What’s happening, my people? “The Belser” is here and ready to hit you with a very special article here on GodHatesGeeks. Before the end of May, the streaming service DC UNIVERSE released a new series based on the legendary DC character Swamp Thing. Due to the success of the previous DC Universe live action shows, TITANS and DOOM PATROL, the series come with a great deal of anticipation…
As such, there’s going to be ton of questions from the oh-so-dreaded general public. Who or what is Swamp Thing? Why is there one for Marvel and one for DC? Yes. Swamp Thing has a rival at Marvel Comics called The Man-Thing. The shared histories of these comic characters is a subject that has always peaked my interest. This article is meant to be the ultimate guide into the histories of these muck-encrusted man-monsters. We are going to learn their similarities and differences, their shared origins and how they have been received the public. So, without further ado, let’s get started. Shall we?
How I Found the Characters
My first knowledge of Swamp Thing came from the tv show USA Up All Night. Aside from the super sexy host Rhonda Shear, they would show cheesy horror movies late at night like Class of Nuk’Em High, The Toxic Avenger or The Return of the Killer Tomatoes. One such movie that came across my attention was the 1989 movie The Return of Swamp Thing. Watching it as a youngster, I really liked the monsters and I really like the fact that a monster was the hero of the movie and he got the girl. Very soon after that, I remember the Swamp Thing cartoon on Fox Kids and it also had a very catchy theme tune. USA Network later premiered a weekly live action Swamp Thing TV show that aired usually on Saturdays. I was hooked.
My introduction to Man-Thing came in the form of the now-defunct Wizard Magazine. For those who remember, the back pages of Wizard would have listings of old comic books and how much they were worth. They would also include old covers of old comic books. Suddenly, a picture of The Man-Thing #1 caught my eye. I thought it was funny because I thought ‘Wait a second! Is this another version of Swamp Thing?’ Right after that, I started looking up the character and the differences between the two and that got me too.
Despite what most people think, the whole concept of a man being turned into a swamp monster is not new. The first instance of such in popular culture will be a short story by Theodore Sturgeon entitled ‘IT’ (not to be confused with the Stephen King novel). The story itself was about a plant monster stalking around a swamp that is ultimately shown to have formed around a human skeleton. It was first published in an anthology magazine UNKNOWN in 1940 and would have a lasting influence on many of the young comic book readers and creators to come.
Another predecessor to Swamp Thing and Man-Thing is a character known as The Heap. Created by Mort Leav and Harry Stein for the Hillman Periodicals Air Fighters comic; The Heap started out as a German fighter pilot named Eric von Emmelman, who was shot down during World War I over a Polish swamp. His body intermingled with the vegetation around him and was brought back to life through sheer force of will as a shaggy, shambling creature. Unlike Sturgeon’s IT, this is the first instance where you see the origin of a man being thrown into a swamp and then reviving as a swamp monster.
Of the two main monsters in this discussion, The Man-Thing was created first and published by Marvel Comics. The concept of the character came from the legendary Stan Lee. Stan also came up with the name Man-Thing (which had been used by various ancillary monsters for years beforehand but never quite caught on). This assignment of fleshing out the character was then given to writer Roy Thomas.
Thomas recalled the following about the initial meeting: “Stan Lee called me in; it would’ve been late ’70 or early ’71. […] He had a couple of sentences or so for the concept — I think it was mainly the notion of a guy working on some experimental drug or something for the government, his being accosted by spies, and getting fused with the swamp so that he becomes this creature. The creature itself sounds a lot like the Heap, but neither of us mentioned that character at the time…. I didn’t care much for the name ‘Man-Thing’, because we already had the Thing [of the superhero team the Fantastic Four], and I thought it would be confusing to also have another one called Man-Thing” (Alter Ego, Oct. 2008).
The Man-Thing debuted in the black and white anthology book Savage Tales # 1 in May 1971. Thomas did the plot outline and writer Gerry Conway did the script (interesting fact! In later years, Thomas and Conway would together write the screenplay for the 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Conan the Destroyer). Gray Morrow is listed as the artist for this debut story. This is also where the shared history begins: Gerry Conway and the creator of Swamp Thing, the late Len Wein were roommates at the time. In fact, Len Wein wrote the second ever Man-Thing story BEFORE he created Swamp Thing.
