Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis

Written by Len Wein
Art by Berni Wrightson
240 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

When DC Comics announced late last year that they’d be reprinting Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis I remember hearing a lot of surprise that it was chosen to be next on the schedule instead of the final Alan Moore Swamp Thing collection. (Which did, indeed, show up a couple of months later.) Now that I’ve sat down and read the collection, it seems blatantly obvious to me; this is a collection of classic comics that should definitely be kept in print.

Alec and Linda Holland are brilliant biologists, working on a formula that can grow vegetation in the most arid of climates. When a secret organization known as the Conclave is unable to convince the Hollands to sell their work to them, their lab is blown up and with Alec still inside. His flaming body plummeting into the Louisiana swamp, his body and the chemicals have mixed… and Alec Holland is now the Swamp Thing, trying to gain revenge on those who killed him and avoid his well-meaning friends who hunt him down.

What surprised me the most in Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis was how effortlessly Len Wein was able to tell so many different types of stories within the context of Swamp Thing. Frankenstein monsters, a Cthulhu-esque creature invading the world, a clockwork village, the haunted castle, even an appearance by Batman; all of them work perfectly. Part of it is certainly due to the wandering nature of Swamp Thing, whose endless quest brings him all over the globe and into the most surprisingly places. At the same time, though, it helps that Wein brought such an earnest quality to Swamp Thing’s personality. You really feel his struggles, and while one’s eyebrow may go up on occasion at some of his decisions (like not to reveal his new self to Matt Cable, since that would wipe out one of the two major plotlines), Wein makes him ultimately understandable with his everyman-esque quality.

It was a real treat to see Berni Wrightson’s classic Swamp Thing art all in one place as well. It’s no small wonder that Wein left Swamp Thing soon after Wrightson did, because Wrightson’s art really was a perfect match to Wein’s stories. There’s a wonderful sense of unease about even the simplest of panels, as shadows fall across the landscape and you get the impression that at any given moment something will go horribly wrong. Wrightson’s able to make even the mundane creepy, so when the unnatural does appear, it’s all the more startling. From splash pages of werewolves to gigantic tentacled monsters, Wrightson’s able to make them look wonderfully wrong with the stroke of a pen. Almost as important, though, is Wrightson’s ability to draw normal people. Matt Cable and Abby Arcane provide a great contrast to Swamp Thing and the other creatures of the night, because it’s a constant reminder that Swamp Thing was once like them… and never will be again. In the scenes where Swamp Thing is with them, Wrightson is able to draw Swamp Thing’s haunting gaze of remembrance all too perfectly.

Collecting both their original eight-page story from House of Secrets #92 as well as Swamp Thing #1-10 (their entire collaboration together on the book), Wein and Wrightson’s Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis is an important cornerstone book for the Vertigo line. It’s amazing to see just how much of both the later incarnations of Swamp Thing as well as Vertigo itself borrows liberally from these comics. Here’s hoping they’ll stay in print for a long time to come. Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis is on sale at better comic book stores everywhere.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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