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Comicbook: Swamp Thing
There are people. There are stories. The people think they shape the stories, but the reverse is often closer to the truth.

"...you can't kill a vegetable by shooting it through the head."
Jason Woodrue, Swamp Thing v2 #21

Swamp Thing is a comic book character created in 1972 by Len Wein and famed horror artist Berni Wrightson. The Swamp Thing first appeared in one-shot horror tale in "House of Secrets" #92 (June-July, 1971). He was reworked as a character suitable for series appearances in "Swamp Thing" vol. 1 #1 (November, 1972). Both stories co-created by Wein and Wrightson. He later appeared in two live action movies, a TV series, and a syndicated action cartoon. He has undergone numerous Ret Cons by various authors looking to rejuvenate the series. Definitive is Alan Moore's run on the series, which was also his first American title, and his first for DC.

As an untested author, Moore was given a book slated to be cancelled. However, since no one cared about the title, there was no Executive Meddling, so Moore used the book not to explore inhuman monsters in spandex, but human ones. He introduced mysticism and sexuality into the series, as well as gray moral tones.

The book was the first to abandon the comics code, and paved the way for the Darker and Edgier comics of the eighties and nineties, including Moore's own Watchmen and DC's Vertigo imprint (John Constantine himself first appeared in Swamp Thing). Swamp Thing also showed publishers that holding comics to a higher literary standard did not necessarily mean a drop in sales.

Originally, Swamp Thing was a scientist named Alec Holland who gets turned into a monster in the swamps near the town of Houma, Louisiana after his lab equipment is sabotaged and his wife Linda killed. Wes Craven followed this plot with his mildly successful film adaptation, about your standard modern-day Prometheus doing good and lamenting lost love.

Moore, however, retconned the character's origin, turning him into Gaia's Vengeance. It was revealed that the Swamp Thing was really a separate entity from Alec Holland, a plant elemental who had taken on his memories during its fiery birth from the ashes of Holland's lab. Holland's ghost even showed up. Moore's experimentation ranged far and wide during his run, and kept the comic from going under. In fact, a number of other notable writers have taken up the pen since (Grant Morrison, Brian K. Vaughan, and Mark Millar). The character of John Constantine originated on Swamp Thing during Moore's run and was spun off into his own title, Hellblazer.

Eventually, the Swamp Thing and his long-time love Abby Cable-Arcane got together (common law marriage) and they had a daughter named Tefé, after the river in Brazil. John Constantine was the biological father. The first Vertigo revival of Swamp Thing focused more on Tefé than on the title character.

Tropes in Swamp Thing:

  • The Alcoholic: Matthew becomes this after he receives his Psychic Powers.
  • Alliterative Name: Anton Arcane and his niece Abigail.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification
  • Badass Boast: As Swamp Thing utterly dismantles the Brujeria:
    "Fools. You are in a cave... beneath the clean earth... in the center... of a rainforest.... You... do not even... have a chance."
  • Beast and Beauty
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Arcane, in hell for a day experiences an eternity of torment. Abby, in for the same time, is untouched.
  • Berserk Button: Don't touch Abby. Really, just don't.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Swampy is one of the kindest and most peaceful beings you could ever meet. But don't piss him of, if you don't want to have a tree grow inside your intestines.
  • Big Bad: Anton Arcane,
  • Big Damn Heroes: Swampy is the one to thwart Woodrue's planned destruction of all animal life, after spending days in a catatonic state thanks to Woodrue's revelation.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: In the "vegetable sex" scene, Abigail temporarily experiences Swamp Thing's ability to sense life force, and perceives the wetlands as a shimmering field of glowing vegetation, dotted with bright life-sparks of animals.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: The reboot series. Just... so damn much... especially... Abagail's severed head and her spinal column, esophagus, and wind pipe being held by Anton Arcane....
  • Breakout Character: John Constantine.
  • Captain Ersatz: For a house. The haunted mansion Swamp Thing visits in the American Gothic arc is clearly meant to be the Winchester Mystery House. Swamp Thing himself is a Captain Ersatz of of the Golden Age monster The Heap.
  • Chainsaw Good: Subverted, as "Evangeline's" wielder is easily disabled by Woodrue.
  • Chosen Conception Partner: John Constantine lets Swamp Thing possess his body so that a child can be conceived with Thing's wife.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Subverted. In one issue, Batman shows up to try to take down Swampy. He does his usual thing, sets traps, loads up with plant killer, etc. He still gets his arse handed to him by the titular Thing.
    • Though in Bats defense, he was prepared to fight the pre-Moore Swamp Thing, not the elemental he had become, with the ability to reform from any plant life after his body was destroyed, and even manifest multiple bodies at once.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Swamp Thing vs Anton Arcane, Swamp Thing vs the Brujera, and Swamp Thing vs Batman.
    • In the Moore run, The Spectre receives one of these from the Original Darkness's thumb.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Actually the Trope Codifier. During the arc where Swamp Thing holds Gotham City hostage until Abby is freed, enemies from the Sutherland Corporation bring in Luthor as a "consultant" who maps out how to destroy Swamp Thing. Luthor finishes his presentation 10 seconds early, just so the Sutherland people have enough time to write out his check.
  • Digital Destruction: A 2009 hardcover collection cuts short the last sentence of issue #24, changing "I want to be alive and meet the sun", to, "I want to be alive..."
  • Doing in the Scientist: Moore's Retcon of the hero's origin, which was also based on a theory left behind as Science Marches On.
  • Doing in the Wizard : Anton Arcane was a sorcerer in the comics, but multiple adaptations have made him a Mad Scientist instead.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Monkey King, M'Nagalah... Swamp Thing tends to encounter a lot of these.
    • Special mention should go to the Original Darkness, which was so massive that the heroes could only see the tip of its claw and was not even moving under the combined powers of The Phantom Stranger, Doctor Fate and The Spectre.
    • In the New 52 series introduces The Rot who acts as the natural force of death and decay.
  • Elemental Powers
  • Evil Counterpart: Jason Woodrue
  • Evil Sorcerer: Arcane.
  • Evil Uncle: Anton Arcane
  • Exiled from Continuity: with some exceptions. When Swamp Thing officially went to Vertigo Comics, it was no longer considered continuity, for all intents and purposes. Once the series ended, he would make sporadic appearances here and there, often with a Shout-Out to the series.
    • DC has recently announced plans to bring Swamp Thing and other Vertigo characters back into the DCU.
      • And now he's back, as the Avatar of Death.
      • And then he was killed. By Alec Holland, now the Avatar of Life and the new Swamp Thing.
      • Who was now killed, and is now the Warrior King of the Parliament of Trees as Swamp Thing.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Originally, Swamp Thing wanted to 'cure' himself'; once he knows he is an Elemental, this is no longer an option.
  • Frankenstein's Monster: Patchwork Man.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: Swamp Thing can be this sometimes. The Floronic Man thought he was Gaia's vengeance, but he was quite insane.
  • A God Am I: Anton Arcane when he confronted Swamp Thing with Matt's Reality Warper powers. Swamp Thing was... not impressed.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Several characters.
    • Swamp Thing when he realizes he not only can't revert his transformation, there never was one in the first place.
    • Abby, when she realizes who she's actually been sleeping with after she thought she had reconciled with her husband.
    • Arcane, when he finds out how long he's been in Hell.
    • Woodrue, after Swamp Thing gives his Reason You Suck Speech.
  • Gothic Horror: The original Len Wein series was entirely Gothic Horror, to the point you expect to see a Hammer Films logo up front. To wit: In his second and third issues, he gets kidnapped to the Balkans, where he meets a Dr. Frankenstein expy and his monster, complete with castle, villagers, pitchforks, etc. In his fourth issue, he fights a Scottish werewolf. Issue five, he stumbles into a town where they're about to burn a witch — in 1970s Maine, mind you. And so on.
  • Green Aesop: Though Alan Moore likes his Aesops Subverted, or Double Subverted.
  • Happily Married: Swamp Thing and Abby, though not legally married, consider themselves this, and have a really touching and loving relationship.
    • Later runs did have them go through a rough patch or two which led to a Heroic BSOD for Alec where he joined forces to merge all elemental powers... and destroy the world.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Anton Arcane, of all people. It doesn't last.
  • Heroic BSOD: Swamp Thing undergoes a major one after learning that he is the Tomato in the Mirror. Abby also has one after she realizes the Awful Truth about her husband.
  • Horrifying Hero: Swamp Thing.
  • Hot Skitty-on-Wailord Action: As mentioned, Swamp Thing is captured and raped by a sentient alien island floating through space.
  • Humans Are Special: The New 52 title brings up the idea that Alec makes such a powerful Swamp Thing is because humans have a conscience and thus can make decisions that the rest of the Green cannot.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: Swamp Thing in his Battle with Arcane: "No, Arcane... You... Have never... Encountered... Me before... This... is our... first battle..." Cue epic beatdown by Swampy.
  • Inspector Javert: Matthew Cable starts out as one of these.
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: It's never directly stated, but there are enough hints to figure out that Matthew the raven from The Sandman was Matthew Cable before he died. Gaiman owes a lot to Moore in getting his career started; there are several nods in Sandman to Moore's work in the DCU. This was confirmed by Gaiman in an interview, and later made explicit in an arc of The Dreaming. Swamp Thing also encounters quite a few well-established DC characters, including Superman, Batman, Etrigan, The Spectre, Deadman and Adam Strange.
    • Arguably only intercontinuity by way of Exiled from Continuity: both Swamp Thing and The Sandman were originally part of the DC universe.
      • But now he's being returned to the DCU proper. In Brightest Day, the Swamp Thing has become the Avatar of Death, while the original, human Alec Holland has been revived to be "Earth's ultimate champion."
  • Interspecies Romance: Plant/human with Swamp Thing and Abby.
    • When Abby gets jailed for it, the entire legal system still wants to prosecute her for it even as an enraged Swamp Things threatens to destroy Gotham. It's left to Batman to point out the legal hypocrisy in the DCU when he notes that the courts would have to jail the likes of Starfire, J'onn, and... oh, that guy in Metropolis.
  • Jury of the Damned
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: "Pog", whose title character was Pogo in a spacesuit. Amusingly, Pog had a brief cameo in a later issue by another writer who didn't seem to recognize the reference.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: During the time that Swamp Thing was exiled from Earth, he first lands on a blue-tinted world (the acclaimed issue "My Blue Heaven"). At first marooned there, he begins making clones of himself to keep company... and then creates his love Abby. By issue's end, his multiple-personality-disorder drives him to madness, and he forces himself to flee to another world.
    • During that same story arc, Swamp Thing runs into Metron and the New Gods. Later, Metron barters with Darkseid using memories he acquired from Swamp Thing. Darkseid watches the lonely despair Alec feels being separated from Abby... and learns that "love" is something he needs to learn to finish his Anti-Life Equation...
  • Meaningful Name: The Sunderland corporation, who were not friends of nature.
  • Mistaken for Own Murderer: government agent Matthew Cable, encountering the title character for the first time, believes that he's Alec Holland's murderer. Eventually the Swamp Thing manages to convince him that he is Holland or so he and everyone assumes prior to the Alan Moore retcon.
  • Muck Monster
  • No Such Thing as Wizard Jesus: One of Rick Veitch's scripts would have averted this, by portraying Jesus as a White Magician; quoth the executives: "No." The Creative Differences resulted in Veitch not working with DC for about fifteen years following.
  • Our Hero Is Dead: Swamp Thing was shot. Through the head. Fortunately for Moore, Death Is Cheap.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: During the American Gothic story arc, Swamp Thing fights underwater vampires who have evolved to inhabit a flooded town.
    • Crazy averted when said vampires first show up in the series. Before the flood, the vampires were hurt by crosses and holy water, and many met their end via a stake to the heart.
    • Notable in that rather than simply being unable to cross running water, these vampires were fatally vulnerable to being immersed in it. This proved their undoing when Swamp Thing decided to drain their hometown.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: The werewolf in "The Curse" is an expression of feminist rage.
  • Painting the Medium: Panels were drawn sideways during the semi-cannibalistic hallucinogenic sweet potato sex scene. Because without a representative artistic mode, you wouldn't realize that something new and different was going on... As if I could.
  • Pinocchio Syndrome: Like everything else, subverted by Moore's run.
  • Plant Person
  • Popularity Power: Subverted, when Batman takes on Swamp Thing, he gets demolished.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Matt Cable was a Reality Warper, and he used this power mostly for entertainment purposes.
  • Primordial Chaos: The "Original Darkness" is summoned up in Moore's run.
  • Rage Against the Mentor: Needless to say, Alec and Constantine don't get along very well anymore.
    • Not that they ever really did.
  • Reality Warper: Matt Cable, and later Anton Arcane when he possessed Matt.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: After discovering that he's an intelligent plant instead of a mutated human, Swamp Thing steadily develops an array of abilities that put him quite comfortably in Physical God territory, Gaia's Vengeance-style. In the penultimate arc of Alan Moore's run, he turns a major city into a rainforest in less than three hours; "two hundred years of civilization reduced to jungle in as many minutes". In the final issue of Alan Moore's run, he considers turning the world into a green version of Miracleman's... but realizes that his predecessors had the opportunity to do the same for themselves, the fish and/or the dinosaurs but decided against it to permit other forms of life to follow them - and because Nemo and Dino really hadn't done anything to justify it... and neither has humanity (not to mention the whole assassination/exile thing he went through for the previous nine issues), so he decides simply to live out Abby's life then retire to the Parliament of Trees.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Subverted when Killer Croc moves in with Swamp Thing, and lives Happily Ever After (well, until the next time Croc appeared in an issue of Batman where he left the swamp and returned to villany).
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Etrigan
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Volume 2, Issue 63. During Moore's run, Swamp Thing returns to earth after planet hopping using the green. Despite missing his lover terribly the entire time, he starts things off by killing four executives of the Sunderland Corporation; the company responsible for sending him off planet to begin with, and the source of a great deal of grief the entire comic's run.
  • Single Palette Town: An issue where the protagonist remakes an alien world in blue.
    • It was already blue when he got there, he just remade it to look more like home... with the worst case of multiple personality disorder ever seen in a comic book.
  • Skunk Stripe: Inverted; Abigail has black on white.
  • Spin-Off: John Constantine first appeared during Alan Moore's run.
  • Starfish Aliens: The eponymous hero encounters a sentient biomechanical planetoid, which then rapes him. Did I mention ?
  • Story Within a Story: Mark Millar wrote an arc entitled River Run, which had Swamp Thing helping the ghost of a writer complete her book of short stories by traveling inside them and acting as the link to tie the stories together and successfully complete them.
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: When Alec Holland relentlessly sought to regain his humanity, he was Cursed with Awesome; a "muck-encrusted mockery of a man" with superhuman strength and invulnerability. When Swamp Thing discovered he was merely a "plant doing its level best to be Alec Holland", he (after a rather gross Heroic BSOD) discovers his true power as a sapient extension of Earth's ecosystem, with all the powers thereof.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Swamp Thing learns that he was never Alec Holland — physically, at least. He still retains Holland's consciousness, and Abby still calls him Alec.
    • And then he meets Alec's soul in Heaven, the final nail in the coffin of the idea that he's anything more than a copy of Holland's memories.
  • Too Dumb to Live: When the Swamp Thing manages to enter Brujera's cave, they seem pretty cofident that they can take him, since they are on their home turf. The problem was however that said cave was in the middle of a rain forest, and Swampy proceeds to instantly butcher the lot of them.
    • Actually the mystics had protected their underground cave to where Swamp Thing couldn't get in as Constantine planned... but the traitor Judith had accidentally brought in a rainforest flower that Swamp Thing could possess.
  • Trickster Mentor: Constantine.
  • Übermensch: Tefé regards herself as one, until she's Brought Down to Normal.
  • Wham Line: "But you see, if he read my report, he'll know that just isn't true. He never will be Alec Holland. He isn't Alec Holland. He never was Alec Holland."
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Matthew Cable.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: In the New 52, William Arcane.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Swampy visits hell, where he finds Anton Arcane, who died in the last issue. Arcane asks how many years the spiders have been laying eggs in his body and eating their way out. Turns out it's been a day. Arcane screams in horror.
  • Artistic License - Biology: Moore's Retcon of Swamp Thing's backstory depended on the theory that planarian worms can solve a maze after eating another worm who was familiar with it. The experiment was discredited when it turned out the worms had been following slime trails. Moore later modified the explanation to A Wizard Did It.
    • The plotline which immediately follows this revelation also Fails Biology, when the madman causes plant life of Louisiana to speed up its photosynthetic activity, raising oxygen levels to an explosive degree. This completely overlooks the "photo" part of photosynthesis, as this goes on at night when there's no solar energy to power such a metabolic pathway. Sure, you could write it off as magic, except the captions specifically state that it's photosynthesis that's to blame.

Works this character has appeared in:


Bill & Ted's Excellent AdventuresCreator/Fox KidsTaz-Mania
SeveredCreator/Scott SnyderRotworld
SupernaturalHorror Comic BooksTales from the Crypt
Shade, the Changing ManCreator/Vertigo ComicsTransmetropolitan
Black OrchidCreator/Vertigo ComicsGangland
Super Mario WorldCreator/Shout! FactoryS.W.A.T.
Super Young TeamDC Comics CharactersTwo-Face
DC ComicsCreator/KennerTransformers
Ra's Al-GhulThe SeventiesArchie Comics
SupremeSuperheroTaskmaster
Two Scenes, One DialogueImageSource/Comic BooksPlant Person

alternative title(s): Swamp Thing; Swamp Thing; Saga Of The Swamp Thing; Swamp Thing
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