Greetings from the Odinson,
I love the old Atomic Age sci-fi monster movies of ‘50s. Films like Them! (1954), Godzilla (1954), Tarantula (1955), and The Blob (1958) are cornerstones in the sci-fi horror genre. And it all goes back to the original sci-fi monster Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a tale about a madman who challenges the forces of nature and creates a monster using dark forbidden science. Now the Odinson is not from that era, but these are the kind of movies or stories that transcend eras. Science Fiction/Horror can sometimes be even scarier than supernatural horror, although Ghost Stories do give me the creeps.
The reason is that no matter how fantastic or outlandish the premise may be for a story rooted in science fiction (i.e. space aliens, giant monsters, pandemics) there’s always just a smidgen of truth or little fact, no matter how small, that makes this premise, no matter how outlandish, almost plausible. And that’s scary, whereas supernatural horror can always just be chalked up to make-believe flights of fancy. Don’t be silly, son, unicorns don’t exist. Or. The only thing I hate about living in Santa Carla is all the damn vampires. Supernatural horror, no matter how bloody or gory it may get, can always simply be dismissed as fantasy.
Most of the time supernatural horror goes hand-in-hand with comedy and is used as metaphor for life. Vampires and werewolves are constantly used to explore sexuality, changing moods and personalities, and the fear of the unknown. Zombies are a metaphor for the humdrum everyday world of modern society and how if one is not careful, that mundane way of living can destroy, or devour, as the case may be. Nobody got this better than Joss Whedon did with his seminal creation Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Week after week on this show, Whedon and his posse of creators took the horror as metaphor to a whole other level. High school was hell, literally.
Science fiction explores the philosophical dilemmas of man. Man playing God is a huge subject explored in the worlds of science fiction horror. Doctor Frankenstein scoffed at the laws of nature when he challenged the very meaning of life and death itself. In Aliens, even though the introduction of the Xenomorph to humans could cause the end of mankind, a soulless corporation still seeks to exploit this dangerous new species and use it as a biological weapon. The spark that leads to ruin doesn’t always have to come from a place of greed or malevolence either, sometimes it can originate from good intentions. In I Am Legend (the movie adaptation), when scientists attempt to cure cancer they unleash a pandemic far, far worse as the majority of the world’s population is suddenly turned into flesh-eating, sunlight-fearing zombie/vampire-like monsters.
There is one title though that melds all the best qualities of science fiction and supernatural horror together into one big beautiful cobweb laden, fog enveloped melting pot, and that’s Swamp Thing.
I was first introduced to this bizarre creature with the 1982 film Swamp Thing, starring Adrienne Barbeau (Creepshow) with Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) and Dick Durock in the dual role of Alec Holland and Swamp Thing. The film led me inevitably to the comic series The Saga of the Swamp Thing. As a kid I was fascinated with this series. On the cover of Saga of the Swamp Thing #1, there is the iconic image of villagers chasing the monster with torches and pitchforks. The cover of Swamp Thing #2 actually has a photo of the Swamp Thing from the movie.
As the story goes, scientist Alec Holland and his wife had established a lab in the swamp to create a restorative super formula that could turn deserts into fertile farmland. They succeeded, but not without a cost. When corrupt men tried to steal Holland’s formula his wife is murdered and he is doused in the chemical and set afire. Holland ran screaming in agony and dove into the dark, cool waters of the marsh. When he did not resurface, the bad guys and the world presumed him dead, along with his miracle formula which was destroyed in the fire. But the chemicals of the restorative formula interacted with the swamp itself and Alec Holland was reborn as the Swamp Thing.
Now Holland roams the wetlands, quagmires and boggy depots of the world, venturing from swamp to swamp searching for a place in the world (see Roots of the Swamp Thing). Stories of the swamp monster have spread far and wide and Holland has become synonymous with other legends like Bigfoot and Loch Ness Monster. While passing through the small boggy town of Limbo, the Swamp Thing happens upon a disturbing situation. An apparently deranged man holds a gun to a child’s head with every intention of pulling the trigger. He is raving madly about witches and the devil. The Swamp Thing intervenes and stops the attempted murder suicide. But the man is killed by his own gun in the struggle and the Swamp Thing is too late to save the child’s mother.
The Swamp Thing quickly discovers that the child is mute, which suits him just find, for though Holland retains his capacity for thought, his mossy exterior struggles to put words together. The two are soon chased from town perceived to be a witch-child and her monster. What follows is a cross-country adventure dipped in conspiracy that eventually leads to an apocalyptic battle for the fate of the world.
Saga of the Swamp Thing #3 is, with out a doubt, one of my favorite vampire stories in comics. It’s a straight up horror story in the same vein as Salem’s Lot. As Holland and his young friend Casey travel cross-country via a boxcar on a train, they are suddenly set upon by a group of blood-suckers. During the scuffle, the Swamp Thing and Casey are separated, as he tumbles out of the moving boxcar and she continues down the tracks, but not before it is revealed that this strange mute little girl does possess psychic powers. Holland finds himself stranded in a small town that has been overrun by vampires. He meets a small group of desperate survivors whose numbers are dwindling by the night. But the true horror of the tale comes to light when Holland, and the reader, realize the lengths one man will go to stop the threat of a vampire plague sweeping across the country.
In Swamp Thing #4, as Holland tries to find his missing friend, he comes face-to-face with a demonic serial killer of children. In Swamp Thing #5, Holland learns that he is dying. This explains why the wounds he’s accumulating are not healing, but when he learns the consequences of his possible salvation he decides the cure maybe worse than death. As the story moves along, Holland meets new allies and encounters dangerous new foes. But in Swamp Thing #9-10 the story takes a shocking turn when he learns a terrible secret about his mute companion, Casey. It seems that this unassuming little girl just may actually be the beast that ushers in the Apocalypse. Since Holland saved her life (in SotST #1), he now feels responsible, and if Casey succeeds in her unholy mission, the End of Days will be the Swamp Thing’s fault.
In Swamp Thing #11-12, in order to stop Casey, the Golem, an ancient creature of Jewish legend is unleashed. But when this mindless juggernaut becomes misdirected, it falls to the swamp-born strength of the Swamp Thing to stop it. Meanwhile, the Beast of the Apocalypse draws ever closer to its terrifying goal, as the creature usurps the life of yet another one of Holland’s friends. Running out of allies and running out of time, in Swamp Thing #13, Holland finally comes face-to-face with the Beast. In the climatic battle, the Swamp Thing, his friends, his enemies, the Golem, and the Beast of the Apocalypse all collide in a battle for the future of the world. It’s a battle not everyone will survive.
Then in Swamp Thing #20-21, master scribe Alan Moore takes the reins of the series and transforms the mossy man-monster into a force of nature with a destiny much grander than anyone ever suspected. And the rest, as they say, is history. The Swamp Thing is the ultimate horror comic book. Len Wein and Berni Wrightson used science fiction to create a modern day Frankenstein Monster (see Roots of the Swamp Thing), Martin Pasko and Tom Yeates wrapped that creation in a supernatural blanket (see The Saga of the Swamp Thing #1-13) and Alan Moore cultivated the creature, breathed new life into him and took the Swamp Thing to places undreamed of (see Saga of the Swamp Thing HC Vol. 1-6).
Like all truly great horror, science fiction or supernatural, Swamp Thing is an allegory about life and death, a metaphor for man and his place in the world. And, The Saga of the Swamp Thing also just happens to be one hell of a fine read.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell