by Doc Quantum, partially adapted from Swamp Thing #50 by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben
An undisclosed location in the swamplands of Louisiana:
The old barn still barely stood after several years, despite its poor shape. In December of 1979, this building had been occupied by a loving couple, the Hollands — Alec and his wife Linda. Doctors Alec and Linda Holland were scientists working on a bio-restorative formula for the government that would theoretically enable plant life to thrive almost anywhere and in any circumstances. It would have been ideal for growing vegetables in the desert, high mountain climates, or the frozen north, and might have been the solution to the world’s hunger problem. At least this happy couple had believed it to be so, and they dedicated themselves to searching for this secret. They were idealists. They were also considered dangerous to certain parties, however, and Lieutenant Matt Cable of the DDI had been sent to guard them.
Then a criminal organization called the Conclave came into the picture. They made a monetary offer to the Hollands in exchange for leaving the employ of the government and bringing all their research into their hands. The Hollands refused, much to the Conclave’s displeasure, and they threatened the Hollands’ lives. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Cable was absent when the Conclave brought the full measure of their threat to bear. They set off an explosion in the barn where the Hollands lived, causing Alec’s body to become saturated with the experimental bio-restorative formula, and now engulfed in flame, he ran into the swamp below just before he died. What happened next was a miracle.
The combination of the bio-restorative formula and the surrounding swamp life combined to give Alec Holland a semblance of life over the next few days. Finally, in the early days of January, 1980, a creature who was not quite human nor quite plant life arose from the mucky waters of the swamp, only to learn that his wife Linda had been murdered as well. He was soon called the Swamp Thing, and he took his revenge on those who were responsible for his wife’s death and his own transformation. Lieutenant Matt Cable believed the Swamp Thing to be responsible for the Hollands’ deaths, not knowing that it was actually Dr. Alec Holland himself, and pursued the monster wherever it went.
As the Swamp Thing, Holland soon came face-to-face with the evil wizard known as Anton Arcane in a mountainous region of Transylvania in Romania, and he and Cable soon met and saved Abigail Arcane, the small Transylvanian village’s only medic, after her evil uncle Arcane’s apparent death. Matt Cable and Abby, along with an African-American man named Jefferson Bolt who was picked up along the way, later came to learn the truth behind the Swamp Thing’s creation and became his friends and allies in his search to become human once more.
That search apparently ended when the Swamp Thing was reunited with his brother Edward Holland in the town of Quinn, Oregon. Together with his and Ruth Monroe’s help, Edward gave Alec an antidote to the bio-restorative formula that had changed him into the Swamp Thing, and Dr. Alec Holland was human once more. It was not to last, however, since the antidote proved to be only temporary, and Holland later changed back into the Swamp Thing while assisting the world-famous team of adventurers, the Challengers of the Unknown. This team befriended Holland and offered him a permanent home, but after a while, his wanderlust took over once again, and he left, convinced that he would be trapped in his misshapen body for the rest of his life.
Sometime later, the Swamp Thing discovered that the Sunderland Corporation was after him, in search of the secret of the bio-restorative formula. He fled from them, confronting them when necessary, and along the way he picked up some new allies: Liz Tremayne, a former television journalist employed by a broadcasting company owned by the Sunderland Corporation and the author of Swamp-Man: Fact or Myth? and Doctor Dennis Barclay, M.D., a former Sunderland Corp employee who had begun to suspect the corporation of covert criminal activities. After a series of dangerous adventures while escaping the clutches of the Sunderland Corporation (along the way once again meeting Matt Cable and Abby Arcane, whom, he learned, had gotten married since he last saw them), the Swamp Thing was apparently killed, his corpse captured by the Sunderland Corporation.
General Avery H. Sunderland, head of the Sunderland Corporation, freed Dr. Jason Woodrue from prison and hired him to discover the truth behind the Swamp Thing’s origin. Originally a master criminal known only as Woodrue, he came from the other-dimensional world of Floria, which was inhabited by wood nymphs, dryads, nereids, air sprites, and flower spirits, and was banished to Earth, where he fought the Atom and other super-heroes repeatedly, using his scientific knowledge of plants to take control of them, until he himself was finally transformed into the plant-master known as the Floronic Man.
