Don’t get me wrong, the fact that I could regularly read stories where Swamp Thing pals around with Detective Chimp is awesome.

§ June 4th, 2021 § Filed under collecting, swamp thing § 23 Comments

So I realize I’m probably expected to do a little something about the Swamp Thing anniversary this year (having debuted in House of Secrets #92 50 years ago as of about April). It’s also Man-Thing’s 50th, debuting in 1971’s Savage Tales #1, so overall it’s a good year for swamp monsters.

I expect I’ll get around to something eventually…or maybe this will the only acknowledgement. I honestly don’t know. I can’t say with all honesty “it’s been a great 50 years, here’s to 50 more!” because frankly things have kinda sorta fallen apart in regards to the Swamp Thing comics over the last ten years. Lemme ‘splain.

Well, actually, there’s not much ‘splaining to do. The New 52 relaunch sort of “broke the chain” of continuity between the Swamp Thing we had before and the later Swamp Thing. Part of the character’s appeal to me was its history, the sense that all of the events that happened to the character in its past have remained so, and continue to inform its future. Okay, granted, one or two things have been sorta kicked under the bed and not brought up again, but by and large I could (to use a phrase I’ve probably overused on this site) draw a line from the character’s 1970s comics all the way through to the end of Brightest Day. It was with the Brighest Day follow-up The Search for Swamp Thing and the New 52 relaunch that stuff went astray.

I won’t go into excruciating detail (again) but character elements were changed, Alec and Abby’s backstory changed, Arcane was an almost entirely different kind of creep, etc. Then with the advent of both creator Len Wein’s 2016 mini-series (which seemingly nullifies a significant part of the Alan Moore arc), and the digital-first stories where full-on Plant Elemental Swamp Thing is going up against…General Sunderland!? Well, that undoes another fairly significant part of Moore’s run. It literally plays havoc with the circumstances surrounding Swamp Thing’s evolution into the kind of character he is now.

Look, all the New 52 and later era work is fine on its own. Well, okay, not all, but most of it is perfectly serviceable. But for someone who’s followed the character for as long I have…not since the very beginning, but close…there’s a level of detachment. What I know of the character is not fitting with what they’re telling me about the character now, and it’s distracting. There are a number of stories that don’t require dependence on past continuity, of course, but once you remind me “Matt Cable is alive and he was never possessed by Arcane,” that throws me just a little. I feel…detached from what’s happening to the character.

Some of it is on me…given the vision troubles I’ve had over the last few years, I’m way behind on my comic reading. And some of the comics I haven’t read yet are Swamp Thing-related, such as the Walmart Giant issues (collected in a book that I have in place of said Giants, which I never found in the wild). My enthusiasm for the character having waned, I never made it a priority to catch up on those particular stories. I’m sure they’re perfectly good, but with everything else happening to Swamp Thing, I was in no rush to read more stories set in the same post-New 52 milieu.

Plus, on top of all that, there was my decision to not acquire every single appearance of the character, spurred on by this nonsense. I also stopped pulling both covers of Justice League Dark for myself if each had Swamp Thing on it. Being as behind as I am, the last thing I needed was more comic books floatin’ around the house. And besides, who am I trying to impress with A Complete Swamp Thing Comic Book Collection? It’s not like God won’t let me through the Pearly Gates when I die if I don’t have one. (Unless of course Wein and Wrightson are at his side, waiting for me, their arms crossed and shaking their heads in disappointment.)

Like I said in this post, I, The Guy What’s Read Swamp Thing Comics for the Last Several Decades, was not the target audience for these rejiggered relaunches. This rethinking of ol’ Swampy was designed to get newer readers ensnared, who likely hadn’t read all that early stuff.

Not to say everything is terrible, of course: Swamp Thing’s appearances in Justice League Dark gave me the month-to-month adventures that didn’t dwell a whole lot on his new backstory and almost felt “normal,” you know, more or less, guest-starring with Detective Chimp and everything. And the new mini, bringing in a new person as Swamp Thing with the Alec Holland Swampy primarily there to pass the torch…this may be the solution to finally getting past the character’s shattered history, and it helps that the comic is really good, too.

But anyway, in short, Swamp Thing is still my favorite comic character despite everything. I get that expecting editorial consistency on a comic book character in a shared universe in stories created by Many Diverse Hands is a bit of an ask. I mean, the Superman we got with the John Byrne reboot in 1986 is technically the same Superman we have now, though many of the details have changed over the decades. But I kind of expect that from superhero comics. I felt like Swamp Thing was different, like maybe folks were putting a little more effort into internal consistency over the years. That’s why just changing things for the sake of change (an endemic problem to the New 52 as a whole) was so disappointing.

• • •

On a related note, just recently we had a spate of “give me your controversial take on [comic character]” tweets on the Twitters (here’s my favorite iteration and my response). So of course I jumped in with “give me your controversial takes on Swamp Thing”. Got some good response, and some jokey ones, too, but c’mon, we’re all comedians on Twitter. But I plan on responding to some of those “takes” here in the near future.

Thanks for reading, pals, and keep in mind, despite all that stuff I said…I ain’t giving up my Swamp Thing slippers.

23 Responses to “Don’t get me wrong, the fact that I could regularly read stories where Swamp Thing pals around with Detective Chimp is awesome.”

  • Robcat says:

    We Legion fans feel your pain.

  • Jacob T Levy says:

    This is me with the Phantom Stranger. The New 52 broke him in much the same way, and broke my “collect ‘em all” habit that had lasted for decades.

  • Chris Gumprich says:

    I feel the same way about the Challengers of the Unknown. The Chaykin miniseries had me baffled (“why are you using the name at all?”) and the subsequent reboots, while OK on their own, just seemed to be missing something — and now, thanks to you, I know exactly what it was.

    Incidentally, I recently re-read the Challs 1970s run, and kind of wish it was allowed to continue. Once Swamp Thing became a member, the team was well on its way to becoming a pseudo-Defenders of DC science fiction.

  • Rob S. says:

    Oof, yeah, the Legion.

    And I say this as someone who really enjoys the new stuff. But that throughline, once broken… I don’t know if it ever can be restored.

  • Rich Handley says:

    I feel your pain, Mike. The New 52 butchering of Swamp Thing’s history so threw me off that I was never able to get back into it, as you know since I first wasn’t collecting any of them, then was trying to play catch up, then just dropped the whole shebang. So much doesn’t match up–the examples you cited, as well as the existence of Abby’s brother, the mischaracterization of the Parliament of Trees, the way John Constantine was so badly written… ugh. As someone who read and reread and reread all of Swamp Thing and Hellblazer from 1971 to the misfire than was Brightest Day, I just couldn’t get behind all that continuity being wiped out. And it kind of broke my heart that Len Wein was involved in jettisoning Moore’s history. So I sadly left the character behind. But I’ll always have my pre-New 52 tales, and I’m still rereading them.

  • Bruce Baugh says:

    I was going to say just what Robcat did: the onset of multiple reboots just kicked me out of a long-standing attachment to the Legion, and losing that cost me a lot of engagement with the rest of the DC universe. I miss it, and sympathize a lot with getting the same thing in Swamp Thing.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    You may have mentioned this before and I missed it, but what do you think of the Swamp Thing YA book, TWIN BRANCHES?

    I have spotted, here and there in on-line fannish circles, some surprising venom directed towards DC’s line of YA graphic novels. Part of this seems to be annoyance at the books being “out of continuity,” but the larger part seems to be simple anger at DC for daring to create material for a general audience and not specifically for the hardcore fans.

  • Thom H. says:

    I don’t think the Legion is a lost cause, but I do think it will take a lighter touch than Bendis’ to bring it back. He and Sook *almost* got it right. Even with the updated and revamped looks, the characters were mostly recognizable. At least the ones who spoke and/or did more than stand around in the background.

    But Bendis couldn’t resist making lots of unnecessary changes to origins, home worlds, and relationships, and he broke the whole thing. Not to mention his inability to write a team book. Again, why have 30 characters on a team if 2/3 of them never get any actual screen time?

  • Daniel T says:

    The only way to save the Legion now is to do a Zero Hour -style reboot where the team starts over from the very beginning with the founding 3 members and builds organically from there. And slowly: the team doesn’t need to have 30 members by the end of the first year–or even the fifth year.

  • Daniel T says:

    The immediate problem with this idea is the fact that you can’t do anything slowly or organically anymore because book don’t last five years.

  • Chris V says:

    I guess there’s always hope. After having my favourite comic book character, John Constantine, butchered with one horrid, misconceived relaunch after another; the fans were finally thrown a bone by DC with the latest Si Spurrier run, which returned JC to the greatness not seen since early during the original Hellblazer series.
    Then, DC canceled it after just one year.

