Comic Legends: The Swamp Thing Movie Novelization That Wasn't

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the six hundred and forty-eighth week where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.

Click here for Part 1 of this week's legends. Click here for Part 2.


Peter David just wrote his own story for the novelization of Return of Swamp Thing.



Yesterday's legend about Marvel's adaptation of Blade Runner reminded me of this one.

While they certainly still exist, film novelizations used to be a much bigger deal than they are today (it used to be that most notable movies would get one - especially big action or science fiction films - now, it's really only occasional movies that get film novelizations, like the really big ones like the Star Wars films). That is because VHS changed everything. Up until that point, there was no way to own your favorite films, so the next best thing was to have a novelization or a comic book adaptation so you could relive the joy of seeing the film (until the next time it was on TV or re-released in a theater).

Anyhow, Return of Swamp Thing was the sequel to 1982's Swamp Thing film and it ended up being just as campy as the original.

Hilariously, though, they tried to adapt the legendary tuber-eating sex scene from Swamp Thing #34 (by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben) and it was as goofy as you would imagine...

Anyhow, before the movie came out, though, the word on the street was that they were going to try to make the film more like the then-current Alan Moore comic book run. That got Peter David interested in the project. What came next was just too funny.

Here's David describing what happened once he realized that the script was terrible:

And I was supposed to try and turn this thing into a book. And I didn't have a lot of time in which to do it.

There were two ways to go: the easy way or the hard way. The easy way, maybe even the smart way, was to stick to the script, do the best I could to make it read smoothly, and put a fake name on it so that I would not be associated with such a lousy work of fiction. The hard way meant doing whatever needed to be done to make it work as, not only a story, but a story that was going to be acceptable to those fans who were currently enjoying the Moore work on the comic.

Ultimately, I couldn't bring myself to risk disappointing the fans. I didn't want to turn out some thoughtless piece of hackwork. The result was a novel that bears almost no resemblance at all to the film.

I restructured the entire story, built in framing sequences, changed the order in which things happened, added entire backstories, put Alan Moore in as a character (why not?), restored the stilted speech pattern to Swamp Thing (as opposed to the rather avuncular manner in which Dick Durock spoke), restored the general horror comic feel, and completely changed the ending, directly lifting the climax from the Moore two-parter with the town of vampires wherein Swamp Thing basically becomes a mountain. I liked to tell people that the movie had a budget of $3 million, but the book had a budget of $53 million.

To the credit of the producers, they loved everything I did with it and didn't change a thing, which was of tremendous relief to me.

So what happened? The film was poorly received, and virtually no one (if I'm to believe the Berkley royalty reports) bought the damned book. Apparently my name on the cover and eight pages of poorly reproduced, cheesy photographs on the inside were insufficient to entice people to part with four bucks. The only real compliment I ever got on the book was when Bob Greenberger, when asked by fans about the "Swamp Thing" movie, would reply tersely, "Skip the movie. Read the book."

That's awesome.

Here's the book, by the way...

Thanks to Peter David for consistently telling awesome stories about his career like this. They give us such a great insight into the behind-the-scenes aspects of writing.

Check out my latest TV Legends Revealed - Which Arrow villain was going to originally be Onomatopoeia?

OK, that's it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week's covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

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See you all next week!

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