Adapting Swamp Thing was never going to be an easy feat. In fact, one of the most acclaimed horror directors of all-time already did it. Wes Craven's B-movie cult hit reimagined the legend of Alec Holland and his ecological alter-ego more than three decades before James Wan, Len Wiseman, Mark Verheiden, Gary Dauberman and Michael Clear decided to take on the iconic character for DC's streaming service, DC Universe. But while Craven's flick leaned into the ridiculous nature of the creature and his origins, 2019's Swamp Thing TV series, which debuts tonight on The CW, is a beautiful and haunting vision of humanity and horror that entices and intrigues from the very first moment.
Swamp Thing has long been one of my favorite DC characters, if not my absolute number one. There's a strange sensuality to him that was introduced during Alan Moore and Steve Bissette's run that has never really left, and the story about the struggle between the monster and his humanity is one for the ages. I never thought that I would see the day when someone, let alone an entire creative team and studio, would see what I saw in Swamp Thing. Minds who would see past the potential for jokes and slights about his surreal comic book canon and craft a Beauty and the Beast-inspired love story that melds the horrific with the romantic. In the first two episodes of Swamp Thing, director Wiseman and co. deliver on that and so much more.
The series centers around Crystal Reed's Abigail Arcane, a CDC scientist who after leaving the small town of Marais, Louisiana years before returns to her childhood home when a terrifying disease begins to ravage the local community where she grew up. It's immediately clear that Abby is the heart of our story, but like everyone in the small swampy enclave, she has some dark secrets to contend with. As soon as she arrives, these proverbial ghosts begin to rear their ugly heads. One of Swamp Thing's biggest narrative strengths is that the conceptual idea of monsters and evil acts is explored and subverted, and it quickly becomes clear that whatever's going on in the swamp isn't the only thing rotten in the town of Marais.
For me, Swamp Thing himself has always been far more interesting than Alec Holland, the man destined to become him. But in Andy Bean, the series has found a frenetic and charming Holland, one who almost demands more screen time even as fans of the comics know that the inevitable is coming. Here, Alec was a famed scientist, one who sunk his own career by faking results to prove a hypothesis that he knew to be true. It demolished his life as an academic and set him careening into the path of the enigmatic and dangerous Avery Sunderland, who hired the now disgraced genius to investigate the swamps of Marais. Despite his mistakes, Alec is a man of integrity, which puts him on a collision course with the shady Sunderland.
Abby and Alec are key to the world that Swamp Thing builds because, despite the human drama at the center of the show, Swamp Thing is an unabashed horror series. The opening moments showcase the wild vines of the swamp decimating two men who dare to besmirch its waters with a mysterious toxin, literally tearing the two intruders and their boat apart. The debut episode is almost ghoulish in its dedication to scaring the audience and creating an entirely new kind of monster in the ravenous and vengeful vines of the swamp.
Horror has always been a genre that's best when it's used to explore the human condition and Swamp Thing lavishes in this. The show pays homage to the classic genre tropes of the Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson character while also delving into the more romantic, human and spiritual aspects of the Moore and Bissette run on Saga of the Swamp Thing that redefined the character. It's sensual, strange and seductive in a way that other adaptations have often misunderstood. Here, the spark between Abby and Alec is so obvious that the fact Abby will likely pursue him after he becomes Swamp Thing seems completely natural.
For fans who are most interested in the big green guy, you do get a glimpse of him at the end of the premiere. Just like the rest of the top tier practical effects, he looks spectacular as he rises from the depths of the swamp like a Bernie Wrightson drawing come to life. Genre icon Derek Mears is the one under the suit, and it'll be interesting to see if he can recreate the chemistry between Reed and Bean as the series moves forward. Those looking for an escape from the horrors of everyday life can be thoroughly reassured that in the shady swamps of Marais, Louisiana they'll find a surreal and enticing refuge filled with monsters, magic and potentially romance.
Swamp Thing debuts on The CW tonight at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST). Dive deeper into the swamps of Marais by visiting our Swamp Thing TV page.
Rosie Knight writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com, Nerdist, IGN and The Hollywood Reporter. For more on Swamp Thing from Rosie, check out her DC Binge article celebrating the show's unique approach to dark fantasy and romance. Be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.