REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS SDCC EXCLUSIVE SWAMP THING
In 2011, when I heard that the DC Universe Classics exclusive entry at the San Diego Comic-Con was going to be SWAMP THING, I was a little surprised. I'd always considered the character relatively obscure. He had a certain popularity with a certain segment of the pop culture world, but frankly, apart from having a reasonable idea of who he was, I hadn't paid that much attention to him. Then I started thinking about it a little bit more, and realized that Swampy has done better for himself over the years than one might initially believe.
He's had both live-action movies and a live-action TV series. None of these were exactly big-budget Oscar-or Emmy-contenting ratings-makers, but it's more than a lot of comics characters get. He also had an animated series whose main claims to fame were a catchy theme tune that was based on the 60's hit "Wild Thing", as well as an action figure tie-in from Kenner, whose basic Swamp Thing figure has long been rumored to have been based in part on an intended Super Powers Swamp Thing figure -- and indeed, the scale seems about right, even if the articulation is a little less. I've got one standing with my Super Powers collection.
Up until fairly recently, Swamp Thing was tied in with DC Comics' "Vertigo" titles, a realm of comics that tended to specialize in "edgier" material, especially the creepy and the supernatural, both of which certainly define Swamp Thing. Reportedly the Vertigo characters were off-limits to Mattel, so they couldn't do a figure of Swampy. However, Swamp Thing re-entered the mainstream DC Universe at the tail end of the "Brightest Day" series, and went on to be the featured character of a three-issue follow-up series that clearly co-starred some established DC super-heroes, such as Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern. In light of this, as well as the effective end of the Vertigo branch of DC Comics as part of the DC Relaunch, which also included a new Swamp Thing title, apparently Swamp Thing was now fair game for Mattel.
However, the big green machine is so large and so complex and unusual in his appearance, that there was no way in the world that he was going to be able to be made as any sort of standard DC Universe Classics figure, so it makes sense that, all things considered, he would become an exclusive to the San Diego Comic-Con, and later to MattyCollector.Com, the only difference being that the Matty version, which is the one that I purchased, didn't come with a pair of so-called "Un-Men". This didn't bother me in the least. A zombie is a zombie regardless of what you call it, and I personally HATE zombies.
Let's consider the background of the character before we proceed to have a look at the figure: Swamp Thing is a plant elemental in the DC Comics Universe created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson. He first appeared in House of Secrets #92 (July 1971) in a stand-alone horror story set in the early 20th century (plotted by Wein and drawn by Wrightson). The Swamp Thing then returned in his own series, set in the contemporary world and in the general DC continuity. The character is a humanoid mass of vegetable matter who fights to protect his swamp home, the environment in general, and humanity from various supernatural or terrorist threats.
In Swamp Thing's first appearance, the character had the name Alex Olsen. The comic is set in the early 20th century, when scientist Alex Olsen is caught in a lab explosion caused by his co-worker, Damian Ridge, who intended to kill him to gain the hand of Olsen's wife Linda. Olsen is physically altered by chemicals and the forces within the swamp. He changes into a monstrous creature who kills Ridge before the latter can murder Linda, who has started to suspect Damian. Unable to make Linda realize his true identity, the Swamp Thing sadly ambles to his boggy home.
After the success of the short story in the House of Secrets comic, the original creators were asked to write an ongoing series, depicting a more heroic, more contemporary creature. In Swamp Thing #1 (October–November 1972) Wein and Wrightson updated the time frame to the 1970s and featured a new version character: Alec Holland, a scientist working in the Louisiana swamps on a secret bio-restorative formula "that can make forests out of deserts". Holland is killed by a bomb planted by agents of the mysterious Mr. E (Nathan Ellery), who wants the formula.
Splashed with burning chemicals in the massive fire, Holland runs from the lab and falls into the muck-filled swamp, after which a creature resembling a humanoid plant appears some time later.
The creature, called Swamp Thing, was originally conceived as Alec Holland mutating into a vegetable-like creature, a "muck-encrusted mockery of a man". However, under writer Alan Moore, Swamp Thing was reinvented as an elemental entity created upon the death of Alec Holland, having somehow absorbed Holland's memory and personality into itself. He is described as "a plant that thought it was Alec Holland, a plant that was trying its level best to be Alec Holland."
