House of Secrets #92 (July 1971)(cover by Bernie Wrightson)
Len Wein-Bernie Wrightson
Swamp Thing #1 (October/November 1972)(cover by Bernie Wrightson)
Len Wein-Bernie Wrightson
Doug: If you're like me, it varies from book to book (I'm talking high brow books here, kids -- no pictures) whether or not you actually start with the preface, introduction, acknowledgements, etc. or just dive right into the text. Today I'll be reading/scanning from the DC Comics Classics Library volume Roots of the Swamp Thing. I am always using the BAB as an excuse to read things I've not read before -- I did it earlier this year with a couple of Adam Strange stories, and it's been well-documented over the past couple of months that I've been reading Marvel's Monster of Frankenstein series. I was standing at my book shelves in the middle of last week trying to choose something different when my eyes settled on today's fare. In my entire life, I think I have read two Swamp Thing stories, so for the most part today's post is written from a fresh perspective. In this case I dove right in, reading the first appearance of ol' Swamp Thing from House of Secrets #92 and then moving right into the next "chapter", Swamp Thing #1. I was about 1/3 of the way through the second book when the deja vu (read: these dudes are ripping themselves off!) set in. Searching for a clue, I then went back to the front of the book and read the preface from author Len Wein. A-ha, said I.
Doug: Wein related how he'd come up with the original idea, gotten editor Joe Orlando to OK it, and then convinced friend Bernie Wrightson to draw it while commiserating with him at Marv Wolfman's Christmas party back in 1970. Both Wein and Wrightson were on the rocks of love, so crafted a tale of love lost, revenge, etc. Boom -- neatly packaged in an 8-page throwaway tale, cathartic for both creators. And then the mail started to arrive. More and more. Publisher Carmine Infantino wanted more Swamp Thing, but Wein was skeptical. Their story had been a personal one and had served its point. Wein and Wrightson balked. Temporarily. They thought about it, and then decided to sort of re-tell the first story, with new characters and a new direction. End of my confusion. So let's do something a little different in terms of formatting today. Usually Karen and/or I do a plot synopsis with some analysis, and then wrap things up with final thoughts. But since today's stories fit together, I'm going to break it into categories for a sort of side-by-side look at Swamp Thing's two "hellos". Art samples will appear side-by-side, the left from House of Secrets and the right from Swamp Thing.
House of Secrets = 8 pages
Swamp Thing = 22 pages
House of Secrets =
Alex Olsen (Swamp Thing), scientistLinda Olsen-Ridge, wife to Alex, and then wife to...Damien Ridge, scientist; Alex Olsen's partner
Swamp Thing =
Alec Holland (Swamp Thing), scientistLinda Ridge-Holland, scientist and wife of AlecLt. Matt Cable, government agentFerret, do-badder
House of Secrets = Wein declared in the piece I read that he had wanted to do a period piece about a swamp creature. By the way Wrightson chose wardrobes for his characters, I'd estimate that Swamp Thing's 1st appearance is set in the Victorian era. There are only three characters in the story, and the plot is quite simple: Alex Olsen is young, good-looking, smart as a whip, and married for one year to the beautiful Linda. Alex's partner in science is Damien Ridge, who is jealous beyond seeing straight. In his mind, Damien thinks that Alex knew Damien loved Linda, but Alex proposed anyway. Filled with anger, Damien rigged an explosive via chemical reaction in the laboratory where they worked on an unrevealed project. Making an excuse to leave the room, Damien was just outside when the detonation occurred. Linda was nearby, but Damien told her not to go inside -- that there was literally nothing left of Alex. The truth was, Alex was not dead but horribly disfigured. Damien dragged his limp body away from the place they worked and buried Alex in a bog. Several months later Damien had gotten his wish -- he'd married Linda. But Linda could only think of Alex and faked her way through her "love" of Damien. Now paranoid, Damien feared that Linda would discover that he'd been the one to kill Alex. But what neither of them knew was that Alex had not died, but had instead been "reborn" by the swamp's waters into a lumbering mass of animated vegetation. And each night, that Swamp Thing had shambled up to the old mansion's windows, hoping to get a glimpse of "his" Linda. But on a fateful night he saw Damien draw a syringe and move it close to Linda's neck. Exposing himself to his "friends" for the first time, the Swamp Thing burst into the room and killed Damien. Unable to speak, though, he could make no explanation to Linda, who screamed and cowered in his presence. A tale of love, murder, and revenge, but overall of loss.
Swamp Thing = Wein's and Wrightson's second go-round with their swamp man is similar, if more intricately plotted. An extra 14 pages will do that for ya! In this update, told only a year after the House of Secrets story, we find that the husband/wife super-scientist team of Alec and Linda Holland are being sequestered by the government so that they can complete some top-secret, and very valuable work. They are moved into a barn that's been outfitted as a state-of-the-art laboratory. A Lt. Cable is their liaison, and tells the pair that under no circumstances are they to open the door unless on his order. There will be cars patrolling the area to keep them safe, and secret. We find out that the Hollands are working on a compound that will allow vegetation to grow anywhere, and abundantly. They know that their work has a price tag beyond valuation, and it's just when they "go live" for the first time that they are interrupted. A thug named Ferret enters the lab with a couple goons and tells Alec Holland that he would like to make an offer that can't be refused. You get it... Of course Holland tells them to take a hike. Cable returns and chews out the Hollands for even talking to anyone else. We get an uneasy feeling about Cable, like he's perhaps up to his own agenda. Later that evening the Hollands hear a rustling outside the barn, and open the door to discover a large dog -- apparently a stray. They take it in, not knowing that the dog wears a radio transmitter so that the bad guys can eavesdrop. Ferret pays the Hollands another visit, and this one doesn't go so well. Alec is knocked unconscious and while down and out, a booby trap is set. A short time later, as he begins to regain consciousness he hears a bomb ticking. It goes off in Holland's face. His body ablaze, Holland flees the lab and runs into the nearby swamp, where we must assume he drowns. After Holland's funeral, Cable encourages Linda to finish the work. But Ferret's guys turn up, rough up Cable, and Linda ends up dead. Much like in the first story, the Swamp Thing now makes his appearance and kicks some tail. He's fired at by multiple assailants, and we infer that he (the former Alec Holland) is now invulnerable. The story ends with Cable alive and the Swamp Thing back to his new digs. But he's spied on by some supernatural dude with goonies in his employ. It looks as if the plot will thicken in the next issue.
House of Secrets = Ugh. Wein writes the narrative boxes in the Claremontian style "You are..."
Swamp Thing = Good stuff.
House of Secrets = Bernie Wrightson is a guy whose stuff I look at and really try to soak it all in. It seems funny to say, but even his grotesque images are just beautiful; so intricate. But in the first Swamp Thing story his art has a real 1950s feel to it, much like what we'd have seen from the EC books of that era past.
Swamp Thing = In both stories Wrightson inks himself. His work seems to have a very natural feel to it, a la Joe Kubert's work (in the regard that it's all him, all the time). Wrightson's Swamp Thing the first time out was a mass, a lump. But here he's fully-formed as we think of the character. I also must state a preference for the second version of Swamp Thing's face as compared to the first version, which seemed to sort of have a mossy mustache (a real soup strainer!) look. Wrightson's story telling and pacing are great!
Doug: So there you have it. If we have any Swamp Thing aficionados amongst our readers, I'd love to hear more about the character, the original Wein/Wrightson run compared to Alan Moore's take on the character, the character as one of DC's supernatural denizens, etc. I'm pretty much a tabula rasa here today.