SWAMP THING (1991)
(FOX, October 31, 1990-May 11, 1991)
DiC Entertainment, BBK Productions, MTE Enterprises
Len Carlson – Swamp Thing/Alec Holland
Harvey Atkin – Tomahawk
Philip Akin – Bayou Jack
Errol Slue – Dr. Deemo
Gordon Masten – Skinman
Joe Matheson – Weed Killer
Tabitha St. Germain (as Paulina Gillis) – Abigail Arcane
Jonathan Potts – Delbert
Richard Yearwood – J.T.
Swamp Thing is the creation of writer Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson. Debuting in DC Comics’ House of Secrets #92 (1971), Swamp Thing was early 20th Century scientist Alex Olsen whose experiments were sabotaged by his co-worker, Damian Ridge, in an attempt to kill him and steal his wife, Linda. The resulting explosion caused the chemicals and forces in the swamp to turn him into a monstrous and mute creature. Swamp Thing killed Ridge before he could kill Linda, who was growing suspicious of Ridge’s involvement in Olsen’s death. Unable to communicate his identity with Linda, Swamp Thing returned to the swamp. Wein had conceived of the character while riding the New York City subway, and without a name for it just kept calling it “that swamp thing I’m working on”, eventually giving it its name. Wrightson designed Swamp Thing’s appearance based on a rough sketch by Wein.
|The first Swamp Thing story.|
When the story proved successful, DC asked them to do an ongoing series depicting a more heroic and contemporary version. Now set in the 1970s, scientist Alec Holland was working on a bio-restorative formula in the Louisiana swamps that was designed to make inhospitable environments capable of supporting plant life. When Holland refused to give up the formula to the mysterious Mr. E, a bomb was planted in his lab. Doused in chemicals and on fire, Holland dove into the swamp, re-emerging as Swamp Thing. Wein’s roommate at the time, Gerry Conway, tried to get Wein to change the revised origin as it was very similar to the origin of Man-Thing, the character he and Roy Thomas debuted almost two years prior at Marvel Comics. Wein, however stuck with his idea and Marvel never pursued legal action since both characters were similar to The Heap, who debuted in Air Fighters Comics #3 (1942).
|Swamp Thing's more "heroic" run.|
Swamp Thing ran for a total of 24 issues before it was cancelled. During that time, Swamp Thing fought against evil as he sought to avenge his murdered wife (also named Linda), gained the arch-nemesis of Dr. Anton Arcane who was obsessed with discovering immortality, and developed a relationship with Arcane’s niece, Abigail. Hollands’ friend, federal agent Matthew Cable, believed Swamp Thing responsible for the death of Alec and Linda and often hunted him. Wein and Wrightson only worked on the first batch of issues in the series, with David Michelinie, Conway, Nestor Redondo and Fred Carrillo taking it over for the remainder of its run. DC planned to revive Swamp Thing in 1978, but it was a victim of the DC Implosion. The Implosion was the resulting failure of the “DC Explosion” plan to overtake Marvel’s growing dominance of the market by publishing more books, which was Marvel’s strategy at the time. But the blizzards of ’77 and ’78, rampant inflation, economic recession, and increased costs of printing forced DC to cancel almost 40% of its titles and lay off staff members.
In 1982, Wes Craven wrote and directed a film based on the character for Embassy Pictures. This version saw scientist Holland (Ray Wise) working with his now-sister Linda (Nannette Brown) on a project to make a plant/animal hybrid capable of surviving in extreme environments. Arcane (Louis Jourdan) killed Linda in an attempt to steal the formula, leading to Alec being transformed into Swamp Thing (Dick Durock). Adrienne Barbeau also starred as federal agent and Holland’s love interest Alice Cable, a combination of Matt Cable and Abigail Arcane. This led to a low-budget sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing, in 1989 and a live-action television series on USA Network from 1990-93. Durock reprised his role in both. The film also led to DC reviving the Swamp Thing series, birthing Alan Moore’s highly-regarded revitalization of the character.
