Len Wein came up with the idea for the character while riding a subway in Queens. He later recalled, "I didn't have a title for it, so I kept referring to it as 'that swamp thing I'm working on.' And that's how it got its name!" Berni Wrightson designed the character's visual image, using a rough sketch by Wein as a guideline.
The Swamp Thing character first appeared in House of Secrets #92 (June–July 1971), under the name Alex Olsen. The comic is set in the early 20th century, when Olsen, a scientist, is caught in a lab explosion caused by his co-worker, Damian Ridge, who intended to kill him to gain the hand of Olsen's wife Linda. Olsen is physically altered by chemicals and the forces within the swamp. He is transformed into a monstrous creature who kills Ridge before the latter can murder Linda, who has started to suspect Ridge of murdering Alex. Unable to make Linda realize his true identity, he returns to the swamp.
After the success of the short story in the House of Secrets comic, the original creators were asked to write an ongoing series, depicting a more heroic, more contemporary creature. In Swamp Thing #1 (October–November 1972) Wein and Wrightson updated the time frame to the 1970s and featured a new version character: Alec Holland, a scientist working in the Louisiana swamps on a secret bio-restorative formula "that can make forests out of deserts". Holland is killed by a bomb planted by agents of the mysterious Mr. E (Nathan Ellery), who wants the formula. Splashed with burning chemicals in the massive fire, Holland runs from the lab and falls into the muck-filled swamp, after which a creature resembling a humanoid plant appears. Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, who co-created Man-Thing for Marvel Comics a year and a half earlier, thought that this origin was too similar to that of their character, and Wein himself had written a Man-Thing story that was published with a June 1972 cover date, but he refused to change the origin in spite of some cajoling by Conway, who was his roommate at the time. Marvel, however, never took the issue to court, realizing the similarity of both characters to The Heap.
The creature, called Swamp Thing, was originally conceived as Alec Holland mutating into a vegetable-like creature, a "muck-encrusted mockery of a man". However, under writer Alan Moore, Swamp Thing was reinvented as an elemental entity created upon the death of Alec Holland, having somehow absorbed Holland's memory and personality into itself. He is described as "a plant that thought it was Alec Holland, a plant that was trying its level best to be Alec Holland" with the result that he suffered a temporary identity crisis as he tried to surrender to his plant side after the discovery that he could never be human 'again', but he eventually adjusted to his role after a fight with the Floronic Man. This new twist on his identity diverged the character from Marvel's character. This was Alan Moore's second re-invention of a comic book character, the first being Miracleman.
The major difference between the first and second Swamp Thing is that the latter appears more muscular than shambling, and possesses the power of speech. Being able to speak only with great difficulty, Alex Olsen's speech impediment is a major reason why his wife could not recognize him. In Swamp Thing #33, Alan Moore attempted to reconcile the two versions of Swamp Thing with the revelation that there have been many previous incarnations of Swamp Thing prior to the death and "rebirth" of the Alec Holland incarnation. Three others are notable: Albert Höllerer, a World War II pilot, appeared briefly and had his story summarized in Swamp Thing #47 (May 1986), and Aaron Hayley appeared in the Swamp Thing: Roots graphic novel (1998) set in the 1940s, and Alan Hallman, the Swamp Thing of the 1950s and 1960s, was introduced in Vol. 2 #102 (December 1990) and eventually, after being corrupted by the Gray, was killed by Holland. As a result, Holland is known as Swamp Thing IV by the editors of the DCU Guide. The principal two Swamp Things are also connected in that Holland's first wife is Linda Ridge, a descendant of Damian Ridge.
The Swamp Thing has appeared in four comic book series to date, plus several specials, and has crossed over into other DC titles. The first Swamp Thing series ran for 24 issues, from 1972 to 1976.
Len Wein was the writer for the first 13 issues, before David Michelinie and Gerry Conway finished up the series. Burgeoning horror artist Bernie Wrightson drew the first ten issues of the series while Nestor Redondo drew a further thirteen issues, the last issue being drawn by Fred Carrillo. The original creative team worked closely together; Wrightson recalled that during story conferences, Wein would walk around the office acting out all the parts. Swamp Thing fought against evil as he sought the men who murdered his wife and caused his monstrous transformation, as well as searching for a means to transform back to human form.
