Charles Soule embraces the Green with ‘Swamp Thing’

(CBR) Charles Soule is a busy man. Sure, he’s not protecting all plant life as the avatar of the Green, being fueled by rage and operating as a Red Lantern or mixing business and pleasure with an Amazon princess, but the New York-based lawyer/musician/scribe is writing monthly adventures featuring all of these diverse storylines for DC Comics in the pages of “Swamp Thing,” “Red Lanterns” and “Superman/Wonder Woman.”

With his Oni Press creator-owned series “Letter 44” yielding positive reviews and his workload at Marvel increasing too, you would think something has got to give. But if Soule has his way that something won’t be “Swamp Thing.”

CBR News recently connected with Soule as his first major arc on the title comes to a close this week in “Swamp Thing” #27, which features art by Jesús Saiz. Soule told CBR News that despite his increasing writing commitments he has zero intentions of leaving “Swamp Thing” and spoke passionately not only about his own current run with Alec Holland but also the long history of brilliant stories from the character’s past written by industry legends like Len Wein, Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughan and Andy Diggle.

Soule also teased Swamp Thing’s epic battle with Seeder for Green supremacy will be resolved in “Swamp Thing” #27, why Capucine needs the avatar of the Green’s help will be revealed in “Swamp Thing” #28 and that a brand new arc titled “Gift of the Sureen” will expand the title’s mythos beginning in “Swamp Thing” #29.

CBR News: Scott Snyder’s run on “Swamp Thing” received a great deal of publicity and critical acclaim. Not easy to follow his run, but you jumped in headfirst and delivered something readers believe is equally strong yet quite different. Specifically, Swamp Thing’s voice reads differently to me. Would you agree that your version of the avatar of the Green is different than Scott’s?

Charles Soule: I have been trying to do two distinct things with Swamp Thing’s voice since I started writing the book. The man inside, who is Dr. Alec Holland, has become the avatar of the Green — the champion of plant life on Earth — without really having a full understanding of what that means. He thinks he knows what that means, because he has the memories of all of the other avatars that have done the job. He’s familiar with the plant version of the Swamp Thing, which we’ve seen in so many other great “Saga of the Swamp Thing” stories, so he thinks he knows what the job is. But when he is actually doing it, it turns out to be a more difficult and complicated thing.

For his external voice, which is him trying to live up to the role of what he thinks the avatar should be, he talks sometimes in a more dramatic way and doesn’t use any contractions and so on, but inside his head, he’s still just a dude. He has a lot of the same fears and worries as us and sees the humor in things. He has the same sort of wants, needs and desires that any person does. It’s a way to simultaneously show the human side opposite the more acceptably recognized giant, swamp/plant god. It’s kind of like eating my cake and having it too.

The cover for “Swamp Thing” #27 shows Alec Holland in his human form bursting from a sea of swamp things. Will we see even more of Alec’s human form come to the forefront during your run?

I think that cover is an interesting metaphorical explanation of what happens in that issue. “Swamp Thing” #27 is sort of the wrap up of the big Seeder story that I’ve been telling basically since I got onto the book so I would be foolish to spoil it other than to say that it is full of a lot of really cool resolutions to plotlines that I have been building since the very beginning.

Alec Holland does some very dramatic things in that issue that I think are really going to surprise readers and at the same time, I think are going to feel very consistent with what I’ve been saying and how I’ve been establishing the title in my entire run so I can’t wait for it to come out. It’s beautiful too. Jesús has been doing incredible stuff on this book like the other artists have, as well.

After replacing Kano, Jesús is continuing his run on the book into the next arc, “The Gift of the Sureen.” What does he bring to the project?