Sunderland and Woodrue had Dr. Linda Holland’s exhumed corpse in their possession, and they could not understand why the bio-restorative fluid that she had been exposed to as well as her husband had not transformed her as it had him. After six weeks of research on the frozen body of the Swamp Thing, Woodrue came upon a most revolutionary theory, presenting it to General Sunderland.
“You see, a while ago, some people did an experiment. They taught a planarian worm to run a simple maze. They educated it. Then they chopped it up and fed its remains to a batch of planarian worms that couldn’t run the maze… except that after digesting their educated comrade, the worms could run the maze perfectly!” He went on to explain that, just as in example of the planarian worms, when Dr. Holland’s bio-restorative formula-saturated body fell into the swamp, the plants that were altered by the bio-restorative formula quickly ingested the mortal remains of Alec Holland and became infected by a powerful consciousness that did not realize it was no longer alive. They and the Swamp Thing creature had believed all this time that it was Alec Holland somehow transformed into a plant. The truth, however, seemed to indicate that the Swamp Thing was really a plant that only thought it was Alec Holland.
General Sunderland interrupted Woodrue before he could finish explaining and promptly fired him, now that he no longer needed him any longer, then took the research papers Woodrue had written up and read them for himself. Unfortunately for Sunderland, he failed to understand that a plant could not be killed by several bullets to the head. The Swamp Thing was thawed out as part of Woodrue’s revenge, and he soon regenerated himself. Now, normally the Swamp Thing was not known to have ever intentionally harmed anyone before, but when he read for himself Woodrue’s report on Sunderland’s desk upon his escape and fully realized the implications — that he was not human — the Swamp Thing killed General Sunderland in a fury of rage and confusion.
Over the next few months, the Swamp Thing came to accept that he was not human and had never been human, along with the help of Abby Cable, who became his lover after Matt Cable was first taken over by Arcane and then put into a coma.
It was then that the Englishman, John Constantine, stepped into his life. Constantine, who would be best described as sort of a paranormal investigator, warned the Swamp Thing about an impending catastrophe, and he began to open up new worlds of possibilities for the Swamp Thing in regards to his inherent abilities. Constantine led the Swamp Thing on a series of adventures, continually promising him additional information while building up the creature’s own strengths for this impending catastrophe that was soon to hit the world. Along the way, Constantine introduced him to the Parliament of Trees, the community of plant elementals who had walked the world in the ages before the Swamp Thing’s birth.
Shortly after this, the Swamp Thing and Constantine battled a group called the Brujería in the region of Patagonia, South America. The Brujería were a sect of male witches who existed for the purpose of hurting people, and they sought to take advantage of the effects of the Crisis on Infinite Earths and its impact on the supernatural planes to take control of the Earth by returning it to the original Darkness. By the time Swamp Thing and Constantine had stopped them, however, their plan had already been set into motion.
All that was left now was to face it.
While John Constantine gathered a group of magicians and mystics at the home of Baron Winters in Georgetown, the Swamp Thing and the Phantom Stranger, who had also been expecting this catastrophe to befall the world after the Crisis was over, gathered a group of powerful allies to directly battle the original darkness, the primordial shadow that slept in the chaos beyond Hell itself. The ultimate darkness was expected to advance across the afterworld to heaven itself. This was no mere story about good versus evil. The stakes were higher than they had ever been before. Whichever side met its final destruction, whether it be the ultimate dark or ultimate light, this day everything would be changed.
The Swamp Thing and his allies, an army composed of both angels and demons, were lined up against a large army of demons who sought to ally themselves with the original darkness. Finally, the unimaginably huge darkness began to rise into the air out of the churning sea of chaos as both sides watched in awe. Once it stopped its advance, the two armies fought each other for a while, with casualties on both sides, until Etrigan the Demon faced the Darkness head on and only succeeded in getting himself absorbed by it. It spoke to him.
