It really isn’t going to be a superhero book. It’s a horror book from go. Sometimes I feel like everything I’m writing is a horror book, even the superhero books. The direction I wanted to take was something similar to Batman, where you build upon the history and mythology of the character without changing it. Without wiping anything away to be sensational, we wanted to celebrate the rich history of the character. So about six or seven months ago, I heard from Geoff Johns and he was saying they were going to bring Swamp Thing back in Brightest Day and he heard I was a big fan of the character and asked if I had an idea for it. I told him that, for me, the best way to do Swamp Thing was that I think there had been so many great stories about him being this huge monstrous elemental force.
And for anyone that doesn’t read Swamp Thing, the idea is that it focuses on this botanist named Alec Holland who is creating this formula to create vegetation in the world’s most arid regions and there is an accident and an explosion in his lab and he gets covered in this formula. He turns into this monster when he reemerges from the swamp. In the original, that’s what it is, it’s kind of this Frankenstein idea almost. When Alan Moore took over he changed it so that Swamp Thing realizes that he was never Alec Holland, he’s actually a copy of Alec Holland that the plant life and the formula created. He’s this kind of elemental force of nature with no sort of human identity.
Those are the two twin pillars of Swamp Thing, and what I loved about those two stories is that they are both about a man wrestling with monsters, both internal and external; primarily internal and longing for a sense of humanity that was lost. I was thinking that there had been so much done with the character as a monster in that way, that it would be fascinating to bring him back as a human, if we could do it plausibly, and to keep the memories that he has as Swamp Thing and almost have him crawl out of the banks of the swamp that created him, naked and reborn as Alec Holland.
We don’t know why or what degree nature has intended for him. But he’s there and he’s human and he has the memories of everything that has happened, so everything stands. And it’s very strange for him because his last real memory is of him catching on fire and falling in the swamp and dying in the explosion. But he has all these other memories, like dreams, from the time he was Swamp Thing. He remembers being in love with this woman, Abbie, with white hair and he remembers being this monster fighting other monsters. So all he wants to do is move away from nature; move away from the green. He sees it as violent and volatile; he just wants to move on with his life.
The idea of the series is, What if there was a secret reason that Alec Holland was chosen by the "green" in the first place to be Swamp Thing? After all, there have been Swamp Things for every generation, as we saw in the Parliament of Trees story, where the Swamp Things from the past go and retire into this grove and turn into these rooted giant redwood trees. The idea is that, What if there is a reason why all of these people are Swamp Things? What if there is a kind of design behind it and Alec is the pinnacle somehow?
What if Alec has a reason not only to be Swamp Thing then, but they also brought him back because they need him now more than ever? And what if there is a kind of mythology that builds on what was there before about the Arcanes and the villains and an opposing force to nature? A black, a rot, a decay that is coming and rising in the desert now for the first time in over 100 years to fight Swamp Thing once and for all. So we’re really trying to take it into a different direction. I mean, for me, Alec Holland has only appeared in 7 or 8 pages of comics as a human, yet he’s one of the most iconic characters through his Swamp Thing interpretation.
So we wanted to do something here that honored everything that came before and kept all that stuff in continuity. But at the same time, was a very bold, different take on the character because that’s the only way to do Swamp Thing.
Is Swamp Thing going to crossover with any other popular DC characters, or will he exist in his own pocket universe?
Well, you’ll see Batman, Superman, and Aquaman in the first issue. I’ll tell you this: There’s not going to be Swamp Thing fighting along with superheroes. I wanted to be a book about Swamp Thing and about his mythology and the psychological drama of the character of Alec Holland.
I just wanted to show you that he exists in a shared universe and that things that happen in Swamp Thing will have major repercussions across the DC Universe. You might see characters like Batman and others coming in and out and playing into the mythology of Swamp Thing. Will there be a book where he goes and fights Lex Luthor? No, I have no interest in that.
You also have a horror book titled Severed at Image Comics. What was the appeal of using the early 20th century time period for the title? The atmosphere that surrounds the book is very foreboding.
The idea with Severed really is about that time period. I’m writing with my absolute best friend from when I was 13 on [Scott Tuft]. It’s a pleasure to write with him, and we both had this interest in this period in American history that is essentially this moment when everyone is really optimistic because of all these new inventions in 1916. The electric light, the car, all of these new roads being built, the phonograph being popular.
There is a sense of optimism and can-do spirit and the sense that you can reinvent yourself and the American identity is being reinvented. There is also loneliness and a scary quality to all this new stuff. There is a war on the horizon with WWI and stuff like that. There is this ominous feeling. That moment before we’re involved in any kind of giant global conflict and we’re all young and innocent about all these things we’re making was fascinating to us, so we wanted to create a story that highlighted both sides of that time period. It’s really about a young boy who finds out he’s adopted and that his father is a traveling blackface performer and minstrel. So he goes to find him and reunite with him and he rides the rails like a hobo, you know, he’s young, he’s 13. So he represents a lot of the optimism and the hopefulness of the time.
On the other hand, we wanted to create a character that represented all of the frightening things about it, so the other main character is this guy who is just considered “The Salesman,” he’s never really named. He’s an older man who travels the roads with a little suitcase and sells whatever you want. He’s been traveling forever; he says he’s been on these roads for hundreds of years. He has this great smile with big pearly white teeth, and people always say to him, “You’re so nice, how is it that you manage to be such a successful salesman?” And he’s like, “Well, behind these teeth I actually have filed down shark’s teeth, so I’m really tough.” No one really believes him, but right when you turn your back on him you see him take out these teeth and puts them in this little case and comes after you.
We’re really, really excited about it. It’s a different kind of horror book where it’s more of a slow burn and it’s going to build towards something really frightening and really bloody and action-filled. We wanted it to be something that really built on the terror and suspense of being alone as a kid, almost in a fairytale, nightmare way in America at that time.
Interview By Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)