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AFTERMATH: Books Building on the Swamp Thing Mythos

The most successful SWAMP THING spinoff character is John Constantine (HELLBLAZER), but here are some others published by Vertigo/DC Comics who were inspired by SWAMP THING.


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ANIMAL MAN was, like Swamp Thing, a pre-existing character that had fallen out of the spotlight, whose origin was reinterpreted and explored political and philosophical areas rarely attempted by mainstream comic books. Writer Grant Morrison (another Brit who would quickly rise to stardom in American comics) reversed the plant elemental concept and made the hero a defender of all animal life on the planet. Just as Swampy was shocked to learn after many years that he was truly a plant with a human's memories, Buddy Baker (a.k.a Animal Man) found out that he was not simply endowed with special powers via alien technology. While Swampy has a mystical communion with "the Green", Animal Man has a connection to "the Red"—making him the champion of all animal life. Animal Man can manifest the abilities of nearby animals. Like Swamp Thing, the series had an unapologetic environmental message—in this case, animal rights and vegetarianism. The wildly imaginative Morrison went on to highly successful runs on THE DOOM PATROL, THE INVISIBLES, JLA, BATMAN and is basically one of DC Comics' most popular writers.

Firestorm has
been reading
too much
Swamp Thing.
FIRESTORM, THE NUCLEAR MAN, after being a superhero for many years, was transformed (very much like Swamp Thing) into an elemental force, when his true destiny was revealed. Created by Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom, Firestorm was a very popular hero in the early 1980s. So popular, in fact, that he figures prominently in the plot of the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS event, while thousands of other characters make only brief appearances. He had a very cool, imaginative visual design. (The flames billowing out of the top of his head were what really caught people's eyes.)

Swamp Thing appears
at the end of the first
chapter of "The Elemental
War". (Click to enlarge).

Ronnie Raymond was a typical fun-loving teenager who was caught in a typical comic book science accident. When in his hero form, he could fly, shoot energy bolts and transform the atomic structure of matter. He shared consciousness with physicist Martin Stein who was also caught in the accident. He became part of the Justice League (JLA #179), but was not yet depicted as an elemental like the Swamp Thing.

But if there was an earth elemental, it wasn't much of a leap to imagine a fire elemental. Hoping to imitate the success of SWAMP THING,

Firebird does some
liberal pontificating.
writer John Ostrander completely remade the free-spirited, impulsive youthful character into a brooding elemental. Artist Tom Mandrake gave Firestorm a whole new imaginative, untamed (albeit, less endearing) look.

In the turning point issue of FIRESTORM (#85), much like Swamp Thing was directed to take his place as the Earth Elemental by the mysterious John Constantine, so Raymond learned from the mysterious Rasputin that he must embrace his role as the Fire Elemental. Prof. Stein had originally been fated to become Firestorm who would be the Fire Elemental, but destiny was changed in the accident which transformed Raymond.
Finch looks a lot like
Art at left by
Ostrander from
titled "Sundering!"

Storylines became focussed on mystical and environmental themes, and a villain was even introduced (#86) who was obviously based (right down to the bushy eyebrows) on Swamp Thing's old nemesis General Sunderland. Like Sunderland, James Hancock Finch, CEO of Pittsburgh-based Vandermeer Steel, was a greedy, influential businessman with no regard for the planet's environment.

In FIRESTORM #88, Sunderland Corp. and Vandemeer funded a superteam called the Captains of Industry, to protect businesses from threats like Firestorm.

The series ended with issue #100 in 1990. Read the Firestorm Fan website's March 8, 2010 article about the change and how it was publicized.

CONGO BILL (created by Whitney Ellsworth and George Papp in 1940) was a jungle explorer who found a mystic ring (ACTION COMICS #248, 1959) which allows him to switch minds with the golden CONGORILLA. The character(s) fell out of popularity in the early 1960's. SECRET ORIGINS #40 (1989) can be considered to be inspired by SWAMP THING ANNUAL #3 (1987), as both were "all-ape" issues. The SECRET ORIGINS series is an anthology, retelling the origin stories of popular and obscure DC Comics characters. This issue featured Gorilla Grodd and Congorilla (who both appeared in ST ANNUAL #3), as well as Detective Chimp (who had not). The Congorilla story, written by Tom Joyner (DAMAGE), dealt strongly with political themes, which might have made it fit well with the VERTIGO books. Indeed, it dealt with the situation in Rwanda back before Americans had standardized the spelling of it to "Rwanda" instead of using the variation "Ruanda".

In 1992, the aged Congo Bill returned in the four-part CONGORILLA mini-series, by Steve Englehart. Vertigo published a four-issue mini-series by Scott Cunningham, called CONGO BILL, in 1999, involving black ops missions in the Congo region. In the 2009 mini-series JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRY FOR JUSTICE, by James Robinson, it is revealed that Bill's mind is now permanently in Congorilla's body, and he joins the JLA for that adventure.

THE UN-MEN, Anton Arcane's grotesque creations, first appeared in the first issue of the original SWAMP THING series by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson. They appeared in a 1994 mini-series titled AMERICAN FREAK (A TALE OF THE UN-MEN) published under the Vertigo imprint. The story made no reference to Swamp Thing, but continued in the UN-MEN Vertigo series in 2007, which ran for 13 issues. The Un-Men are beings stitched together from mixed body parts. Cranius, a bulbous head attached to a hand, is perhaps the most memorable Un-Man, first appearing in the second issue of the original ST series.

Similarly to the Un-Men, Abby's father Gregori was transformed into the PATCHWORK MAN (see issue #59) by Anton Arcane. The Patchwork Man had a solo story in HOUSE OF SECRETS #140 in 1976, and another that was only published in the Swedish magazine GIGANT #3.

