When you consider Alec Holland is the living, breathing avatar of the Green in “Swamp Thing,” you’d be hard pressed to find someone more connected to world’s plant population. But if you’re looking, trying calling series writer Charles Soule.
The New York-based lawyer/musician/comic book scribe has already channeled the Green Kingdom so extensively that he’s moving beyond it — as well as the more familiar Red and the Grey kingdoms — to Metal and Bacteria when September ushers in DC Comics’ line-wide “Futures End” event this September.
Capucine and Brother Jonah, the former avatars of the Green have joined Swamp Thing back on Earth in a tightly knit blended family that would make “Big Brother” seem like a perfectly normal living arrangement. Not unlike the reality TV series, certain situations become unbearable for the houseguests and a breakdown ultimately occurs.
CBR News spoke with Soule about his new blended family and why some of the visitors are feeling unwanted, if not underappreciated, and why a day of reckoning has arrived. Soule also discussed the role of Etrigan in the upcoming “Swamp Thing Annual” #3, why Brother Jonah is playing both sides and how destroying the Parliament of Trees may have the best possible thing for Alec Holland.
CBR News: In this most recent arc of “Swamp Thing” and the crossover with “Aquaman,” Alec Holland has mentioned a few times that he’s a scientist and he would like to find the time to further investigate the Green kingdom. Have you done a lot of research into the world’s flora to better prepare yourself for writing “Swamp Thing?”
Charles Soule: For sure. I do some research for ever issue of “Swamp Thing.” For “Swamp Thing: Futures End” #1 in September, Swamp Thing encounters a bunch of kingdoms. We’ve already seen Fungus in some earlier issues and planning along those lines, I did a bunch of research into the different taxonomic classifications and what all of those different classifications are like and extrapolated what all of those kingdoms would actually be like. It was fascinating. One of my secret pleasures of writing “Swamp Thing” is that it always gives me opportunities to research cool things that I would not necessarily look up otherwise. Most books do that but “Swamp Thing,” in particular, does it a lot. It’s a real research-heavy book for me, which is great.
The solicitation for “Swamp Thing” #33 teases that Swamp Thing has more enemies than he ever knew — and one of them is someone he called a friend. Any hints on who that might be?
It isn’t any secret to anyone that has been following the title but the Wolf and Lady Weeds, who are former avatars of the Green that were plucked out of the Parliament of Trees when Alec Holland destroyed it in “Swamp Thing #27, have been hanging around as part of his supporting cast. We’ve known from the very beginning that they weren’t exactly thrilled at being yanked out of the Green by Alec Holland because for them, it was essentially Heaven. They had served their time as avatars, they had done their work, and they were basically allowed to retire to paradise.
When Alec destroyed that paradise, they were plopped back down to Earth with no powers or anything else — and they were just regular people. There were three of them. There was the Wolf, Lady Weeds and Brother Jonah. And while Brother Jonah saw it as an opportunity, I would say that the Wolf and Lady Weeds saw it as a terrible punishment that happened to them. While Swamp Thing has been trying to get them to make the best of it, they’re not on the same page. In the next couple of issues, we get to really see what their deal is, what they’re thinking and how they plan to get back at Alec for doing this terrible thing to them. The story really goes the horror route that I don’t think I’ve done with “Swamp Thing” since the Whisky Tree arc back in “Swamp Thing” #23-24.
The solicitation for “Swamp Thing” #33 also teases the arrival of ‘a squadron of occult assassins,’ which sounds like a Legion of Doom for Justice League Dark. Any insight into who or what is coming after Swamp Thing?
The Wolf and Lady Weeds are no longer super powerful on their own. They are just regular people. The Wolf is very clever and Lady Weeds is a psychopath, which can come in handy some times, [Laughs] but they are really not a physical match for the avatar of the Green so it’s possible that maybe they solicit some extra help to advance their cause. And those guys are super-creepy. You can see them, sort of, on the cover for “Swamp Thing” #33. They are designed by Jesus Saiz and as usual, any time you ask Jesus to draw something weird and creepy and awesome, he comes through more than you could have ever asked for and that’s certainly the case here.
The Wolf and Lady Weeds are definitely not to be trusted, but what about Brother Jonah? I’m still on the fence about him.
