A Tribute to the of

Welcome again, readers, to another installment in the Silver Age Sage. This time, we’re diverting into the early Bronze Age, as we sometimes do, to take a look at the “First Startling Issue” of Swamp Thing. Issue #1, which was brought to you on August 10, 1972 with an official publication date of October/November 1972, came courtesy of editor Joe Orlando with an assist by E. Nelson Bridwell, a Bernie Wrightson cover, to include pencils, inks and colors with a spanking new logo by the immortal Gaspar Saladino. That same team is on interiors with Len Wein as our scripter. Now, on to “Dark Genesis!

After a brief tour of the dark and boggy marshland, we get our first glimpse of the Swamp Thing, whose thoughts betray his mission: “They will return…those who killed me! They will return…and I will be waiting!” Looking upon the barn-like structure, the creature continues with, “That house…that smirking shell of a house…stands there taunting me…laughing…as if it were responsible for all that has happened here!

Then, the inevitable flashback to a sunnier day and a vehicle arrives at this same house, described, indeed, as a refurbished barn. The passengers are the doctors Holland, Alec and Linda, escorted by Lt. Matt Cable. It seems they’re in this secluded place under the orders of Washington to do some top-secret work in bio-restorative research for the Government.

As the husband-and-wife team are dropped off and enter the building, they’re greeted with a modern and extensive laboratory. Alec Holland’s dialogue is ironic in it’s foreshadowing of Bernie Wrightson’s future career triumph: “Thought of everything, didn’t they? We’ve got enough equipment here for a dozen Dr. Frankenstein’s! Seems almost a shame we’re not building a monster!

The days pass and the experiments conducted by the Holland’s are bearing fruit, or at least vegetation, as they are able to demonstrate that their new chemical compound can successfully create plant life out of practically nothing. The ability to grow plants and gardens in barren environments will be a tremendous boon to mankind.

Just then, a knock at the door and three men appear. The first introduces himself as Ferrett and asks for a moment of Alec’s time, in private. Holland asks how they got through a patrolled area and Ferrett proceeds to offer a literal blank check on behalf of a private organization that wishes to purchase exclusive rights to their bio-restorative formula. Alec refuses, and Bruno is about to begin “persuading” the good doctor when the other henchman notes that company is coming. The men depart, but with a promise to return and advising them to consider their offer.

The approaching car contains Lt. Cable and Alec recounts their visit from the thugs. Cable informs them that when their work is finished, “…the country that controls your formula will be able to control the world!” Cable cautions them to be more alert to any future visitors for their own safety’s sake and departs.

Soon afterward, the couple hear a noise outside. Alec Holland grabs a rifle to investigate, but it turns out to be a dog. Linda insists they shelter the lost dog and Alec reluctantly agrees, but it seems the dog is a plant, with a tiny radio transmitter riding along and being monitored by decidedly unfriendly people. “Louisiana Blue” reports in to his handlers and is instructed to monitor the Holland’s progress via the transmitter and once they’ve completed their tasks, “You know what must be done! Send Ferrett around to see them again with a repeat of our offer! If we can get the formula without any difficulty, all well and good—but if not…” The organization calls itself the Conclave and they are ruthless in their pursuit. They are even prepared to destroy the Holland’s and their formula if they cannot obtain it for themselves.

Sure enough, Ferret and company make a repeat appearance, but Alec greets them with the rifle. Unfortunately, Bruno gets the drop on him and they get busy planting a bomb in the laboratory. When Alec Holland revives, he discovers the incendiary device, but he’s too late and is soon enveloped in the explosion. Though consumed with flaming chemical compounds and unbelievable agony, Holland staggers out into the night and plunges into the swamp.

In the next scene, Linda, Lt. Cable, the dog and a man of the cloth stand over a grave. While there was no trace of Alec found, the ceremony is still undertaken. Afterward, back to the cleaned and restored lab so that Linda can carry on.

Meanwhile, out in the swamp, a strange new creature emerges from the bog. “A muck-encrusted, shambling mockery of life...a twisted caricature of humanity that can only be called…Swamp Thing!

What was once Alec Holland can still reason and breathe and he tries to desperately reconstruct what has happened to him. He deduces that the formula that was on the table, combined with the swamp components and his own body have somehow morphed into this new creature. He sees lights on in the lab and hopes that Linda can help him, but when he sees his reflection in the glass, he is horrified at the visage and stalks away. Holland is determined to await the return of Ferrett and the others.

The dog is being summoned, unbeknownst to Linda Holland and Matt Cable and the Lieutenant is soon tramping through the overgrowth and in the rain searching for the canine. He then hears a noise and draws his pistol, only to be pole-axed by Bruno and his handy shovel. Then, Ferrett arrives at the lab with the other hoodlum and is brandishing a pistol of his own.

Back in the bog, the Swamp Thing hears the agitated yipping of the dog and extricates him from the mire, but then a shot rings out and Alec goes to his wife’s aid. When he arrives at the lab, he finds her lying on the floor, gone. With only a moment to mourn, the creature hears a car outside and he bursts forth to confront the murderers, using other-worldly strength to stop the vehicle in its tracks.

The first to try to take on the Swamp Thing is Bruno, but he quickly folds under the power of the muck monster. Next, Ferrett empties the cylinder of his revolver, to no effect. The red-eyed swamp creature advances and destroys his antagonist. Finally, another warning shot, this time from Lt. Cable, but the creature that was once Alec Holland is now weary and ignores the lawman’s demands that he come with him to face a murder charge.

Slowly, sadly and deliberately, the Swamp Thing walks away into the darkness of the swamp with the dismal thoughts in his head that, “…but Alec Holland is dead…and in his place stands only a Swamp Thing!

It goes without saying that while you can be pretty descriptive with the written word, some art, like that of Bernie Wrightson’s, must be experienced to truly be appreciated and in this case, you gotta see it for yourself. Bernie could use pencil and ink like no other and it seems he was also a talented colorist, adding even more moodiness to such a timeless tale. And I am highly biased, but Gaspar Saladino’s inspired lettering was a wonderful complement as well. A true classic and well worth your time, faithful reader. Get your hands on a copy, which shouldn’t be hard as it’s been reprinted multiple times.

Just for history’s sake, it should be noted that this classic story came not long after the first Swamp Thing appearance in House of Secrets #92 (July 1971 [Sage #196]) and this opener of a series was declared the winner of the Shazam Award for the Best Individual Story (Dramatic) of 1972. Bernie and Len, ya did good and we miss both of you. I’ll long be grateful that I got to meet both men and interview them before they left us, all too soon.

Finally, in the shameless plug department, if you feel the need for more muck monsters in your life, may I suggest getting your hands on a copy of BACK ISSUE #124, scheduled to be out on the 25th and containing my short piece on Man-Thing, which also had some input from Len Wein. Check it out and let me know what you think.

The next installment here will take place the 1st of December. If you’ve got anything on your mind in the way of feedback, questions or comments, please feel free to drop a line to my regularly monitored e-mail at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

C’mon back soon and, as always…

Long live the Silver Age!

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