For a character who is basically a plant, Swamp Thing has done alright for
himself. Originally introduced in the early 1970s by DC Comics, the character
would originally be the repository for lots of pulpy horror tales that allowed
the elemental creature to fight all manner of ghouls and abominations. Add in a
couple of camp horror movie adaptations in the early 1980s, the first of which
was directed by no less a talent than Wes Craven, and Swamp Thing was firmly
established as a B+ character, who could stand in the background while the likes
of Superman and Batman did their thing.
In 1983, along came Alan Moore and did his usual thing of completely reinventing
the character. The writer’s four-year stint saw Swamp Thing become a more tragic
figure, with explorations on the nature of being human and metaphysical concepts
such as the “Green”, a dimension that connects all plant life. There was still
plenty of gothic horror and action, but the character was more thoughtful and
intelligent than his origins implied and he fit perfectly into the mid-80s
milieu of going beyond the simplistic comic book tropes of good and evil.
“Old Sprout Bollocks”, as he was lovingly referred to by John Constantine (a
character first introduced in the pages of Swamp Thing), became an important
part of the DC Universe, especially in those areas dealing with magic and
mysticism, and the character had a dedicated following. There was even a 1990s
TV series lasting 72 episodes which was, well, very 90s and even the most
dedicated comic book fans have erased much of it from their memories.
Of course, in the era of every IP owned by a comic book company getting a
live-action interpretation, it was only a matter of time before Swamp Thing
(after being mentioned in shows such as Constantine and Legends of Tomorrow)
would have his own TV series. Originally made for DC’s streaming service ‘DC
Universe’, the show itself has been swamped in controversy since its beginning.
Originally scheduled for 13 episodes, then cut to 10, it was soon canceled after
one episode was aired with rumors swirling about misfiled paperwork and
required tax breaks not materializing. With all this real life drama swirling
around, does the latest iteration of Swamp Thing sink or swim?
Dr Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed), of the Centre for Disease Control, comes back to
her hometown of Marais, Louisiana, to investigate reports of a deadly virus that
is sweeping through the swamp, which forms a large part of the town. As she
confronts her mysterious past, include the tragedy that befell the daughter of
Maria Sunderland (Virginia Madsen, proving what a terrific actress she still
is), she meets disgraced scientist Alec Holland (Andy Bean), who is working for
Avery Sunderland, the rich patriarch of the town who has his own agenda.
In the course of their investigation, Alec is killed and dumped in the swamp.
But he’s reborn as Swamp Thing, an elemental creature who possesses an
unimaginable power to control, and communicate with, trees and plants. After he
reveals himself to Arcane, they work together to investigate the mysterious
circumstances of his death. But with a conspiracy at the heart of the town and
many long buried secrets among its inhabitants, it is not an easy road.
What is apparent from the first episode is that the show positions itself as,
first and foremost, a horror title aimed at an adult audience. Among plenty of
profanity, the show prides itself on a number of gory set-pieces. People get
blown to bits, fishing hooks are ripped out of people’s cheeks and – once the
supernatural elements kick in – there’s plenty of squishy, nasty and gooey
moments that the show seems to delight in. There’s also a particularly nasty –
and emotionally affecting – scene in a later episode, which sees a character
have an autopsy performed on them while they are still conscious. It is perhaps
unsurprising given one of the executive producers is James Wan, who – aside from
– is best known for franchises such as Saw and Insidious.
It does certainly mark Swamp Thing out as a different beast from many of its
tele-visual compatriots. Away from DC Universe, most DC properties have gone for
a bright and shiny superhero aesthetic, while even often “grimdark” Marvel
and The Punisher have a certain gloss to them. But this is an
often dark and murky affair, filmed in misty swamps, dilapidated shacks with a
color palette of black and (unsurprisingly) green. It sets up a unique vision
for a superhero series and it can often be compelling, even though the constant
grimness may wear down even the most ardent of horror fan.
The show’s troubled history does become somewhat apparent as the plot wears on,
as there is a lot going on – there are Avery Sunderland’s machinations, the
introduction of Blue Devil and the Phantom Stranger (two more minor DC
properties), the arrival of rival doctor Jason Woodrue (who is well known to DC
fans) as well as revelations about Abby and various supporting characters. This
is all while trying to establish Swamp Thing as a character – which includes
some of the more interesting ideas from the era of the Moore comics – and
explore his underlying emotions. If the show had been allowed to run for longer,
then these various plot points might have been allowed to breathe and be
explored. Here, things sometimes feel rushed and – even in a story about a
supernatural plant monster – contrived. Yet, with the show-runners finding out
the show was cancelled just in the nick of time, events are mostly concluded by
the time the final episodes arrive, although there are a couple of teasers about
what could happen in future seasons (including a Marvel-like end credits
The performances are strong with the likes of Crystal Reed and Andy Bean
committed to the characters (although they have to contrive later appearances of
Bean through flashbacks and other tricks as Swamp Thing itself is performed by
stalwart genre actor Derek Mears). Special mention most also be made of Will
Patton’s turn as Avery Sunderland. He does a great line in benevolence hiding
malevolence, and probably would have made an intriguing antagonist had the
series continued. The show also deserves kudos for the casting of Adrienne
Barbeau, the star of the 1982 Swamp Thing movie, in a small but pivotal role.
Despite the plethora of superheroes shows that are now available (even after the
large cull over at Marvel’s side), it does seem a shame that Swamp Thing was
uprooted before it had time to grow. But the show does work as a self-contained
season and is well worth a watch for providing something different to the usual
superhero fare, with both stylish horror and a bit of emotional heft. Maybe old
Swampie will be back one day to make a splash once again.
Series Directed by:
Deran Sarafian, Len Wiseman, Carol Banker, Greg
Beeman, Toa Fraser, Michael Goi,
E.L. Katz, Alexis Ostrander
Series Written by:
Series Developed by Gary Dauberman, Mark Verheiden
Gary Dauberman, Mark Verheiden, Conway Preston, Franklin jin Rho, Tania Lotia,
Noah Griffith, Daniel Stewart, Rob Fresco, Doris Egan, Erin Maher, Kay Reindl
Based on the DC Graphic Novel by Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson
Crystal Reed, Virginia Madsen, Andy Bean
Episode One-053119 on DC All-Access
one-hour long episodes
© 2020 HBO Productions
Review © 2020 Alternate Reality, Inc.