Swamp Thing has since fought many villains. Though they only met twice during the first series, the mad Dr. Anton Arcane and his obsession with gaining immortality became Swamp Thing's nemesis, even as Swamp Thing developed a close bond with Arcane's niece Abigail Arcane. Arcane was aided by his nightmarish army of Un-Men and the Patchwork Man, as Arcane's brother Gregori Arcane, who after a land mine explosion was rebuilt as a Frankenstein's Monster-type creature by his brother. Also involved in the conflict was Swamp Thing's close friend-turned-enemy Matthew Cable, a federal agent who mistakenly believed Swamp Thing to be responsible for the deaths of Alec and Linda Holland.
As sales figures plummeted towards the end of the series, the writers attempted to revive interest by introducing fantastical creatures, aliens, and even Alec Holland's brother, Edward (a plot point ignored by later writers), into the picture.
In 1982, DC Comics revived the Swamp Thing series, attempting to capitalize on the summer 1982 release of the Wes Craven film of the same name. A revival had been planned for 1978, but was a victim of the DC Implosion. The new series, called Saga of the Swamp Thing, featured an adaptation of the Craven movie in its first annual. Now written by Martin Pasko, the book loosely picked up after Swamp Thing's appearance in Challengers of the Unknown, with the character wandering around the swamps of Louisiana seen as an urban legend and feared by locals. Pasko's main arc depicted Swamp Thing roaming the globe, trying to stop a young girl (and possible Anti-Christ) named Karen Clancy from destroying the world.
When Pasko had to give up work on the title due to increasing television commitments, editor Len Wein assigned the title to British writer Alan Moore. When Karen Berger took over as editor, she gave Moore free rein to revamp the title and the character as he saw fit. Moore reconfigured Swamp Thing's origin to make him a true monster as opposed to a human transformed into a monster. In his first issue, he swept aside most of the supporting cast Pasko had introduced in his year-and-a-half run as writer, and brought the Sunderland Corporation to the forefront, as they hunted Swamp Thing and "killed" him in a hail of bullets. The subsequent investigation revealed that Swamp Thing was not Alec Holland's consciousness transformed into a plant but actually a form of plant life that had absorbed Holland's consciousness after exposure to his work, with Swamp Thing's appearance being the plants' attempt to duplicate Holland's human form. This resulted in Swamp Thing suffering a temporary mental breakdown and identity crisis, but he eventually reasserted himself in time to stop the latest scheme of the Floronic Man.
Moore would later reveal, in an attempt to connect the original one-off Swamp Thing story from House of Secrets to the main Swamp Thing canon, that there had been dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Swamp Things since the dawn of humanity, and that all versions of the creature were designated defenders of the Parliament of Trees, an elemental community also known as "the Green" that connects all plant life on Earth. Moore's Swamp Thing had a profound effect on mainstream comic books, being the first horror comic to approach the genre from a literary point of view since the EC horror comics of the 1950s, and he broadened the scope of the series to include ecological and spiritual concerns while retaining its horror-fantasy roots. In issue #37, Moore formally introduced the character of John Constantine as a magician/con artist who would lead Swamp Thing on the American Gothic storyline. Alan Moore also introduced the concept of the DC characters Cain and Abel being the Biblical Cain and Abel caught in an endless cycle of murder and resurrection.
Saga of the Swamp Thing was the first mainstream comic book series to completely abandon the Comics Code Authority.
With issue #65, regular penciler Rick Veitch took over from Moore and began scripting the series, continuing the story in a roughly similar vein for 24 more issues. Veitch's term ended in 1989 in a widely publicized creative dispute, when DC refused to publish issue #88 because of the use of Jesus Christ as a character despite having previously approved the script in which Swamp Thing is a cupbearer who offers Jesus water when he calls for it from the cross. The series was handed to Doug Wheeler, who made the cup that Shining Knight believed to be the Holy Grail to be a cup used in a religious ceremony by a Neanderthal tribe that was about to be wiped out by Cro-Magnons, in the published version of issue #88. Beginning in issue #90, Wheeler reintroduced the Matango that Steve Bissette had introduced in Swamp Thing Annual #4.
