Many before us have sung the praises of the Len Wein and Berni Wrightson stories that kick off the first volume of Swamp Thing stories. Have you seen the first issue of Swamp Thing? We might be in the minority, but the first chunk of issues where Swamp Thing takes on some pretty generic monsters seem like merelyt a warm-up for further greatness.
Even the Batman crossover in #7 fails to get our engines revved. But then: issue #8 comes along. Swamp Thing encounters a demon in a cave on the outskirts of a small town, giving us a dark visual feast that brings the series to life for us. The Lurker in Tunnel 13 may be the first of the early tales that hints at what Swamp Thing would later become in the 1980s –the first appearance of Arcane notwithstanding. It’s cosmic, satanic, horrific, and sports one of our favorite Wrightson covers.
Wein and Wrightson also present a great story about a stranded alien trying to repair his ship and return to the stars. Making this freakish beast sympathetic and compassionate reminds us that monsters and heroes come in many forms.
Before leaving the book, Wein & Wrightson deliver the consummately creepy Man Who Would Not Die, the first return of Arcane from the hell where he deserves to stay. The confrontation between Arcane and Swampy in a graveyard may be our favorite artistic moment of Wrightson’s legendary contributions.
Nestor Redondo steps into Wrightson’s shoes without missing a beat, working with Len Wein on three issues before David Michelinie takes the reins. We have some other images of Nestor Redondo’s Swamp Thing art if you’d like to check them out.
Michelinie and Redondo seem to lose steam towards the end of their contribution, and what happens next is a bit of a disappointment. The creative team changes, and the book loses much of its horror appeal quickly. Readers must have felt the same way at the time, as Swamp Thing would soon be cancelled. Swamp Thing’s gambit to revert to a normal Alec Holland once again just doesn’t work for us, and it’s been more or less ignored in subsequent Swampy stories.
The end of the volume is a bit of a mess, but the early stories have definite high points. We sold our collection of VG+/FN issues — almost a complete run — on eBay. But a few of them we would be happy to collect and read again. You can get many of the early Wein/Wrightson issues in Roots of the Swamp Thing reprints.
Having owned both the reprints and the originals, we prefer the originals. Though the printing and color is more crisp and clean and bright in the reprints, the vintage horror vibe feels much more authentic with a well-worn copy from the early 1970s, the smell of tanned comic book paper, and the distinctive original covers.