Category Archives: swamp thing
I am sitting on my couch and I’ve just read the news that Len Wein, the creator of Swamp Thing and Wolverine and so many other great comic book characters, has passed away. My heart hurts. I interviewed Len last year for a cover story I wrote for Rue Morgue Magazine #169 on the 45th anniversary of Swamp Thing. I’m sharing it with you now, and I would encourage you to pick up the issue itself from the Rue Morgue store as well. Meanwhile, I wish all the best to Len’s family and friends. I hope they know what an incredible legacy he has left us.
The Saga of the Swamp Thing
Since the days of the classic Universal Monsters and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, there’s always been something ominous about the swamp that has made its environs ripe for storytelling. What surrounds it, amongst the overgrowth of vegetation? What lies beneath the boggy marsh and water? What things make their home in its depths?
Swamp and muck monsters have long been a part of horror comics, dating all the way back to the 1940s with The Heap, considered by many historians to be the original comic book swamp character. The Heap first appeared in Air Fighter Comics, and was originally a World War I German pilot who, after crash landing in a European marsh, experienced a strange transformation into a living monster of vegetation. Various iterations on the theme would manifest themselves over the ensuing decades in stories like The Thing in the Swamp, The Monster from Swamp Sinister and Beware the Man-Lawn (for further exploration on the vast history of the swamp monster genre, Comic Book Creators’ Swampmen: The Muck-Monsters and Their Makers from TwoMorrows Publishing is an absolute must-read).
Come 1971 and a new creature would arrive to join the pantheon of monsters from the depths. Debuting in Issue 92 of the DC Comics anthology series House of Secrets in July 1971, Swamp Thing would be the creation of two men – writer Len Wein, who had previously worked on titles including The Flash and Superman and who would go on to create Wolverine for Marvel Comics, and a young, up and coming artist named Bernie Wrightson.
Wein and Wrightson’s first Swamp Thing tale is a gothic exploration set at the dawn of the 20th century, crafted to be the stand alone tale of scientist Alex Olsen, killed in a lab explosion by colleague Damien Ridge, who had set his eyes on Olsen’s wife Linda. Chemicals and supernatural forces in the swamp change Olsen into a swamp monster, which then saves Linda from the murderous Ridge. The story ends with Olsen’s Swamp Thing heading back into the muck, realizing he was no longer the man Linda loved.
However, that wasn’t the end.
The sales figures for House of Secrets Issue 92 were the biggest for DC that month, and before long Wein and Wrightson began work on an ongoing Swamp Thing series for DC. Changes were made – the setting was now contemporary and the scientist in question was named Alec Holland. In the ensuing issues, the duo would introduce horrific characters including the mutated Un-Men, evil Anton Arcane and his niece Abigail, and federal agent Matthew Cable. Thought Wein and Wrightson collaborated on just ten issues of the Swamp Thing series together, their work would leave a huge impact on a audience of horror lovers, some of whom would make their way into the comics industry themselves (see sidebars).
The first Swamp Thing series only lasted 24 issues before it was cancelled due to dwindling sales, but the character returned in 1982 to coincide with the release of a Swamp Thing film from director Wes Craven. The film was a minor hit, and helped revive the character, who became a mainstay of DC Comics going forward, proving ripe for the creative juices of a variety of artists and writers. Among them would be future industry legend Alan Moore, who Len Wein, acting as series editor, handpicked to guide Swamp Thing through the mid-80s. Other notables who have put their mark on the character over the ensuing decades include luminaries like Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughn and Scott Snyder.
With 2016 marking the 45 anniversary of the birth of Swamp Thing, we spoke to co-creator Len Wein (Bernie Wrightson has struggled with health issues the last few years) about the inspiration for his legendary character, its horror roots, working with Alan Moore, the recent mini-series he worked on with noted horror artist and Wrightson acolyte Kelley Jones, and much more.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN WRITING COMICS IN THE FIRST PLACE? Read the rest of this entry
You made it through the holidays intact and your back is no worse for wear, what with carrying all of those heavy Absolute and Omnibus editions of various comic book compilations and graphic novels. Congratulations!
That brings us to the first Wednesday of the New Year – and our first Wednesday run to the local comic book to pick up something new and interesting.
It may be a new year, but today’s pick is a decades old throwback – from an entirely new perspective naturally. Follow me after the jump for the muck-encrusted low down on the new Swamp Thing #1!
After making the game-changer move of ending all of their monthly series in August 2011 and, calling it the “New 52”, re-starting them with brand new first issues, DC Comics continues to evolve. This year, the publishing company has definitely been shining a light on the darker corners of its universe. The mature, sophisticated publishing arm of Vertigo Comics is still undergoing changes as well, with flagship title Hellblazer recently ending it 300-issue run. The main protagonist of that series, the beloved chain-smoking English occultist, John Constantine, has been folded up into the DC universe proper, continuing his supernatural adventures in a new ongoing monthly series called, appropriately enough, Constantine.
Ray Fawkes has worked for both DC Comics and Vertigo Comics along with a host of other publishers including Oni Press, Image Comics, Top Shelf Comics and Marvel Comics. The Eisner, Harvey and Shuster Award nominee is now writing some of his most high-profile work to date at DC Comics, namely Justice League Dark and Constantine as well as having a hand in DC’s upcoming Trinity War summer blockbuster storyline.
JP Fallavollita met with the Toronto-based writer and artist at the 2013 edition of the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF) and had a chance to speak with him over the phone about his recent writing responsibilities. In the first part of this interview, Fawkes talks about his experiences with fan-favourite character, John Constantine, the history and responsibility of writing him in both a solo series and a group series, and his story plans for the near future.
Tuesday, February 26. A dog day in the month of love.
Cupid’s come and gone, sweet first blush has turned to red-faced anger, text messages have gone unanswered, and all that’s left of chocolate gifts are their shredded wrappers.
Have no worries, pet. As alone as you may feel, someone’s always got it worse than you. Why, we here at Biff Bam Pop! have been celebrating the swoon of tainted love all month long! We’ve covered the subject in film (here, here and here), prose (here) and comic books (here, here and here).
But if you’re somehow still under the thrall of adoration’s venomous poison, let me introduce you to comicdoms most famously tainted love affair, that of the unbeknownst three-way between the hauntingly beautiful Abigail Arcane, the crusty con-man John Constantine, and the muck-encrusted monster known as Swamp Thing.
Love, I’m afraid, never ceases to surprise. Or sicken.
What do you do if you know you’re dying and that when you die, you know that you’re going to hell?
If you’re the conniving yet charismatic rogue mage John Constantine, you do the only thing that can be done: you hasten the inevitable.
That’s sort of the premise behind the famous comic book character’s story arc in the 2005 film called, appropriately enough, Constantine. Directed by Francis Lawrence, his big screen debut after making a name for himself in music videos, and starring Keanu Reeves as the titular anti-hero, Constantine wasn’t all that well received by either critics or fans upon it’s debut. But in the seven years since it’s release, a near-cult audience has embraced the film and hope, an emotion not necessarily synonymous with the character himself, abounds in terms of a sequel being made.
That time may soon be upon us. Until then, there’s still the original to affectionately watch and discuss.
Despite the recent chill across much of the northeast of this continent, spring is still upon us. There’s landscaping to be done in the backyard and those colourful impatiens are now showing through. Warmer weather, I’m sure, is just around the corner.
So is the local comic book shop.
And that’s where we should all find our green thumb today – as we hit up something exotic. Something, oh, I don’t know, in the form of the beautiful and delicate orchid?
A black orchid, to be precise.
Reboots and Recollections Part 3: JP Concludes His Top 10 Comics in DC’s September Line-Wide Comic Book Re-launch
Off the top of my head, I’m having trouble remembering what the very first first issue comic I bought was.
Of course, I was there for the first issues of Watchmen, Sandman and Hellblazer. I had seen ads of those comics in an industry leaflet and thought that their respective stories sounded interesting – that they were right up my ever-growing imaginative alley.
And they were.
If you walk into any bookstore, be it a chain or a local shop, there’s sure to be a shelf full of yellow, smiley-faced hard and soft cover books staring right at you, pleading for you to buy a copy. Of course, they have Moore’s name tattooed across each and every one of them. You’ll come across it in a quick scan of a magazine or a newspaper too and this blitzkrieg of name doesn’t just stop in the domain of the reader. No, his unidentified presence can be found on a brisk February jaunt to the bus stop, a haphazard flip through television channels or an impulsive click on a website where you’ll see a plethora of advertisements, every bit the responsibility of Mr. Moore. This is all due, of course, to the upcoming and eagerly anticipated film version of the most famous graphic novel of all time. Watchmen, is finally due in theatres on March 6th.
If you’re a voracious comic book reader like I am, or, truthfully, even an occasional one, you’ve come across the various works of Alan Moore before. If not, you’re probably most familiar with him at the cinema. In addition to Watchmen, he’s written the marvellous The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which Hollywood butchered), the exceptional From Hell (which misfired on the silver screen) and, of course, the wonderful V for Vendetta (which the Wachowski brothers knocked out of the park).
But before the long and grizzly-bearded, ring-wearing, wiry wizard from Northampton, England wrote those stories, he was an author of gothic horror, brought across the Atlantic in 1983 to spin yarns for DC Comics in a sales-sagging title obscurely (and some might say unfortunately) called Saga of the Swamp Thing. Those stories would become classics to comic and horror enthusiasts worldwide and this month they find themselves collected in hardcover for the very first time in what will eventually be a six-volume set.
I never read Saga of the Swamp Thing while it was being published on a monthly basis during the 1980’s. I actually missed Alan Moore’s entire run on the series, which began with issue #20 and ended with #64. Of course, I knew that it had won multiple industry awards such as best series, best single issue and best writer but there’s a psychological wall in beginning to follow a story mid-series. Generally, I like to start at issue one. Plus, I was into comics like Justice League of America and Batman at the time. It was the character of John Constantine (whom Moore introduced in the pages of Swamp Thing – another creation of his that found its way to the big screen) that got me interested in the muck-encrusted monster. I followed Constantine’s narrative appearances as they crossed-over from his own monthly title to Swampy’s and I enjoyed them so much that I went back and started collecting the entirety of Moore’s run.
What I read floored me. It was so different than anything else that was being published during that time.
Swamp Thing, as originally told, was the story of Alec Holland, a botanist who died in a bizarre laboratory explosion. Due to the various chemicals he was working with and the fact that his dead body lay in a Louisiana swamp, he inherited the powers of the plant kingdom, becoming a grotesque, shambling, moss-covered simulacra of a man in constant search for his humanity.
Moore turned that story on its ear.
In the pages of this first volume, the author explains that Holland actually did die in that original blast but that the surrounding environment took up the last vestiges of the man’s consciousness, taking the Holland identity as its very own. How would the monster react, Moore asks, when it discovers that after so many years of believing itself to be a man, that it is, in fact, simply an aberration of nature?
Throughout this volume, Moore uses the Swamp Thing character as a means of rationalizing the monstrous temperament of humanity while highlighting the plight of the natural world as it sits in the hands of men. The character is a foil for an earth, void of goodness while strange, fiendish creatures act as a mirror for humankind. A demon from hell is employed as a metaphor for the evils of society as it terrorizes the children of an orphanage, taking the shape of their nightmares and feeding on their fears. It grows immensely powerful on stored memories, for example, when in the presence of a young girl, once raped by her father. Moore pits one creature against the other: the monstrous manifestation of men versus the physically monstrous creation of nature.
The author also focuses on the twentieth century’s preponderance for the study of science and the search for rationale, quantifiable explanation. Moore, a self-described magician, likens monsters to faith and that which is unexplainable. He begs the question: what role do monsters play, monsters that require security within the confines of shadows, in a world that is more and more illuminated by both science and reason.
These were the grand, sophisticated and suspenseful stories of Moore that had me searching high and low through dusty back bins of comic shops, frantically hunting for Swamp Thing issues. Of course, there’s also the fact that the Justice League of America made more than one appearance in the series. As did Batman.
In Saga of the Swamp Thing, I got my superhero, horror and philosophical literary fix – all in one go.
Give this first hardcover collection a try. You will too.