Stepping up to the plate, I made a conscious decision to remain as green as I possibly could about Swamp Thing. It’s not my usual modus; I have driven myself a little mad trying to find spoilers before. I like to know what I’m getting into, when the heel turn comes, the twist ending. But I made a choice this time; try it fresh. No preconceived ideas. Somehow, despite being a horror nerd and a body-horror specific nerd at that, I’ve made it to this point in my life without knowing virtually anything about “Swamp Thing”. And then this new, DC Universe series came along, and I suddenly had a pros and cons columns. You didn’t ask, but I assume you’re secretly curious (this is the assumption I am obligated to labor under. Otherwise we’ll never get anything done) so let’s very quickly review.
Pros: body horror. Derek Mears! Practical effects. The bayou? Ok! I’m in.
Cons: It’s called “Swamp Thing”. That is, objectively, a terrible name. I feel pretty comfortable assuming that precious little energy, sleep or imagination was lost to the development of that name. “Swamp Thing”. Give it credit for being on the nose, I guess. But lots of good things have terrible names. Just think about Cookie Puss. So I did the unimaginable and shelled out $7.99 a month for a DC Universe subscription. And friends, I’m happy to report that early indicators suggest it a very nearly 8 dollars well spent. The first episode’s got moxie.
I’m going to give you a very nutshell version of the plot; certain aspects are being kept intentionally cryptic right now, so I will, by necessity, have to err towards generalities. So. Our immediate way into the story is through Abby Arcane, improbably alliteratively named CDC scientist. She’s returned to her Louisiana home to try and suss out the cause of a pretty gnarly virus infecting the residents near the swamp. At the risk of getting very rom-com, “Manhattan is a character itself!”, the swamp truly does feel like a vital presence to the show. It is, by virtue of being, ya know, a swamp, disgusting, but it is also made very clear that it’s valuable to the town in some ineffable way. Avery Sunderland, business man about town, has hired Alec Holland to investigate and research some sort of biological accelerant (ill defined) and Alec believes that the accelerant and the virus are connected to each other, so he teams up with Abby to try and figure shit out. During the course of their research, Patient Zero starts sprouting branches and tendrils and is literally ripped apart as a strange, bioform takes control of the remaining organic material. Alec torches the thing, and he and Abby share war wounds and do some more research. Alec heads out to try and locate other deposits of the accelerant, but is shot and falls into the swamp, where a bioform that I am referring to in my head as the Symbiote goes into his body, and seemingly turns him into the titular Swamp Thing. Which is honestly a little bit of a shame, because I was sporting a pretty huge fictional character crush on Alec – cute, smart-ass scientist type? Yes, please. And that’s where episode one ends. And guys, that’s good! It’s smart to make us wait through the entire pilot episode to get our first glimpse of ol’ Swampy. He’s who we’re here for, after all.
It’s important to note that with a show called Swamp Thing, you’re probably not in it for exceptional writing. We are mostly watching for a well paced plot that binds things together between scenes of hopefully truly vile body horror. It’s too early for me to say if the show will deliver the bare minimum. The pilot is more than capable. It gave me some chuckles, I liked the characters introduced, I’m curious where the story is going. And I feel some reasonable degree of confidence that it can maintain that quality. But there is the slightest glimmer in the corner, one that I refuse to lean into, lest I be disappointed, that maybe it will surpass that. Let’s not get our hopes up, but remain cautiously optimistic. Because the aforementioned body horror is great! It’s gnarly as shit! And fearlessly so.
When we think of DC and Marvel, we really focus on the superhero properties. So I truly didn’t know what to expect from a horror series from one of those juggernauts. Brightburn helped remind us that super humans are by their very nature dangerous, thus really great conduits for horror. But would a company like DC bet the success of their streaming service (Swamp Thing and Doom Patrol are, I believe, the only two original series carried so far) on such a fundamentally weird concept? Or would they soften it? I’m happy to report, it’s not soft. The gore is there; the bodies rent asunder. They are not for the faint of heart.
It seems like perhaps two episodes were released as the roll out, so I’ll be back tomorrow with a review of the second episode. After that, we’ll be once a week. Let’s see where this goes, my dear crawdads!