You’d think that a successful lawyer who graduated from Columbia University, is working in New York City and just so happens to be an accomplished musician would be enough for Charles Soule, but it’s not — he’s also one of the hottest up-and-coming writers working in comics today.
Recently announced as the regular writer of “Thunderbolts” for Marvel, Soule is also writing “Swamp Thing” and “Red Lanterns” for DC Comics. Archaia just published his original graphic novel, “Strange Attractors, and later this year, Oni Press is releasing his new creator-owned ongoing series, “Letter 44,” a science-fiction/political thriller about a manned space mission investigating an anomaly in the asteroid belt.
CBR News connected with Soule to discuss his first issue on “Swamp Thing” and found a creator completely excited about what he is delivering to readers in DC’s flagship superhero/horror series, respecting the character’s past while seeding some major changes for him, as well, along the way.
CBR News: I loved your first issue of “Swamp Thing.”
Charles Soule: Thank you. So did I, by which I mean that no comic issue happens in a vacuum, and Kano, Matt Wilson, Travis Lanham, Matt Idelson and Chris Conroy all worked very hard to make this awesome. If you liked “Swamp Thing” #19 — or loved it — just stick around because there’s much more to come.
While it didn’t seem out of line with what Scott Snyded has been doing with the character, Swamp Thing felt — and read — differently to me. Do you agree? And if so, why was it important to establish your own, unique voice for him?
Let me answer by saying that “Swamp Thing” was my first Big 2 work, and it was a character I personally have adored for a very long time. Also, I happened to be following Scott Snyder on the title. Any of those things alone would have been a compelling reason to bring my A-game, but all of them together? I wanted to knock it out of the park. In my view, the only way to really do that was to make it as good as I could while basing it on my own judgment and sense of the character. Because if you aren’t going to bring your take to a character, then why do it at all?
That said, I love Scott’s run, and he was incredibly generous in the place he left Swamp Thing. He gave me a great spot from which to build, and now we’re off to the races.
I also love the notion that you have plants cheering for Swampy to thwart ne’er-do-wells plotting against anything green, like tween girls would cheer for Harry at a One Direction concert. While Alec is obviously struggling with responsibility, would he not also develop a healthy dose of god complex?
I do not think so, no. In fact, that could be a significant problem. Luckily, Alec is still holding on to a lot of his humanity, and the interactions with the plant kingdom still feel strange to him. He hasn’t quite jumped in with both feet, which is probably a good thing. It’s when he starts wanting to hear those plants chant his name that humanity might want to look out.
Is Swamp Thing a superhero?
It depends on your definition. He is a person gifted, and cursed, with an extraordinary existence that allows him to both help and hurt humankind to a great degree. He wants to help. By that token, sure, he’s a superhero.
On the other hand, his powers were given to him for the explicit reason that he is supposed to advance the agenda of the Green, which is the collective energy of all plant life on Earth. Plants and people do not have the same goals, generally, and there’s going to be conflict there.
In terms of his power-set, does Swamp Thing have limits? He seems to be boundless in terms of strength and reach. Does he have any known weaknesses?
Sure, many. For one thing, while he has this power, he doesn’t necessarily know how to use it perfectly — think of him as someone just learning to play an instrument. He’s naturally very gifted, but you don’t become a virtuoso overnight. We’ll see characters that are able to use the Green much more skillfully than Alec — prior avatars, for one, although that’s not all.
Right now, Alec is all about a brute force approach, but he’s going to have to learn some finesse if he wants to survive some of the challenges to come. He is also very susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease. [Laughs]
As the defender of the Green, we’ve seen him, even in your first issue, choosing plant life over human life. Is this something Swampy is going to challenge/accept/indulge in the months ahead?
I don’t want to get into too much detail on this, but yes, that’s one of the central challenges he faces. Alec isn’t just an average hero who gets to do whatever he wants. He has a job. His power is directly tied to his ability to keep the Green and the Parliament happy. If he veers too far off the course they think he should travel — conflict.
Scott and Jeff Lemire played Swamp Thing off Animal Man this past year, but in terms of magnitude and overall ability, Superman may be a better barometer. In your first issue, you mentioned a few reasons why Alec was seeking out Supes, but what could Swamp Thing learn from the Man of Steel?
That’s explored in “Swamp Thing” #20. I think Swampy and Superman are two sides of the same coin, but Superman has access to a normal human life, via Clark Kent, that Swamp Thing simply does not. So, while their power levels might be analogous, the way they interact with the world is very different. I tried to make that explicit in #20 so we’ll see what people think.
How did you land on the Scarecrow for your first villain?
“Swamp Thing” is a book that has always had a horror component, and Scarecrow ties directly into that, especially the particular reason he and Swamp Thing happen to be in the same spot in #19.
I also want to explore a lot of what Swamp Thing is afraid of as he develops his role as the Avatar of the Green, and Scarecrow has always been the classic choice for exploring the inner nightmares of the hero. “Swamp Thing” #20 gets into that in a big way and I think it’s fun. It certainly looks beautiful thanks again to Kano, Matt and the rest of the guys.
There is also a bigger villain in play here too, right? The Seeder? What can you share about him?
Seeder is the overarching villain of the first “season” of Swamp Thing, as you might call it. He has a larger story arc that affects some of the shorter stories in bigger and smaller ways. He’s a person or a creature or a tree — you’ll have to wait and see — with a very particular worldview that in many ways is in opposition to Swamp Thing. He also seems to have access to Green powers, although he doesn’t seem to use them or fully understand the Green itself in the way Alec does. He’s one of your classic “everything I do, I do for the greater good” type bad guys, and those are some of the scariest of all.
I want to be a little coy about telling you anything else. You’ll learn much more about him soon. He shows up in “Swamp Thing” #22 and then he’s all over #24. Seeder’s like Darth Vader. He’s awesome, but you can’t use him too much or he’s not scary anymore.
You are also introducing the mysterious Capucine in the next issue. Any hints on who that might be? And what about the Sanctuary of the Green Leaves?
Capucine is brand new. She’s designed to act as a new supporting character for Swampy, and she has a great backstory. She’s French, she’s like a thousand years old but doesn’t look it and she’s tough as nails. We’ll see her briefly at the end of “Swamp Thing” #20 and then she’s the main focus of #21.
My main goal with Capucine was to write a very proud, self-sufficient female character, which will be a bit ironic, because she comes to Swamp Thing to ask for that Sanctuary you mention. Why that is, and what the Sanctuary is and means, will be explored in “Swamp Thing” #21.
Finally, a tree that bears whiskey like fruit? As a proud Scottish Canadian, you had me at a tree that bears whiskey like fruit. What can you share about this story and what role does John Constantine play in it?
This is the Whiskey Tree story, which covers issues #22 and 23. It’s set in the town of Fetters Hill, a fictional hamlet in the Scottish Highlands. The place is fairly depressed, without a lot going for it, until a huge tree grows up out of the village green in the center of town.
The tree dispenses delicious, peaty scotch like nothing anyone’s ever tasted, and the townsfolk are sure Fetters Hill is about to be back on the map. Until it all goes dramatically south — as it must.
Swamp Thing and Constantine both arrive in town — for slightly different reasons — and then it goes even further south. Like, all the way down — I’m referring to Hell — and it gets ugly. It’s a great, creepy story in classic “Swamp Thing” style and I can’t wait for people to read it as well as the rest of the great things we have cooked up for you. Stay Green!