The major difference between the first and second Swamp Thing is that the latter appears more muscular than shambling, and possesses the power of speech. Being able to speak only with great difficulty, Alex Olsen's speech impediment is a major reason why his wife could not recognize him. In Swamp Thing #33, Alan Moore attempted to reconcile the two versions of Swamp Thing with the revelation that there have been many previous incarnations of Swamp Thing prior to the death and "rebirth" of the Alec Holland incarnation. Three others are notable: Albert Höllerer, a pilot in World War II, appeared briefly and had his story summarized in Swamp Thing #47 (May 1986), and Aaron Hayley appeared in the Swamp Thing: Roots graphic novel (1998) set in the 1940s, and Alan Hallman, the Swamp Thing of the 1950s and 1960s, introduced in Vol. 2 #102 (December 1990) and eventually, after being corrupted by the Gray, killed by Holland. As a result, Holland is known as Swamp Thing IV by the editors of the DCU Guide. The principal two Swamp Things are also connected in that Holland's first wife is Linda Ridge, a descendant of Damian Ridge.
Swamp Thing has appeared in four comic book series to date, including several specials, and has crossed over into other DC titles. The first Swamp Thing series ran for 24 issues, from 1972 to 1976.
Len Wein was the writer for the first 13 issues before David Michelinie and Gerry Conway finished up the series. Of particular note, famed horror artist Bernie Wrightson drew the first ten issues of the series while Nestor Redondo drew a further thirteen issues, the last issue being drawn by Fred Carrillo. Swamp Thing fought against evil as he sought the men who murdered his wife and caused his monstrous transformation, as well as searching for a means to transform back to human form.
Swamp Thing has since fought many villains, most notably the mad Dr. Anton Arcane. Though they only met twice during the first series, Arcane and his obsession with gaining immortality, aided by his nightmarish army of Un-Men and the tragic Patchwork Man (Arcane's brother Gregori Arcane, who after a land mine explosion was rebuilt as a Frankenstein's Monster-type creature by his brother), became Swamp Thing's arch-nemesis, even as Swamp Thing developed a close bond with Arcane's niece Abigail Arcane. Also involved in the conflict was Swamp Thing's close friend turned enemy Matthew Cable, a federal agent who mistakenly believed Swamp Thing responsible for the deaths of Alec and Linda Holland.
As sales figures plummeted towards the end of the series, the writers attempted to revive interest by introducing fantastical creatures, aliens, and even Alec Holland's brother, Edward (a plot point ignored by later writers), into the picture.
In 1982, DC Comics revived the Swamp Thing series, attempting to capitalize on the summer 1982 release of the film. The new series, called Saga of the Swamp Thing, featured in its first Annual the comic book adaptation of the movie. Now written by Martin Pasko, the book loosely picked up after Swamp Thing's appearance in Challengers of the Unknown, with the character wandering around the swamps of Louisiana as something of an urban legend that was feared by locals. Pasko's main arc depicted Swamp Thing roaming the globe, trying to stop a young girl named Karen Clancy from destroying the world.
When Pasko had to give up work on the title due to increasing television commitments, editor Len Wein assigned the title to British writer Alan Moore. When Karen Berger took over as editor, she gave Moore free rein to revamp the title and the character as he saw fit. Moore reconfigured Swamp Thing's origin to make him a true monster as opposed to a human transformed into a monster. In his first issue, he swept aside most of the supporting cast Pasko had introduced in his year-and-a-half run as writer, and brought the Sunderland Corporation to the forefront, as they hunted Swamp Thing and "killed" him in a hail of bullets.
Moore would later reveal, in an attempt to connect the original one-off Swamp Thing story from House of Secrets to the main Swamp Thing canon, that there had been dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Swamp Things since the dawn of humanity, and that all versions of the creature were designated defenders of the Parliament of Trees, an elemental community also known as "the Green" that connects all plant life on Earth.
With issue #65, regular penciler Rick Veitch took over from Moore and began scripting the series, continuing the story in a roughly similar vein for 24 more issues. Veitch's term ended in 1989. After a period of high creative turnover, in 1991 DC sought to revive interest in Swamp Thing by bringing horror writer Nancy A. Collins on board to write the series. Starting with Swamp Thing Annual #6, Collins moved on to write Swamp Thing #110-138, dramatically overhauling the series and restoring the pre-Alan Moore tone of the series as well as incorporating a new set of supporting cast members into the book. Collins resurrected Anton Arcane along with the Sunderland Corporation as foils for Swamp Thing.
With issue #140 (March 1994), the title was handed over to Grant Morrison for a four-issue arc, co-written by the then unknown Mark Millar. As Collins had destroyed the status quo of the series, Morrison sought to shake the book up with a four-part storyline which had Swamp Thing plunged into a nightmarish dream world scenario where he was split into two separate beings: Alec Holland and Swamp Thing, which was now a mindless being of pure destruction. Millar then took over from Morrison with issue #144, and launched what was initially conceived as an ambitious 25-part storyline where Swamp Thing would be forced to go upon a series of "trials" against rival elemental forces. However, the end was near for the series.