“LITTLE THING? LITTLE THING, YOU ARE IN ME… AND I HAVE A VERY GREAT NEED. BEFORE LIGHT, I WAS; ENDLESS, WITHOUT NAME OR NEED OF NAME. THEN LIGHT CAME. WITNESSING ITS OTHERNESS, I SUFFERED MY FIRST KNOWLEDGE OF SELF, AND ALL CONTENTMENT FLED. TELL ME, LITTLE THING. TELL ME WHAT I AM.”
“Your name…” said Etrigan, “…your name is Evil, absence of God’s light, his shadow-partner, locked in endless fight.”
“THE FIGHT IS TO BE ENDLESS, THEN. AHH. AHH. LITTLE THING, YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME FATALISM. YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME INEVITABILITY. THEY ARE NOT THE THINGS I NEEDED… YOU ARE NOT THE THING I NEEDED.”
And the Demon Etrigan was spat out of the Darkness.
Next, Earth-Two’s Doctor Fate was absorbed into the Darkness while battling the demons Abnegazar, Rath, and Ghast. The Darkness spoke to him as well.
“LITTLE THING… LITTLE THING, YOU ARE IN ME, AND I HAVE A GREAT NEED… IN THIS STRANGE PLACE OF LIGHT AND ORDER AND NAMES, I HAVE BEEN NAMED EVIL. YET NAMING IS NOT ENOUGH. I MUST KNOW MY NATURE; I MUST KNOW MY PURPOSE. TELL ME, LITTLE THING, WHAT IS EVIL?“
“Evil?” said Doctor Fate, thinking rapidly. “Evil is a quagmire of ignorance that would drag us back as we climb towards the immortal light. A vile, wretched thing, to be scraped from the sandals like dromedary soil.”
“AM I SO LOW, THEN, AND IS HE YOU SERVE SO HIGH THAT THERE CAN BE NO POSSIBILITY OF RESPECT BETWEEN US? LITTLE THING, YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME CONTEMPT. IT IS NOT THE ANSWER THAT WAS REQUIRED.”
And Doctor Fate was spat out of the Darkness.
Next, the powerful and avenging archangel of God himself, the Spectre, arrived and sought to best the darkness. He grew himself taller than a skyscraper and beyond, his head reaching into the clouds above. He became taller than Earth’s tallest mountain and was yet still smaller than the Darkness. After a momentary battle with the primordial shadow, he, too, was finally absorbed into the Darkness. It spoke to him as well.
“LITTLE THING… MY HUNGER FOR UNDERSTANDING GROWS LARGER AS MY PATIENCE DWINDLES. SHALL MY QUESTION BE ANSWERED, OR SHALL I SNUFF OUT THE LIGHT AND BE DONE WITH THE ANGUISH ITS PRESENCE CAUSES ME?”
“No! I forbid you, by the Voice that speaks in all things…” shouted the Spectre as he continued to try to fight the thing from within.
“IT DOES NOT SPEAK IN ME. IN ME, THERE IS ONLY THE HATEFUL NAGGING OF INSOLUBLE QUERY. TELL ME, LITTLE THING: WHAT IS EVIL FOR?“
The Spectre answered him defiantly. “Evil exists only to be avenged, so that others may see what ruin comes of opposing that great Voice and cleave more wholly to its will, fearing its retribution!“
“AND WHAT OF THE TORTURED EONS I ENDURED, UNABLE TO BROACH THIS MADDENING BRILLIANCE AND QUIET THE PAIN IT WOKE IN ME? DO THEY NOT DEMAND RETRIBUTION? LITTLE THING, YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME ONLY VENGEANCE… BE GONE, THAT I MIGHT SAVOR IT IN SOLITUDE.”
And the Spectre was spat out of the Darkness. He had been humbled as never before.
The Swamp Thing stood and looked at the fallen form of the once-mighty Spectre and considered things. And then the Swamp Thing simply walked into the Darkness, allowing himself to be absorbed. The Darkness spoke to him.