1990 proved to be a big year for Swamp Thing. Along with the launch of the television series, Kenner had entered into a $6 million deal to produce a line of action figures based on the character. To promote the figures, Reed and Brue Shelly pitched an animated series to CBS which largely ignored Moore’s contributions and focused on the original Wein/Wrightson work. The series, like the comics, had the transformation of Alec Holland into Swamp Thing (Len Carlson) after his lab was destroyed for his plant-growth formula designed to end world hunger. This time, Anton Arcane (Don Francks) was behind the attack, using his team of synthetic Un-Men: Dr. Deemo (Errol Slue), a rhyme-speaking snake-like voodoo doctor that could transform into a serpent monster; Skinman (Gordon Masten), a frail zombie that could transform into a flying fangbat monter; and Weed Killer (Joe Metheson), a gas mask-wearing plant killer that turned into the leech-like bogsucker monster.
|Swamp Thing vs. Arcane.|
Swamp Thing also had his own allies in the form of Tomahawk (Harvey Atkin), a Native American expert tracker; Bayou Jack (Philip Akin), a Vietnam Veteran who became a hermit in the swamp after the war; Abigail Arcane (Tabitha St. Germain), Arcane’s stepdaughter; and Delbert (Jonathan Potts) and J.T. (Richard Yearwood), two young boys who lived near the swamp. Five episodes were produced by DiC Entertainment when CBS pulled the plug on the series. Instead, it would end up over at FOX.
|Weed Killer, Skinman and Dr. Deemo in their second forms.|
Swamp Thing previewed on October 31, 1990 on the Fox Kids programming block with the rest of the episodes airing that April to replace the failed Piggsburg Pigs. The series took on a pro-ecological slant, trading the horror overtones of the source material for goofy action/adventure as evidenced in the use of the theme by Michael Tavera that parodied Chip Taylor’s “Wild Thing”. The series was written primarily by Mark McCorkle and Bob Schooley, with assistance on one episode by Mike Medlock and the final episode by the Shellys. Miles Teves, Stefan Martinere and Kurt Connor handled the character designs. Despite being produced by veterans Michael E. Uslan and Benjamin Melniker, who also worked on the Swamp Thing films and live series, and animation veteran Andy Heyward, the cartoon ultimately failed to find a significant audience; mostly due to being put up against CBS’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. FOX reran the series in July, but both times it ended up being replaced by Piggsburg Pigs—the very show it was brought in to replace. It later aired on NBC as part of Chip and Pepper’s Cartoon Madness and on the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy). It would also air in Canada on YTV.
|Swamp Thing and Tomahawk.|
Despite its short run, a wide range of merchandise was released in relation to the cartoon. Kenner ended up producing two waves of the figures including several variants of Swamp Thing, playsets and vehicles. Other merchandise included a paint by numbers kit and a board game from Rose Art, a t-shirt, slippers, a bop bag, three pencil sharpeners by Noteworthy, and a piece of green chalk in the shape of Swamp Thing. Most of this merchandise featured artwork by Alfredo Alcala. In December of 1992, THQ released a Swamp Thing video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy. The side-scrolling beat ‘em up saw Swamp Thing take on various foes throughout the swamp with standard attack and “mud ball” projectiles. The game received generally negative reviews due to its high difficulty, poor controls, bland music and dull gameplay.
Kenner released “The Un-Men Unleashed” to VHS in 1992 to tie-in with their toys. The cover for the tape used the same package art as the Snare Arm Swamp Thing figure. A second release with a new cover came later in the year. In 2004, UAVCO released the complete series to DVD in promotion of its Animation Station programming block on Sci-Fi Channel. In 2006, Anchor Bay Entertainment released the complete series in the United Kingdom.
“The Un-Men Unleashed” (10/31/90) – Dr. Arcane turns his henchmen into mutants to attack Swamp Thing, but a group of allies comes to his aid.
“To Live Forever” (4/20/91) – Arcane and his Un-Men head to the Amazon and enslave a local tribe to harvest sap from “the trees that never die.”
“Falling Red Star” (4/27/91) – Swamp Thing, Bayou Jack and Tomahawk help NASA retrieve a downed satellite before Arcane can get his hands on it.
“Legend of the Lost Cavern” (5/4/91) – Arcane invades the ancestral burial ground of Tomahawk’s people to look for the Fountain of Youth.
“Experiment in Terror” (5/11/91) – The government captures Swamp Thing and takes him to New Orleans for experimentation.
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