough to sell the idea, for story purposes, that This Is A Monster, terrifying to all who see him.

Like the original short, the story begins in media res, with Swamp Thing already Swamp Thing, flashing back to previous events. Interestingly, and something I don’t think I’ve given much thought to before, is that while the flashbacks begin specifically with Alec’s own memories of coming to the lab, the encounter with the men demanding the secret formula, the explosion, his transformation, and so on…the flashbacks also include scenes that Alec could not know, that he himself did not witness. For example, there’s the seemingly stray mutt that Alec does remember being convinced by Linda to “adopt,” as it were…only for the narrative to cut elsewhere, to a person listening in on the transmitter planted on the dog and gloating the whole while. There’s no way Alec could have known that, and probably would have saved him some trouble over the next few issues if he did know he was being surreptitiously monitored. Obviously, since I never really considered it before writing about this issue right now, this apparent switch from a personal flashback to a more omniscient overview of prior events isn’t that big of a deal. Just in retrospect, upon closer reading, this stands out as a minor glitch in the process.

But going back to that fella on dog-transmitter duty…this is one of those subplots I told you about, moving us from a one-off horror comic to serialized action strip. This guy is working for a man who apparently runs “The Conclave,” who also appears (in shadows, natch) and gives a good ol’ villain speech about having to destroy the Hollands if they don’t give up the stuff. And we’ll be seeing more of that hidden transmitter and “The Conclave” in future issues, providing the plot points the stories will occasionally touch upon, reminding us that we all should really come back for the next issue to find out who’s really responsible for what happened to Alec. Gone are the quiet melancholy and soft tones of the original short…we’re in full-blown melodrama mode now. That’s not a bad thing, of course. That’s the kind of comic this is: horror/adventure, taking the EC-style short stories and making them a continuing saga. It’s an anthology series, where we get mostly new situations and a fresh set of supporting characters in each series, but with the repeated involvement of Swamp Thing and his regular hangers-on.

And the premise for future issues is set up, more or less, here. Agent Matt Cable, convinced Swamp Thing was involved in the murder of the Hollands, pursues the creature, while Alec stays one step ahead. Notably the idea that Alec must elude capture as his transformed body contains the bio-restorative formula and it must not fall into the wrong hands is not here. In fact, I don’t recall when that come into play, but I suppose I’ll find out as I reread each issue for this project. At any rate, the story ends with Swamp Thing shambling back into the bog, rejecting humanity, rejecting the idea of going with Matt Cable to explain what has happened, and essentially declaring that Alec Holland is dead…”and in his place stands only a…SWAMP THING!” Eventually this nihilistic despair from the loss of his wife is replaced with new motivations, such as the aforementioned formula, or finding a way to become human again…more hooks thrown in there to facilitate an ongoing series.

Wrightson’s art is, of course, outstanding, featuring several iconic moments such as the much-revisited scene where Holland awakes in his lab, only to discover the bombs beneath a table moments before the explosion. “Gotta try to defuse it before…!” The full page splashes are used to great effect as well…the close-up of Swamp Thing’s face after his rebirth, and of course the amazing “STOP!” image of Swamp Thing bringing a car to a crushing halt.

As first issues go, this one does the job it needs to. Introduces the characters, gives us the origin of our hero, and sets up the relationships that’ll drive the series for the next few issues. As I said, it doesn’t quite nail down some of his specific motivations that will become more familiar as the series and character progress, but pretty much it’s the quintessential Swamp Thing story. It’s the ultimate Statement of Purpose for the character, at least until Alan Moore gets his hands on him a decade or so later.

SWAMPY SEZ: For my amusement, I’m going to keep track of Swamp Thing’s actual spoken dialogue in each issue (at least until we get to the Alan Moore run, where ol’ Swampy is a bit more loquacious). Unlike his predecessor in the House of Secrets story, All-New, All-Different Swamp Thing is able to vocalize with great difficulty, restricting his speech to a word or two here and there.

And, in Swamp Thing #1, we get a total of five words (well, four and an exclamatory noise): “AARGH!” “NOOOO!” “LINDA!” “STOP!!” and “HUH?”

THE WRAP-UP: A successful conversion of the original short story into a new ongoing series, effectively combining Wrightson’s complex and moody art with a serialized adventure.

One Response to “Swamp Thing-a-Thon #2, Swamp Thing #1 (October/November 1972).”

  • Snark Shark says:

    “(at least until we get to the Alan Moore run, where ol’ Swampy is a bit more loquacious)”

    He became downright verbose!