Swamp Thing

DC Comics Classics Library: Roots of the Swamp Thing, written by Len Wein, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, Nestor Redondo, Mike Kaluta and Luis Dominguez (1972-1974, 1991; collected 2009): Swamp Thing (who never calls himself that) is one of those DC characters with a loyal following that stretches back 40 years to his first appearances. That’s mainly thanks to the spectacular artwork of Bernie Wrightson, with an assist to the melodramatic writing by Wein, who makes Swampy into a brooding, quasi-Byronic hero. Well, if Byron were a scientist who’d been changed by a lab accident into a 7-foot-tall “muck-encrusted mockery of a man.”

DC was cooking with gas in the early 1970’s, the result of an influx of astonishing new writing and artistic talent. Marvel, mostly moribund, was in the process of becoming what DC had been — a conservative comic-book company with a highly controlled house style for both art and story. Meanwhile, DC seemed to keep stumbling and bumbling along into mostly short-lived by influential and critically revered series. Swamp Thing was one of those.

Wrightson was great at grotesques, at horror and the macabre, and Wein supplied him with a ten-issue run of horror tropes for Swamp Thing (really Alec Holland, or so he thought at the time) to shamble into battle against, including a Frankenstein’s monster, a werewolf, a witch, and a Cthulhoid monstrosity living in a mineshaft in Maine. Here, of course, the misunderstood monster is the hero, as are some of the monsters he first battles and then befriends. It’s a horror-tinged paean to outsiders. Wrightson also gave of one of the most interesting artistic imaginings of Batman up to the time.

Some moments clunk, of course — Wein was a young writer, and his solutions to some of the problems he creates for Alec Holland can be a bit on the ridiculous side. I’m also not entirely convinced Wein knew what “brackish” meant. So it goes. Wrightson would leave after ten issues, followed by Wein three issues later after a capable but not Wrightsonesque artistic run by Nestor Redondo.

The book would go on for several more issues, be cancelled, and return in the early 1980’s to accompany the release of the woeful Swamp Thing movie. Eventually would come writer Alan Moore (Watchmen), with his entry into American comic-book writing coming on Saga of the Swamp Thing. But that was still nearly a decade away. This stuff, though, is golden. Muck-encrusted gold, but still. Highly recommended.

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