Comic readers of all stripes know that with the classic "Anatomy Lesson" story from Alan Moore, the horror character's trajectory was changed forever as the human component of the beast known as Swamp Thing – Alec Holland – had died when the creature was born. That story led the character on a path far away from DC's core superhero universe and into the early days of what became the publisher's mature readers Vertigo imprint, where the "Swamp Thing" title remained for many, many years exploring philosophy, mythology and horror in equal measure as the lead encountered a collective known as the Parliament of Trees, communed with a force called the Green and eventually became earth's plant elemental.
All that history will come to bear on September 7 when writer Scott Snyder and artist Yanick Paquette bring "Swamp Thing" home to the DC Universe as part of the company's "New 52" launch of brand new ongoing series. CBR News caught up with Snyder on his longtime love of Swamp Thing, how the work of everyone from Moore to creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson and beyond will impact his run, how the return of Alec Holland in "Brightest Day" impacts the longstanding ideas about the hero's humanity and what twisted ideas he's got planned as part of the New 52's DCU Dark line as DC shares exclusive new art from issue #2!
Scott Snyder: I had a take on Swamp Thing that I was excited about for a long time. When I first came to Vertigo, I started talking Swamp Thing with Karen [Berger]. He's my favorite character outside of Batman, and I've read everything ever Swamp Thing from Len Wein all the way up to Joshua Dysart. So I think DC became aware that I had a love for the character and some ideas on "Are we ever going to bring him back?" They weren't sure, but they were thinking about it. This was long before the end of "Brightest Day." And then when Geoff Johns designed "Brightest Day," they started talking about bringing him back with me. Dan Didio and Bob Harras were saying "We know you love the character. Tell us what you want to do with him." So I told them, and they thought it would tail really well off what Geoff had planned and the "Search For Swamp Thing" series that Jonathan Vankin is doing, which does the torch passing.
But I'll tell you this, and maybe this is telling too much: my plate was pretty full at that time. It was a while ago, and I was gearing up to do the "American Vampire" mini as well as "Detective." And when they started asking about "Swamp Thing," it was honestly the only other character I would have taken on at that point. That's the only thing I could have not turned down because of the other stuff on my plate. But when they said, "We like your take, and it's yours if you want it" I just couldn't not do that. It's been a lot of work the last few months, but I made room for it by getting "American Vampire" and the mini as far ahead as possible where I felt like the quality was really good so I could give this as much time as it needs.
I couldn't be more thrilled. I started talking to Francesco Francavilla while we were working on "Tec" about it because he's going to do some fill-in issues down the line to give Yanick a break when he needs it and will tell some of the secret history elements the way he has on "Detective." And once we had that art team in place, I've never been as thrilled to have a book come together as I have with this one.
Ever since Alan Moore's "The Anatomy Lesson," the major influence on Swamp Thing has been the question of whether or not we view this as a man or as a godlike entity coming to bear on a man or something in between. With all that's happened concerning Alec Holland over the past few months, where are you taking that core question in your run?
That completely matters. I used to trace Bernie Wrightson from the Len Wein issues when I was a kid. I wanted to be a comics illustrator and would trace Wrightson all the time since "Swamp Thing" was one of the first books I fell in love with way back when – everything with the Un-Men and Arcane that came before Moore's run. And then the Moore comics I grew up with. That just blew my mind. It's a masterpiece. And since then, you're right, so many things have been done with the character where he's become larger than life and been relegated to the role of a god and been an elemental and ALL the elementals combined! [Laughs] So it's been very tricky, but it was something I was thinking about on my own before I knew I'd have the opportunity to do a Swamp Thing book. How would I go about that?
And my feeling was that I wasn't going to reboot it in any way. So I wasn't going to cut anything out. I want to make that very clear to fans: absolutely all of the Swamp Thing history stands. This is not a book that I have any interest in starting over again. I'm not going to ape the Alan Moore or the Len Wein/Bernie Wrightson stuff. There's no way I would do that. Everything that happened in "Swamp Thing" has happened. But what I thought was that since to me Swamp Thing has been blown up so much larger than life, the most interesting question was "Who is Alec Holland?" Alec Holland appears – when you think about it – on about five pages of comics ever. And who he was before he was Swamp Thing is a complete mystery. Why him? There's hints to that from the Parliament of Trees, and all that was very mysterious and intriguing to me. So I wanted to do a series that brought it back to the idea of a man haunted by the mantle of this monster that he's been and to use that to build on the mythology that's already there – the secret history of Swamp Thing throughout the past – and take it forward to reveal a new purpose for the creature that we've maybe been lurking towards for a long time. Because "Swamp Thing" since Moore – everything that's not Bernie Wrightson basically – hasn't been Alec Holland.
One of the things I found really interesting about what Geoff was talking about in "Brightest Day" where there's so much happening, but the important beat was that Alec Holland's body is being combined to the Green for the first time. Those are the things Geoff and I talked about from the very start, and he was extremely generous and gracious about working certain elements into "Brightest Day." I took some things from him, but the take was really about that: a man struggling with the mantle and the responsibility of Swamp Thing and figuring out "Why him?" and figuring out if he can ever have a chance at a life. Will this monster always be here? That's the stuff this is all about.
