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Who Is Swamp Thing? Comic Origin, Powers & TV Show Changes Explained

Swamp Thing in DC Comics and TV Show

Here's everything you need to know about Swamp Thing before he makes his live-action debut. Comic book characters are frequently changed when adapted into other media and Swamp Thing is no exception. What is interesting, however, is that the changes made for the sake of DC Universe's new series seem to have restored the character to his original form, after decades of revisions to his powers and history at the hands of some of the comic book industry's most legendary writers.

A being known as the Swamp Thing first appeared in 1971, in issue #92 of the horror anthology House of Secrets. The short story detailed how a scientist named Alex Olsen was injured in an explosion rigged by his jealous assistant, who dumped Olsen's body in the swamp and proceeded to romance Olsen's wife, Linda. Olsen was not killed, however, and returned as a swamp monster, stumbling into his old home in time to stop his assistant from murdering Linda, who he feared was beginning to suspect his role in her husband's disappearance. Seeing the fear in his wife's eyes and unable to speak and identify himself in his new form, Olsen returned to the swamp, saddened at what he had lost but satisfied that his love was safe.

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Related: Every Original TV Show Coming To DC Universe

The one-shot story proved to be an unexpected hit and the public wanted more. Writer Len Wein (best known today as the co-creator of Wolverine and editor on Watchmen) and artist Bernie Wrightson were commissioned to develop a monthly comic book series around their Swamp Thing concept. This gave way to the idea that there were many Swamp Things and a legacy of half-men, half-plant creatures spanning back generations.

The Secret Origins Of Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing Origins From Swamp Thing #1 (1972)

1972's Swamp Thing #1 introduced the character of Dr. Alec Holland. A botanist and biochemist by trade, Dr. Holland and his wife, Linda, worked together on developing a bio-restorative solution that would enhance plant growth. Their ultimate goal was to use their perfected serum to end world hunger by boosting crop yields worldwide and turning deserts into farmland. Their work had progressed far enough that their government-contracted employer was able to place them in the care of an Interpol Agent, Lt. Matthew Cable, while they perfected the formula in a safe house in the Louisiana bayou country.

Tragically, a criminal organization known as the Conclave learned about the Hollands' work and the location of their lab. After the two scientists refused to sell their secrets, the Conclave elected to destroy their work so that nobody else could profit from it. Two thugs ambushed Alec Holland, knocking him out and leaving him for dead as they planted a bomb in his lab. Holland woke just before the bomb exploded, showering him with sparks and his bio-restorative formula, as he stumbled into the swamp desperately trying to extinguish the flames that engulfed him.

The formula triggered a miraculous transformation, merging Holland's consciousness with the plant-life in the bayou. He emerged from the swamp in a new hulking body composed of living plant matter, super-strong and seemingly immune to the effects of bullets and blunt-force trauma. The thugs who had blown up his lab discovered this to their dismay, as Holland encountered them shortly after they had killed Linda to cover their tracks. With his wife avenged, Holland returned to the swamp and pondered the mystery of his new body.

Related: Swamp Thing Trailer Shows The Creature Transformation

Swamp Thing's Comic History

Swamp Thing and Abby Holland

The first Swamp Thing series ran for 24 issues, though Len Wein only wrote the first 13 of those. It was here that he established the two longest lasting relationships in Swamp Thing's new life. First, Wein introduced Swamp Thing's arch enemy, Anton Arcane - a scientist turned sorcerer who sought the secrets of eternal life and tried to claim Swamp Thing's virtually indestructible body as his own. One issue later, Wein introduced Abigail "Abby" Arcane - Anton Arcane's niece, who was a medic in the small Transylvanian village where her uncle performed his twisted experiments.

Lt. Matthew Cable, who had become obsessed with killing Swamp Thing after becoming convinced that he had killed The Hollands, tracked him to Anton Arcane's village after Arcane abducted Holland. He met Abigail and the two became immediately smitten with each other, with Cable convincing Abby to come back to America with him after her uncle's castle was blown up during his battle with Swamp Thing. Holland would follow after the young lovers, saving them from various threats before finally communicating that he had been Alec Holland to his former bodyguard. Abby and Matthew were married and settled near the swamp where Alec had been transformed.

This status quo held for many years, until a young writer named Alan Moore (best known today as the author of V for Vendetta and Watchmen) took over the second 1982 Swamp Thing series with Issue #20. Moore envisioned a radical new mythology based around Swamp Thing, which started with an astonishing twist - that Swamp Thing was not a transformed Alec Holland but a new being that had absorbed Holland's memories from the swamp that birthed him. This being was established as a plant elemental, who was connected to all the plant life on Earth through a primal force known as The Green.