It’s amazing with him, Javier Pina and Kano before them, every artist that I have been working with on this title has delivered not just their A-game but their A+ game. And they’re all really cool guys. “Swamp Thing” is kind of a weird title. You have to be able to embrace odd things happening. If you’re an artist, you have to be willing to draw a lot of leaves and vines and such. I’ve spoken to Jesús about this, and Matt Wilson, who is doing the incredible colors, and I know that we all like being able to tell stories about this guy and these kinds of stories. Right now, everyone is really firing on all cylinders and I think that comes across in the quality of the final product. It feels like a team that’s really in sync and working really hard on it.

There’s a great panel or panels that are shown in a flashback in your recent issue but was originally shown in “Swamp Thing Annual” #2 and that’s when Alec is speaking with the avatar of the Green once removed and asking him for advice. And he says, “If you are asked to do something that will change you in a way you do not wish to be changed, that will compromise the person you believe yourself to be, say no.” Can you talk about those words and the importance of those words to the story you’ve been building with Alec?

I’m very, very proud of that annual in particular because it was a chance to expand the mythology of the Green past what we’ve seen before. I took the idea of the Parliament and thought about how parliaments actually work. They’re not one unified entity. They bicker, they squabble, people get elected to it, people get kicked off it — it’s the illusion of consensus.

Alec Holland really never thought about it before and once he learned what the Green and the Parliament are and how they operate, he asked himself, “Why do I have to necessarily listen to these guys? Why are they the authority just because they’ve done this job before? I should be able to do this my own way.” When he visits the avatar once removed, it’s a very conscious reference back to the Alan Moore Swamp Thing and subsequent stories that other writers did with the plant through-and-through version of the Swamp Thing. What I wanted to do and the reason I wanted to put that in is not just to talk about Alec Holland but there’s also sort of a meta-quality to it where I wanted speak to the experience of writing “Swamp Thing” with all of the wonderful writers and stories that have been told before. I wanted to pay tribute to them and acknowledge one of the most famous scenes of any Swamp Thing story, which was when the plant Swamp Thing goes to another planet and turns blue and so forth in the “My Blue Heaven” issue back in the day. It was a tribute and an homage to that but it was also saying that this was my version of that story now.

Just because great stories existed in the past, it doesn’t mean great stories can’t be told now. It works on a couple of levels. It certainly works for Alec’s character and what he is and what he is being asked and the choices he makes in “Swamp Thing” #24, #25, #26 and #27. That’s a very powerful moment for him, but again, it’s also a statement about me working on “Swamp Thing” as a title that I hope came through for the readers.

You mentioned the story of Jason Woodrue, the Seeder, and his role in the book since you started on “Swamp Thing.” Batman has the Joker. Superman has Lex Luthor. Can you talk about developing an arch enemy for Swamp Thing?

The crucial difference between Seeder and Swamp Thing, or if you want to call them Jason Woodrue and Alec Holland, is that Seeder desperately wanted the power of the avatar. He did everything he could to get it, including some truly terrible things that we described in “Swamp Thing” #26, whereas Alec Holland had this all thrust upon him. The idea of the reluctant hero is probably coming at it a little too strong because Alec is fully accepting the role that he has, but he also would have been happy to live his life and not do this. Seeder was willing to do anything he could to get the avatar job and did do anything he could to get the avatar job. And that’s not necessarily a good approach. You can want things too much and it can change you. And I think Seeder is almost designed as a cautionary tale for Alec. It’s just the different side of the coin. It’s a way for him to look at his own role as the avatar and see how he might do better. It’s just a distorted mirror to hold up to Alec Holland, which is always a nice character beat to play.

Like the Wild West, is this title big enough for Swamp Thing and Seeder to co-exist beyond the next issue or does someone have to go?

