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The Weirdness Of Swamp Thing

July 9, 2010

Swamp Thing is a pretty weird character and not just because he’s spent a few decades in the Vertigo universe being written by guys like Len Wein, Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughan, Andy Diggle and Will Pfeifer among many others. In his first appearance–the above House Of Secrets #92 from 1971–Swamp Thing is actually a different dude and not the more familiar Alec Holland. His name was Alex Olson and this was his only appearance. Swamp Thing was later resurrected by his creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson for an ongoing series starring Holland’s version of Swamp Thing. You can check out these early appearances in DC’s DC Comics Classics Library Roots Of The Swamp Thing hardcover. I’ve only read the intro by Wein and the first couple issues, but it’s pretty fun horror stuff. The series went along for a while and then the inimitable Alan Moore came along and added his unique view to the character, thusly introducing himself to the general American comics audience. Moore came along and started on the title with 1984’s Swamp Thing #20, eventually joined by artist Stephen Bissette. At that time the book wasn’t included under the Vertigo banner because Vertigo wouldn’t come into existence until 1993, yet, the Vertigo logo appears on many of the reprints, like the somewhat recent Saga Of The Swamp Thing volumes which seem set out to reprint all of Alan Moore’s issues (Swamp Thing #20-58, 60-61, 63-64, Annual 2). I’ve read some of this stuff, though not yet in the aforementioned Saga hardcover format, though I do have it on my to-read pile, possibly after I acquire a few more of the volumes. Like I said, the comic would go on to become a big part of Vertigo in the 90s and carry on through part of the 2000s, but that’s not what makes him such a weird character. That would be his exposure to regular people thanks to two movies, a live action television series, an animated series, two video games and a line of action figures. To put that into some kind of perspective, that puts Swamp Thing into the same place as characters like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine. Yeah, just think about that for a moment. That’s right, Swamp Thing starred in not one, but two movies. The first one was written and directed by master of horror Wes Craven of all people and starred the bodacious Adrienne Barbeau and convention staple Dick Durock as Swampy, who unfortunately passed away last year. The flick came out in 1982, which puts it before Moore’s run on the book, though I’m sure it was a big influence on his writing. I know that I’ve seen the movie fairly recently, but I couldn’t tell you anything I remember about it and I didn’t blog about it, so that means I obviously need to watch it again. 1989 saw the follow-up to the Craven flick starring Heather Locklear and directed by Jim Wynorksi who directed Chopping Mall (which I swear I blogged about, but can’t find anywhere), Ghoulies IV and The Lusty Busty Babe-a-que starring Tough Love’s Rocky. I have zero recollection of this movie, but you’ve got to give it some credit for getting made (maybe).

Sure it looks more like a Toxic Avenger sequel than a legit superhero movie, but you’ve got to remember that there were very few legit superhero movies at the time (basically Superman, Superman II and that year’s Batman). Maybe I’ll check it out on Hulu. Anyway, after the release of the sequel, cable network USA kicked off a live action series in 1990 called Swamp Thing (you can watch the first season on Hulu or check out the full series on DVD) that also starred Durock. The show lasted three seasons, totaling 72 episodes, which puts it one season and 15 episodes behind Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman.

But a live action series wasn’t the only Swamp Thing on television in the early 90s as the USA version was joined by an animated series in 1991 which ran on Fox for only five episodes and tied in with a toy line from Kenner which outlasted the cartoon considerably. You can buy the full series on an out-of-print DVD. Before getting into the toys, which I do remember fondly, here’s a look at the cartoon opener which involves an awkward reworking of “Wild Thing” to fit Swamp Thing’s name in.

I have a very distinct memory of seeing this cartoon at my then-friend’s house when I was about 8. He had had a big sleepover the night before for his birthday, we were all eating breakfast while the show was on and there might have even been Swamp Thing-related cups and plates, which is probably why I remembered it lasting longer than it’s measly five episodes. Like I said though, the toys made a much bigger impression on me. I swiped these images from the ever-amazing Virtual Toy Chest, which has even more on display on their Swamp Thing page. What I liked about the line was the crazy action features. I was even able to work my version of the guy in this picture on the far left into ToyFare’s greatest action features feature which was a ton of fun to write. If you pulled his arm or leg the threads holding the figure in the upright position would loosen and he’d collapse into a pile of swampness. The middle guy completely glows in the dark as do his axe and mace while the guy on the right changes color with water making him look all brown (if memory serves).There were also a series of villains with rubber monster heads that went over their actual heads. Here’s a video of a guy’s collection of them on display in a room still in the packaging.

Oh, I almost forgot, here’s some footage of the game. There was a version NES and Game Boy, but it looks pretty subpar to me.

But, of course, the Swamp Thing media monster could not last forever and by the mid-90s he was relegated back the long boxes and comic shops for the most part. There has been talk about a new movie by Joel Silver, possibly in 3D and even talk about bringing the character back into the regular DC Universe which he used to be a firm part of. We’ll see where our weird swampy friend goes from here, but he’s already had a more impressive life than 90% of the comic characters out there.

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