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Swamp Thing: An Appreciation
© Joe Crowe
July 24, 2006

"Oh, man! Swamp Thang's kickin' some butt now!" — Omar, Return of Swamp Thing

You wouldn't expect a swamp monster to be the third most adapted DC Comics superhero. Yet he's had two theatrical movies that are re-run constantly on cable. That's behind only Superman and Batman, and two more than the zero movies made about Wonder Woman, Flash, or Green Lantern. He had his own TV series that was on for longer than Wonder Woman's, Flash's or Batman's. Somebody even cranked out toys and a cartoon once, when everyone else had to settle for being in the Justice League.

Swamp Thing, created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson, first appeared in 1971. His best comics run is by Alan Moore, beginning with "The Anatomy Lesson" in 1984. But I'm not here to gush about that. I want to talk about everything else.

I first encountered Swamp Thing in the 1970s in the Batman team-up book Brave and the Bold. Marvel had about 167 heroic monsters. DC had Swamp Thing. DC's characters have rarely been known for their scintillating personalities. Swamp Thing was different. He wanted to kill himself. He spent the whole issue hoping to "take root," a swampy way of saying he was going to go to sleep and grow into the ground.

Well, that was depressing. But it was something! He was like a Marvel hero! Changed in a scientific accident, robbed of his humanity, seeking only to be left alone. That's half the Marvel Universe. I immediately dug him (so to speak). Then he was in the thing I looked forward to most back in those days: The live-action comic-book movie.

Swamp Thing (1982)

"Does it . . . hurt?" — Alice

"Only . . . when . . . I laugh . . . Ha . . . ha." — Swamp Thing

I went to see this movie a lot. Swampy was in a leathery brownish-green costume that looked a lot like his comic book look. The comics' damsel in distress Abby Arcane and her boyfriend Matt Cable are smooshed into one character: Alice Cable, played by 1970s hot mama Adrienne Barbeau.

Swampy's all covered in roots and twigs and feels alone and Alice hugs him (and doesn't get swamp gunk on her, oddly). Even though it's a dude in a monster suit, there's emotion. Dick Durock, the guy in the suit, may be the best stuntman there is at acting. High melodrama is in his declaration that he can't continue his scientific work, and looks down at his swamped-up hands, and says "With these."

Louis Jordan as Dr. Arcane is a classic, slithery evildoer. When he takes the Swampy formula himself then turns into an orange-maned pig thing, the ensuing fight in ankle-deep swamp water is hilarious. It's the same as a Godzilla monster fight, but without the tiny smashable buildings.

When the movie went to DVD, an "international version" with Adrienne Barbeau shirtless and in full boobity was mistakenly released in the States. Oopsie! Parents were outraged that they bought their children a monster flick with killing, burning bodies, stabbings, and shootings, and instead got one set of naked female breasts.

So a stink was had. The DVDs were ripped from shelves, and Swampy disappeared from DVD, except on eBay, where it would run you $80. It's back on DVD now, but I bet Adrienne wears a shirt in it.

I can neither confirm nor deny that I have viewed the nekkid footage now that I am big. But WHOA BUDDY. If I had seen Ms. Barbeau in her altogether in 1982 when I was 12, I think I would have broken something. The scene is sort of ruined, though, because she takes a naked bath in a swampy creek, and I bet there's skeeters and night crawlers.

Legend has it you can see the zipper on the Swampy suit. I don't know. In 1982, I was too busy not seeing Adrienne Barbeau's breasts.

Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

"I think the green one's good!" — Omar

Between the first movie and this one came Swampy's comic revitalization and turn toward suspenseful, dramatic horror. So of course, this movie took that to heart and became a goofy campfest.

The opening credits roll over Creedence Clearwater Revival's totally appropriate "Born on the Bayou." Then Dick Durock makes a heroic entrance, and beats down thugs and monsters like Tarzan covered in sod. He wades into the scene, backlit, and bashes, tosses, and clobbers. In one scene, he wears out evildoers with a baseball bat. Whatever you do, you must witness a swamp monster using a baseball bat.

There are two kids in the movie, Darryl and Omar, and they steal every scene they're in. In the director's comments, Wynorski says he kept in nearly everything Omar blurted out, like his awed gasp of, "I think the green one's good."

I must give the respect to Mr. Dick Durock. He played Swamp Thing every time there was a Swamp Thing to be played. He's been a stuntman on decades of sci-fi stuff, including several Planet of the Apes movies, Doc Savage, Quark, A-Team, and Six Million Dollar Man. He played Imperious Leader on Battlestar Galactica and an Elasian guard on the Star Trek episode "Elaan of Troyius." He was body double for Prof. Robinson on Lost in Space and Jethro on Beverly Hillbillies.

Durock's performance makes the whole movie. He delivers each John Wayne-like line with a smirk while covered in green makeup, twigs, and leaves. The movie is just fun.

Check the DVD for awesome public service announcements for Greenpeace. They end with Swamp Thing and the kids throwing their heads back and laughing like in 1970s cop TV shows. Brilliant.

The director's comments show an astonishing incident that spells out the depth and breadth of Durock's coolness. Heather Locklear and Swamp Thing have a makeout scene. But like the comic book, it's a hallucination. So in the hallucination, Heather makes out totally G-ratedly, with a human dude. The director says she asked that Dick Durock be the human victim of her liplocking and caressing. SHE asked -- and Durock REFUSED! Because he didn't want to spend the 90 minutes it would take to REMOVE THE SWAMPY SUIT.

Now, anyone else would have come out of that thing like it was on fire. But Mr. Dick Durock is such a pro that he didn't feel like getting smooches from Miss Locklear.

I can just imagine that conversation. "I ain't got the time, baby. I'm Dick Durock."

Swamp Thing TV Series (1991)

"Do not bring your evil into my swamp." Swampy

I didn't see nearly enough of this show. Abby Arcane was Kari Wuhrer. As in, Sliders and Remote Control. You know who she is. But there were no veggie/human hijinx, which is a shame, since Wuhrer has hijinx in pretty much everything else.

It really tried to be dramatic, with no cheese. That's no fun. But Dick Durock was still the moss-encrusted man. Dick Durock? Damn right he does.

Swamp Thing Cartoon (1990)

This was a five-part miniseries that hawked Swamp Thing toys, which included Bio-Glow Swamp Thing, Snap Up Swamp Thing ("Hey Swampy, your daddy's a fern"), and Bayou Jack, the only non-monster toy in the bunch. So every kid said "What a gyp" when Jack was the only one left on the Toys R Us rack.

All that needs to be said is that the show had a theme song. It sounded like The Troggs' "Wild Thing." As a closing gift, I give you the lyrics to the "Swamp Thing" theme.

Swamp Thing!

You are amazing!

You fight everything . . . nasty!

Swamp Thing!

Swamp Thing, Earth really needs you!

So come on, fight for right!

We NEED you!

Swamp Thing!

You are amazing!

Oooooooh Swamp Thing!


Why doesn't Joe Crowe have your strength? Because he never had it.

 
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