Len Wein is a comic book legend, and he earned that status long before he was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2008. Among many credits, the industry veteran co-created Wolverine and edited “Watchmen.” Despite writing, editing and creating hundreds (if not thousands) of characters for DC, Marvel and other publishers over the last half-century, there is arguably one that remains most synonymous with Wein: Swamp Thing.
44 years after the supernatural character’s debut in 1971’s “House of Secrets” #92, Wein returned to the supernatural character yet again this week with a new six-issue DC Comics miniseries drawn by Kelley Jones. Co-created by fellow legend Berni Wrightson, Swamp Thing is a humanoid monster and avatar for Earth’s vegetation who, in Wein’s words, struggles with his own humanity.
In a conversation with CBR News, Wein described how the miniseries echoes his original 1970s run with the character without “undermining” or dismissing the work of those who have expanded Swamp Thing’s saga over the years, including the New 52 run by Scott Snyder and later Charles Soule. Wein teased that the book will function as a “tour” of the supernatural side of the DC Universe and the characters who inhabit those dark corners, including Zatanna, will appear in “Swamp Thing.” The longtime writer and editor also shared a classic story about why there was a time in comics when a certain monster species wasn’t allowed to be called ‘zombies’ by name.
CBR News: I loved your first issue of “Swamp Thing.” It read like an old school horror comic book — one that you may have done back in the 1970s during your original run with Berni Wrightson. Do you consider this proof positive that you can go home again?
Len Wein: Absolutely. Swamp Thing is a character that I really enjoy working on. The first story — the first two issues of the miniseries — are, in a way, a throwback to the original run. I wanted people to know that they are getting the type of “Swamp Thing” that they would expect to get from me.
Does this new series tie back to your original run with the character in the 1970s? And does it take the runs of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughan and, more recently, Scott Snyder and Charles Soule into consideration?
We’ve gone through so many incarnations of the DCU in the last 40 years that it ties back to the old stuff as much as it can. I try to find a way of writing it without undermining or minimizing any of the work by all of the people that followed me. Again, I wanted to come home again.
In the opening of the first issue, this line really stood out for me: “And in the center of this antediluvian ooze, surrounded by life, yet uniquely apart from it, stands a MONSTER.” Is Swamp Thing a monster or a superhero?
Oh, he’s definitely a superhero… but he’s a monster. [Laughs] I suppose he’s a bit like the Incredible Hulk. I always think of Hulk — another character that I wrote for years — as a hero, but god knows that he’s a monster. He’s too is a great, green, grotesque thing.
A superhero, yes, but do you consider “Swamp Thing” a horror comic book series?
It’s a horror book with superhero overtones. That’s always been the heart of the book and I went for the same thing here. In the first issue, we have two big classic monsters that fight just like we would have seen years ago. And the fight between these two monsters in the first two issues leads into a much bigger story that plays out over the whole six-issue series. And we’re taking it places, I hope, that you don’t expect it will go.
I’m glad you said this fight lasts two issues because, spoiler alert, the first issue doesn’t end well for Swamp Thing. Is this the end of Alec Holland as Earth’s avatar for the Green?
Alec will be all right. Alec is always all right. [Laughs]
But he doesn’t always want to be the Swamp Thing. I love this other line from the first issue too: “I would rather spend one more minute as a man… than a million years as a plant.” It really speaks to his now decades-long struggle.
That line is very much the crux of these six issues. It is the defining line of the series. I always like it when my stories are about a lead character’s search for humanity. Actually, I like all stories that are about that. It’s all about the human condition. Alec has been cursed, and while he accepts what he is now, he wants to be a man.
We should mention Alec’s answer comes from a question posed by the Phantom Stranger, who makes a guest appearance in “Swamp Thing” #1. Will we be seeing the Stranger again, or perhaps any other DCU supernatural heroes or villains?
Absolutely. Part of the purpose of this six-issue miniseries — at Dan DiDio’s urging — is to take a tour of the DC supernatural universe. Who is where? What’s going on? How are people? You are going to see some other old friends over the course of the six issues. Zatanna shows up in “Swamp Thing” #3. I’m not giving anything away. She’s actually on the cover. [Laughs]
It has to be said, Kelley Jones draws a mean Swamp Thing. Are you enjoying the collaboration?
It’s one of the best collaborations that I have enjoyed in years. I have been honored and privileged to work with some of the best artists in the history of the business and I have wanted to work with Kelley on this character for about 35 years. Seriously. And we finally got the opportunity and now I get to say, “Yes. I was right!” I knew he’d be brilliant. He brings a Berni [Wrightson] vibe to it but he is uniquely himself, as well. I don’t know anybody working in the business today who has a better command of light and dark. The color black is as much a player in this book than anything and he does shadow work better than anybody. He also draws a really warm line, which I really like. He’s terrific.
Is this series set in current DCU continuity?
Oh yes, of course. I don’t see any real purpose to this story to set it at any other time. That said, it’s not all that different of place from where “Swamp Thing” was 40 years ago.
I want to go back to the other monster introduced in this issue, a zombie. Did you consider calling Lazlo Wormwood’s resurrected monster a ‘zuvembie’ for old times’ sake?
No. [Laughs] Zuvembies were just a placeholder for when I had no option to use the word ‘zombie.’ Zuvembies come from the great Robert E. Howard story, “Pigeons from Hell.” I used that word when I couldn’t use the word ‘zombie’ and the folks at the Comics Code didn’t know the difference. [Laughs]
“Swamp Thing” #1 by Len Wein and Kelley Jones is on sale now from DC Comics.