In 1982, DC comics revived their Swamp Thing character to capitalize on Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing movie, but after a couple years, the book found itself nearing cancelation, with the title’s sales plummeting, so with nothing to lose, DC gave a relatively unknown English writer named Alan Moore free rein to revamp the title as he saw fit. Now, Swamp Thing’s roots (pun intended) lay in the classic horror comics of the 70s — with the heroic anti-hero battling various monsters — but Moore would take good old Swampy in an even darker direction, and with the aid of artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, he would kick off what would eventually become DC’s Vertigo line of comics; titles that would cater to more mature audiences. It is this run of comics that has inspired horror producer James Wan to tackle a new Swamp Thing live-action television series, with show creators Gary Dauberman and Mark Verheiden borrowing key characters and elements from Alan Moore’s stories.
Warner Bros’ DC Universe streaming service got off to a rather good start with such titles as Titans and Doom Patrol — both rather dark and intriguing superhero shows — but with this new take on Swamp Thing, we venture into vistas that are very reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing and the body horror of David Cronenberg. With the first two episodes being directed by Len Wiseman — who helmed the pilots for Sleepy Hollow and Lucifer — we knew we were in good hands. Now, this take on Swamp Thing is still a bit of a departure from the source material; its darker themes and horrific elements are very much in keeping with what Alan Moore did back in the day, but Gary Dauberman and Mark Verheiden have clearly no reservations on making this series their own. This television show was horror with a capital “H,” and the ten episodes we got certainly illustrated that these two certainly know what they are doing when it comes to the genre.
The show’s main protagonist is Doctor Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed), who works for CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service and has returned to her hometown of Marais, Louisiana to investigate a deadly swamp-borne virus. The locals are rather alarmed at the fact that their friends and family members are suddenly collapsing and coughing up gooey swamp water and plant matter, some blaming the illness on possible illegal dumping by prominent businessman Avery Sunderland (Will Patton), but it is when Abby meets Alec Holland (Andy Bean), a disgraced doctor briefly in the employ of Sunderland before being fired, that the mystery truly takes a dark turn. On his own time, Holland had been investigating a mysterious mutagen accelerant found in the swamp water, a mutagen that can cause plant life to practically explode with rapid growth, and with Abby’s help, he could uncover just what is going on in this swamp. That is, unless, someone shoots him in the chest, blows up his boat, and leaves him to die in the swamp.
With this incarnation of Swamp Thing, the show’s producer doubled down on the horror aspect, with horrific moments of brutal violence — criminals viciously taking out anyone who threatens Sunderland’s shady operation — and Swamp Thing himself (Derek Mears in the suit) inhumanly dispatching his opponents by literally tearing them apart limb from limb. The look of this show was simply fantastic, from Sunderland’s beautiful antebellum mansion — a clear nod to villainous Anton Arcane’s mansion from Jim Wynorski’s The Return of Swamp Thing — to the dark and gloomy swamp where tangled roots and sunken ruins make for excellent backdrops to the horror on display.
Watching this show it’s apparent that the truly interesting element here is that we aren’t dealing with a simple case of “Science run amok,” as it’s clear that there are dark supernatural forces at work here. Whatever biochemical mutagen that Sunderland was dumping in the swamp — in the hopes of making tons of money off of fast-growing plants and the new medicines that could result from them — it is definitely not the only factor in play. These experiments may have been the triggering element for Alec Holland’s transformation from scientist to muck monster, but when we see young Susie Coyle (Elle Graham) — a victim of the mysterious illness and whose dead father basically exploded in a fury of angry fauna — a girl who seems to have some kind of mental link with Swamp Thing, we know that there must be more going on than simple evil science.
Exploding people and angry swamp monsters the only type of horror this show has to offer; we also have Avery’s wife, Maria Sunderland (Virginia Madsen), who blames Abby for the death of her daughter Shawna (Given Sharp) — her death due to some pre-college hijinks gone wrong — and she seems to be haunted by the possible vengeful ghost of her poor deceased daughter. Contact with the dead is aided by Madame Xanadu (Jeryl Prescott), a blind fortune teller who is not all that eager to deal with what is truly going on out in her swamp. This element really hearkens back to the original comic, created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson back in the 70s, and it was this component that really set this series apart from the previous adaptation of Swamp Thing.
Simply put, this adaption of Swamp Thing was absolutely marvelous, even though at times it was wildly divergent from the source material, it nevertheless perfectly captured the tone and feel of Alan Moore’s run of the comic, from its brilliant production designs to the out-of-this-world creature effects, to its standout cast of both new and veteran actors; this is easily one of my favourite comic book-based television shows. Swamp Thing has had two movies, an animated show, and a live-action series — which surprisingly lasted three seasons — and all of those pale in comparison to what Gary Dauberman and Mark Verheiden have created here. I never thought I’d see the day when Swamp Thing, a comic book favourite of mine since I was a kid, would be so wonderfully brought to life.
Comic Book to Show Observations:
- In the comic, Alec Holland was working on a bio-restorative formula to help end world hunger; in this incarnation, scientist Jason Woodrue (Kevin Durand) is hired by Avery Sunderland to create the mutagen accelerant. What Sutherland hired Alec for, before firing him, is still unclear.
- As in the comic, Avery Sunderland hires Jason Woodrue “The Floronic Man” to perform an autopsy on a presumed dead Swamp Thing, which leads them to learn a truly dark secret about the muck monster.
- The evil necromantic sorcerer Anton Arcane, who was Abby’s uncle in the comics, makes no appearance in the series.
- In this show, Abby is aided in her investigations by police officer Matt Cable (Henderson Wade), while in the comic, Matt was a government agent assigned to protect Alec and Linda Holland as they worked on the bio-restorative formula. Later, he would marry Abby until he gained reality-altering power, turning him into a monster.
- Abby is also aided by Liz Tremayne (Maria Sten), a local newspaper reporter and bartender and a close childhood friend to Abby, while in the comics, Elizabeth “Liz” Tremayne was a tabloid journalist looking into the deaths of Alec and Linda Holland.
- Of course, Alec Holland in this show has no wife — can’t have a possible love interest if one of your parties is married — which hearkens back to what Wes Craven did with his film version of Swamp Thing, where the character of Linda Holland was altered to be his sister.
There are certainly significant alterations from the source material — having an origin story completely reworked is no small thing — yet all of them work so damn well that my normal comic geek rage had nothing to grasp on to. So, of course, this show got cancelled. Why it got cancelled is the true mystery here — especially considering it got the axe after airing only one bloody episode and to mostly good reviews, I might add (we’re talking 92% on Rotten Tomatoes). Rumours that it was about tax incentives and budgetary issues were quickly kyboshed, so I’m betting it was more about one of the higher-ups at Warner Bros. Television not having faith in the show. The biggest piece of evidence for this is the fact that DC Universe’s Swamp Thing was not to be considered part of the shared universe that encapsulated Titans and Doom Patrol — I’m not sure how that even makes sense — then add to that the fact that Swamp Thing was originally to have a thirteen-episode first season, but then was cut down to only ten late in production, made all this look like some exec had it in for good ole Swamp Thing from the get-go.
Was Swamp Thing cancelled because some dude in a suit thought the show was too dark and scary — the show didn’t shy away from gore, so I could see some exec getting a bit twitchy — or could it be as mundane as a network suddenly deciding to rethink their entire streaming service and poor Swamp Thing was the first casualty? Regardless, Swamp Thing was an amazing show and if there is a just god in the universe, some other network will pick this show up and carry the story forward. If you are a fan of the character or just a lover of good horror, this is a show you will want to watch. We may never know the true reason behind this show’s untimely end, but don’t let the knowledge of its cancellation keep you away, it’s well worth checking out.
Note: This show brings Alan Moore’s “Anatomy Lesson” to brutal life, but with the extra bit of horror thrown by having Swamp Thing waking up during his own vivisection.
Swamp Thing (2019)
Show Rank - 8.5/10
With DC Universe’s Swamp Thing creators Gary Dauberman and Mark Verheiden gave us a wonderfully dark and terrifying horror show, with amazing effects, an excellent reworking of the source material, and a solid cast, so of course it got cancelled.