The Passing Of A True Horror Master
♦The sad news reached up this morning that comics legend Bernie Wrightson (Swamp Thing, Frankenstein) has just died. We shall be putting up a proper tribute over the next day but here is a review that we ran of Roots Of The Swamp Thing in Tripwire Annual 2009…
Roots Of The Swamp Thing by Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson and Nestor Redondo
Swamp Thing was an unusual beast: it first appeared in a throwaway eight-pager in House of Secrets #92 but it was such a success, bringing that title out of the sales doldrums that DC asked Wein and Wrightson to put him in his own title.
Swamp Thing was a hybrid of the classic comic muck monster like The Heap from the 1940s married with Victorian gothic sensibilities. The tragic tale of scientist Alec Holland who is killed by unscrupulous thugs bent on obtaining his regenerative serum and then seemingly brought back to life by that same chemical creation is the archetypical doom-laden story that wouldn’t have been out of place if it were published in the middle of the nineteenth century. Swamp Thing, like Shelley’s Frankenstein, is a rootless (if you’ll pardon the pun) wanderer, searching the world for answers and for peace.
Each story here can be enjoyed on their own merits as they are basically self-contained with a couple of sub-plots that build as you continue to read. Of course, Swamp Thing’s lineage doesn’t just trace back to the Victorians but it owes a great debt to the geniuses at EC Comics. Without Graham Engels, Frank Frazetta and Joe Orlando, there would have been no Swamp Thing. Wrightson channels the spirit of EC with seemingly effortless ease and Wein creates a protagonist who is sympathetic and distant at the same time. The detail present in Wrightson’s art is so dense that it’s a wonder he managed to maintain the quality to such a consistent level.
You are treated to a whole gamut of classic horror tropes here, from the werewolf in the house in Scotland to the Lovecraftian horror that lurks under a mining town, but they are given enough of a spin to make them seem fresh and new. Wrightson left with #10 and his replacement, Nestor Redondo, while competent, lacks the spark that his predecessor had and there isn’t the chemistry that Wein and Wrightson possessed. But the three stories drawn by Redondo aren’t bad: it’s just that if you hold them up to what came before, they feel a little lacklustre. DC have done a great job with the format here: represented in a sturdy hardcover format with some recolouring work, the pages spring to life like never before. As an exercise of how to do horror in comics properly, Swamp Thing takes some beating and this new edition brings Wein and Wrightson’s masterwork to life with style and impact. JOEL MEADOWS