Scott Snyder is a happy, well adjusted human being. He swears it.
But as the horrific twists and turns of the writer's DC Comics series "Swamp Thing" (whose fourth issue is out this week) have ramped up, Snyder has learned that his readers may expect a bit more depravity from his personal life. "I hear that sometimes, and I get really freaked out. It's like 'What am I hiding? Where are the bodies buried?' I always make the joke that I go home and my family is actually stuffed, and people don't think I'm kidding," he laughed. "Every book I work on turns into a horror book in some way. I was just talking to Jeff Lemire about how, to me, with each character you take on you have to cut to the heart of what really makes them scared. You have to scare them by showing them their biggest nightmares and have them face those in ways that are very potent and challenging. You need to do justice to the gravity of the character and their legendary status."
In terms of "Swamp Thing," that gravity is continuing to beat down on scientist Alec Holland who is alive and human again for the first time in over 20 years. Drawn by Yanick Paquette with #4 by Marco Rudy, the series' opening arc has focused on Holland's struggle against the mythical force known as the Green, which is hellbent on turning him into the Swamp Thing. Meanwhile, Holland reconnects with the children of former foe Anton Arcane – both his love Abby and her young brother William who himself is being taken over by the force known as the Black Rot. "It's not so much a challenge of what scary stuff I can put in there, but this thing he has to face needs to be nightmarish for him personally," Snyder explained. "In the form of William and the Arcane family, what's coming in issue #4 and 5 is that he has a very deep connection to Abby. He's been thinking about her since he was a little boy. They've have each other in their minds since they were young in one form or another – whether its this nightmarish version of the other person or actual memories of them and their relationship from when Alec was first copied by Swamp Thing.
"So Alec's nightmare really boils down to 'What if the woman I love – the woman I'm destined to be with – is supposed to be my greatest enemy? What if she's the greatest monster I'm supposed to face?' That's the way we're trying to make this scary and emotional for the characters rather than just come up with the grossest, scariest thing I can put into the book. And once that's your compass, the horror elements just write themselves. What's scary in the book is scary because it's scary to Alec, not because it's gross. I always love writing a gross scene, and I love seeing what Yanick can do with it, but the feeling is that the scares come from what's emotionally frightening to Alec – both the idea that he's destined to be a monster he doesn't want to be and that he's been avoiding since he was a child AND the fact that maybe the greatest monster he has to face if he does take this on is the one woman he's felt a deep love for."
Readers most familiar with "Swamp Thing" from its many years as a mature readers comic under DC's Vertigo imprint thanks to an iconic run in the 1980s by Alan Moore may be finding a bit more old school adventure feel in the book – one more reminiscent of the character's earliest adventures by creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. And Snyder said that such connections have been threaded into his comic since day one. "I feel as though my sentiment when we took on the book was that if we did this, it had to be a very classic take on Swamp Thing," he said. "We had the notion from the very start of wanting to have Alec as a human again and wrestling with this notion of the mantle of a monster of Swamp Thing and all of the terrible things he'd been through. Was he destined to be this monster again? Was it built into his DNA? Is it something he has known his whole life but swept under the rug so he could live sanely? Did he try to make the bio-restoritave formula just to appease the Green and escape his destiny? Once I knew that's how I was going to bring him back, I felt like a lot of the classic material would be easier to use for me.
"The new iteration of Swamp Thing himself being human was so different than what had happened over the long stretch of stories that had been done on the book that it would allow me to go back to the classic elements that were in the Len Wein and then the Alan Moore stuff – the Arcane family, the Un-Men and the mythology at the core of the Parliament of Trees as well as the bio-restorative formula and its relationship with Abby and what happened to his wife. Those elements that formed the core of Swamp Thing, his foundation, became easier to play with once I found out that he existed in that first long arc as a human. It made things fresh for me because the way he's approaching them wasn't as a protector of the Green monster but as a person wrestling with whether these things have any credence in his life."
Of course, the external threat of William Arcane and the Black Rot is also a major concern for Holland and the series as a whole as Snyder builds new levels into the Swamp Thing mythos. The writer said that both for the hero and the young villain of the story, the major question at hand is one of "nature versus nurture" to a bizarre degree. "At the end of the day, the thing all the characters are wrestling with – Abby, Alec and William – is that they're being picked by these giant elements that offer them tremendous power and tremendous responsibilities, but those elements are not the way they were really portrayed in the books that came before," he said. "We're trying to expose them as being very greedy and violent and volatile forces of nature. The Green itself is a scary entity in 'Swamp Thing.' It can create giant monsters and wants the world for itself. The Green wants to kill man, get rid of the Rot and have a lush, green planet. That's it. The Red wants to create a planet of flesh and cares about nothing else. And the Rot obviously wants to create a wasteland. In that way, you're being chosen to have these amazing powers, but at the same time, you're chosen in a way that sets you at odds with the idea of being a superhero.
"The ancient Swamp Thing that was dying, Alec's predecessor, said in issue #2 that 'In humanity, we found our greatest asset' which is restraint. That's something that's very honest coming from a dying Swamp Thing. What Alec is wrestling with is that everything that's in the world is telling him 'You're supposed to be this amazing thing,' and what he's dealing with is 'How do I take this on while being not just a warrior of the Green but a restrainer of it?' It's someone who's supposed to officiate over the Green and negotiate with the Red and the Black and all the terrible things that come with that. It really is that he's wrestling with the world telling him it's 'nature' while he tries to find a way to make it 'nurture.' All the while, if he doesn't do it, the world is going to end. So he has to find a way quickly."
That battle between the Green, the Rot and the force known as the Red is also working its way through "Animal Man" – the monthly DC series written by Snyder'd friend Jeff Lemire. And the two creators have plans to merge that story...but not just yet. "We're really doing a big crossover once the initial arcs are done," Snyder said. "You will see Buddy and his family in the pages of 'Swamp Thing' and Alec and Abby entering the pages of 'Animal Man.' It's a story called 'Dead World' and it will start at the end of the first year. It is a common mythology, though we wanted our first arcs to be independent. Mine is about whether Alec wants to become Swamp Thing or not, and as much as I want to put it off and say 'Maybe he won't do it' everyone knows that at some point he might just have to become Swamp Thing again. I think the fun of it for us is the implication that it's not just 'You're supposed to become Swamp Thing.' It's 'You're supposed to become the chosen Swamp Thing – the greatest warrior king that the Green has ever known.'
"And because Alec hasn't ever technically become Swamp Thing in body – even the Swamp Thing in the Alan Moore run was copied from him because of the potential he had, and in 'Brightest Day' his body was bonded to the Green – we've still never seen the Swamp Thing he can become. He's supposed to become the Superman of Swamp Things. What will that thing look like? How glorious or terrifying can it be?
"In Jeff's first arc, he's really dealing with Buddy trying to find a home and be this great protector of the Red while at the same time being a family man. So we each wanted to deal with our own stories even as the characters were dealing with the same enemy. And once those stories are done and they've each fought that enemy on different fronts, we'll bring them together for an even more epic story – a bigger story that's the kind of blockbuster summer movie that can go for five or six issues in each book. It will be independent in that if you just want to read 'Swamp Thing' but don't want to read 'Animal Man' – which would be a total travesty on your part – you can do that, and it'll be fine. But they'll both be taking place in a world of our creation and a story of our creation that I think will be a tremendous amount of fun for people to play in for half a year."
In the meantime, Snyder and his artists are continuing to grow the roots of Alec Holland the man as he confronts William, the Black Rot and his own inner demons, and the writer couldn't be happier with his rotating team of visual collaborators. "Marco has been amazing. The plan has always been to give Yanick issues #4, 6 and 9 off so he could focus on moments that were really important and to have someone else come in to do stories that had a slightly different flavor – the history of Swamp Thing or a more intimate moment or the history of William. Marco I'm really excited about because he's done issue #4 and will also do #6. That set up has worked really well for us, and I'm ecstatic to work with both of them as well as Nathan Fairbairn on colors. I'm lucky in comics on the guys I get to work with all around.
"Swamp Thing" #4 is on sale now. Stay tuned in the days ahead for more with DC Comics' Scott Snyder!