After a period of high creative turnover, in 1991 DC sought to revive interest in Swamp Thing by bringing horror writer Nancy A. Collins on board to write the series. Starting with Swamp Thing Annual #6, Collins moved on to write Swamp Thing #110–138, dramatically overhauling the series by restoring the pre-Alan Moore tone and incorporating a new set of supporting cast members into the book. Collins resurrected Anton Arcane along with the Sunderland Corporation as foils for Swamp Thing. Her stories tended to be ecologically based and at one point featured giant killer flowers.
With issue #140 (March 1994), the title was handed over to Grant Morrison for a four-issue arc, co-written by the then unknown Mark Millar. As Collins had destroyed the status quo of the series, Morrison sought to shake the book up with a four-part storyline which had Swamp Thing plunged into a nightmarish dream-world scenario where he was split into two separate beings: Alec Holland and Swamp Thing, which was now a mindless being of pure destruction. Millar then took over from Morrison with issue #144, and launched what was initially conceived as an ambitious 25-part storyline where Swamp Thing would be forced to go upon a series of trials against rival elemental forces. Millar brought the series to a close with issue #171 in a finale where Swamp Thing becomes the master of all elemental forces, including the planet.
Written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Roger Petersen and Giuseppe Camuncoli in 2001, the third Swamp Thing series focused on the daughter of the Swamp Thing, Tefé Holland. Even though she was chronologically 11-12, the series had Tefé aged into the body of an 18-year-old with a mindwipe orchestrated by Swamp Thing, Constantine and Abby in order to try to control her darker impulses, brought about by her exposure to the Parliament of Trees. Due to the circumstances under which she was conceived, while Swamp Thing, possessing John Constantine, was not aware he was given a blood transfusion by a demon, she held power over both plants and flesh.
Believing herself to be a normal human girl named Mary who had miraculously recovered from cancer three years prior, she rediscovers her powers and identity when she finds her boyfriend and best friend betraying her on Prom Night. In a moment of anger, her powers manifest and she kills them both. Tefé then fakes her own death and embarks on a series of misadventures that take her across the country, and ultimately to Africa, in search of a mythical "Tree of Knowledge."
During this series, it seems that Swamp Thing and Abigail have reunited as lovers and are living in their old home in the Louisiana swamps outside Houma. The home in which they live more closely resembles the one Swamp Thing constructs for Abigail during the Moore run, than the home in which they dwell during the Collins run. In a confrontation with Tefé, Swamp Thing explains that he has cut himself off from the Green, and there seems to be no trace of the god-like powers he acquired from the Parliaments of Air, Waves, Stone or Flames during the Millar run. Also, Vaughan's Swamp Thing does not seem to have been divorced from the humanity of his "Alec Holland-self." The disconnection between these two entities, however, emerges as a plot point in Volume 4.
A fourth series began in 2004, with writers Andy Diggle (#1–6), Will Pfeifer (#7–8) and Joshua Dysart (#9–29). In this latest series, Swamp Thing is reverted to his plant-based Earth Elemental status after the first storyline, and he attempts to live an "eventless" life in the Louisiana swamps. Tefé, likewise, is rendered powerless and mortal. Issue #29, intended to be the final issue of the fourth volume, was cancelled due to low sales numbers.
The conclusion of the series Brightest Day revealed that Swamp Thing had become corrupted by the personality of the villain Nekron in the wake of the Blackest Night crossover. Swamp Thing now believed himself to be Nekron, similar to how he had once believed himself to be Alec Holland. Swamp Thing went on a rampage in Star City, ultimately seeking to destroy all life on Earth. The Entity within the White Lantern used several heroes, including Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Firestorm, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman and Deadman to slow the rampage and to construct a new Swamp Thing based on the body of Alec Holland. Instead of merely thinking it was Holland, this version of Swamp Thing would actually be him. The new Swamp Thing defeated and killed the corrupted and original Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing then restored life to natural areas around the world and declared that those who hurt "The Green" would face his wrath. He also restored Aquaman, Firestorm, Hawkman, and Martian Manhunter to normal. The book ended with Swamp Thing killing several businessmen who engaged in deliberate, illegal polluting activities.
