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
A couple of weeks ago, friend and compatriot Glenn Walker (he of @monsura and regular contributor to all things cool on this very website), came to visit my hometown city of Toronto for Biff Bam Pop!’s Editor-in-Chief, Andy Burns’ monumental birthday celebration.
It was a wonderful affair, full of frivolity, chatter and seemingly endless shot glasses of Jägermeister (many of us are still shuddering at the taste in our mouths).
At a breakfast get together the next morning, Glenn and I stated talking about our love of comic book industry-changing creator, “King” Jack Kirby (creator of so many of your favourite comic book heroes and villains), and his 1972 post-apocalyptic protagonist, Kamandi. He reminded me of the mid-eighties DC Comics series, the DC Challenge, on which today’s Wednesday Run column comic book pick is based.
And Kamandi, the beloved Last Boy On Earth: in a brand new, limited series, full of story and art and wonder and industry legends working on the creation of the industry’s all-time Legend.
Today sees the release of the hugely-anticipated The Kamandi Challenge #1!
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!
For almost a year now we have been teased with this third official TV series in the Arrowverse, and now finally “Legends of Tomorrow” joins “Arrow” and “The Flash” on the CW. The DC TV Universe just keeps expanding. Meet me after the super speed jump for my thoughts on “Legends of Today.”
Arkham Asylum. Now that’s a name that provokes fear and terror for many. Officially named the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane, the hospital/prison is where many of Gotham City’s, and the DC Comics universe’s, most dangerous deranged criminals are incarcerated. From a minor reference in one comic book, it has become so much bigger, most recently with two huge selling videogames and what looks to be a major plotline in one of this summer’s surefire blockbusters, The Dark Knight Rises.
Every Wednesday, JP makes the after-work run to his local downtown comic book shop. Comics arrive on Wednesdays you see and JP, fearful that the latest issue will sell out, rushes out to purchase his copy. This regular, weekly column will highlight a particularly interesting release, written in short order, of course, because JP has to get his – before someone else does!
DC Universe: Legacies
Written by: Len Wein
Illustrated by: Various
Yeah, DC’s having a big month for all things that end. Well, as they “end” in the DC universe, anyway. You know, right before they start up again. Fresh. Brand new. Rebranded. Rebooted. Relaunched. Huzzah!
Hold up. Some of you might not know what I’m talking about. Here’s the “411” in one sentence: DC Comics, in an attempt to streamline their entire cast of comic book characters and reposition their various monthly comic books in an ever competitive marketplace, is re-starting every publication with issue number 1’s this September.
For comic book readers and collectors, it’s a BIG deal.
And with that caveat out of the way, may I present…DC Universe: Legacies.
Written by someone who has left an indelible legacy on the industry himself, Len Wein has crafted a ten-issue series, here compiled in one 336-page hardcover, that chronicles the fictional history of the DC Universe and five generations of its legendary heroes. In these pages, you’ll find the first accounts of the Mystery Men pre World War II with subsequent chapters bringing us through the ages up to the present day starring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Justice League of America, The Teen Titans and many, many more beloved heroes and (despicable) villains.
It’s appropriate that Wein is partnered with a veritable who’s who of artistic talent. Scott Kolins is here along with Andy Kubert, his legendary father, Joe Kubert, unsurpassed veteran George Perez and the remarkable J.H. Williams III among other titans of the industry.
DC Universe: Legacies isn’t the first time the publisher has documented the “history” of its fictional characters and stories. The two-issue History of the DC Universe, published in 1986, attempted to summarize the company’s then-history of its various heroes and events. But, I suppose, in comics, things change and stay the same.
With the advent of a new DC Universe beginning this September, it’s fitting that we make the run and pick up the highly enjoyable DC Universe: Legacies. If only to remember the way things were, before they change for another twenty-five years.