BROTHER POWER, THE GEEK was created by Joe Simon (co-creator of Captain America) in the hippie culture of 1968. The Geek was an inanimate tailor's dummy brought to life by lightning. The series was cancelled after the second issue.

He had not appeared for 21 years until Neil Gaiman brought him back in SWAMP THING ANNUAL #5. This was truly a classic example of the reactivation of a character who was considered too silly to ever be seen again. The Geek's true origin was explained to be that of an elemental, like the Swamp Thing. It was revealed that the Geek's consciousness can inhabit any human-shaped inanimate object.

(In Steve Bissette's MyRant blog, in the Teen Angels & New Mutants section, is a good article about hippies in mainstream comics. About a third of the way down the page it talks about The Geek.)

The Geek appeared in a surreal Vertigo one-shot story by Rachel Pollack and Mike Allred entitled THE GEEK: CORRUPTION OF THE INNOCENT in 1993. That bizarre story explored themes of freedom and dignity, reuniting Brother Power with his lost friend Cindy from the original series. Swamp Thing's friend Chester also appears. Several years later, the Geek appeared briefly in TOTEMS, another forgettable Vertigo mini-series.

In 2009's BRAVE & THE BOLD #29, he co-starred with Batman in a somber tale written by by J.M. Straczynski, reflecting on the loss of 1960s idealism. Outside the continuity of the main DC hero universe, The Geek also appeared in issue 15 of the comic book tie-in to the BATMAN: BRAVE & THE BOLD animated series (not to be confused with the previously mentioned BRAVE & THE BOLD.)

In 1998, Pollack wrote another one-shot book for Vertigo, starring TOMAHAWK, another nearly-forgotten character who was the focus of SWAMP THING #86. The art was done by Tom Yeates, who had penciled that same issue of ST. The story re-imagined Tom Haukins' origin as a well-to-do Boston colonist, rather than a tough frontiersman, who is kidnapped by American Indians as an adult and is taught their ways. Along with his progressive extremist fiance, he has an uneasy alliance with the revolutionaries while trying to protect the Indians just prior to the American War of Independence. The one-shot comes off more like a proposal for a series, rather than fully developing the cast of characters.

BLACK ORCHID was another obscure character revived by Neil Gaiman in the 1988 three-part mini-series, heavily influenced by SWAMP THING. Swampy appears at the end of the story, illustrated by Dave McKean (ST cover #71). While she first appeared in ADVENTURE COMICS #428 (1973), many conflicting origins had been suggested for her over the years, all of them proving false, until Gaiman's mini-series. Black Orchid is therein revealed to be a plant-human hybrid clone. Much like Swamp Thing in issues 37-47, she seeks out her origin and gets in touch with the Green.

BLACK ORCHID mini-series, by Gaiman and McKean

Black Orchid has super strength and can fly. Her first incarnation, Susan Linden-Thorne, constantly used disguises. Later incarnations had additional powers connected to the environment, such as pheromones. She is currently affiliated with the Shadowpact team.

In 1989, Gaiman wrote "Notes Towards a Vegetable Theology", a reference "bible" for DC's plant/mystical characters. He would have built on this when he (along with Jamie Delano) took over writing ST after Veitch. When Veitch quit prematurely, due to the Jesus issue, Gaiman and Delano refrained from writing ST in solidarity. "Notes Towards a Vegetable Theology" was finally published in 2008 in Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman by Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden and Steve Bissette.

A BLACK ORCHID ongoing series written by Dick Foreman followed in 1993, published through DC's Vertigo line. It lasted 22 issues, including an annual which crossed over with "The Children's Crusade" event, along with SWAMP THING and other Vertigo series.

JLA/TITANS: THE TECHNIS IMPERATIVE, a three issue mini-series published in 1998, made no mention of Swamp Thing, but it is based on a character conceived (literally) in ST #60. Written by Devin Grayson and Phil Jimenez with art by Jimenez, JLA/TITANS featured every current/previous member of the Titans teaming up with the Justice League. Back in 1993, NEW TITANS 103-107, written by Marv Wolfman, told how Cyborg, a member of the New Teen Titans, was possessed by an alien living machine planet/colony called Technis. Careful readers could deduce that Technis is definitely the spawn of the machine/planet which impregnated itself using Swamp Thing. (Yes, it was bizarre.) The re-emergence of Technis is the plot of JLA/TITANS story, which was collected into a trade paperback in 1999, along with 1999's TITANS SECRET FILES #1.

Cyborg became Cyberion to save Earth from the machine-planet creature Technis. (Art from NEW TITANS #128 by W. Rosado and W. Blyberg)

ADAM STRANGE appeared regularly in MYSTERY IN SPACE, but had not starred in a comic book for many years until issues #57 and 58 of SWAMP THING, which introduced the language of the planet Rann. Strange (an earthman who is repeatedly teleported to Rann where is a jetpack-wearing champion) was created by Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox in SHOWCASE #17 (1958).

His appearance in SWAMP THING provided the first look at the "revised", grimmer perspective on the Adam Strange character, in which the Rannians and his father-in-law seem to secretly regard him merely as breeding stock. This idea was further developed by Richard Bruning in the 1990 3-part series ADAM STRANGE: THE MAN OF TWO WORLDS, which was pretty depressing, despite nice artwork by Adam and Andy Kubert. In that story, Swamp Thing doesn't make an appearance, but a religious cult had risen to worship him for his reviving of their planet. They refer to him as Smalsh-Yegger.

The tension between Rann and Thanagar seen in ST #57-58 foreshadows the "Invasion!" storyline which crossed over into many DC titles including ST #81. Mark Waid repopularized Adam Strange and restored his sense of heroism in JLA #20-21. has a good article on Strange's history.

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