This 3 issue mini series follows immediately after the events of "Brightest Day", and follows the actions of John Constantine as he tries to work out what has changed with Swamp Thing, and track him down, with the assistance of Zatanna, Batman and Superman.
DC Comics relaunched Swamp Thing with issue #1 in September 2011 as part of The New 52. The first issue featured Dr. Alec Holland who had been resurrected as a human with only memories of his time as a plant elemental. After completing a batch of his bio-restorative formula, he drops out of his botany career and becomes a construction worker. Haunted by thoughts of transforming again, he attempts to throw his formula into a swamp, but is stopped by a separate entity who has taken on the form of Swamp Thing.
In the following issue, this entity explains the revisions in the Swamp Thing continuity to Alec Holland which explains that he is part of The Green and that Swamp Thing must help The Green and The Red face off against The Black (aka The Rot).
Animal Man and his family continue their trip to find Swamp Thing so that they can unite against The Black. Arriving in the swamp, Ignatius uses his senses to help them locate Swamp Thing. When Animal Man manages to find Swamp Thing, they agree that they must enter The Black. When they arrive in The Black, Animal Man and Swamp Thing soon find themselves one year into the future where The Black has infected most of the Earth. Swamp Thing and the forces of The Green engage the Un-Men outside of Anton Arcane's castle.
After defeating Arcane, Holland is faced with a new threat in the form of an enigma of a man calling himself 'Seeder'. He has the ability to take parts of the Green and make it grow wherever he wants into whichever form he wants, such as a whiskey tree( whiskey is obtained from barley not a tree, especially not in a liquid form). Also a woman going by the name of Capucine asks for his help as she was promised sanctuary by a previous Avatar.
Eventually Seeder is revealed to be Jason Woodrue and since he shows aptitude for using the Green, the Parliament of Trees decides to let them both battle to see who will win the title of Avatar since Jason wants the title. Alec is offered help from a previous avatar called The Wolf who takes him to another avatar, Lady Weeds. She teaches him to become one with the Green and allow his consciousness into different forms at once. Alec is disappointed when he finds out that Jason also goes to Lady Weeds for help. Wolf then takes him to another place where Seeder cannot go. Wolf refuses to go with Alec out of respect for the Avatar, an Avatar who has accomplished more than most in his time. It turns out to be the Avatar created by the Green that believed it was Alec Holland but was actually just a plant, the One just before him. Alec is disgusted that it made its home in the Green like his own birthplace and destroys it but regrets it. The Avatar does not get angry but tells him not to do anything that will take away what he is.
When they battle Jason creates a portal to the moon and throws Alec there. Jason demands to be made Avatar saying he has won. The plants that were growing on his face begin to grow wildly. Jason believes this to be him becoming Avatar but Alec grows out of those plants and holds him under foot. But since he refuses to kill him, he is sent into the Green and Jason is made Avatar of the Green.
During the "Trinity War" storyline, Swamp Thing is among the superheroes who feel the disturbance in the magical plane when Shazam picks up Pandora's Box.
During the "Forever Evil" storyline, Nightmare Nurse has grown a blue female Swamp Thing to help Constantine find his team. The blue Swamp Thing doesn't survive long and gives birth to Constantine's green Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing agrees to help as The Green has been agitated by the Crime Syndicate's arrival, and tells them he would have assisted if they had just asked.
Swamp Thing returns as a supporting character in John Constantine's Hellblazer series.
Swamp Thing can inhabit and animate vegetable matter anywhere, including alien plants, even sentient ones, and construct it into a body for himself. As a result, bodily attacks mean little to him. He can easily regrow damaged or severed body parts, and can even transport himself across the globe by leaving his current form, transferring his consciousness to a new form grown from whatever vegetable matter is present in the location he wishes to reach. He even grew himself a form out of John Constantine's meager tobacco supply on one occasion.
