A major DC Comics character recently crept onto Amazon Prime Video to very little fanfare, which is not only strange in this superhero-crazed era but also a burning injustice to the quality of the series. Hunks in spandex are always going to be an easier sell than a hideous monster comprised largely of moss and slime, but the fact remains: we need to talk about Swamp Thing.
Created in 1971, brilliant scientist Alec Holland is transformed into Swamp Thing after thugs plant a bomb in his secret lab hidden deep in the Louisiana swampland. The resulting explosion sees Holland hurled into the murky depths of the water, where his body reacts with the restorative formula he was working on, turning him into the eponymous creature.
This television adaptation hails from the DC Universe streaming service, a particularly niche combatant in the streaming wars that is yet to make it to our shores, hence why the series ended up on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.
After several abysmal attempts at bringing the character into live-action, fans were understandably apprehensive about what the quality of the series would be, fears that were stoked further when production on the show was shut down early, with little explanation as to why.
Fortunately, upon release it became apparent that this is an excellent take on the source material and a genuine visual spectacle. Swamp Thing brings CDC doctor Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) back to her quaint home town to investigate the cause of a gruesome swamp-born virus, but she soon stumbles upon far more than she could possibly have bargained for.
Swamp Thing is a horror show first and foremost with a stunning sense of style, shot largely on a huge swamp set that cost upwards of $2 million to build, marrying practical effects with CGI to create monstrous nightmare fuel that harks back to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Meanwhile, it finds time for more of the soapy drama that has made the likes of Arrow and The Flash so popular.
Yet, despite its artistic success – which includes a 94 per cent score on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes – Warner Bros pulled the plug on the series seemingly before it even started. The exact reason why is frustratingly unclear, although one leading rumour is that the DC Universe streaming service itself could soon fold due to low subscriber numbers.
What this means is that Swamp Thing is doomed to life as only a cult favourite, a show that fans will look back on years from now and rue that it never got its chance to thrive. But, it could also have a lasting legacy beyond that in the rival Marvel Cinematic Universe.
You see, Swamp Thing wasn’t the only muck monster to debut in 1971. Roughly two months earlier, Marvel introduced readers to its very own macabre swamp-dwelling beast: Man-Thing.
The two creatures share a remarkably similar origin story, with Ted Sallis being another scientist whose swamp-based laboratory is raided by henchmen, ending with him and his experimental formula taking a dip into the Florida Everglades before emerging forever changed. The moral is: don’t take your top secret research to the heart of a remote swamp. It’s asking for trouble really.
Man-Thing would go on to become one of the most tragic figures in the Marvel Universe. The creature retains no memories of life as Ted Sallis, nor does he have the ability to speak or even think for himself.
Rather, he is an empathic being who feels physical pain when those in his proximity experience negative emotions, a trait which manifests in a chemical he secretes that will burn anyone feeling afraid – an ability that inspired his glorious comic book tagline: “Whoever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!”
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As a result, he often ends up intervening in criminal activity unfolding in or nearby his swamp, not due to any personal agency or desire to do what’s right, but rather as an instinctive response to ending his own suffering. The curse of the Man-Thing is that he will never comprehend the good that he achieves and is therefore destined to be reviled forever.
It’s all very melancholy, but why does it matter? Well, if nothing else, the Swamp Thing series serves as a rousing proof of concept that Man-Thing is a viable option for which character should be introduced to the MCU next. As Marvel looks to keep things feeling fresh, new and exciting in a post-Endgame world, his value as a character unlike any other in their roster is now squarely in focus.
The swamp that Man-Thing calls home just so happens to double as the Nexus of All Realities, a gateway through which one can travel to any known universe. This would be a convenient entry point into the “Multiverse of Madness” for Doctor Strange, while staying faithful to the comics where he has teamed up with Man-Thing in the past.
Marvel, DIsney, TL
Plus, as DC’s Swamp Thing has shown so well, swamp creatures lend themselves perfectly to horror stories and the Strange sequel has been confirmed as a foray into that genre.
There is a mesmerising scene in the second episode of Swamp Thing where the eponymous creature tears hefty chunks out of his own head; don’t be alarmed, it’s entirely comprised of moss, plants and swamp water. But it’s a moment that feels ripped directly from the comic book page, utterly surreal yet somehow grounded in the heightened reality of the universe.
DC doesn’t often get the opportunity to throw down the gauntlet, but this is certainly one such occasion. After several failed attempts, they have finally brought one of their most unconventional characters into live-action successfully and you can bet that Marvel will want to answer that challenge.
Just as they altered the premise to Captain America: Civil War in response to DC’s Batman v Superman announcement, it seems highly plausible that they’ll fold Man-Thing into Doctor Strange to reinforce their party line: anything DC can do, we can do better.
Already subtly referenced in Iron Man 3, Thor Ragnarok and Agents of SHIELD, the MCU is big enough (and weird enough) now to sustain an outright appearance from Man-Thing – and when that inevitably happens, fans will have the short-lived Swamp Thing series to thank.