Swamp Thing 3.37: Because You Demanded It

Back in early ’82, the producers of Swamp Thing published a trade ad in Variety that listed all the tie-in merchandise that Warner Bros was planning to release for Swamp Thing, before they realized that it wasn’t a good movie and they shouldn’t bother.

Warners had a full slate of products lined up, as per the Superman movie, which set the standard for superhero movie tie-in merch. The Swamp Thing plans included a line of toys by Mego, Halloween costumes and masks by Ben Cooper, and T-shirts and sleepwear by Strata. Grandreams was going to produce a poster book, Eclipse Enterprises planned to make a souvenir program and an art portfolio, and Crown Books was supposed to publish a hardcover book about the movie’s special effects. Just imagine! It probably would have cost more to produce the book than they spent on the actual effects.

None of that happened, obviously, because who wants to wear a Halloween costume that looks like Louis Jourdan? All they made was a soundtrack album and a paperback novelization, which was basically the bare minimum produced for any movie at the time; even Trail of the Pink Panther got a soundtrack album, and that was just a collection of Peter Sellers outtakes.

The movie tie-in that really mattered was a brand-new comic book series called The Saga of the Swamp Thing, which relaunched the series that had been dormant since 1976. The ads said that the book was back “Because You Demanded It!” which is the meaningless phrase that they always said whenever they launched a new comic. It’s hard to imagine what an authentic groundswell for a Swamp Thing relaunch would have looked like in 1982, but it would probably have to involve mind control.

But this was only the second time that DC had a blockbuster feature film based on one of their properties, so they had to do take advantage of that opportunity and try to drum up some enthusiasm.

The new book was written by Marty Pasko, who’d been working for DC since the mid-70s writing Superman and Wonder Woman comics, as well as the World’s Greatest Superheroes daily comic strip. The comic opens with Swamp Thing at kind of a loose end, just mooching around from swamp to swamp, and trying to stay out of people’s way. There’s a four-page flashback reminding readers about his origin story; besides that, there’s no connection to any previous storyline.

Instead, Pasko gives Swamp Thing a mysterious kid sidekick: a mute blonde orphan girl named Casey who has huge eyes, a bored expression, and an unfocused collection of telepathic powers. She toddles around after Alec for several issues like the obvious brain-sucking alien parasite that she is, somehow convincing him that he’s responsible for taking care of her. Early in the arc, she gets kidnapped, and uses her sporadically-active telekenesis to hit the kidnapper over the head with a lamp. Then she waits for Swamp Thing to come along and untie her.

Casey is creepy right from the jump, and she gets creepier. Her story starts getting dark around issue #6, when we learn that her real name is Karen Clancy — K.C., not “Casey” — which is treated like a massive plot twist but doesn’t actually make any difference.

In issue #8, Karen burns a guy alive with her mind, and in #11, she becomes a “Herald of the Beast”, who’s supposed to pave the way for the Anti-Christ to come to Earth. Then she teleports all of the other characters to a mysterious steel fortress full of illusions and traps that’s located next door to Adolf Hitler’s summer retreat.

So yes, it involves Nazi death camps. There’s a major character named Harry Kay in the story, who we find out in issue #9 is actually Dr. Helmut Kriptmann, a Nazi war criminal second only to Joseph Mengele in his cruelty.

Then in issue #10, in one of the countless pointless plot twists, it turns out that Kriptmann was actually Jewish, and one of the death camp’s prisoners. Then it turns out in #11 that he might have been working for the Nazis after all. It’s extremely confusing.

Along the way, Swamp Thing gets a couple of new friends named Liz Tremayne and Dennis Barclay.

Liz is a TV journalist, who leaves her job when she discovers that the news channel’s parent company, the Sunderland Corporation, is an evil conspiracy factory that employs multiple assassin teams that appear to be mostly hunting each other.

Dennis is a doctor who works for a clinic owned by the Sunderland Corporation; he starts out thinking that he can cure people through psychic power, but then he finds out that he can’t after all, so he spends nine issues worrying about Swamp Thing, who is apparently dying.

That’s a whole thing, by the way, that Swamp Thing is supposedly deteriorating, in a way that is not visible to the human eye. It’s just a thing that they say once an issue, and after a while, it just gets a footnote somewhere: “Swamp Thing is dying of an as-yet-undiagnosed ailment.” This subplot doesn’t go anywhere in particular.

It’s actually really hard to talk about the early run of The Saga of the Swamp Thing, because the first 13 issues tell this intricate and incredibly confusing story which features fifteen supporting characters, three of whom have two different names that are used interchangeably.

The book starts out pretending that it’s a monster-of-the-month series, which gets progressively stranger. The moment that I realized something really weird was going on is issue #4, which specifically blames Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for the Atlanta child murders of 1979.

