Swamp Thing is DC’s version of a mud-monster archetype that goes back decades in comics, and even further, but it is by far the best known as well as being host to at least three classic runs. The first by creators Len Wein and Berni Wrightson.
Wein and Wrightson’s run is full of Gothic angst as Swamp Thing tries to regain some measure of his lost humanity while fighting other monsters, not to mention Batman. In that story is writer Len Wein’s favourite ever panel of Batman and he’s not wrong in how bloody great it is.
Wein and Wrightson’s run is lovely old-school horror but it was short-lived, and followed on was a run memorable only for some nice Nestor Redondo art but nothing else. Swampy was a character who drifted for nearly a decade before a writer by the name of Alan Moore was assigned the book when it was one of DC’s worst-selling titles. Moore, along with Steve Bissette, John Totleben and Rick Veitch redefined the horror comic from issue 20 of Saga of the Swamp Thing to an extent where its influence hangs over comics today. Current best-seller The Immortal Hulk owes a lot to this title, and Moore’s approach in particular.
Moore was less influenced by horror comics of the past, and instead took a literary approach assuming the reader could, well, read, and wasn’t an idiot. Very quickly the title crawled from the swamp of near cancellation to being one of the flagships of how DC reinvented themselves in the mid-80’s by producing a critical and commercial success.
This run is simply the best horror comics produced by either Marvel or DC. Moore also slips in and out of horror genres so one issue would be a monster of the week, followed by a sort of slasher story, then a werewolf story and then something entirely from leftfield.
By the end of the run, it was hard to imagine how to follow it but writer/artist Rick Veitch took over the chores, and did so well until DC pulled his run over a story where a lost in time Swamp Thing would meet Jesus Christ.
But we were left with nearly 80 issues of classic stories, with Moore and company’s run being near perfection, and Veitch’s being high-quality work throughout. Sadly since then, Swamp Thing as a character hasn’t been served well (though Mark Millar’s run does deserve a mention for trying) which is a shame as there’s still potential there but to be honest how can you really follow what Moore, Veitch, Bissette and Totleben did?