    So, you may see a return to the Swamp Thing you know and love someday….and seeing it taken away from you by DC after thirteen measly issues.
    Something to look forward, I guess.

  • Boosterrific says:

    I shall continue to count my lucky stars that my favorite character, Booster Gold, has been shepherded by his creator, Dan Jurgens, for almost the entirety of Booster’s 35 years of existence (including the New 52). I’m keenly aware that it really does make a difference to have some stability to characterization, otherwise, to paraphrase a common sports metaphor, you’re just cheering for laundry. Or, in Swamp Thing’s case, weeds.

  • Thom H. says:

    @Daniel T: Too true. I think you could start a little farther into the classic roster — 6 or 8 characters would give the book some variety — but it better have a strong creative team or it’s definitely axed after 12 issues.

  • @misterjayem says:

    I came here to say that this was almost exactly how the LSH reboot broke my heart.

    I see I am not alone.

    LLL,
    — MrJM

  • Robcat says:

    Jacob- Oh, man. You’re right. Sorry, dude. At least with the Legion it’s all still in the same ballpark. What they did to the Phantom Stranger broke the character. Secret Origins 10 explains it all….

  • DavidG says:

    Ditto on the Legion, I’m done there after so many restarts – I’m not sure they’re saveable either. Another reboot just breaks the connection a little bit more (I just couldn’t be bothered with the Bendis version), but trying to recapture the old continuity takes us back down the path of Levitz’s last run, which was also disappointing and confusing. The only really exciting issues were the Giffen ones. Anyone know why he left so quickly? Maybe DC should let him take over again, it would at least be interesting.

  • Caleb says:

    Just chiming in to defend Twin Branches and the other YA OGNs. As Mike pointed out, with the chain-breaking of the New 52 relaunches, what books ARE in continuity anymore, really?

  • CalvinPitt says:

    I had this problem, too. Three of my five favorite DC characters are Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain, and Stephanie Brown. DC actually did a run of Detective Comics with all three as part of a team, and I couldn’t be bothered to buy it, because I wasn’t sure I’d even recognize the characters.

    I’m not sure why this hasn’t been the case with Marvel, where there’s no guarantee any given run with a given character will pay any attention to the previous run (I’m actually curious to see what the next writer does with Squirrel Girl after Ryan North’s run).

  • BrianF says:

    As a long time reader of Shang Chi comics that’s me & Leiko Wu.
    Leiko’s introduced as a capable spy is mostly is used as such in the OG comics, then in Marvel Comics Presents (1988) she is just a prisoner who gets her hand cut off. Later she gets a robot hand (1990), which is ignored forever after that. 
    Even later she becomes a goopy zombie bad guy (2014) and just recently she’s brought back as if nothing from the late 80’s ever happened. 
    We are living in a post continuity world.

  • JohnJ says:

    I’m feeling the same way about Superman these days. After Bendis revealed the secret identity and then did absolutely nothing with the idea and now they’re sending him away from Earth for awhile and replacing him with the ridiculously age-advanced Superboyman, I’ve dropped the titles from my pull list for the first time in ages.
    I’m hoping these Superman 77 and Batman 89 mini-series will give me something of the characters as they should be.

  • Bringing up the Legion, I’m certain that there is NO way to bother with trying reboots. I’ve continued to believe that the simplest way of explaining the reboots is by saying that each iteration of the Legion is from a different Earth.

    At this point, someone should just sit down and do a concordance of everything Legion, consider a coherent story, and then do the adult Legion. Quantum Queen, Chemical King and all. Or make it near-adult, where they aren’t constantly 25 or 29. (This would depend on Superboy’s age, of course.)

    Is ANYone with me on this? A whole multiverse to play with, and it took until the last few years to see Green Lanterns from other Earths.

    My thoughts on Swamp Thing echo Mike’s, but think about this. Who wouldn’t buy the hell out of Swamp Thing fighting the Anti-Monitor?

  • […] remember my post from last week about how I kinda lost my involvement in, my connection with, Swamp Thing post the […]

  • Thom H. says:

    Not sure if I should put this here or under the new Legion-specific post, but:

    @Wayne: Isn’t that basically what happened during Final Crisis with Legion of Three Worlds? That’s when Johns brought back the Levitz/Giffen Legion, right?

    I like the general idea, but I wonder if there’s enough of a fan base left for the Adult Legion to make it work.

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