“LITTLE THING… LITTLE THING, YOU CAME TO ME WILLINGLY. AND WITHOUT WRATH. IN THIS EXTRAORDINARY PLACE, YOU ARE EXTRAORDINARY. WHAT HAVE YOU TO OFFER ME?”
“I… have nothing,” the Swamp Thing said. “I came… in resignation… Whatever you are… I cannot fight you… but I cannot… stand and watch…”
“THEN WILL YOU ANSWER MY QUESTION? LITTLE THING, WILL YOU TELL ME THE PURPOSE OF EVIL?“
The Swamp Thing answered him slowly, “I… cannot. I am not… the one you seek… I have tried… to make sense of that darkness… and I have failed.
“I have seen evil… its cruelty… the randomness with which it ravages… innocent… and guilty alike… I have not… understood it… I asked… the Parliament of Trees… whose knowledge is older… greater than mine… They seemed to insist… that there was no evil… but I… have seen evil… and their answer… was incomprehensible… to me… and yet…
“And yet… they spoke of aphids eating leaves… bugs eating aphids… themselves finally devoured by the soil… feeding the foliage. They asked… where evil dwelled… within this cycle… and told me… to look… to the soil… The black soil… is rich in foul decay… Yet glorious life… springs from it… But however dazzling… the flourishes of life… in the end… all decays… to the same black humus…
“Perhaps… perhaps evil… is the humus… formed by virtue’s decay… and perhaps… perhaps it is from… that dark, sinister loam… that virtue grows strongest? I… do not know. I do not know… what they meant…”
“I SEE. LITTLE THING… LITTLE THING, I SENSE A GREAT AND FINAL END APPROACHING. I WOULD BE ALONE. LEAVE FREELY, AS YOU CAME.”
The Swamp Thing walked out of the Darkness, unharmed.
Both of the assembled armies then waited in fear and despair for the inevitable to happen. The Spectre wept. The Darkness rose, and rose, and rose, and as it rose, everyone could see that this tip of the darkness was merely the tip of a finger, which was on a massively large hand. This hand rose to meet its counterpart, a great hand of light that came from Heaven.
They reached toward each other.
The hands clasped, and…
The Swamp Thing awoke sometime later in confusion, and he asked the Phantom Stranger what had happened.
“Happened? Nothing has happened,” the Stranger said. “Everything has happened. Can’t you feel it? Everywhere things look the same, but the feeling… the feeling is different.”
“Yeah,” said Deadman, who was among the allies, “you’re right. Everything’s sharper, more distinct, like the air after a storm…”
“A storm that had been brewing since the universe was formed,” added the Phantom Stranger. “Perhaps the atmosphere had grown more charged and oppressive than we realized.”
“But the nature of good… the nature of evil… they have not changed?” questioned the Swamp Thing.
“Perhaps not… but I suspect a different light has been cast upon their relationship. In the heart of darkness, a flower blossoms, enriching the shadows with its promise of hope… In the fields of light, an adder coils, and the radiant tranquility is lent savor by its sinister presence. Right and wrong, black and white, good and evil… All my existence I have looked from one to the other, fully embracing neither one… Never before have I understood how much they depend upon each other.”
The Swamp Thing returned to Louisiana, hoping to have some rest with his love, Abby. What he found when he returned to the mortal realm was something he hadn’t expected. Abby had been arrested on the charge of crime against nature due to her relationship with him, and when she jumped bail and fled to Gotham City, she was arrested there and kept for an extradition hearing. Against the advice the Parliament of Trees had earlier given him, he followed his human emotions and left for Gotham City with anger in his heart. This would prove to be his undoing.
The Swamp Thing arrived in Gotham and demanded his “wife,” then exercised his powers as a wood elemental and overran Gotham City with vegetation, clogging up all roads in and out of the city with plants and trees and effectively shutting down the city. The Batman arrived and attempted to subdue him but was unaware of his new powers since last they had met. The Swamp Thing humbled him and gave the city another ultimatum.