So this isn't us bringing back "Swamp Thing" as a reboot, but it is us bringing things back to the core of the character. Even when he wasn't Alec Holland, he was Alec Holland's consciousness. But Alec Holland as a human being Swamp Thing and having Swamp Thing in his life – with the history of Swamp Thing and all the things he was joined to when he joined the Green in "Brightest Day"? That's like you fall into a swamp in flames one minute dying, and then you wake up with a whole new set of memories and don't know who you are anymore. That is so fascinating for the character, and it gives us a way into the mythology where we can expand on it, even in the first issue. Everything about the Parliament and Swamp Thing's relation to the DCU and other heroes, Swamp Thing's relationship to the history of the DCU and to history itself will be explored. Who were the Swamp Things of the past? I'm totally over the moon about this and couldn't be more thrilled that they're letting me do this.
And believe me, it's one of those things where you have to have tunnel vision. Because if I thought for one second about how great the Moore stuff is – which I've read a hundred times at this point – and worried about topping it or even ten notches below it, that would scare me to death. So what this is is picking the character up the same way I have with Batman and asking, "What's most fascinating to me about him?" And the stories I've always loved the most in the Wrightson and Wein stuff was when he was struggling with his humanity and he was human and accessible – not so much when he was the Dr. Manhattan-like giant elemental force. That's really where the series is going, but you can expect some pretty big surprises and some revelations about the nature of Swamp Thing and its secret mythology and the Arcane family.
You came in to comics at Vertigo with the still going strong "American Vampire." Now that you've written for the DCU and are putting this character in the DCU for the first time in years, do you feel like there's a difference in tone at all? This is still a creepy horror book in many ways, but is there a change in approach once Swamp Thing is outside the Vertigo wheelhouse?
Not really. The way we've developed this DCU Dark line, you'll see DC stars in the opening pages of the series, but in no way is this "Swamp Thing fighting alongside superheroes." That's not at all interesting to me. What this really was about was creating the best story for Alec Holland. The collaboration came in thinking about this being a part of the DCU, so Jeff Lemire writing "Animal Man" and Paul Cornell on "Demon Knights" and Peter Milligan on "Justice League Dark" meant that we could all talk and not have it be so incongruous right off the bat. We all talked and started developing places where we could crossover as part of the main DCU while also having our own corner where there was no overlap. Jeff is one of my best friends, and as he's doing such a great job on "Animal Man" which involves the Red while I'm dealing with the Green, we talked extensively about extending the mythology created by Moore and carried through Veitch and Morrison all the way through to Diggle. We wanted to build on that while creating something that was our own. So in terms of being part of the DCU, he absolutely is a part of it, and there will be appearances by the Big Three, but this is really a story of Alec Holland.
Yanick Paquette is the regular penciler on the book, and it seems the legacy of "Swamp Thing" art from Wrightson on down is detail. The book has been known for cramming creepy details in at ever corner. How has Yanick risen to that challenge so far?
It's really funny that you ask that because when you called, I was Skyping with Yanick about an upcoming issue of "Swamp Thing" where we were talking about doing a design twist that will work as a creepy flipbook kind of thing. From his first pages in the very first issue, you'll see that he is going crazy on this book. His panels are designed to look like they're separated by branches and leaves. He's extremely reverent of and inspired by Steve Bissette and all the other artists that worked on "Swamp Thing" so he wanted to do something that would be that kind of style but wouldn't ape them at all. He's created his own design aesthetic for the book that will be totally bold and different, and I really think that it's going to be different than anything else in the DCU but also do justice to the art that's come before on "Swamp Thing."
And he can to something really clean and DCU-like for the moments where Alec is shocked and absorbing this world, but he can also do something completely twisted and psychedelic and dark for the monsters and the Green and all that. Francesco is the same as he's an essential part of the team, as is our colorist Nathan Fairbairn. We've all talked back and forth about how if there's one book where you can flex your muscles both as a writer on a book that has a history of pushing boundaries and for them as artists, it'd be "Swamp Thing." I don't have any interest in doing a "Swamp Thing" book that just fits a cookie-cutter DCU story where he fights monsters and superheroes. It's all about pushing my limits as a writer and their limits as artists. That's why I went to Yanick. I went to him months ago to tell him how much I loved "Batman Incorporated," and when I told him, "I'm looking for someone on 'Swamp Thing' and I think you'd be perfect" he said, "I'd want to do it like this." And that's exactly what I wanted from him. He really wanted to experiment on the page and not in a way that distracted from the storytelling but enhanced it. I was like, "You're my guy." And Francesco I obviously love from "Tec" and since he's doing fill-ins, his schedule wouldn't have overlapped the way Jock's would have as he finished our run. So Francesco was open, and I knew nobody invests himself more than he does in terms of taking the time to interpret what the story's about and making it visually striking on every page. I couldn't be more excited to work with them, and there is an aesthetic on the book that I owe totally to their creative forces.
And we might even do that flipbook thing, so don't laugh because it's not a funny thing. It's a scary thing.
The scariest flipbook of all time perhaps?
Exactly! [Laughs] it's a disease and death flipbook.
"Swamp Thing" #1 ships to comic shops and iPads on September 7 from DC Comics.