Toy companies are always eager to launch new toy lines based on popular movies or kid’s cartoons but then we also have cartoons like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe which was basically a thirty-minute commercial for Mattel, and sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn’t. In the early 90s, Kenner teamed up with DIC Animation City to put together a cartoon based on the DC comic book character Swamp Thing, one that would have the proper corresponding toy line to go with it. Unfortunately, the Swamp Thing cartoon only lasted a meagre five episodes, with storylines that were certainly not ripped from the pages of the comic, but the toys themselves were somewhat successful and to date, they are still the only marketed Swamp Thing merchandise out there. Now, two decades later, both the cartoon and the toys are mostly forgotten.
The animated Swamp Thing series bears little resemblance to the DC comic book that spawned it, sure the character designs and origin story were somewhat similar, though the origin given here was more in keeping with the Wes Craven Swamp Thing movie than what comic creators Len Wein and Berni Wrightson had come up with back in the 70s. Aside from characters like Anton and Abigale Arcane making an appearance, the show seemed more interested in its “environmental message” and its array of weird weapons and swamp buggies — which made this cartoon more in the vein of Captain Planet meets G.I. Joe — than something you’d have found in the pages of the Swamp Thing comic book. And yes, there were environmental themes throughout some of the Swamp Thing books, but it was primarily about a world of dark horrors, with Swamp Thing being a knight for the forces of good.
For those not in the know, the animated Swamp Thing followed the story of a scientist named Alec Holland (Len Carlson) who while working on a biogenetic formula was attacked by Anton Arcane (Don Francks), an evil scientist who was obsessed with gaining immortality, and during the struggle, Alec was doused with the experimental formula and was transformed into the creature known as Swamp Thing. As mentioned, this origin story is closer to the Wes Craven movie than what was to be found in the original comic, as Anton Arcane in the comic had nothing to do with the creation of Swamp Thing, but instead, Swamp Thing met up with Arcane later while traveling around the mountains of Europe. Upon their meeting, Arcane wanted to use his scientific and magical abilities to transform his body into Swamp Thing’s form, while changing Swamp Thing back into Alec Holland, and thus Arcane would gain immortality. Things go wrong when Alec overhears Arcane’s evil plans, which of course involve taking over the world once he has the power of Swamp Thing, and soon our heroic Swamp Thing is battling for his life against Arcane’s army of Un-Men. During the ensuing struggle, Arcane fell to his death, only to be resurrected later by his ever-faithful Un-Men, in a new body.
The cartoon version of Anton Arcane bears little to no resemblance to his comic book counterpart, instead of being found living in a Bavarian castle high up in the mountains, he is now living in a rundown southern plantation in the heart of the swamp — once again a location featured in the live-action movies — and his army of monstrous biogenetic experimentations called “Un-Men” have been reduced to three mutant looking dudes who Arcane occasionally transforms into monsters — well, more monstrous than they already were — with the use of a machine called the Transducer, which is totally not the one from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Living with the mad scientist is Abigale Arcane (Tabitha St. Germain), who in the comics was Anton’s niece but now, for some reason, she is his stepdaughter, and her motivation for hanging around with a crazed supervillain is because she hopes to learn the secret of turning Swamp Thing back into Alec Holland. Of course, if they were going by Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run, this would be impossible, as in the comics it was revealed that Alec Holland actually died during the lab explosion and after his subsequent plunging into the swamp, it was the plants in the swamp that somehow absorbed Holland’s memories and personality, which created a being that only thought it was Alec Holland.
Note: It was Alan Moore’s run of Swamp Thing that first introduced the ecological elements of the character, him becoming a guardian elemental for the Green, and is the basis for this show turning him into a mossy version of Captain Planet.
In this cartoon, Abigale Arcane is not Swamp Thing’s only ally, he is also aided by a Native American Rambo knock-off named Tomahawk (Harvey Atkin), and Bayou Jack (Philip Akin), an African American Vietnam veteran, and their sole purpose seems to be operating all the cool backpack weaponry and swamp buggies that Kenner would be stocking the local toy stores with. Swamp Thing is also either rescuing or being helped by a couple of local teens, because you can’t have a Saturday morning cartoon without an annoying teen or two hanging around, and for the five episodes produced, this group of heroes thwarted Arcane and his minions as their various villainous plans involved trying to level the Rain Forest, steal a downed nuclear-powered satellite, find the Fountain of Youth and even teaming up with shady government operatives. Needless to say, Arcane and his Un-Men were no match for Swamp Thing and Friends.
- I simply love this show’s theme song, which is basically spoofing Chip Taylor’s song “Wild Thing” with such clever lyrics as “Swamp THING! …You are amaZING!”
- Anton Arcane’s desire for immortality is the only surviving character trait from the comic book, cartoon Arcane is more Cobra Commander than a foul sorcerer.
- Before being mutated, Anton Arcane looked a lot like a white version of Brother Voodoo.
- We see Swamp Thing travel through the Green in much the same way Bugs Bunny travels.
- Swamp Thing now has the ability to temporarily turn his enemies into trees.
- In the comic books, Abigale Arcane and Swamp Thing were lovers, which was clearly something that was not going to fly in a kid’s cartoon.
With the character of Swamp Thing going in a much darker direction, becoming a flagship title for DC’s Vertigo line, it’s not too surprising that this cartoon got canceled, and though it wasn’t a terrible animated series — it had an element of goofy charm and certainly deserved more than a five-episode run — it was also not something fans of the current run of the comics would have found all that engaging. The animated Swamp Thing series will forever remain a small and somewhat forgotten footnote in the history of one of DC’s more interesting heroes.
Swamp Thing: The Animated Series (1990)
Show Rank - 5.5/10
I’ve been a huge fan of Swamp Thing since the comic first came out back in the 70s and though this animated version bears little resemblance to the hero found in the pages of DC comics it’s still worth checking out, even if only for the novelty of it all.