Meanwhile, the citizens were split in their opinions of the matter. A fairly large percentage were sympathetic to the Swamp Thing, and a religious cult even sprang up, nicknamed the Swampies. The Swamp Thing’s final show of power in Gotham City occurred when he grew a huge body out of the redwoods in Gotham Park, which was as tall as a skyscraper, and once again demanded his wife. The Batman convinced the mayor, who in turn convinced Washington, to drop all of Abby’s charges and let them both leave freely, without any fear of retaliation, although he warned him that if he ever did anything like this to his city again, he would kill him.
Little structural damage had actually been caused, and upon this agreement being reached, the Swamp Thing began to allow the overgrown vegetation to putrefy. All that was left was for him to meet Abigail Cable on the steps outside Gotham’s Court Building and leave peacefully. Dwight Wicker of the DDI had other plans, however, which had earlier been conceived and drawn up by Lex Luthor during a ten-minute consultation.
As the Swamp Thing ran to embrace Abigail Cable, the DDI hit him with an electromagnetic scrambler that would disrupt his nerve control, as well as keep him from fleeing that particular body and going back into the vegetation; he instinctively pushed Abby away from him for her own protection. They then hit him with several volleys of weapons-grade napalm. As he collapsed in flames and burned up, he thought of the moment he had died the first time, and he remembered the warning of the Parliament of Trees. “Power? Power is not the thing. To be calm within oneself, that is the way of the Wood. Power tempts anger… and anger is like wildfire.” The Swamp Thing was, by all accounts, dead.
The truth was that the electromagnetic scrambler had changed his bio-electric pattern, making him incompatible with his own world. Since this prevented him from seeking any safe refuge anywhere else on Earth, he had fled into space. He had jumped blind into the void and grasped onto the nearest safe haven. His essence ended up rooting itself on a distant planet, the nearest with vegetation of sorts.
The next few months were a blur. While he was believed dead on Earth, the Swamp Thing almost went mad on a planet with sparse blue vegetation. As he jumped from that planet in search of a planet better suited for vegetation, he ended up colliding with a transportation beam upon which an Earthman named Adam Strange rode to his adoptive planet of Rann, and ended up being pulled there himself. Finding Strange’s backpack and realizing it was from Earth, he went into the heart of Ranagar to find him. Adam Strange thought he was a dangerous monster at first and shot him with his weapon, but he later showed him that he was from Earth as well. They parted as friends, and Strange promised to relay a message from him to Abby.
After the Swamp Thing left Rann, he landed on J-586, a planet populated by intelligent, humanoid plants, which was also the home planet of the member of the Green Lantern Corps known as Medphyll. He inadvertently wreaked havoc with his plant elemental powers there when he grew a body out of not only the plants on the ground and the houses, but also the humanoid plants themselves, fusing many citizens together. Medphyll was able to find a solution by placing the Swamp Thing’s essence into a citizen who had recently died, then carefully extracted the humanoids from the huge plant-body the Swamp Thing had grown. Medphyll also taught him how to control the changes in his bio-electric pattern that had been preventing him from returning to Earth. On this planet of walking plants, the Swamp Thing finally felt as if he were at home among his own kind. He regretted that it was necessary to depart that place.
The Swamp Thing then came to life on the living computer ship of Brainiac, who had seen his electromagnetic essence and had brought him there, where he saved Brainiac and his ship from the pursuing Darkseid of Apokolips. Brainiac assisted him by sending him on his next journey, which would bring him home. He was sent to the so-called Promethean Galaxy in the realm of the New Gods, where a massive Mother Box had been calling to him. He met the New God known as Metron there, and the two entered the very Source itself, where in one instant the Swamp Thing saw everyone and everything that was, had ever been or ever will be, all in one instant. It was necessary for the Mother Box to erase his memories of this experience just in order for him to keep his sanity before the Source sent him home.
Home. Was this dark, dank, muddy place really home? His entire life as the Swamp Thing had flashed before his eyes up until this moment, but he still could not figure out how he had gotten where he now was or why he could not see or move.
Where… where am I…?