As the DC Universe streaming service's third original series to premiere, Swamp Thing exemplifies the kinds of risks that Warner Bros. and DC are game to make on the small screen. The new series' tone leans more on horror than anything else, but Swamp Thing himself (itself?) will fit right in with the left-of-center heroes that populate Titans and Doom Patrol. In part because of the character's rich comic book history.
Swamp Thing's Comic Book Influences
Swamp Thing fanatics no doubt want to know which areas of the source material were being mined for inspiration by co-writers and co-showrunners Mark Verheiden and Gary Dauberman. I was lucky enough to talk to the latter about the development process behind Season 1, and I asked him how much this iteration of Swamp Thing was influenced by Alan Moore's memorable run in the 1980s.
It was quite pointedly a huge influence, the Alan Moore run. That was really our starting point, because that was what Mark and I bonded over initially, is his run. So there was a heavy sort of Moore influence on this first season. It really helped provide us a sort of a structure in a way. Not that we're so beholden to it, and we didn't depart from it, but it was just a great starting point that we could build off of. It was a big influence.
For those who are totally unfamiliar with the radical way Alan Moore dove headfirst into the DC swamp for his first issue, I won't spoil the decades-old storyline here, just in case DC Universe's Swamp Thing directly adapts Moore's earliest issues in all the ways. Suffice to say, Moore's now-familiar pathos invoked an emotional charge within the narrative that led to some truly batshit-banana moments.
Bringing Alan Moore's words and ideas to life through television and film is a daunting task to say the least, as he penned over 40 issues of Swamp Thing. But he certainly wasn't the only comic inspiration that Gary Dauberman looked to when putting the story together with Mark Verheiden. Here's the specific way the character's creators influenced the co-showrunners as they developed the series.
You know, Bernie Wrightson has always been one of my heroes, and Len Wein. Those guys, as well, absolutely were a huge part of how we were structuring the first season. But from a story standpoint, it was initially the Alan Moore run that Mark and I really dug into and started to build off of.
It's quite true that Alan Moore's storytelling doesn't always follow an A-B-C progression, making it slightly more difficult to spin his work into episodic TV. So instead, Gary Dauberman and Mark Verheiden looked back to the Wein/Wrightson creator duo to guide in formatting the debut season's structure.
Considering there's no telling whether or not Swamp Thing will get a second season ordered up just yet – though the good reviews have to help – the co-showrunners don't have much of a reason to tap into the later-years arcs that have expanded the serialized story in many different ways.
For now, expect Alan Moore's influence to ring true, though don't expect the Swamp Thing TV show to match the comics' peculiar tone. Here, Gary Dauberman talked about balancing the celebration of adapting wacky comic stories with the need to stop things from getting TOO wacky. In his words:
I don't like being weird for the sake of weird, and you want a point to it. So that was something we were very careful about. But there is just some really batshit insane happenings in those books, and it was like, I can't believe we're actually going to bring this to life. And, you know, with any production, you're bringing people on who aren't so familiar with the source material, so you have people reading for first time going, 'Holy shit, this is awesome, but I can't believe we're doing it.' So it was a lot of fun for to see the uninitiated, who weren't so familiar with that kind of weirdness or that kind of horror, sort of up close and personal and experience it. That was a lot of fun. In a lot of ways, it’s kind of like it's like your first audience, you know, so if we can get those people jazzed about it, then I felt like we were in pretty good shape.
The Swamp Thing premiere is a testament to that mission statement, in that the story and action are easy to follow, even as possibly supernatural things are happening in the swamp and beyond. There's also more than enough for longtime fans to chew on, with surprises sprinkled here and there, and a slow-burn pacing that's hard to get confused by. Now bring on Floronic Man!
Swamp Thing's Freedom At DC Universe
Neither Titans nor Doom Patrol seemed liked the kind of show that got a whole lot of notes and pushback from studio execs, and there's no reason to suspect that DC Universe would handle things differently with Swamp Thing, which sports another pair of MVP executive producers in James Wan and Len Wiseman. (The Underworld filmmaker directed the first two episodes.)
Gary Dauberman, who penned both the upcoming IT Chapter 2 and Salem's Lot adaptations, confirmed that the streaming service was game to let the creative team head in just about any direction they wanted.
Fortunately when we got on the DC streaming app, we were given the freedom to be able to push boundaries and all that stuff to make it as different as we could without being inaccessible.
Considering Doom Patrol was a spinoff of Titans, it's only natural to wonder if Swamp Thing will have any interconnecting tissue with other DC properties. When I asked just how free-wheeling DC Universe was, Dauberman made it sound like any potential crossovers will have to wait until viewers have once again made household names out of Crystal Reed's Abby Arcane, Andy Bean's Alec Holland, Derek Mears' Swamp Thing, and the rest. In his words:
I grew up on a DC comics. I still get my comics every week. You know, I love going, and it's just something that's a special thing to me. So I'm like, you know, 'What else can we [do], and who else can we use for it? You know, what characters can we bring in?' You know, you want to make it about Swamp Thing, so you don't want to populate it with all these other DC characters right away. But you know, as far as the limitations where it's like, 'Oh no, we can't do that character because they're being used in this or that,' it was really just, 'Please, push it more. Go big. Swing for the fences.' I mean, it was really like cheerleading, creatively. Just really 'push it,' and they were really all for that. So that was a huge relief.
All in all, it sounds like Swamp Thing could easily be 2019's most uniquely badass new TV series. Critics are enjoying it, and social media will likely soon be awash with the general public's opinions about the series premiere. Here's hoping enough people start watching to immediately guarantee a second season.