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Swamp Thing: DC’s most tragic superhero explained

Swamp Thing is set to occupy a large chunk of the DCU's Gods and Monsters slate, so we've dug up everything you need to know about this murky superhero.

DC's Swamp Thing explained: Swamp Thing in the comic and TV series

If you’ve always craved a superhero straight out of a ’50s horror flick, Swamp Thing is your man. Well, he’s kind of a man. He’s actually more of a big, mucky, damp beast.

Soon, he’ll be our big mucky damp beast, though, since Swamp Thing is set to get a big-screen DCU adaptation as part of James Gunn’s slate of upcoming DC movies. So while we wait for news of the Swamp Thing release date, we’ve scoured the wetland and found out everything you need to know about this tragic hero.

Who is Swamp Thing?

Swamp Thing is the name of a humanoid plant creature in DC comics who was created when scientist Alec Holland died in a swamp after a chemical explosion in his lab.

Swamp Thing was first introduced in DC’s The House of Secrets #92 in 1971 as part of a standalone story and was later given his own comic book series in 1972. There are actually two main versions of Swamp Thing’s human alter ego: Alex Olsen and Alec Holland.

Alex Olsen was the protagonist of the first solo Swamp Thing series (Swamp Thing #1) and was a young, talented scientist living in Louisiana with his wife, Linda, and his assistant, Damian. Damian, who was secretly in love with Linda, planned to kill Alex by messing with his chemicals and causing an explosion.

Swamp Thing explained: Swamp Thing in the comics

When the explosion worked, Damian dumped Alex’s body in the swamp. Because we’re all superhero movie experts, it’s not hard to guess what happened next. The swamp’s matter entangled with Alex’s body, turning him into a plant-humanoid creature. Alex gets revenge by killing Damien, but — get ready for the saddest comic book ending ever — Linda doesn’t recognize Alex and only screams in horror. Alex is left to wander the swamp alone, unable even to cry.

Things really kicked into high gear when Watchmen creator Alan Moore rebooted the series in 1983. He more or less deconstructed the character and changed a significant chunk of his backstory. All this helped to bring Swamp Thing back into the spotlight, and in the years since fans have even declared that Moore’s run made Swamp Thing one of the best DC characters thanks to his haunting and psychedelic take.

In Moore’s version, Alec Holland is a scientist working on a bio-restorative formula in his lab. When he’s caught in a spontaneous chemical explosion, he throws himself into the swamp and later emerges as Swamp Thing. Moore’s version depicted Swamp Thing as a “plant that thought it was Alec Holland,” and making him more of an entity than a human.

Swamp Thing explained: Alec Holland in the comics

Moore’s Swamp Thing run was the first major comic book series to forego the Comic Codes Authority (CCA), a program by publishers created to ensure comic books were safe for young readers. Moore wanted to explore more mature themes in this version of Swamp Thing, so when they denied their seal of approval for one of the issues, DC published it anyway and didn’t submit the series to them again.

DC's Swamp Thing explained: Swamp Thing in the comics

Swamp Thing’s powers and abilities explained

Swamp Thing has complete elemental control, meaning he’s able to control and manipulate all botanical life across the universe.

So, wait…is Swamp Thing a hero or a villain? We get it — it’s hard to imagine how a monstrous swamp creature who initially murders the man who made him that way to be a hero. But we promise, he’s a good guy.

He’s the Protector of the Green, meaning he’s responsible for the elemental force that’s connected to all plant life and fights for its protection. Because of his connection to the Green, Swamp Thing is able to control all vegetation on Earth.

This means he can move and use plant matter as he sees fit, and he’s also able to communicate with the natural essence of the earth. In the past, he’s also been able to control water, air, and fire. He’s basically the Avatar of DC.

What’s more, he’s also got super strength and can change his own form, growing or shrinking in size whenever he needs to. Plus, Swamp Thing is essentially immortal since he’ll always have a vessel wherever there’s plant life. If you wanted to kill him, you’d have to destroy all living matter on the planet. So…good luck with that.

Swamp Thing explained: Swamp Thing in the original 1982 movie

Swamp Thing’s on-screen appearances explained

Swamp Thing had a titular movie in the ’80s and a TV series on The CW, but he’ll soon be getting a DCU adaptation directed by James Mangold.

The first Swamp Thing movie was released in 1982 and was written and directed by horror legend Wes Craven. Campy and primitive, this version of Swamp Thing was exactly what you’d expect from an ’80s movie about the scientist-turned-big-green-monster. (It’s also the vibe we’d like to see in the upcoming film.) It was followed by a sequel in 1989, The Return of Swamp Thing.

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In the years following, Swamp Thing starred in an anti-littering campaign for Greenpeace (fitting), had a self-titled TV series that ran for three seasons in the ’90s, and appeared in several DC animated movies, like Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.

The most recent iteration of the character came in 2019 in the form of a series on The CW, which ended up being canceled just weeks after it premiered. This focused more on Doctor Abby Arcane, who’s investigating a mysterious disease dominating a town surrounding a Louisiana swamp. She befriends Alec Holland, but things go awry when he suddenly dies, only to rise again…

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As it stands, DCU’s Swamp Thing release date hasn’t been confirmed, so we’re still waiting to find out where it’ll land among the DC movies in order. But frankly, all this swamp talk makes us think this could potentially be one of the best movies to come from the upcoming slate. We’ll be waiting eagerly, but in the meantime…stay out of the swamp.

For more in the DC realm, check out our guide to the best DC villains around (Swamp Thing might end up battling some of them!) What’s more, we’ve also got guides on Aquaman 2 and Superman Legacy, so you can keep up with those release dates.

Finally, check out our feature breaking down the five things we want to see from James Gunn’s new DCU and the one we don’t.