There is a definitive showdown that happens in “Swamp Thing” #27 and the answer to that question will be provided there in a very dramatic and fun way and in pretty cool fashion. I’ve spent a lot of time building to what happens in “Swamp Thing” #27 so I really don’t want to say too much in terms of specifics but I will say that it’s a little different. I hope people think it’s cool. Endings are always tricky but I think we came up with something cool that not only puts the cap on the Seeder storyline but also really opens the title up to some amazing stories. When you have a concept as rich as the Swamp Thing mythology, there are open doors everywhere. It’s just a matter of choosing which one you’re going to walk through as far as the next place that you are going to take the story. We have some really, really cool stuff lined up for “Swamp Thing” #27, #28, #29, #30 and #31 and moving forward, and they’re all tied to things that happen in “Swamp Thing” #27. It’s an ending but I think it’s also a really cool beginning.

“Swamp Thing” #28 is a stand-alone issue spotlighting Capucine, a character that I’m really enjoying. Obviously you can’t spoil the entire issue here, but what can you share about Capucine’s secret origin?

One of things that I set out to do when I started writing “Swamp Thing” was to give him more of a supporting cast. Swamp Thing’s supporting cast was primarily Abby Arcane. At least in the New 52 and in the first 18 issues, Swamp Thing was on an amazingly cool mission and he interacted with a lot of great characters from the DC Universe but he didn’t have too much in his own little universe to work with. I really wanted to add some people and I thought this strange, French assassin-type would be really cool. And really fun to write — a very strong, tough lady who can totally handle herself physically, she doesn’t need anybody’s help for anything, but here she is coming to Swamp Thing and begging him for his assistance. The question has always been, what is she so worried about? Why does she need Swamp Thing’s help? In “Swamp Thing” #28, you finally get the answer to that question. She has been a huge thrill to have in the book for me. I just really like writing her — I like her viewpoint and her attitude toward things. And I think as we learn more about her and who she is, I think she becomes even more interesting.

The way she’s presented versus what she actually is and how she works is going to be fun to spin. There are some surprises for her and about her that are revealed in “Swamp Thing” #28 and others will come out later.

You mentioned the writers that came before you on “Swamp Thing,” including Alan Moore. One of his most highly praised issues was “Saga of the Swamp Thing” #29, which featured the story “Love and Death.” You are starting a brand new three-part arc in “Swamp Thing” #29, “The Gift of the Sureen.” Who or what are the Sureen?

The Sureen are one of those mythology-expanding things that I mentioned earlier. The idea is that when an avatar takes on the job of the avatar, he leaves his human life aside. And it seems like it happens one day to the next. One day, you’re a dude just living your life and the next day, you have left everything behind. The Sureen are essentially a cult or a religious organization that is centered around — and worshipping and helping — the avatars in that transition. They are there to give support to avatars by serving as a bridge back to their human life — settle affairs, communicate with loved ones, whatever they need them to do. They also have sensibilities of their own, including a particular ritual that has been entrusted with them or has developed that offers a very particular service to avatars.

Alec Holland never knew about it because it’s something that Parliament basically kept secret until avatars have been in the role for a good little while. They didn’t want people to know about it right away but the Sureen basically show up and introduce themselves and offer this service to Alec, which he’s very interested in. A lot of things spin out from that and I think it’s a very cool arc. I do different tones in different story arcs of “Swamp Thing” and this one is creepy. It’s like weird horror but it’s very interesting. It goes all over the world and there’s lots of cool stuff to see.

You are a busy man these days with “Swamp Thing,” “Superman/Wonder Woman,” “Red Lanterns,” “Thunderbolts,” “She-Hulk,” and the recently announced “Inhuman,” not to mention your creator-owned work for Oni Press, “Letter 44.” Any plans to leave “Swamp Thing” any time soon? You definitely sound like you are deeply committed to the character and the title?

“Swamp Thing” is the first Big 2 project I was lucky enough to get. I am absolutely thrilled with it and I have no intention of going anywhere. As always, it’s whether the book ends or someone else comes on and I am asked to leave, but the one thing that I have control over is whether or not I choose to leave and I have zero intentions to do that. I love “Swamp Thing.” It’s a great book.

“Swamp Thing” #27, by Charles Soule, Jesús Saiz and Matt Wilson, is on sale Jan. 8 from DC Comics.