Alan Moore’s take on Swamp Thing was a milestone for DC Comics, proving that the publisher didn’t need to rely solely on family-friendly fare. The Comics Code Authority’s rejection of the material brought in a wave of new readers hungry to embrace the growing maturity of comic books in the ’80s, culminating in 1986 with Moore’s other classic work, “Watchmen.”
Swamp Thing was created by the writer/artist team of Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. He started out as the mutated form of scientist Alec Holland, but Moore’s reinvention of the character crucially changed that more traditional superhero origin story. Instead of Holland himself, the Swamp Thing was a manifestation of bayou plant biology with the imbued consciousness of Holland. In other words, Swamp Thing isn’t actually a man, but a sentient plant who believes he’s a man.
This origin story allowed Moore to explore existential questions about humanity while also turning Swamp Thing into an Elemental, a concept that would forever connect the character to the mystical side of DC and bring him into contact with characters like John Constantine, Zatanna (who deserves a DC movie of her own), and the Spectre. As an Elemental, Swamp Thing is a protector of the universal force that connects all plant life known as The Green, answering to a spiritual council of past Elementals called the Parliament of Trees. These are some wild, trippy ideas that were initially only found in “The Saga of the Swamp Thing” comic, but with the success of Moore’s run came Swamp Thing’s further inclusion in the rest of the DC Universe.