About midway through the pilot episode of the DC Universe streaming service’s new Swamp Thing series, a corpse seemingly comes back to life midway through an autopsy. The force behind this apparent resurrection is largely scientific, as a biological accelerant that mysterious parties have been dumping into the swamplands essentially charged the area’s vegetation with an insatiable hunger for growth and movement. It’s also partially supernatural, though we’ll return to that later. For now, it’s best to focus on the body horror of this scene in particular and, as audiences will quickly realize, the rest of the series as a whole.
That’s because Aquaman director James Wan serves as one of the show’s executive producers. Before the sought-after action helmer entered the DC Comics world, he cut his teeth with the Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring horror franchises. Each of these delved into easily distinguishable subgenres like body horror, psychological horror, and the supernatural, and each one plays a role in Swamp Thing. Obviously, the body horror is the most prevalent, as demonstrated by the aforementioned corpse scene. But Wan’s genre-specific fingerprints can be found all over DC Universe’s latest, and that’s a good thing.
Longtime fans of the character should be especially pleased by this, for long before scientists Alec and Linda Holland and the stronger environmentalism themes entered the picture, Swamp Thing was purely a horror story. After all, the character first appeared in a standalone horror story for House of Secrets #92 in July of 1971. The Hollands, the science and the eco-narratives came to be a few years later, though these initial runs never forgot the property’s roots in horror.
Wan’s new series, which can be especially frightening when it chooses to be, also opts in for more horror than not. Aside from the genre notes, a few prominent characters, and some similar themes, however, writers Mark Verheiden and Gary Dauberman have done a lot to update the Swamp Thing story for modern times. The environmentalist angle adopted in the ’70s and continued through the ’90s remains, though it takes a back seat. As for the Hollands, they’ve been consolidated into a single figure.