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Rest in peace, Len Wein

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.

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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.

Swamp Thing BErnie

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN WRITING COMICS IN THE FIRST PLACE? Read the rest of this entry

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31 Days Of Horror 2016 Ticks Down To “Neil Gaiman’s Midnight Days” On The Wednesday Run

neil-gaimans-midnight-days-coverThe clock is ticking down and the midnight hour is close at hand! Well, the only midnight hour worth mentioning, really…and that’s the midnight of All Hallows Eve.

As Presidential candidate Donald Trump might say: “It’s a fantastic midnight hour, the best midnight hour, believe me.” And for once, he might be right in his horrific exuberance.

We here at Biff Bam Pop! would certainly agree, and as we continue with our daily 31 Days of Horror series of articles, a tribute to all things spooky this Halloween season, this weekly Wednesday Run column gets in on the act one last time – with another sampling of comic book storytelling you need to get your hands on.

Prepare yourselves, then, for the grandest of grand midnight hour tales! Prepare yourself with a collection of some of the best horror, fantasy and strangeness you’ll ever come across, in any season, with today’s release of Neil Gaiman’s Midnight Days!

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Revisited: “Suicide Squad” Easter Eggs Wants

Suicide Squad posterWith the obvious front-loaded fan base of the Suicide Squad film, David Ayer’s critically panned flick still made mad money in its first weekend of release to the tune of $135 million.

And then it managed to defy hugely lowered box office expectations in its second weekend, bringing in another $45 million.

We all know that critical appraisals haven’t been kind, but we have our more upbeat review of the flawed movie here, if you’re interested in a little Internet positivity. I know. It’s tough to come by these days.

Like all big comic-book-to-film movies, we here at BBP are always wanting Easter Eggs and, despite the relative obscurity of its’ main characters, it was no different with Suicide Squad. In fact, the fertile grounds that give birth to these kinds of Eggs might have never been riper!

You can catch up on our Suicide Squad Easter Eggs Wants right here, but now that we’ve all seen the flick, let’s find out if we got the secret, tasty eggs we were hoping for!

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2016 Brings Us Back To The SWAMP THING #1 On The Wednesday Run

Swamp Thing 1 coverSo, you made it, eh?

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!

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The Walking Dead S06 E07: Heads Up

 

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In last week’s episode of “The Walking Dead” we met a swamp walker. It was special effects supervisor and co-executive producer Greg Nicotero’s tribute to artist Bernie Wrightston, the co-creator of Swamp Thing. While cupid shot his arrows into Abe and Miss Sasha, our little stud muffin, Daryl, lost his bike and crossbow. The stranger who took Daryl’s prized possessions was Dwight. It was a wild episode and we were left with so many questions. Why is the wall in Alexandria bleeding? Who was calling out for help on the walkie? Will Morgan the Zen master get an ultimatum from Rick? Hopefully, all three questions will be answered. Read the rest of this entry

Doctor Who S08 E10: In the Forest of the Night

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“The forest is mankind’s nightmare.”

… says the Doctor, looking around a newly forested Trafalgar Square. Over the course of one night a massive forest has grown up everywhere. Not just London, not just the United Kingdom, not just Europe – everywhere. The Earth is covered in forest, from top to bottom.

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First Look at Miracleman #1!

untitledMarvel Comics has had the rights to Miracleman (or Marvelman, pick your poison) for quite some time now, and it’s been a waiting game to see what they do with the character. Wait no longer, as we see at least some of what they have in store – here we have our first look at the remastered MIRACLEMAN #1! Meet me after the jump for more…

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Constantine, Responsibility, War And Sin – BBP! Speaks With Acclaimed Writer Ray Fawkes (Part 1)

constantine1 cover imageAfter 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.

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Tainted Love: Caught Between A Woman, A Man and A Swamp

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.

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Saturday At The Movies: Constantine

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.

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