Life can often seem like a swirling mystery of chance, sadness and the occasional sprinkle of magic…though right now it can be hard to focus on that latter part. That’s why DC Universe’s gorgeous Swamp Thing series is the perfect binge watch to lose yourself in right now.
If you’re not familiar with DC’s iconic horror character created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, then the series is the perfect introduction. If you’re already a Swampy die-hard like me, then it’s a beautiful reimagining of the groundbreaking elemental hero who has been charming readers and Abby Arcane since he was first introduced in House of Secrets #92.
From the minds of James Wan, Gary Dauberman and Mark Verheiden, this Southern Gothic fantasy is one of the best first seasons of superhero television ever put to screen. Filled with practical effects, incredible creature work and a cast of character-acting stalwarts, the ten episode series blew me away when it was first released last year and Swamp Thing was (and still is) a criminally underrated addition to the small screen superhero canon.
So, what makes Swamp Thing so special? Well, first of all, it’s the perfect amalgamation of horror and romance. Though those two things might not seem like dreamy bedfellows, there is a great tradition of lust, romance and love being the driving force in genre storytelling. From classics like Dracula and The Creature From the Black Lagoon to modern reinterpretations like Only Lovers Left Alive, The Shape of Water and Crimson Peak, there’s been plenty of horror about love for fans to become enamored with. Swamp Thing adds to that legacy with a beautiful and haunting new take on the quintessential Beauty and the Beast archetype that has long intrigued readers.
The smartest thing about Swamp Thing, though is that the show—just like the comics—knows that to make a monster human, you need heart. Crystal Reed’s performance as Abby Arcane is the beating, pulsing and bleeding organ that pumps life into every crevice of each episode. She also happens to be the lead character of the show.
No, that’s not a mistake. The show may be called Swamp Thing, but without Abby Arcane we have no in-character, no emotional touchpoint, and more importantly, Alec Holland has no reason to try and remember his own humanity. Abby is a CDC doctor who returns to her hometown of Marais when its residents begin to get sick and it seems like the mysterious illness might be connected to the man who once raised her, Avery Sunderland.
Another key part of Swamp Thing’s creative success is the dual performance from Andy Bean as Alec Holland and Derek Mears as the titular elemental plant creature. Mears is a horror icon, so this casting was perfect. He brings his trademark physicality and presence to the central creature, always managing to express heart, emotion and fear even under Fractured FX’s stunning practical suit that somehow makes Swamp Thing feel even more alive. And Alec Bean’s subtly heartbreaking performance and chemistry with Reed is truly electric. I’ve never cared much about Alec Holland, always preferring the monster to the man, but that changed when I watched Swamp Thing. Bean’s Alec is a disgraced scientist whose hubris led to his downfall—a broken man who tries to redeem himself and finds something worth redeeming himself for in Abby.
Abby and Alec are barely together on screen after the first episode, but that episode makes its mark, turning what could have been a strange and stilted relationship between monster and man into a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful love story. While that relationship is at the core of the show, Swamp Thing also works as a delightfully dark romp through the bayous of Louisiana where witches, monsters, demons and even clairvoyants live in near harmony. That is until the maniacal businessman—and Crystal’s one-time ward—Avery begins to dabble with and destroy the swamps that surround the town. If Avery sounds familiar to you, that’s because he’s a key part of Swamp Thing lore. It’s probably worth mentioning that if you’re a deep cut DC fan, this show is also filled with an expansive roster of awesome characters drawn from the comics that constantly surprise and delight.
Marais and its unusual residents are brought to life with care, compassion and stunning production values that make the world of Swamp Thing feel immersive and magical. Wan and co. wanted the series to feel real, so practical effects are heavily used which also gives the series an old school horror feel that’s perfect for a project with such a genre legacy. For fans of the classic Swamp Thing movie, Adrienne Barbeau even appears in a vital role which is a delightful way to pay homage to the woman who originally brought “Alice” Cable to life. The series even beautifully brings to life one of the most iconic and controversial classic Swamp Thing issues, “Rites of Spring.”
Whether you’re looking for a darkly magical escape, a little bit of horror or a deep dive DC show that you haven’t checked out, then Swamp Thing is the perfect choice. Plus, who doesn’t love a story about a tragic romance, a mad scientist, a plant-faced hero and everything in between?
You can stream Swamp Thing’s first and only season on DC Universe now, where you can also read some classic Swamp Thing comics, including the lauded Alan Moore and Steve Bissette run which changed the shape and story of the character forever.
Rosie Knight writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com. For more from her, check out her article on Birds of Prey’s Huntress and be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.