Swamp Thing is normally human-sized or slightly larger than average, but he can grow bodies much larger. He once used Sequoioideae to grow a body the size of an office block.
Swamp Thing possesses superhuman strength. While Swamp Thing's strength has never been portrayed as prominently as many of his other abilities, he is arguably one the most powerful beings in the DCU. DC's New 52 continuity made several changes. Though mostly hi-lighting previous abilities and a physical look not dissimilar from previous incarnations. New 52 continuity did however bring Swamp thing further into shared universe continuity by placing him permanently in the Justice League Dark team lineup. Partnering with many familiar faces like John Constantine, Zatanna Zatarra and Deadman. Swamp Thing's powers and abilities make him the true powerhouse of the team. His power limits have yet to be established. He has demonstrated sufficient strength to rip large trees out of the ground with ease and trade blows with the likes of Etrigan the Demon.
Swamp Thing can control any form of plant life. He can make it bend to his will or accelerate its growth. This control even extends to alien life, as he once cured Superman of an infection caused by exposure to a Kryptonian plant that was driving Superman mad and causing his body to burn out its own power.
After the run of Mark Millar, Swamp Thing had also mastered the elements of Fire, Earth, Water and Air, the Parliaments of each were later killed by The Word, implying that he has retained these abilities and has the power once held by the Parliaments. This has yet to be explained.
The new Swamp Thing (a resurrected Alec Holland) has no power over a White Lantern Power Ring but he can control all forms of plant life and even grow every kind even if it is unknown to him. He can also grow from any plant life anywhere, dead or alive. This is seen when Seeder creates a portal to the moon and banishes him there. However, Holland simply resurrects himself back on Earth from the plants growing on Seeder's face.
In Super Friends #28, Swamp Thing made an appearance as one of the five foes that the team battles.
A pre-Swamp Thing Alec Holland appears in The Batman Adventures #16 in a 5-page backup, set in the Batman: The Animated Series universe. He lives with the long retired Pamela Isley (Poison Ivy), as well encountering a plant doppelganger she created earlier on to keep Batman from trying to locate her.
Swamp Thing appears in the Year Three of Injustice: Gods Among Us comic series in which he has chosen to ally with Superman instead of Batman and his longtime ally John Constantine. He appears when Constantine and Batman approach him to become allies of the Insurgency only to discover he has already aligned with the Regime because their efforts to prevent cataclysmic harm to the environment. Due to having a past with Constantine, he allows them to go unharmed, but warns that he will not be as lenient the next time. Swamp Thing makes good on his threat near the climax of Year Three, where he appears to aid the Regime against the Insurgency. Poison Ivy is brought in to take him on. Though they unite to preserve the Earth as the demon Trigon and Mister Mxyzptlk get into an epic fight that threatens to engulf everyone and send them to Hell. As the Flash races to save everyone before it is too late, Swamp Thing becomes intangible at the last minute and is trapped in Hell.A public service announcement aired on behalf of Greenpeace against littering featuring Swamp Thing was debuted to coincide with the release of The Return of Swamp Thing.
The Swamp Thing television series would first air on USA Network from 1990 to 1993. The series was filmed in the brand-new Universal Studios Florida facilities and soundstages with Dick Durock reprising the role of Swamp Thing. The series ended short of its 100 episode schedule and reran on various networks throughout the following years. Starting in 2008, DVD collections of the episodes have been released via Shout! Factory.
DiC Entertainment's Swamp Thing animated series debuted on Fox Kids in April 1991, with Len Carlson providing the voice of the title character. Anton Arcane was the series' main villain, along with his three Un-Men. The animation style followed a trend similar to Troma's Toxic Crusaders. The program only lasted five episodes and is often considered a mini-series. Neither of these incarnations were highly successful critically or commercially, but the live-action series developed a cult following. A moderate collection of merchandise was produced for the animated series, including an action figure line by Kenner and video games by THQ.
Swamp Thing made a small cameo appearance in the Justice League episode "Comfort and Joy". He was seen at a cantina.
In a Justice League Unlimited episode (entitled "Initiation"), an unknown creature aboard the Justice League Watchtower, who is never identified, looks remarkably similar to the Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing can also be seen on a poster in the episode "Wake the Dead".
