The long term plans for the Swamp Thing series would have eventually built towards a live-action incarnation of Justice League Dark. Unfortunately, fans of superheroic horror will probably never get to see this (at least as envisioned by James Wan) due to the cancellation of the critically acclaimed DC Universe series.
First appearing in the comics in 2011, Justice League Dark was a special branch of the Justice League, made up of individuals with experience confronting supernatural menaces. The team's membership included mystic heroes like the seer Madame Xanadu, stage magician Zatanna and con-artist/warlock John Constantine. The concept was adapted into an animated film and Guillermo del Toro worked on a live-action film featuring the team for several years before backing out of the project.
With a live-action Justice League Dark movie still in creative limbo, it seemed that the best chances of the team being brought to life lay in DC Universe's Swamp Thing series. This seemed logical given that Swamp Thing had become a member of Justice League Dark in their most recent comic book series and had teamed with various members of the group in earlier stories. Unfortunately, with Swamp Thing canceled and unlikely to return despite a loyal fanbase campaigning for its renewal, there is little fans of Justice League Dark can do but dream of what might have been, and those dreams have only been stoked with the introduction of The Phantom Stranger.
Who Is The Phantom Stranger?
The first major hint of friendly supernatural forces beyond the swamps of Marais, Louisiana came in "Drive All Night" - the fifth episode of Swamp Thing. Early on in the episode, Alec Holland is pondering his transformation into the Swamp Thing while being tormented by visions of dead bodies surrounding him. As he shouts in frustration at whatever keeps showing him these images, he is confronted by a fisherman in a broad-brimmed hat, who is completely undisturbed by Swamp Thing's appearance.
Swamp Thing and the man talk for a while, with the man offering him words of comfort regarding his condition. The man says that transitions are a part of life, difficult as they are, and that while events may change your body only you can change your heart. The man then introduces Swamp Thing to the concept of The Green and teaches him how to use his connection to the plants around him to communicate with them and access their memories - the source of the visions Swamp Thing kept seeing. When Swamp Thing asks the man who he is, the man responds that he is "just a passing stranger... maybe a phantom from a dream, trying to help you understand the things you already know." While he may be playing coy with his words, the episode's synopsis is much more explicit, saying "...he struggles to come to terms with his transformation with the help of a mysterious Phantom Stranger"
First appearing in Phantom Stranger #1 in 1952, the Phantom Stranger is perhaps the most enigmatic of DC Comics' magical heroes. In his first six-issue solo mini-series, The Phantom Stranger combated criminals who faked supernatural events as part of their crimes and showed no power beyond the ability to appear wherever he was needed and disappear unnoticed. Later stories would pit the Phantom Stranger against true magical villains and show him to have powers of his own, though his activities were largely devoted to offering advice to those in need and acting directly only when whole worlds were at stake.
Despite having been around for decades, The Phantom Stranger was never given an official background. Secret Origins #10 (published in 1987) suggested four different origins, most of which had some kind of Biblical connection. One tale said that he committed suicide after being spared God's wrath and was cursed to live forever and charged to turn humanity away from evil one soul at a time. Another said he was the Wandering Jew of Christian myth. The third suggested he was a scientist from the far future, made immortal and sent back in time to close a causality loop. The final story suggested he was an angel who refused to choose sides in the battle between God and Lucifer, who was condemned to walk the Earth alone for all eternity. A 2012 comic outright said that he was the Biblical Judas, but this story has been largely ignored since then.
How Swamp Thing Would Have Led To A Justice League Dark Series
The producers of Swamp Thing reportedly had big plans for the series and hoped to eventually create a shared universe akin to the Arrowverse that grew out of Arrow. Their three-season plan would have introduced a number of characters from the mystic side of DC Comics' universe and established several spin-off series. The ultimate goal of this was to take all these characters and join them together in a Justice League Dark series.
Signs of this can be seen in the episodes of Swamp Thing that have aired so far. In addition to the Phantom Stranger, the series has also introduced Madame Xanadu and Dan Cassidy (a.k.a. The Blue Devil) as series regulars. Madame Xanadu was a founding member of Justice League Dark in the comics and Blue Devil recently allied himself with the team in the most recent Justice League Dark comic book series.
Unfortunately, the producers' plans to go beyond this began to fall apart even before Swamp Thing was canceled. The original episode order being cut from 13 episodes to 10 required some furious last-minute editing to salvage the series' planned ending and doubtlessly resulted in the cutting of some extraneous subplots that might have expanded the shared universe. Despite this, actor Derek Mears confirmed (in an exclusive interview with Screen Rant) that fans can expect to see "fun little Easter Eggs" and "some fun little fan service things" related to Justice League Dark in the remaining episodes.
Swamp Thing's Cancellation Means We'll Never See The Planned Justice League Dark
Unfortunately, with Swamp Thing canceled, the odds of fans ever seeing this version of a live-action Justice League Dark series is slim to none. Still, where there is life there is hope, and an active fanbase is still lobbying for Warner Bros. to reconsider their decision to end the series. Unfortunately, the sets for the show have already been dismantled and with rumors tying the reason for the show's cancellation to its high production costs, it seems unlikely Warner Bros. would change course now.
Despite this, all hope has not been lost. The NBC series Constantine was suddenly canceled yet series' star Matt Ryan was able to stage a comeback in the Arrowverse, eventually becoming a regular cast member on Legends of Tomorrow. While the Swamp Thing series may be dead in the water, there is nothing that might stop Derek Mears from making a similar appearance, particularly since the series has already made reference to Swamp Thing existing in the Arrowverse. That could yet lead to a Justice League Dark series, presuming The CW saw enough demand for it.