In the middle of the story, there’s a page-long rant where Liz confronts the head of a local TV station and passionately denounces Mister Rogers. I need to share some of this with you, because it’s absolutely bananas.

“How did the killer charm them? How did he win their trust? Sure, kids are naive. They’re supposed to be. But here — even after the first wave of killings?

“How, Mr. Fields? Look at your programs. Look at your Uncle Barneys and that warm, cozy little world they live in. Okay, so real life doesn’t break down neatly into good guys and bad guys… but what are we telling our kids when we only show them a world without conflict — a gentle, non-threatening world? A world without madness, without random violence, without senseless death?

“God forbid we should upset the little darlings — right? Gotta protect them kiddies — right? So instead, we show them a world where no one really hurts anyone, where nobody means any harm. A fantasy-world, Mr. Fields, where everybody trusts everybody else, because there is never any reason not to. And we teach our children to love first, and ask questions later.

“Yet we still scratch our heads in fear and incomprehension when they step into an alley with a stranger who cuts them into pieces! Don’t you see? We’re telling them they live in a world that doesn’t exist… and that world is killing them.”

So that’s where Marty Pasko is coming from — an urgent, deeply-held belief that the media should teach young children that the world is full of madness, random violence and senseless death. And then he proceeds to do exactly that, over the next nine issues.

By the midpoint, Pasko is throwing in one lunatic plot contrivance after another, and expecting you to keep track of a dozen different story threads.

Just to give you a sense of how this goes, I’ll do a little recap of issue #6. Don’t bother to try to follow all of this; just let it wash over you, and get a sense of the madness.

The issue starts with Karen’s dying mother giving Swamp Thing a locket that should help him find Karen (aka Casey), and begging him to kill the girl when they find her. When Swamp Thing holds the locket, it gives him psychometric powers, which let him know that Karen is currently hiding in a cave with Liz’s ex-cameraman, Paul. They’re hiding because Harry Kay, aka Helmut Kriptmann, is flying around in a helicopter with a guy named Milton who has psi-powers, and Milton is triangulating their locations based on the psychometric connection between Swamp Thing and Karen.

Liz, Dennis and Swamp Thing are trying to drive somewhere, but they get stopped by some of Sunderland’s men who are pretending to be highway patrolmen. Liz is captured, and brought to Sunderland’s cruise ship in Palm Beach, where he’s having an executive board meeting, followed by a secret masquerade ball for rich weirdos. They’re heading to the Bahamas, but some of the sailors on the ship are nervous, because they’ll be going through an area of the sea where a Sunderland freighter sank six months ago, carrying a dangerous killer herpes virus.

Swamp Thing and Dennis manage to get on board the cruise ship, which they shouldn’t know about, by hiding in a crate loaded into the cargo hold. Dennis ends up infiltrating the costume party, and Swamp Thing is attacked by huge red tentacles that come out of the sea. We find out in the next issue that the tentacles belong to an enormous alien octopus-monster that was created by microscopic aliens who crashed into the sea and were mutated by the Sunderland Corporation’s genetically-engineered herpes virus, and now they’ve turned some of the costume party guests into one-eyed monsters who try to sink the ship, so the octopus can use the metal to build a spacecraft.

It’s insane, just absolute lunacy. That’s not even all of the plot threads; I’m going easy on you. And this is a comic book for children, produced once a month and probably read out of order, based on which issue you could find on the spinner rack in the drug store. I read all of these issues in a row, and even then I had to take notes and draw diagrams to figure out who was where, and what they were doing.

This is a fairly typical page, filled with recap, flashback and exposition, explaining why a character named Grasp died in issue #2, but has come back to life in issue #9, and now his name is Ellenbeck.

One of the nuttiest plot contrivances is the Sunderland Corporation’s use of “receptors” — unnamed suffering sentient human clones, who are trapped in a lab somewhere. When a Sunderland employee falls down a crevasse, burns to death in an explosion, or experiences any other daily mishap, they’re taken to a medical center where their injuries, illnesses and wounds are transferred magically to the receptors. This makes the Sunderland employees effectively immortal, but it means that the sad clones exist in constant agonizing pain.

The crazy thing is that the Sunderland Corporation invented these receptors in order to save money on medical insurance. That is an actual plot device in The Saga of the Swamp Thing that figures in at least five issues out of the first twelve.

That means that none of the bad guys can be injured or killed, and there’s a steady stream of recurring characters that the book keeps pulling out of nowhere.

There’s one point in issue #9 where Karen, aka Casey, announces to a group of Sunderland creeps, “I have been seeking the catalyst — the host whose powers I may drain and take unto myself. The one you call Feldner is not he. There is one among you, however, who does possess the power — one of you who is in truth one of ‘us’ — the one you know as David. David Marx.”

And you’re like, who the hell is David Marx? We’ve never heard of him before. But suddenly there’s a guy called David Marx, who accompanies Karen on a flight to Germany, where she immediately murders him and siphons off his life-force.

