Comics are filled with characters blessed with extraordinary abilities that enrich their lives and give them purpose. But, some are dealt a more challenging hand when those changes dramatically disrupt their lives in unwelcome ways. Some quickly turn to villainy, while others like Swamp Thing, attempt to do some good while desperately seeking a return to normalcy.
Swamp Thing was created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson 50 years ago for a standalone horror story in House of Secrets #92 (July 1971). The first incarnation of Swamp Thing differs from the more well known Dr. Alec Holland. The first Swamp Thing was Alex Olsen, a man injured in a lab incident orchestrated by his partner who wanted to kill Alex because he was in love with Alex’s wife. When the chemicals in the lab encountered Alex’s body, he transformed into Swamp Thing. Since he couldn’t communicate in his new form, Alex was unable to prove who he was, so he sequestered himself in the swamp.
When Swamp Thing got his own self-titled comic in 1972, Alec Holland became the lead character. He was studying a bio-restorative formula to make forests out of the desert. While working in a Louisiana swamp, he was attacked by a ecological terrorist group that wanted the formula. He was killed in an explosion and his body went deep into the swampy mud he had been researching. The combination of the explosion and the formula interacted with his body, causing him to mutate into a large body composed of plant life and earth. Later he would learn that his body was now the physical avatar of The Green, a cosmic force that sustains all of Earth’s plant life and is the emissary for the Parliament of Trees.
When he became Swamp Thing, Alec inherited near limitless powers over nature. He can animate organic material, regenerate and duplicate his body parts, and move freely through natural elements. Swamp Thing can conjure and resist poisons, use toxins to mentally influence things, and raise the dead.
Using his new abilities, Swamp Thing set out on a mission for answers to his condition and how he could return to being human. He also sought vengeance against those who caused his mutation or those who harm his home in the swamp.
When Saga of the Swamp Thing series began in 1982, it is revealed that Alec’s form was not buried inside a Swamp Thing shell, but rather that his mind and memories were all that remained of the former botanist. This meant that Alec would have no body to return to even if he found some magical or mystical cure to his condition.
It was also during this time that, through the help of John Constantine, Swamp Thing learned about the Green and the Parliament of Trees. He discovered that he was one in a line of Swamp Things who served as the emissary for the Parliament of Trees.
As he learned more about his responsibilities as a plant elemental, Alec struggled with the desire to return to his former life. Still, he would answer the call to help other superheroes like Batman, though his power often had unintentional side effects when the plant life would overtake the environments.
Desperate for his old life, Swamp Thing used his power to possess Constantine’s body. In this form, Alec fathered a child who would later be used as the physical host for the planet elemental called, the Sprout. This violation caused a major rift between Alec, Constantine, and Alec’s wife, Abby.
Like many characters after Flashpoint, The New 52 made changes to Alec Holland’s story. In the new Swamp Thing ongoing series, he was returned to his human form, but with hazy memories of being Swamp Thing. Despite not wanting to be the plant-based creature, The Green was forced to team with The Red to stop an evil known as the Rot.
When DC Rebirth rebooted their characters again, Alec returned to being Swamp Thing as he had been before The New 52. As the representative for The Green and the Parliament of Trees, he has continued to appear as a supporting character in Hellblazer and Batman.
Swamp Thing has made many appearances outside of comic books in film, TV, and video games. In 1982, Swamp Thing starred in his own live-action film with Ray Wise as Alec Holland and Dick Durock playing Swamp Thing. Durock reprised his role for the Swamp Thing TV show, which ran from 1990 to 1993. Another self-titled live-action series ran in 2019, starring Andy Bean and Derek Mears. His appearances in animation included the Justice League Dark TV series, voiced by Roger R. Cross, and the movie Justice League Action, voiced by Mark Hamill. He has also been a playable character in multiple video games, such as his self-titled NES and Game Boy Color game, as well as in Lego Batman 3, Infinite Crisis, and Injustice 2.