Ten Essential October Comics: ‘Swamp Thing’

Today’s Essential October Comic takes us deep into the swamps of Louisiana, where a muck-encrusted creature is shambling slowly out of the fog…

8. Swamp Thing

In 1970, a young freelance comic book writer by the name of Len Wein approached DC Comics with a short story idea he thought was suitable for one of the publisher’s anthology titles. DC bought the idea, and Wein recruited talented artist Berni Wrightson to provide the art.

A few months and eight pages later, a legend was born.

DC was overwhelmed by the positive response to the story, and eventually persuaded Wein and Wrightson to bring the character back in its own book. The two took the opportunity to reset the origin story with a few tweaks, and Swamp Thing was off and running.

Wrightson stayed on the title for 10 issues, and Wein made it 13 before handing it off to new creators. The series fizzled, but was later resurrected in time to cash in on the film version (directed by a young Wes Craven). It was during this run that writer Alan Moore grabbed the reins and put his own indelible stamp on the character.

Moore wasn’t the last writer to take on Swamp Thing, but he’s thus far been the most successful. Writers like Nancy Collins, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughan and, most recently, Scott Snyder have provided their own take on the character in Moore’s wake, but it’s his run that is most associated with the creature, and it’s his specific turn on the title that I’m recommending as an Essential October Comic.

Moore’s Swamp Thing is a complex horror story that explores an amazing array of spiritual, ecological and fantasy elements. Moore posited that the creature born of Alec Holland’s fiery plunge into the swamp waters was just one of many versions of the Swamp Thing, an elemental entity that served as protector of “the Green.” “The Green” is the tissue connecting all of the Earth’s plant life, a powerful force that the Swamp Thing is able to tap into at will.  It’s heady material that removed the title from its “monster of the week” sensibilities and helped usher in a new age of complex, intelligent comics. In fact,  Swamp Thing quickly abandoned the Comics Code Authority, a sort of ratings committee for comics, and began targeting adult readers outright.

Often controversial and confrontational, Moore (along with regular artists Steve Bissette, John Totleben and Rick Veitch) was able to sustain an amazing level of quality during his long run. With interesting characters, terrifying creatures, and stories that continue to resonate throughout the DC universe today, Moore and company built an amazing legacy for themselves, and for a creature that easily could have faded into obscurity like many of the imitators that have followed it.

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