Review by Win Wiacek
Swamp Thing began as a well-received, but throwaway gothic thriller short in an anthology, set at the turn of the 19th century. Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson apparently took some persuading to revisit the idea, but sensibly transplanted the concept to America in 1972 for an unqualified hit and instant classic.
Variously collected over the years as Dark Genesis, Secret of the Swamp Thing and Roots of the Swamp Thing, Wein and Wrightson’s eleven stories also form the bulk of Swamp Thing: The Bronze Age Volume One. They’re a multi-chaptered tale of justice/vengeance and a quest for answers using each chapter to pay tribute to a specific sub-genre of timeless horror story.
The saga resumes with a fresh origin as ‘Dark Genesis’ finds research scientists Alec and Linda Holland deep in the Louisiana Bayou, working on a bio-restorative formula to revolutionise global farming. They’re protected by Secret Service agent Matt Cable. Representatives of an organisation called the Conclave demand that they sell their research to them – or else. When they select ‘or else’, their lab is bombed, Linda dies instantly and Alec is transformed by the formula into a gigantic man-shaped monster, immensely strong, unable to speak, and seemingly composed of living plant matter. Holland’s brain still functions however, and he vacillates between finding his wife’s killers and curing his own monstrous condition. Cable, misinterpreting the evidence, also wants revenge, but thinks the monster killed his two charges.
Recurring enemy Anton Arcane and his artificial homunculi the Un-Men first appear in ‘The Man Who Wanted Forever’. The wizard transports Holland to his Balkan castle, seeking to mystically trade places with the stupendous swamp beast. The temptation proves too great, but when the restored scientist realises the cost, he violently recants.
Then we’re introduced to Abigail Arcane and her tragic father in ‘The Patchwork Man’, a classic case of monster misunderstanding, after which Abby joins Cable in stalking the mossy misanthrope. As Holland makes his torturous way back to the USA, hunters and hunted are waylaid and encounter a Scottish werewolf in ‘Monster on the Moors!’ before a return to America and finding ‘The Last of the Ravenwind Witches!’
In the wilds of Vermont, he encounters Paradise on Earth, courtesy of an old clockmaker, but when the idyll is turned into ‘A Clockwork Horror’ by the voracious Conclave, his torment is transformed into sheer rage, leading to one of the most evocative and revered team-ups of the 1970s. ‘Night of the Bat’ is the final showdown with the remorseless robber-barons in Gotham and Wrightson’s rendering of the superhero through the lens of a horror artist inspired a whole generation of aspiring comics professionals.
Somewhat at a loss after the end of his quest the Moss Monster shambles aimlessly through America’s hinterlands encountering a Lovecraftian horror in the New England town of Perdition. ‘The Lurker in Tunnel 13’. After dealing with eldritch cancer god M’Naagalah, Holland (as well as Abigail and Cable) are drawn into a US military cover-up involving a marooned and benevolent alien in ‘The Stalker from Beyond!’ before the classic run concludes with ‘The Man Who Would Not Die!’ a tale of ghostly retribution amidst the graves of unquiet plantation slaves with unliving atrocity Anton Arcane making his first of many demonic returns. Plotted by Wrightson, it marked his swansong.
These stories are comics wonderment, from a less cynical and sophisticated age, but with passion and intensity. And, ooh, that artwork! If you love comics, you must have this buried treasure.