Back on the small screen after 25 years, Swamp Thing returns in this DC Universe original series with the backing of some Hollywood greats! So how did the first episode fair? Read on, Horror Bound loyal, to find out.
Whenever I get a chance on the site to write about one of my favorite things, I get all giddy inside. This week, the geek in me gets to venture back out into the comic book world with my review on the newest addition to the DC Universe original series’, the fourth in the line behind Titans, Young Justice: Outsiders, and Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing. Let’s dive in!
First, a confession: Despite Alan Moore being one of my favorite writers and Bernie Wrightson (R.I.P) one of my favorite illustrators (Fun Fact: I have a print of a two page spread from his Illustrated version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, autographed and hanging over my bed), I am not familiar with the written source material. I know, I know, what kind of a comic book nerd am I? But I was always more in love with his big screen film adaptations and then later, the short-lived television series (shot right here in my current neck of the woods).
The 1982 film, directed and written by the still young, yet promising, Wes Craven (R.I.P.), and starring Adrienne Barbeau used to show like everyday on HBO back then and I always watched when it was. Much like Frankenstein’s monster, Dick Durock’s creature was tortured and cast aside by those around him, yet he was introspective and vulnerable. I loved that vulnerability about him, and only Barbeau’s Alice could see him and accept him for whom he was. It was actually quite a lovely story.
The 1989 sequel is barely worth mentioning here, opting for more of a comedic take than the original, but it did swap out Barbeu’s Alice for the lovely Heather Locklear’s Abby Arcane, who we’ll get back to in a sec, but Dick Durock did return once again to reprise the role of the title character in the sequel as well as the television series that would premiere just a short year later. I was more into the TV show than that shitty sequel so I tried to tune in every week once it began airing. In it, Swamp Thing continued his ongoing battle with the evil Dr. Anton Arcane, played by the talented Louis Jordan in both film versions. The series did touch a little more on the creature’s protection of the Earth and the environment (hey, it was the 90’s!), a mission statement that continues still today in the comics and other media outlets. In fact, in the recent Justice League Dark animated movie, Swamp Thing ponders the survival of “The Green” over mankind. That’s pretty friggin’ hard core!
Needless to say, I was pretty psyched when DC announced they were producing a new series to air on their streaming platform backed by the likes of big Hollywood creative names such as James Wan (a man who needs no further introduction here at HB HQ), Len Wiseman (Hello? The Underworld franchise, people!) and mega television genre producer Mark Verheiden (Ash vs Evil Dead, Hemlock Grove, Daredevil, and Constantine). I followed the progress of the production, caught the teasers, and followed the casting, until it finally arrived. The series consists of ten episodes, after production was abruptly shut down before the ordered thirteen-episode run could be completed for reasons DC has described as “reevaluating the future of their streaming service.” Anyway, this is a review of season one, episode one: The Pilot.
The episode opens simply enough with a couple of shady dudes ordered to dump unknown, unnamed cases, at particular locations into a swamp in the small town of Marais, Louisiana. After dumping the cases, they are attacked by what seems to be the swamps come to life in the form of large tendrils, vines, and branches. \
Enter what is likely to become our protagonist, Dr. Abby Arcane, who works for the CDC and is in the Congo when our story opens trying to help a sick villager from an epidemic ravaging the little town she’s in. Once the crisis is averted, a new order comes in from CDC HQ about a mysterious illness spreading in her old hometown, that’s right, you guessed it, Marais, Louisiana. On her way back into her old stomping grounds, we get glimpses, via flashback of some terrible event that happened in her past and included the likes of her old best friend.
Once at the local hospital, Abby crosses paths with the monster to be, Alec Holland, a biologist, who has been doing an investigation of his own funded by local philanthropist, Avery Sunderland, the details of which we don’t know yet. But in his research, Holland has found that some new “mutagen” in the swamp is causing an accelerated growth of any organic material it touches. As expected, Abby and Alec team up as they feel like they’re both chasing the same solution. Out one night at the local roadhouse to meet a journalist contact of Abby’s, we learn of the dark past haunting Abby that was only touched upon in the flashback sequence I mentioned earlier, courtesy of Sunderland’s wife, Maria, portrayed by the masterful Virginia Madsen. All we learn from the exchange is that Abby and Sunderland’s daughter were besties and two days before their high school graduation, Abby “killed” her.
Back at Holland’s lab, Alec draws a connection between the mutagen and a sample they retrieved from one of the first victim’s corpse. A lead from Abby’s journalist friend points them toward Skeeter Cove where our heroes find the laptop and one of the unmarked cases our shady fellows from the intro left behind. Inside the case, an automatic releasing mechanism with vials that look eerily similar to the accelerant Holland discovered during his initial research. But who could be releasing the accelerant into the swamp and why? We don’t know… yet, but I can probably fathom a pretty good guess it’s going to be the very same man who hired Holland to research the accelerant to begin with, a certain Mr. Avery Sunderland (FYI: he’s also from the comic books).
Using the laptop they recovered from the Skeeter site, Alec decides to follow the GPS to other dumpsites and recover the already released cases so that no more accidents can happen. Abby, in the meantime, decides to head back to the hospital with the newfound information. While in the swamp, Holland is recovering the cases when an unknown assailant floats up on him and commences to blow his chest out with a shotgun, then upon firing a stick of dynamite into his boat, Holland’s only escape is into the murky depths of the swamp.
Here is when we see a short transformation sequence as the living vines and branches, propelled forth by the accelerant I’m guessing, begin to wrap themselves around and force themselves into Alec Holland’s body. Driven by the sight and sound of the explosion, Abby decides to investigate the fiery scene and comes to face to face with our title character. Not recognizing of course it to be the metamorphosed body of Alec, she flees, wherein the Swamp Thing collapses and we get a glimpse of his blood red eyes before a fade to the end credits.
I have to say, I’m excited for what’s to come next. As DC universe has taken the weekly release model of other services, we’ll have to wait until next week to find out what happens and nine more weeks until the conclusion. As expected this was a heavy character and story-building episode meant to provide us with both an origin of the Swamp Thing, as well as the foundations of where the tale will be going in the weeks to come. It wasn’t too heavy on the scares just yet, more moody than anything else, although there was quite a horrifying scene in the morgue that reminded me somewhat of Charles Hallahan’s memorable transformation in Carpenter’s The Thing. That being said, the practical effects are pretty darn good, but the digital ones could use some polish as they’re not quite on par with what we’ve already seen in some of the other originals like the effects heavy Doom Patrol. However, the brief glimpse we get of the creature at the end I like. The character design seems to be true to previous live action representations, although the addition of the creepy glowing red eyes puts the creature’s look right over the top in my opinion.
We’ll see where it goes from here, but I’m hopeful so far. The comic book history of the Swamp Thing is long, storied, and has gotten bizarre at times, so it’ll be interesting to see which direction they go in. I know I’ll be watching. For the lack of some real scares and shoddy digital effects, I’m gonna have to give the pilot just the four corpse fingers today, but I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Want more TV show recaps? Just search below: