- Action Comics #402
- Adventure Comics #408
- Brave and the Bold #96
- Detective Comics #413
- Forever People #3
- G.I. Combat #148
- Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
- New Gods #3
- Superboy #176
- Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
- Superman #240
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
- World’s Finest #202
- House of Secrets #92 (Special!)
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
House of Secrets #92
Penciler: Bernie Wrightson
Inker: Bernie Wrightson
Editor: Joe Orlando
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Bernie Wrightson
Inker: Bernie Wrightson
Letterer: Ben Oda
“After I Die!”
Writers: Jack Kirby and Mark Evanier
Penciler: Bill Draut
Inker: Bill Draut
“It’s Better to Give” “Trick or Treat”
Writer: Virgil North Penciler: Dick Dillin
Penciler: Alan Weiss Inker: Dick Dillin
Inker: Tony DeZuniga
Our spine-tingling Swamp Thing tale begins with our titular muck monster making his slow, shambling way out of his marshy home and towards an old mansion, which looms out of the fog. We follow the freakish form’s thoughts as he travels, but the perspective shifts several times throughout the tale. Inside the house, we meet Linda Ridge and her husband Damian (with a name like that, he’s definitely not the bad guy!), who are recently married, but we learn that he is not her first husband. In fact, the love of her life, for whom she still pines, was Alex Olsen. Apparently Alex was a scientist (check) who died in an explosion in his lab (mostly check).
There’s clear tension between Damian and Linda, with her thinking of her lost love and him pressing her for affection and wondering what is going on behind her eyes. Outside in the cold rain lurks a miserable monster, watching the tableau within. Then our perspective shifts again, and we learn from Damian’s ruminations that he had always loved Linda and arranged Alex’s “accident.” In a nice piece of visual storytelling, we literally see an earlier panel from a different perspective, which puts a different light on the moment, revealing the false friend’s fatal fury.
After the blast, Damian hauled his burned but still living partner into the swamp, burying him there, where, presumably, the chemicals from the lab mutated him, though this is never explicitly stated here. The reminiscing finished, Linda retires to her room, but her heinous husband is afraid that she is beginning to suspect him, so he plans to murder her. As he approaches his would-be victim, the vengeful vegetative monster lurking without sees and bursts in. The Swamp Thing kills his former friend, but unable to speak, he cannot communicate to his lost love, who is horrified, as one might imagine, by the sight. Sadly, he turns away and walks forlornly back into the swamp.
This is a good, though short, horror story, well told by Wrightson and Wein. The shifting narration is a little awkward, but it does provide some nice opportunities to develop the characters in a small space. It’s interesting to me how much is not said in this first story. The nature of the monster is left entirely up to the audience’s imagination, with his identity strongly implied but his origin never explained. This adds to the air of mystery and heavy Gothic atmosphere that surrounds it. I’ll give this one 4 Minutemen, with the wonderfully tragic ending helping to raise the score.
This is an important distinction, and it separates the character from the standard misunderstood monsters like the Heap, Man-Thing, or the Hulk (some versions), with their almost animalistic intelligence. The fact that this characteristic is present from the very beginning helps to establish the originality and uniqueness of the concept, despite the obvious similarities he has to the other muck-men. It is arguably this quality which makes the character the enduring favorite that he becomes, elevating him into something more highly tragic, one of the ultimate romantic outsiders, the great soul isolated from the rest of humanity. I think this helps to explain his enduring popularity.
Of course, Alan Moore would later revamp the creature once more for what is considered the definitive run on the character, changing him from Alec Holland to an avatar of nature itself and expanding his adventures in amazing ways. I’ve never read this run (if only there were world enough and time), it having fallen in the gaps of my comic reading, but I’ll get to it one of these days.
For my part, I first discovered Swamp Thing in the same way as I imagine many from my generation did, through the early 90s cartoon. and later the live action films (the first of which I remember being quite good). I loved that show, with its rocking opening, a take off of “Wild Thing,” and its standard 80s/90s cartoon format, with plenty of merchandisable allies, villains, and vehicles. I fell for Hasbro’s pitch hook, line, and sinker, but there was something about the show and the character that I really responded to. There is a roughness, a horror flavor, to the designs and the strange, creepy swamp setting, even with everything toned down to PG standards.
To this day, that show is still the first thing I think about when I think of Swamp Thing. It actually made reading through his original run of comics a little challenging at times, because they were so different from the show. Obviously, the comics have a lot more going for them, but it was still an adjustment. More importantly, the show, the movie, even a few video games go to show you how far Swamp Thing penetrated the zeitgeist. After all, this strange muck-man got a movie long before most of the rest of DC’s top characters! Discounting the serials, he even beat Batman to the big screen by several years!
And that wraps up our overview of Swamp Things secret origin! Thank you for joining me tonight. I hope you enjoyed our journey through the House of Secrets. Have a happy Halloween and stay safe. Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!