Written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Roger Petersen and Giuseppe Camuncoli in 2001, the third Swamp Thing series focused on the daughter of the Swamp Thing, Tefé Holland. A fourth series began in 2004, with rotating writers of Andy Diggle (#1-6), Will Pfeifer (#7-8) and Joshua Dysart (#9-28). In this latest series, Swamp Thing is reverted to his plant-based Earth Elemental status after the first storyline, and he attempts to live an "eventless" life in the Louisiana swamps. Tefé, likewise, is rendered powerless. Issue #29 was the final issue of the fourth volume, which was cancelled due to low sales numbers.
The conclusion of the series Brightest Day revealed that Swamp Thing had become corrupted by the personality of the villain Nekron in the wake of the Blackest Night crossover. Swamp Thing now believed himself to be Nekron similar to how he had once believed himself to be Alec Holland. Swamp Thing went on a rampage in Star City, ultimately seeking to destroy all life on Earth. The Entity within the White Lantern used several heroes, including Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Firestorm, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman and Deadman to slow the rampage and to construct a new Swamp Thing based on the body of Alec Holland. Instead of merely thinking it was Holland, this version of Swamp Thing would actually be him.
The new Swamp Thing quickly defeated and killed the corrupted Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing then restored life to natural areas around the world and then declared that those who hurt "The Green" would face his wrath. The book ended with Swamp Thing killing several businessmen who engaged in illegal polluting activities. The subsequent three-issue mini-series follows immediately after the events of "Brightest Day", and follows the actions of John Constantine as he tries to work out what has changed with Swamp Thing, and track him down, with the assistance of Zatanna and Batman, among others.
As to his powers and abilities, Swamp Thing is a plant elemental. It could be argued that he is in fact a disembodied intelligence without any specific "body" as such, as he can inhabit and animate vegetable matter anywhere (including alien plants, even sentient ones) and construct it into a body for himself. As a result, bodily attacks mean little to him. He can easily regrow damaged or severed body parts, and can even transport himself across the globe by leaving his current form, transferring his consciousness to a new form grown from whatever vegetable matter is present in the location he wishes to reach.
Swamp Thing possesses superhuman strength of undefined limits. While Swamp Thing's strength has never been portrayed as prominently as many of his other abilities, he demonstrated sufficient strength to rip large trees out of the ground with ease and trade blows with the likes of Etrigan.
Swamp Thing can control any form of plant life. He can make it move to his will or accelerate its growth. This control even extends to alien life, as he once cured Superman of an infection caused by exposure to a Kryptonian plant that was driving Superman mad and causing his body to burn out its own power.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive, indeed, but I'd like to discuss the packaging first.
As always, Mattel made quite the impressive display here. There is an outer, rectangular box, colored dark green for the most part, and an internal package shaped like Swamp Thing's head, in which the figure itself is contained.
On the back of the outer box, Mattel does its best to summarize Swamp Thing's rather convoluted history in a few sentences. It reads as follows: Doused in burning chemicals, the dying Alex Holland fell into the swamp. His spirit rose as a mass of plant life in the shape of a giant man. Now an earth elemental, Swamp Thing protects the entire planet.
There's an additional sentence that reads, "Inspired by the green hero, Mattel offers a package in the shape of Swamp Thing's head, made from 100% molded pulp material."
Now, the Swamp Thing "head" package is an impressive design. As for the package itself -- it feels exactly like the same substance that I buy eggs in when I go to the grocery store. I have no idea if egg cartons are "100% molded pulp material", but they've got to be close.
As to the figure, Swamp Thing is extremely impressive. Even if you're not that into the character, you've got to admire the workmanship that went into this guy. For starters, he's huge. He stands roughly 9-3/4" in height. This for a line where the average adult male is a shade under 6-3/4".
Swamp Thing is clearly humanoid. He has a head, torso, arms, and legs. His basic musculature resembles that of a human being. He has very human-looking hands and feet, within the basic appearance of the character himself. The head is -- semi-human. Swamp Thing has reddish eyes, underneath rather jutting, downturned brows. There's not much of a visible nose. A line of angled branches forms a sort of muzzle outline around where his nose and mouth would be. His mouth is present and accounted for, and he has ears on the sides of his head that look more or less human.
The eyes are painted astoundingly well. The "whites" of the eyes are a dark red, while the irises are a bright red. He has black pupils, and all of the paint used is glossy, so it catches the light well.
Swamp Thing's entire body has this very mottled texture to it, that's been given a painted finish that, honestly, I can't figure out how they did it so amazingly well. It's as if Swamp Thing's body is covered first and foremost with this fairly bright green, intricate moss-like substance, and immediately underneath that is a darker green. The entire body is painted like this, and it is far and away the single most impressive demonstration of dry-brush paint-wiping or whatever you want to call it that I've ever seen in my life. I can't even imagine what it must have taken to achieve.
Interwoven above the basic texture is a system of tree roots and branches. These are painted brown. There are also occasional outcroppings of what I believe to be mushrooms, some strange bulbous brown growths on his upper back, a few dark green leaves down his left arm, and in his upper torso and upper right arm -- a number of little orange flowers.
Frankly, the flowers may be just a bit much. They're -- cute, I suppose, and they add a little color to the figure, but -- well, anyway.
The paint detailing on this figure is so comprehensive that I'm honestly not sure what was painted by hand and what was painted through a stencil. I'm certain that the eyes were painted with a stencil. I don't know how the basic texture was painted. Most of the branches and roots or whatever, I think were done through a stencil. I think the mushrooms might have been, as well, except for the dark detailing on the underside. I'm not 100% sure about the flowers, but I think they may have been done by hand. In any case, the end result is a truly amazingly detailed figure of Swamp Thing.
Now, let's discuss articulation. At first glance, it might seem as though Swampy is only poseable at the head, arms, and legs. But that's just not how a DC Universe Classics figure works, is it? No, it isn't. And indeed, Swamp Thing's full range of motion includes his head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees and ankles. He does seem to be lacking in waist movement, and the upper arm and upper leg rotation.
So, how does it work? Quite simply, although Swamp Thing's head is made from the standard fairly rigid plastic typical to most action figures, his torso, arms, and legs are actually an endoskeletal structure, covered with rubbery outer parts. Although seams are visible at the shoulders and hips, and the head, of course, none others are apparent.
This is being touted as a new action figure design, and has turned up in at least one other non-Mattel line, offering large-scale human figures designed the same way, with, need it be said, a less plant-like epidermis.
To be honest, I'm not entirely convinced of how new and innovative it really is. It's unusual for the entire body to be made along this design concept, but frankly, Mattel did the endoskeletal design for the arms on their Big Jim figures back in the 1970's. Even found a way for Big Jim and his teammates to flex their biceps. Wouldn't surprise me if it's turned up on some Barbie dolls, either.
How well does it work? Well, if Swamp Thing is any indication, you don't have to worry about loose parts. The arms and legs are good and tight even where the seams show, and the elbows, knees, wrists, and ankles are so tight it's hard for me to get them to move, and I wasn't even sure there was a mid-torso bend at first. It works, but it's a pretty good isometric workout getting this guy to pose.
It's not something I'd want to see incorporated into DC Universe Classics, or for that matter Masters of the Universe Classics or any other established Mattel line. Swamp Thing is clearly a special case and an unusual figure, and his overall appearance lends itself well to something like this, so he can get away with it. But in as much as I have railed against the double-jointed knees and elbows that sometimes turn up in DCUC, not only because they're not necessary and don't look very good, but they also ruin the general consistency of design that the line has enjoyed. Such would also be the case if this design were implemented on the standard figures. For Swamp Thing, it works, but he should be the singular case.
His hands are interesting, in that the fingers are extended, and extremely flexible, since the skeletal structure doesn't account for them. Oddly, the second and third fingers of the right hand are molded together. It probably wouldn't take too much to separate them if one is exceptionally careful.
Swamp Thing comes with a display stand, designed to look like part of a swamp, and a small folder, reportedly the Personal Journal of Dr. Alec Holland, discussing his Bio-Restorative Compound, and followed by a note from Matt Cable regarding the emergence of Swamp Thing, including a blurry, Bigfoot-sighting-ish photo of Swamp Thing, that almost works, but you can see one of the leg joints. Still, nicely done.
So, what's my final word here? Honestly, I'm a lot more impressed than I expected to be. I've never been that big a fan of Swamp Thing, although I certainly respect the character's place in the DC Universe, and acknowledge his popularity. This figure is an amazingly detailed and complex piece of work, and everyone, from the designers among the Four Horsemen who came up with such a detailed and complex figure, to the fine folks at the factory that made him happen, should be commended.
If you're a DC fan, or a Swamp Thing fan, or just have an eye for remarkable action figures, then Swamp Thing definitely needs to be on your list. You won't be disappointed.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of SWAMP THING definitely has my most enthusiastic, highest recommendation!