Review by C.J. Bunce
Although it wasn’t renewed for a second season, streaming service DC Universe’s Swamp Thing is the adaptation of a comic book series from 2019 that stood apart in a year where every other series seemed to be based on a comic book. On the small screen, from The Umbrella Academy, The Boys, and Watchmen, to the last seasons of Netflix’s The Punisher and Jessica Jones, plus new seasons of Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Gotham, and Legion, and new Batwoman and Doom Patrol series, 2019 meant a lot of comic book adaptations that either looked the same or they fought hard to try to be grittier and different. And that’s great–that means there’s something for everyone. But if you’re looking for fun, and nicely creepy but not too dark, and not cartoony, soap opera-ish, or comic booky, and you were willing to give DC universe a try, then you’d be lucky enough to have discovered Swamp Thing. If you missed it, you can still catch up with the full season now with a DC Universe subscription or via Amazon Prime here, and it’s coming your way (and available for pre-order) on Blu-ray, digital, and DVD next month.
Swamp Thing strikes the right balance, taking a second-tier property and recreating the level of creepy found in 1960s-1980s comics–a show that actually looks and feels like what the original visionary artists Bernie Wrightson and writer Len Wein put on the page. Finally a great Justice League Dark show, something like we loved in print from Mikel Janin and Peter Milligan that so far also has provided the best character cameos of CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event. Complete with Madame Xanadu, Blue Devil, and Phantom Stranger, we meet two very Marvel Comics types inside the DC realm. More importantly it’s great fun, like a John Carpenter movie with its visual effects, a top cast of household name actors and great guest stars, and faithful storytelling to the comics, headed up by Crystal Reed as a smart CDC doctor named Abby. If you’re of the camp (like us) that agrees Bill Bixby on The Incredible Hulk is still the best comics on TV has ever been, then you’ll love seeing the similar origin tale and subsequent episodes between Abby and Andy Bean′s Alec Holland, a researcher and investigator whose lives are turned upside down when a swamp is contaminated by a local mill, which causes devastating changes to Holland. The chemistry and tragic tale played by Bixby and Mariette Hartley in the 1970s Hulk series is echoed by the chemistry of Reed and Bean as the leads in Swamp Thing.
Holland transforms into a beast who walks and speaks like a man, but the plants of the swamp have merged with him. Is there still a man in there that can be removed and repaired, or is he forever transformed into something entirely new?
If you’re a fan of the comics you know the story, but then that’s the case with every comic book adaptation for the screen, right? With every superhero tale there is some suspension of disbelief required, so to work the production needs to get the presentation right, whether the actors are genuine, the story faithful and updated where appropriate, and the effects realistic enough to not snap you back to reality. What kind of woman would fall for something like the Swamp Thing? Abby can’t just be some doting, soulless character, and Reed makes her somebody real. Abby falls for Alec, but it takes time to get there, and she’s not ready to give him up just because he has transformed.
We now see that an unusual character like Swamp Thing can be adapted smartly like Hulk in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok or the Thing in Fantastic Four. These aren’t your typical superheroes, and even their comic book stories required a different angle, and often found a different fan base from Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man. This is an outcast story, but also a personal story like in Beauty and the Beast, fleshed out with themes of science, technology, corporate and government responsibility, and justice.
The supporting cast includes Virginia Madsen, Will Patton, Kevin Durand, and Jennifer Beals in key roles as villains, with Ian Ziering, Jeryl Prescott, Tim Russ, and even a cameo by Adrienne Barbeau from the original 1982 movie Swamp Thing.
It’s what a superhero series would become if John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro, and Forrest J. Ackerman had gotten their hands on the license to monster comics of the Charlton Comics era. Hopefully show creators Gary Dauberman and Mark Verheiden will get the studio to find another distributor so we can see what can happen in a second season, but for now it’s a finished series. See what you missed: Find Swamp Thing now on DC Universe or via Amazon Prime here.