In the same issue, Kriptmann tops this with his own pointless population explosion. He tells Swamp Thing, “These are my associates — my ‘special operatives’ — and, as you surmised, they work only for me, not my former employer, the Sunderland Corporation. Their names are Rachel, Samuel, Alan, and Karl.”

As far as I can tell, these four characters never speak or do anything of consequence, except for ten pages after this ham-fisted introduction, when Rachel tells Karen “You do not frighten me, monster-child,” and then gets burned to death by raw psionic force. I don’t know what happens to Samuel, Alan, or Karl. The whole book is like this.

And the great thing is that Marty Pasko invented all of these characters specifically because he hated the Swamp Thing movie. He said, in a 2016 interview:

“All that new supporting cast — not just Tremayne and Barclay, but also Casey and Kriptmann and General Sunderland and the Sunderland Corporation — all that stuff was done out of necessity.

“My run on Swamp Thing — initially, at least — was guided by the assumption that we were tying into the movie, meaning that we were thinking that the broader audience would be familiar with the Arcanes and Cable only as the film had reinvented them. That, I thought, was a bastardization of Len and Berni’s original concepts. Thus I elected, with Len’s blessing, to avoid them until such time as the memory of that hideously inept film had faded from the public’s memory.”

So this is one of those movie tie-ins that actively despises the movie that it’s tied into, which maybe there are other examples of but I can’t think of any. DC relaunched the book because the movie was coming out, but they had such little faith in the movie’s appeal that they avoided even mentioning anything that happened in it. And I have to say, they weren’t wrong.

Tomorrow:
Things get worse for Cable
3.38: Party at Arcane’s Place


Footnote:

There’s one more connection between the movie and the 1982 comic book series: the Swamp Thing Movie Contest, a sweepstakes that was similar to The Great Superman Movie Contest from 1977. First prize for the Superman contest was the opportunity to go to the film set and appear on screen, but they didn’t do that with Swamp Thing, because a day in the swamp would not have been an appealing prize. Instead, the winners got a free trip to New York for a tour of the DC offices, plus tickets to the Broadway show Pump Boys and Dinettes.

Tomorrow:
Things get worse for Cable
3.38: Party at Arcane’s Place

Chapters

— Danny Horn

12 thoughts on “Swamp Thing 3.37: Because You Demanded It

  1. “…plus tickets to the Broadway show Pump Boys and Dinettes.”

    Swamp Thing and Broadway just go together. There was never a show called Sunday in the Swamp with Alec but if there had been I’m sure it would’ve been a smash.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Marty Pasko was never my favorite Bronze Age writer, but I don’t recall ever finding the other stuff of his I’ve read this . . . convoluted. I didn’t start reading the comic until Alan Moore’s run, and I guess I should be glad I never filled in the earlier run.

    Although I will say that movie Arcane’s decadent party would probably have been more interesting if it had been interrupted by herpes-infected aliens. But alas they had already killed off Ferret.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’ve always marveled at how much stuff from earlier comics Alan Moore managed to work into his run on The Saga of Swamp Thing. So little of what you recount from the Pasko epoch rings a bell that he must have been under orders not to use any more of it than absolutely necessary.

    Which makes me wonder if he worked any references to the movie into the comics, and if so if they make the movie more interesting to watch. I’ll have to read through them again!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There’s continuity between Pasko’s run and Moore’s. The insane storyline that I talked about goes up to #13, at which point Pasko took a couple issues off and got a fresh start. In #17, Pasko re-introduced Abby and Matt Cable, who were being haunted by Arcane in insect form — all of that stuff carried over into Moore’s run.

      A couple pieces showed up later, as well. In Moore’s “American Gothic” story arc, Swamp Thing visits a town that has a lake full of underwater vampires; this is a sequel to Pasko’s vampire story in issue #3. Liz and Dennis come back in Moore’s run too, and Liz sticks around as a supporting character, although they’re hardly recognizable.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. We who read and enjoy the comics have to defend them from critics who say they’re garbage.

    Sometimes the critics are right. A bad comic is one of the lowest forms of entertainment.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Liz looks like an angry Dana Scully.
    I’m glad Mr. Pasko was giving coherent interviews in 2016. I was a little worried about him.
    In 1982 the National Institute of Mental Health published a report that concluded that violent behavior on tv correlated with aggressive behavior in children. Maybe Liz’s (and Mr. Pasko’s) tirade was inspired by that.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Man, cocaine is one hell of a drug.

    Just reading this synopsis was like changing channels at three in the morning on basic cable. The actual books must be like being kidnapped, tied up in a filthy basement and having a clearly unstable fellow recount, in detail, the dream he had last night while shoveling down Cocoa Puffs.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Oh man, I had forgotten how dreadful these comics were. My reread stalled out after about 15 issues of the original series, and this post reminded me why that’s okay.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s