Hero Nation is the new hub for Deadline’s sci-fi, horror, fantasy, superhero, and animation coverage. And the article you’re reading now is the Hero Nation Index, a weekly roundup of news, rumors, tidbits and happenings in Comic-Con culture, which is dominating Hollywood’s attention in unprecedented fashion. TODAY: A SPECIAL ALL-SWAMP THING EDITION.
THAT THING YOU DO: The ambitious new Swamp Thing series premiered Friday on the DC Universe streaming site with a intriguing blend of the character’s 1971 horror comics roots (which began in a House of Secrets classic by Len Wein & Berni Wrightson), the sublimely mind-bending 1980s mythology revamp by Alan Moore, and the supernaturally unnerving sensibilities of James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring), the show’s high-profile executive producer. Check out the intense trailer for the new series above. The show joins the intense Titans and the truly bizarre Doom Patrol on the streaming site.
ALL THINGS, GREAT AND SMALL: This latest screen version of the tragic bog creature extends the character’s Hollywood story which is a surprisingly long story already. The transmogrified scientist reached the big screen twice (Swamp Thing in 1982 and The Return of the Swamp Thing in 1989) and then became a TV transplant with a barely remembered Saturday morning cartoon (1991) and then came USA Network and its rubber-suit revival for the live-action series that aired 72 episodes (1990-1993). The series was unique in its time as a modern-day tale of shambling Southern horror that adapted an award-winning comic-book brand. Later, it would be matched in those attributes when AMC’s The Walking Dead began its lurch into television history.
MISSING THINGS: The Swamp Thing’s big-screen legacy is like a Florida sinkhole. You measure its importance by what’s missing and the size of the depression that follows it. The 1982 Embassy Pictures film was directed by Wes Craven, but it was far less influential than the signature work he delivered two years later (A Nightmare on Elm Street). It cost a mere $3 million to make and it has a cheesy rubber costume to prove it didn’t splurge. The Swamp Thing films were especially discouraging to comics fans who were reading Alan Moore’s sublime version of the character (but if it felt like a crime it was a mere misdemeanor compared to felony failings of A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). I remember talking with Guillermo del Toro (not long after he wrapped the first Hellboy film) about Swamp Thing and he spoke in awed tones about the gravitas of the source material. “That one is up there, it’s a Holy Grail-level,” del Toro said. Time will tell if Wan and the DC Universe series have a real-deal epic worthy of the source material or a Grail fail that muddies the brand waters. The first episode had some true great moments and touches in it, so there’s no reason for anything but optimism at this point.
FORGOTTEN THINGS? PART 1: The same actor who portrayed the title character in Craven’s Swamp Thing in 1982 reprised the role for the 1989 sequel and all three seasons of the USA Network series. Can you name him? You can find the answer below.
ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER: The most fascinating thing about the Swamp Thing films of the 1980s is what they reveal about the Hollywood approach to DC Comics properties over the two decades after Superman, the landmark 1978 hit that introduced the concept of a superhero blockbuster.
Before the release of that Christopher Reeve classic there had been just two feature films based on DC Comics properties. Superman and the Mole Men in 1951 (with George Reeves) and Batman in 1966 (with Adam West) and both were tied-in to television productions. Take a look at the list of DC-based feature films (live action and animated) that followed the mega-success of Superman, which was the highest-grossing Warner release in studio history up to that point.
- 1978 Superman
- 1980 Superman II
- 1982 Swamp Thing
- 1983 Superman III
- 1984 Supergirl
- 1987 Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
- 1989 The Return of Swamp Thing
- 1989 Batman
- 1992 Batman Returns
- 1993 Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
- 1995 Batman Forever
- 1997 Batman & Robin
- 1997 Steel
- 2002 Road to Perdition
- 2004 Catwoman
- 2005 Constantine
- 2005 V For Vendetta
- 2005 History of Violence
- 2005 Batman Begins
- 2006 Superman Returns
- 2008 The Dark Knight
That’s 21 films in 30 years. Seven of them are Team Metropolis (five Superman films, Steel and Supergirl) and eight are Team Gotham (seven Batman films and Catwoman). Notice that Swamp Thing was only the second DC character ever to earn a sequel (following Superman by almost a decade and beating Batman by two years). Amazingly, on that long list of DC adaptations, there were only three properties that merited a sequel, prequel, or remake: Superman, Batman, and, yep, Swamp Thing.
For Warner Bros, the shocking thing is that in the decade since The Dark Knight in 2008 there has only been one other DC property added to the list of franchises with two or more installments. It’s RED, the 2010 retiree spy adventure starring Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren, which was followed by RED 2 in 2013. That’s a grand total of four multi-film franchises based on DC Comics in 40 years (although Wonder Woman 1984 will change that next year). Marvel Studios, by the way, has seven multi-film franchises in its first decade (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy).
FORGOTTEN THINGS, PART 2: It’s not easy be green. Stuntman and actor Dick Durock learned that while portraying the Swamp Thing in two films and 72 television episodes. Still the 6-foot-5 former Marine found his career role in the sensitive swamp monster. Durock, born in South Bend, IN, in 1937, died in 2009 in Oak Park, CA, at age 72. Random trivia: Durock once went toe-to-toe with television’s other unjolly green giant from comic books. In “The First,” a March 1981 episode of The Incredible Hulk, Durock portrayed an even-grumpier predecessor of Lou Ferrigno’s gamma-ray giant. The episode (Season 4, Episode 10) is free on NBC.com if you want to see Durock throw a boulder at Bambi as proof he was the meanest shade of green.
THE LAST THING: There was an animated Swamp Thing show in 1991 to create Saturday morning synergy with a new line of toys based on the leafy, misshapen, murder-victim-turned-monster. If all of that sounds questionable, wait until you hear the frat-party theme song that sounds worse than swamp gas smells.