Swamp Thing: The DCU Monster’s Origin and History Explained
Alec Holland is a hero, but is he man or monster?
Feb 2, 2023 10:35 pm
Feb 2, 2023 10:31 pm
The monstrous hero Swamp Thing is coming to the big screen thanks to DC Studios co-CEOs James Gunn and Peter Safran’s new DCU plan, the first part of which is dubbed Chapter One: Gods and Monsters. Looks like we know which section of that title Swamp Thing fits in…
The character has gotten his fair share of cross-media attention in recent years, including being in the roster for the 2017 fighting game Injustice 2 as well as having his own live-action TV series on the DC Universe streaming app. Alas, that show only lasted one season, and the service itself is long gone as well now.
Still, Swamp Thing has had a long and interesting history at DC Comics. Here’s everything you need to know about the roots of this character (pun intended) and the role he plays in the larger DCU.
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Who Is Swamp Thing?
Alec Holland was a brilliant scientist developing a “bio-restorative formula” that promised to change the fields of botany and medicine forever. But when Holland refused to sell his formula, his lab was sabotaged. Holland was doused with burning chemicals and dove into the nearby swamp to save himself. Instead, he emerged as a giant, plant-like monster. His old life gone, Holland was left to roam the bayou and punish anyone who threatened his new home.
Swamp Thing has few real connections to the human world. One of those is Abigail Arcane, the one woman capable of seeing and loving the man beneath the moss. The other is John Constantine, who actually got his start as a supporting character in Saga of the Swamp Thing before spinning out into his own adventures.
Swamp Thing’s Powers and Abilities
It’s obvious just from looking at Swamp Thing that he’s a powerful monster, but super-strength is the least of his skills. With a body that’s more plant matter than human tissue, Swamp Thing can alter his shape, change his size and extend various vines and tendrils. He can even grow wings when he needs to fly from Point A to Point B.
Most impressively, Swamp Thing has direct control over all plant life – not just on Earth, but essentially anywhere in the universe. While his body isn’t quite invulnerable, Swamp Thing is basically immortal. As long as there’s plant life to cling to – be it a tree or a a bush or piece of tobacco – Swamp Thing can transmit his consciousness and rebuild his body anew. He often uses this ability to travel from plant to plant, meaning he can go pretty much anywhere in the world that has plant life.
You can see why many consider Swamp Thing to be one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe.
The New 52 Swamp Thing
Swamp Thing: Origin and Background
Swamp Thing made his debut in 1971’s House of Secrets #92, where he was depicted as an early 20th Century man who was murdered by a jealous rival and returned as a plant monster to defend his wife. The character was given his own series the following year, and creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson reworked the concept to fit a more contemporary setting. But the basics remained pretty much the same, and hence Alec Holland was born in 1972’s Swamp Thing #1.
Have girl, will travel.
Swamp Thing’s very existence is defined by the question, “Is he a man who looks like a plant or a plant that think’s it’s a man?”. That question was at the heart of Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing run, widely regarded to be the greatest in the character’s long history. Early on, Moore revealed that Swamp Thing isn’t actually a transformed Alec Holland. Holland died as a result of his injuries. Swamp Thing is merely a mysterious form of plant life that absorbed fragments of Holland’s consciousness and memories. Naturally, this is a character prone to questioning his own existence and place in the universe. That existence always seems to be in flux, as recently DC’s comics have taken a hard turn and suggested that Alec Holland does still exist within Swamp Thing.
Swamp Thing’s mythology was further complicated with the addition of elements like The Green and the Parliament of Trees. The Green is sort of like The Force in that it’s a living energy field that links all plant life in the universe and is the source of Swamp Thing’s powers. It coexists with other mystical energies in the DCU, including The Red (animal life), The Rot (death and decay) and The Grey (machine life).
These energy fields also exist as actual locations, and The Green is home to the Parliament of Trees. These ageless, powerful Plant Elementals oversee all plant life in the universe. As it turns out, the Parliament has always relied on a Swamp Thing to carry out their will in the human world, and Alec Holland is simply the latest in a long line of Swamp Things.
Swamp Thing: Beyond the Comics and Into the DCU
Swamp Thing has enjoyed a pretty healthy career outside of the comics. He was actually the first DC hero after Batman and Superman to star in his own live-action movie. Horror icon Wes Craven directed 1982’s Swamp Thing, which was fairly well received. That was followed up by 1989’s ultra-low-budget sequel Return of the Swamp Thing, which wasn’t.
Swamp Thing also starred in both a live-action and animated TV series in the early ’90s, with the former enjoying a pretty healthy run from 1990 to 1993. More recently, he’s appeared on the animated series Justice League Action and in the direct-to-video animated movie Justice League Dark. Alec Holland was mentioned on NBC’s short-lived Constantine series, but unfortunately that show was canceled before he was able to appear in the flesh (plant-flesh?). And of course, he also got a one-season series on DC Universe which starred Andy Bean and Derek Mears as Swamp Thing, Crystal Reed as Abby Arcane and Virginia Madsen as Maria Sunderland.
Aside from Injustice 2, Swamp Thing has appeared in a variety of games. Several video games were developed based on the 1991 animated series. Swamp Thing has also been a playable character in the MOBA game Infinite Crisis and LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham.
Swamp Thing was expected to return to the big screen in Dark Universe, a horror-flavored DC movie inspired by the comic book series Justice League Dark. That project seemed perpetually trapped in development hell, and now it’s clear that James Gunn and Peter Safran have figured out a different way to bring the character to the big screen. In fact, Logan and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny director James Mangold is said to be in talks to write and direct Swamp Thing for Warner Bros.
Note: This story was updated on Feb. 2, 2023. It was originally published when the DC Universe series was released.
Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter, or Kicksplode on MyIGN.