As far as Swamp Thing’s creation goes, Len Wein had already worked on Man-Thing for Marvel amongst other titles, and would go on to create many characters like X-Men heroes Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler and the most famous X-Man, Wolverine. It’s very clear that he took some elements from the Man-Thing character and incorporated them into his own creation. He would freelance for DC Comics as well and worked on the character on the New York subway. Apparently, the one thing he could never get right was the name of the character. So, when people would ask about it, he would just refer to it as ‘that swamp thing I’m working on’. Swamp Thing first debuted in a stand-alone issue of a DC horror anthology title House of Secrets #92 in July 1971. It was basically intended to be a one-off horror story.
The first one thing that differentiates this character from Man-Thing was this was a tragic love story with horror elements. Set in the early 1900’s, it showed a young scientist in Louisiana named Alex Olson and his wife Linda living in a Victorian era castle in the swamps with their friend and Alex’s assistant Damian Ridge. Damian, however, was secretly in love with Linda and basically plotted the death of his friend Alex with a rigged explosion. Ridge ended up dumping Alex’s body into the swamp and a short while later, married Linda. After a period of years, Alex’s body arose as a humanoid pile of swamp matter to exact revenge against the man who killed him.
He also tried to communicate his wife in his new form, but he could not, and he just wanders away into the endless swamp. Even though it was meant to be just a one-off story, this ended up being the best-selling comic the month it was released. As a result, the editors at DC immediately asked for Len to come up with a whole new series based around this character. In the process, Len asked his friend, horror artist Bernie Wrightson to redesign the look of the character and changed a few more things before he got his own series. More on that later.
Dr. Ted Sallis was a biochemistry professor at fictional Marvel college Empire State University (alma mater of many Marvel characters like Reed Richards, Victor Von Doom, and, most famously, Spider-Man). The United States Army recruits Sallis to work on “Project Gladiator,” a S.H.I.E.L.D. research program with the aim of re-creating the famous Super-Soldier Serum that created Captain America. Based in the Florida Everglades and accompanied by his new wife Ellen Brandt, Sallis modifies an earlier defective formula of his as the basis for a new Super-Soldier serum. Like Abraham Erskine did with the Super Soldier Serum, Ted commits the formula to memory and destroys his records upon his new serum’s completion. A bitter and neglected Ellen co-conspires with the terrorist organization A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) and leads Ted into an ambush for the serum. Ted escapes and, in desperation, injects the only existing sample of the serum into himself. He crashes into the swamp and the magical energies of the swamp combined with the serum to transform him into the hideous creature known as The Man-Thing.
In a secret facility located in the Louisiana swamplands under the protection of government agent Matt Cable, scientist Alec Holland and his wife Linda invent a bio-restorative formula that could create ‘forests out of deserts’. The purpose of which was can solve any nations’ food shortage problems or more accurately, end world hunger. A criminal organization known as The Conclave, gains access into Alec’s lab by force. They knock him unconscious and plant a bomb in the facility. Alec wakes up just as the bomb explodes! With his body covered in flames and drenched in the bio-restorative formula, Alex runs into the swamp. This affects the plant life of the swamp, imbuing it with Alec’s consciousness and memories. The newly conscious plant life forms a semblance of a human and rises up from the bog as Swamp Thing.
As stated earlier, Len Wein changed many elements of the character before he got his own solo series. The changes are as follows:
The name of the character is changed from Alex Olson to Alec Holland.
The story now set in modern times
They also added the element of him coming up with the bio-restorative formula.
Like the Man-Thing, Alex is confronted by an evil organization who wants his formula.
Damien Ridge is discarded in favor of a blowhard government agent named Matt Cable. Matt Cable becomes the equivalent of Marshall Sam Gerard in The Fugitive or reporter Jack McGee on The Incredible Hulk TV series. After the death of the Hollands, he believes Swamp Thing is responsible and becomes obsessed with pursuing the creature to avenge their murder.
Similarities and Differences:
Both debuted around the same time (1971) and both also got the own solo series around the same time (1972).
Both characters are scientists who travel to swamp locales with their significant others to work on top-secret formulas for the government.
Both end up being confronted by an evil organization that wants to use the formula for nefarious purposes. Both refuse and pay the consequences.
Both end up being mutated into large swamp monsters after ingesting their formulas and being submerged into the swamp.
Both had incidents in which they were temporarily transformed back into their human selves.
Both end up eventually taking roles as mystical guardians for their respective areas. (Swamp Thing becomes the Protector of the Green; Man-Thing becomes the Guardian of the Nexus of All Realities).