Swamp Thing's human name was mentioned by NBC released a photo for the TV series Constantine which shows Constantine's calling card number Constantine, Master of the Dark Arts at 404-248-7182 and When you dial the number, a recording says, "Hello, you've reached John Constantine. And that's John Constantine. If you're looking for Alec Holland, try the bloody swamp." It was rumored that Swamp Thing would appear in a future episode, but the show was cancelled.
Swamp Thing was mentioned in The Real Housewives of New York City episode "The Last Splash."
Swamp Thing appears in Justice League: Action, voiced by Mark Hamill. He first appears in "Abate and Switch" where he helps the Justice League fight the remaining Brothers Djinn members Abnegazar, Rath, and Nyorlath as well as Black Adam. In "Zombie King", Swamp Thing, together with Zatanna, Batman and John Constantine, tries to stop Solomon Grundy from take over the Earth with his army of zombies.
Swamp Thing's expansion into media outside of comic books began with his first eponymous film in 1982. Directed by Wes Craven, it starred actor/stuntman Dick Durock as the title character. A sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing, was produced in 1989. This was much lower in budget and met with significantly less success than its predecessor.The film series rejected the popular Alan Moore revision of Swamp Thing's origin and portrayed Swamp Thing with his original origin as a man turned into a plant-like entity.They also heavily featured Anton Arcane, who now became the man responsible for causing Alec Holland's transformation into Swamp Thing.
The documentary feature film The Mindscape of Alan Moore contains a psychedelic animation piece based on the "Love and Death" issue of Swamp Thing.
Swamp Thing appears in the 2017 animated film Justice League Dark portrayed by Roger R. Cross. In order to locate Felix Faust, the Justice League Dark go to find Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing agrees to transport them to Faust's observatory, but declines to join the group's fight. When the Justice League tries to fight Destiny, Constantine summons Swamp Thing, who agrees to fight Destiny, but he is eventually defeated by Destiny, who takes Alec Holland's corpse from his body.
Swamp Thing will be featured in Guillermo del Toro's upcoming film, not based on the Justice League Dark comics. While it shares many superficial similarities to the Justice League Dark comic series, del Toro has said that they are not related.
Swamp Thing inspired two video games in 1991, based on the animated series. One was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System and the other for the Game Boy. Both offered similar game play. A third game was to be released for the Sega Genesis, but was ultimately cancelled. A prototype ROM of the Sega Genesis game was eventually found and made available on the internet.
Swamp Thing appears in DC Universe Online, voiced by Chilimbwe Washington. In the hero campaign, the players find Swamp Thing in the aquacultural area of the Justice League Watchtower during the Spring Seasonal Event.
Swamp Thing appears as a playable character in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham voiced by J.B. Blanc.
He also appears as a playable character in Infinite Crisis voiced by Michael Dorn.
Swamp Thing is referenced by several militia soldiers in Batman: Arkham Knight. One militia soldier mentions him as the "Swamp Creature from Louisiana." Additionally in the botanical gardens, there is a bench with the inscription "In Loving Memory...Dr. Alec Holland" which is a nod to Swamp Thing.
Swamp Thing will be a playable character in Injustice 2.
Over the years, the Swamp Thing series has been nominated for and won several awards. Len Wein won the 1972 Shazam Award for "Best Writer (Dramatic Division)" and Berni Wrightson won the Shazam Award for "Best Penciller (Dramatic Division)" that same year for their work on Swamp Thing. Wein and Wrightson also won the Shazam Award for "Best Individual Story (Dramatic)" in 1972 for "Dark Genesis" in Swamp Thing #1. The series won the Shazam Award for "Best Continuing Feature" in 1973.
Alan Moore won the 1985 and 1986 Jack Kirby Awards for "Best Writer" for Swamp Thing. Moore, John Totleben, and Steve Bissette won the 1985 Jack Kirby Award for "Best Single Issue" for Swamp Thing Annual #2. They also won the 1985, 1986, and 1987 Jack Kirby Awards for "Best Continuing Series" for Swamp Thing.