Moore's run established a wholly unique cosmology for the DC Comics universe, with later writers developing related concepts such as The Red, which connects animal-themed heroes like Vixen and Beast Boy, and The Clear, which empowers Aquaman's telepathic control over aquatic creatures. Moore also courted controversy by establishing a romance between Swamp Thing and Abby Arcane after Matthew Cable's death. The two would eventually pledge themselves to each other and conceive a child with the assistance of magician John Constantine.

Related: Legends of Tomorrow Season 4 Name-Drops Swamp Thing

Things changed again during the Brightest Day storyline, just before the New 52 revamp in 2011. Swamp Thing died and Alec Holland was resurrected, though he now had the memories of the creature that had originally thought he was Alec Holland. Scott Snyder (best known for his work on Batman and Dark Nights: Metal) started a new Swamp Thing series which saw Alec Holland reborn as a new champion of The Green and having to fight against a revitalized Anton Arcane, who had become a champion of The Black - a primordial force opposed to The Green, that was tied to death and decay. Abby Arcane came into Alec Holland's new life as well, trying to find her missing husband while resisting The Black's efforts to take control of her.

Swamp Thing's Powers

Swamp Thing Overtakes Gotham City with Plants

Swamp Thing's powers were largely limited in his earliest appearances. A virtual giant compared to most humans, he was measured as standing 7 feet 3 inches tall and weighing 547 pounds in Swamp Thing #2. This large physique gave Swamp Thing enough strength to lift a car over his head and throw it several dozen meters. He was also incredibly durable, unaffected by conventional firearms and eventually discovered a healing factor that allowed him to regrow damaged tissue and severed limbs. However, while still possessing Alec Holland's memories and intelligence, he was only able to speak with great difficulty.

Swamp Thing's powers increased exponentially during Alan Moore's run after his status as a guardian of nature was revealed. Swamp Thing now had the power to telepathically communicate with other plant life and command it, accelerating its growth at will. He could use ambient vegetation to increase his own size, create multiple clone bodies under his control and regrow a new body by sending his consciousness into another plant through The Green. This also allowed him to effectively teleport at will, sending his mind anywhere in the world there were plants he could use to craft a new body. He could even do this through dead plant matter (though it was unpleasant) as in one instance when he built a new body using the dried tobacco leaves in John Constantine's cigarettes.

While he is meant to act as a guardian of the Earth, Swamp Thing's powers have been shown to work on alien flora as well. He saved Superman's life in DC Comics Presents #85 by negating the toxic effects of a Kryptonian fungus, whose spores caused hallucinations and a slow, painful death. Perhaps his most impressive feat, however, came in Swamp Thing #53, when he enveloped the whole of Gotham City in giant plants.

Related: DC's Swamp Thing Series Will Be Scary, Violent, & Mature-Rated

Swamp Thing's Origins In The DC Universe Show

Swamp Thing DC Universe Dr. Alec Holland and Dr. Abby Arcane

The origin of the Swamp Thing as seen in the first two episodes of the DC Universe series is both a return to form and a revamp of sorts. The backgrounds for Dr. Alec Holland, Abby Arcane and Matthew Cable are completely different, but Swamp Thing himself is depicted as he was in the original Len Wein stories - a mute monster who no one has any clue is Alec Holland at first.

The pilot opens with Abby Arcane (now a medical doctor employed by the Center for Disease Control) returning to her hometown of Marais, Louisiana to investigate a mysterious plague that is threatening the town. She joins forces with Alec Holland - a biologist hired by local industrialist Avery Sunderland to monitor and map any abnormalities in the local environment. Holland theorizes that a mutagen he discovered that accelerates plant growth might be responsible for making the locals sick. Unfortunately, while trying to get more readings to prove the theory and help Abby find a cure, he is gunned down by a mysterious figure near one of the "hot spots", leading to his transformation into the Swamp Thing.

It remains to be seen if the mythology of Moore's run on Swamp Thing will be introduced into the DC Universe series. As it stands, the early episodes focus more on Abby Arcane's efforts to stop the plague and working with Matthew Cable (one of the town sheriffs rather than an Interpol agent in this reality) to get to the bottom of Alec Holland's disappearance than the activities of the titular monster. Still, anything can happen with eight episodes remaining in Swamp Thing season 1.

More: Read Screen Rant's Swamp Thing Review

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