A Little Murky

It’s a curious happenstance when it comes to horror and comics: there’s one kind of monster that seems to be unique to comics, or at least more prevalent:

The swamp monster.

Both Marvel and DC have extremely well known “muck monsters” to their credit, both of which seeing their debut in the year 1971. Of the two, DC’s has had the more successful and well-known in the form of Swamp Thing, as created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, redefined and popularized by Alan Moore in the 1980s, and currently one of the more creatively acclaimed books in DC’s lineup, under the pen of Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette.

DC’s character falls more in the “unlikely hero” category, being the story of scientist Dr. Alec Holland, who falls victim to sabotage in his lab in the Louisiana swamp and is transformed into a lumbering plantman, various later revisions to his origin notwithstanding.

Marvel’s version is a bit more of an unwitting monster in the flavor of the Hulk, in the form of Man-Thing, as created by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow in SAVAGE TALES #1.

Strangely enough, Man-Thing has nearly the exact same origin as Swamp Thing, with scientist Dr. Ted Sallis working in his Everglades lab (on an attempt to re-create the Super-Soldier Serum that created Captain America), when he too is the victim of sabotage, shot and forced to try in untested serum on himself in an effort to save his life When the wounded Sallis crashed his car into the swamp, the swamp chemical interact with the untested serum, and voila! – Man-Thing is born.

Unlike Swamp Thing, who was later retconned into being a “Plant Elemental,” giving him power over most plant life, Man-Thing tended to have more of a mystical flavor to it, including his main power, which also made for one hell of a catch-phrase: “Whatever knows fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing.”

Which, to be honest, seems a little unfair. I mean, look at him.

However, these weren’t the first swamp monsters in comics. A case can be made to include Solomon Grundy, the Green Lantern supervillain created back in 1944, as a reanimated zombie made up of reconstituted swamp and plant matter.

However, the real granddaddy of all comic-book swamp monsters has to be The Heap, a recurring character in Hillman’s AIR FIGHTERS COMICS (and later AIRBOY COMICS) who made his debut in all the way back in 1942.

The Heap’s origin wasn’t dissimilar to the Marvel or DC characters; in fact, it’s a familiar story, only with an aviation tie-in to fit the theme of AIR FIGHTERS. World War I German flying ace Baron Eric von Immelman is shot down over a Polish swamp, and clings to life as his body merges with the plant matter of the swamp itself until he arises during World War II as The Heap. After first feuding with Hillman second-stringer SkyWolf, The Heap then goes off on his own, wandering the globe and helping people along the way, usually without really intending to. The character had a nice little resurgence in the 1980s when Eclipse Comics revived the Airboy character for a lengthy and well-done run.

He never got the spotlight of his later imitators, but credit where it’s due: The Heap came first.

One Response to A Little Murky

  1. Jeff Nettleton October 24, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    Well, the swamp monster isn’t entirely unique to comics. Theodore Sturgeon published the story “It!”, in the pages of Unknown, August, 1940. The story features a man’s corpse reanimated as a swamp creature. It’s a probable reason, along with the Heap’s earlier publication, for why DC and Marvel never had a legal battle over their swamp creatures. Marvel did publish an adaptation of the original story in one of their black & white magazines.

Welcoming the Future, Treasuring the Past.