There is the tendency in comic books to make characters good or evil. And that’s largely because it’s the archetypes that we all grew up with. But people are not really like that so Brother Jonah is my effort to make somebody who is just a little bit more complex. Where he lies and where he fits is going to become a little bit clearer in the next few issues but basically, he’s kind of Zen about everything that happens to him. He’s somebody that was a priest back in the 1300s and he basically gave up his faith to become an avatar of the Green. And during his time, he fought to protect all kinds of different beliefs. He’s a big reader. He likes to take life as it comes and experience whatever life has to give him. Even though he lost his paradise down in the Green, he sees his life back on Earth as a new opportunity. I see him as a positive character but he’s not necessarily a positive character who is aligned with Alec Holland. He doesn’t necessarily have to help Swamp Thing whenever Swamp Thing asks. If it makes sense, he’ll maybe help him out but if not, it’s like whatever.
I do think the relationship between him and Capucine is very interesting. Capucine is a 1,000-year-old French assassin and so she was alive in the 1300s and knew Brother Jonah when he was the avatar back then. They have an old friendship that’s lasted for a long time and they are basically reunited after 700 years apart. That’s one of the fun things about working on “Swamp Thing,” the fact that Swamp Thing has this billion-year history. So many things have happened to him in so many eras so you can do amazing things with him. That’s something that I’ve enjoyed all throughout my run and will continue to do.
Capucine is a character that I’ve really enjoyed and one that you spotlighted back in “Swamp Thing” #28. Will her role continue to grow, as it has, in the months and issues ahead?
She has a very cool part to play in “Swamp Thing” #34, which is the “Lady” part of ” The Wolf and the Lady” two-parter. It really wraps up the whole three avatars arc. And the “Swamp Thing” annual, which hits in October and is a huge story, is basically all focused on her. As you know, if you’ve been reading the book, her soul was promised to the Demon Etrigan years and years and years before in exchange for 1,000 years of life and great strength and all of these abilities, and in that annual her 1,000 years is basically up and Etrigan comes to collect. It’s a plot line that’s been building in the series since “Swamp Thing” #21 so it’s amazing to finally pay off something that’s been building up for a year-and-a-half. It’s very exciting to be able to do long form storytelling in a way that, hopefully, readers will find rewarding. I know it’s been amazing to write.
“Swamp Thing” #32 ended poorly for Swampy as Lady Weeds skewered him with a knife. When you have a hero that is as powerful as Swamp Thing, how challenging is it to find villains or even supervillains that are up to the task?
Swamp Things’s big weakness is not his power. It’s knowledge. He has not been the Swamp Thing for all that long really. He’s been Swamp Thing for a year maybe in DC Universe continuity. Many, many things have happened to him but he’s going against people who were avatars for full lifetimes. The Wolf and Lady Weeds were both extremely skilled at his job back in the day so they know more about the Green. They know more about his abilities. They know more about his power than he does or will for years and years to come so I think that you can tell stories that play on the idea that Alec doesn’t totally understand everything that he’s doing. And what he is supposed to do and what he’s capable of. That’s really the only weakness he’s got other than emotional weaknesses and things like that. That’s how the Wolf and Lady Weeds are going to try and get to him and we’ll see if it works out. I hope not but they’re tough opponents for sure.
By destroying the Parliament of the Trees, Alec’s obviously cut himself off from all of that knowledge and history. But as the avatar of the Green, he’s really lost his humanity too. Is the Swamp Thing all alone?
If you are going to try and be in touch with humanity, speaking to a bunch of many, many, many thousands of years-old trees isn’t necessarily the way to do it. [Laughs] You connect with humanity by talking to people so I felt like the Parliament of Trees was almost a crutch for Alec. Whenever he was in a situation when he needed advice or help or something like that, he would just go to them and get it. From a storytelling perspective, from a dramatic perspective, putting him out on his own gives me more to work with.
Also, what I tried to show in the “Seeder” arc was that the Parliament of Trees had essentially become corrupt. They had become insular. They were stuck down in the Green and they were squabbling amongst each other and the only way they could really exert power on Earth was by choosing whom the next avatar was, and so I don’t think they were really a source of good advice. They were always squabbling. It was very much like a real parliament. By getting rid of them certainly created a number of challenges for Alec, but ultimately — at least hopefully — it will be a good thing for him. We’ll see what happens but that’s what I’m hoping.
You mentioned when you picked up the phone that you were writing rhyme for Etrigan. Was that for the annual or is Etrigan going to be featured in “Swamp Thing” moving forward?
No, it’s for the annual. But it’s interesting. There is a way that you can write Etrigan that doesn’t have rhyme. As you know, in classic continuity, Etrigan is what is known as a rhyming demon. He’s part of a cast of demons from Hell who profess their superiority or their rank by making everything they say rhyme. That’s a device that was used extraordinarily by writers like Alan Moore in “Swamp Thing” #27 and Neil Gaiman in “The Sandman.” I figured that if I were going to write a story with Etrigan, I would go in whole hog and do some interesting things with the rhyming. And unsurprisingly, it’s a gigantic challenge to try and do clever rhyming stuff that just doesn’t sound like limericks. The thing about the guys that have done the rhyming well, it’s pretty sophisticated. It’s interesting. It’s poetry. I’m not saying that I’m writing to that level, but I am trying to do some stuff that I think people will think is pretty cool.
I’m really looking forward to “Swamp Thing: Futures End” #1 in September. The solicitations tease that the avatars of the Green, the Red and the Grey go to war with Metal and Bacteria. Are we going to see another Swamp Thing/Animal Man team-up. And are we going to get some more Miki, too?
What I am doing with the Five Years Later story — actually I’ve already done it. It’s already written and it’s half-drawn. And it looks unbelievably good. Jesus Saiz has changed up his art style in a way for it and it looks just spectacular. But the way that I’ve done it is that you will see some characters that you know, they will be making some appearances or reappearances, but it’s designed to introduce lots of concepts that are going to inform the next arc too. We’ll see where a lot of those kingdoms are in the next five years. A lot has changed in the Swamp Thing world and the avatar world. Some of it is going to be a little familiar but a lot of it is going to be really different. And that’s all being done on purpose. I am really happy with the way that it’s turning out and I think it’s very cool and very weird.
What new challenges do the kingdoms of Bacteria and Metal present?
As far as Metal goes, you might also call it the Machine Kingdom so I was looking at what makes a machine? What is a machine? It’s both more complicated and simpler than you might think. A lever is a machine. An incline plane, basically a ramp, is a machine. Machines run from the very, very simple to obviously, the very, very complex. I was definitely looking at that concept. How would you actually define a machine? That was part of the research that I did for that kingdom.
And for the Bacteria Kingdom, it was really mostly about what do bacteria want? What is the Bacteria Kingdom’s goal? If they were given a champion or even sentience, what would they want to achieve? It was all about thinking about that and looking into the way bacteria would behave, if you can use that word ‘behave’ since they’re not really intelligent, and trying to turn all of that into a cool story. There is a lot going on in that issue. For 20 pages, it’s pretty dense. Again, I am really proud of it. Jesus Saiz is knocking it out of the park as he tends to do and I think people are really going to dig it.
Following the “Swamp Thing: Futures End” #1, will “Swamp Thing” stay in the Five Years Later storyline or will it return to the present?
No, no. We will be back to the present time after the “Futures End” issue. We’ll roll right back and pay off a whole bunch of things that we’ve been building to, particularly the end of “Swamp Thing” #34. But it is very much concerned with the future of “Swamp Thing” and Alec Holland, in general. I’ve mentioned this before, but the way that I’ve structured the mega arc of “Swamp Thing,” and this is the third big arc that we’ve done, is that the first arc, the Seeder arc, looks back at the past and of taking on something with a big legacy attached to it, which includes me taking on “Swamp Thing” but also dealing with the legacy of the Parliament. The second arc is more about finding your own way and figuring out what kind of person you’ll be or what kind of story you’re going to tell in the present, deciding your own path, doing new things. And then the third arc is about the future. Again, of both me being on “Swamp Thing” and just experimenting with Alec Holland as Swamp Thing. How does he want to steer the Green and himself. What kind of future does he want for himself? If he’s not going to be the avatar forever what kind of world does he want to leave? It’s great. “Swamp Thing” is a title that let’s you do things like that and I’m really happy that I’m allowed to tell this kind of story. And I am glad that there is still people reading it and sticking around to read it, which is cool.
As you talk about these three arcs, and now entering the third one, are you suggesting this may be the start of the end of your run on “Swamp Thing?”
Right now, I love writing “Swamp Thing.” I think the stories that I’ve been telling are some of the best work that I’ve ever done for the Big Two or creator-owned or anything. I am extremely, extremely proud of the work that I’m doing on “Swamp Thing.” I couldn’t be happier to be on it and I am really looking forward to the next arc I am going to tell.
“Swamp Thing” #34 by Charles Soule & Jesus Saiz is available July 2.