Both characters have very similar powers in terms of super strength. Both characters are strong enough to take on their respective companies’ strongest individuals (Swamp Thing has taken on characters like Etrigan The Demon and even Superman; Man-Thing has had fights with the likes of The Hulk and The Thing).
Both can completely reconstitute themselves from vegetable matter and can even transfer their consciousness from one body to another. Both can absorb vegetable matter onto themselves to grow. Both characters feature a story in which they grow into the size of an office building.
Swamp Thing can think and talk. Man-Thing cannot. Man-Thing operates off pure emotion and is subsequently guided by said emotions. Emotions that are mild and generally considered positive arouse curiosity and the Man-Thing will sometimes observe from a distance. However, emotions that are often viewed as negative, such as violent emotions like anger, hatred and fear, cause the Man-Thing great discomfort and might provoke him to attack.
Swamp Thing is based in the Louisiana Bayou; Man-Thing operates out of the Florida Everglades.
While both initially operated off the notion that they were men who were transformed into monsters, a mid-80s run entitled The Saga of the Swamp Thing changed the origin of Swamp Thing character. This change was initiated by comic legend Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta). In a story entitled ‘The Anatomy Lesson’, Swamp Thing’s body is recovered by the Sunderland Corporation for investigation. While being investigated by Dr. Jason Woodroe, it is found that while Swamp Thing does have all the same organs as a regular human being, they are all composed completely of vegetable matter, and they do not work. It is also shown that the bio-restorative formula that Alec Holland had created has no effect on human physiology whatsoever. Woodroe devises a theory based on these findings that has become the template for the character ever since: the theory states by saying that after being consumed in flames, Alec Holland was already dead the moment he hit the water. While his body was saturated with the bio-restorative formula, the formula took it upon itself to create a whole new entity with Alec Holland’s corpse as a framework. In doing so, this new plant being absorbed the memories and personality of Alec Holland unto itself. Swamp Thing’s composition becomes very similar to that of the original 1988 version of Robocop: an artificially created humanoid who has the memories of the host body that was used as the basis of its creation. To quote Jason Woodroe: “We thought that the Swamp Thing was Alec Holland, somehow transformed into a plant. It wasn’t. It was a plant that thought it was Alec Holland. A plant that was trying its best to BE Alec Holland” (Moore, ‘The Anatomy Lesson’, 1984)
– Swamp Thing has a love interest and an archenemy. Man-Thing really has neither.
– Both also have powers exclusive to one another.
– Man-Thing can ooze his body through openings that are normally too small for his large body to pass through.
– The biggest different power that Man-Thing has over Swamp Thing would be his “burn touch”. As it is explained, Man-Thing can sense human emotions, and is enraged by fear. Once provoked into violent actions, his body secretes a highly concentrated acid that can burn human beings to ashes within a matter of seconds. Anyone feeling fear and clutched by the Man-Thing is prone to be burned (either chemically or mystically), hence the series’ tagline: “Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!’
– Swamp Thing can control plants and plant life. He can make it bend to his will or accelerate its growth.
– The film version of Swamp Thing can also heal others by touch using its own personal energy.
– Only one person has been The Man-Thing, whereas there have been several Swamp Things. As the Protector of the Green, Swamp Thing’s duty is to safeguard The Green, a mystical force connects that all forms of plant life on earth. Alec Holland is the latest in a long line of Plant Elementals selected by the Parliament of Trees. Others included:
Alex Olson: The Swamp Thing from the very first Swamp Thing story in House of Secrets.
Albert Hollerer: A shot down German pilot who is an obvious homage to one of Swamp Thing’s inspirations, The Heap.
Allan Hallman: The Swamp Thing directly before Alec Holland.
Part two coming soon!!!
Roy Thomas interview, Alter Ego #81 (October 2008), p. 20
Alan Moore, (1984) ‘The Anatomy Lesson, The Saga Of Swamp Thing # 21
Christensen, William A. “The Unexplored Medium (Wizard Magazine November 1993)”. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
Huyck, Willard; Katz, Gloria (2009). “A Look Back at Howard the Duck”. Howard the Duck (DVD (extra)). Universal Home Video.
Muir, John Kenneth (1998). “Swamp Thing (1982)” in Wes Craven: The Art of Horror. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co. ISBN 0-7864-0576-7, p. 95.
Harris, Will A Chat with Dick Durock Bullz-Eye.com (February 20, 2008). Retrieved on 6-27-09.