This classic comic re-read of Swamp Thing #1 contains some minor spoilers.
Way back in 1972, there was a trend towards more horror-based comics in both Marvel and DC. After the stifling claustrophobia of the Comics Code, comics were suddenly in the position to produce scary books again, and we had an onslaught of comics such as Tomb of Dracula, Phantom Stranger, and of course Swamp Thing.
Many will know of Swampy through the work of Alan Moore, who took the character and pretty much reinvented it, throwing out all the baggage of the 70s run and investing Swamp Thing with new elemental powers, but what was he like before that?
Well after an initial appearance in House of Secrets #92, in a short horror story, the character would get his first run in the 1972 book Swamp Thing #1 by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson.
We are introduced to the murky swamp of the Bayou, and in a full-page splash, we see Swamp Thing, hidden in darkness and awaiting the return of the men who murdered him. From there we go to a flashback, and we see Alec Holland and his wife Linda arriving at a secret location to continue their work on a bio-restorative formula for the government under the watchful eye of agent Matt Cable.
In the laboratory, they work on a process that will bring flourishing plant life to any environment, but a knock on the door brings unwelcome visitors.
A private organization has caught wind of Alec’s project and wants to make him an offer he can’t refuse. Before things get out of hand, Matt Cable arrives on patrol and the men retire, leaving Alec to tell Cable what has happened.
When a stray dog arrives at the compound, Alec takes the animal in, but a microphone on the dog allows the previous visitors to listen in as they prepare another visit, but this time to destroy the formula, and the Hollands.
After knocking him unconscious, the thugs plant a bomb that detonates and sends Alec Holland screaming in a burning inferno into the swamp. At his funeral, his wife mourns his loss, but back in the swamp, we are treated to the first appearance of Alec as he crawls from the marsh, transformed into the green mossy Swamp Thing we know and love. From there, Alec sets out on his mission of vengeance to find out why he was murdered and by whom.
Swamp Thing #1 is pretty much an origin story, but on re-reading it, it’s pretty much a tale of gothic horror that still holds up today.
The art by Wrightson is absolutely incredible and elevates what is pretty much a standard story to its classic reputation. Len Wein delivers a solid story of betrayal and corporate murder, but it’s hard to get past the art, and I would venture that Wrightson’s art was the main reason for the initial success of the book.
The first run would last 24 issues, but for true fans, it’s those initial issues by Wein and Wrightson that capture the tone and style of the character that is still prevalent today.
Sure, Alan Moore would build on the legend of Swamp Thing and take it places that no one could have imagined possible with such a premise, but without those first issues, there would have been nothing there for Moore to build on. Even today in DC’s Future State, Swamp Thing remains a pivotal part of the Universe, but his roots can be found decades ago in a murky swamp in the Louisiana Bayou.