Swamp Thing: The Doll’s House, Chapter 3: Deal with the Devil

by Doc Quantum

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A few years ago:

Lieutenant Matthew Cable was a wreck of a man. This once-proud soldier and extremely capable secret agent had been reduced to his current state by men working for his former boss, Dwight Wicker of the top-secret military intelligence branch known as the DDI.

The failure of Wicker’s department to capture the Swamp Thing as part of Project Leviathan had been a blight on the military-man’s career, especially after they had lost track of the creature. (*) Unknown to Cable or his fellow agents in the field, Wicker had secretly hired Sunderland Corporation to get rid of any evidence connecting him to the Swamp Thing debacle, and nothing was out of the question. Some individuals were outright assassinated, while others were taken care of in other ways, all under the name of the Holland Project.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Mirror Monster,” Swamp Thing #20 (December, 1975-January, 1976).]

Because having him killed would lead to more questions, Matt Cable had been selected for extensive electroshock therapy at a special clinic run by Sunderland Corporation. When his bosses at DDI sent Matt on a mission to South Dakota, he was instead ambushed and sent to the Barclay Clinic, supposedly for his own good. Placed in a straitjacket, Matt was subjected to repeated electroshock therapy, reducing him to a quivering mass unable to recall much of anything, let alone any details that could incriminate DDI.

While still in the clinic, Matt was visited by another DDI agent who explained that it had all been a terrible mistake. But Matt had guessed that he was merely being pumped for information to see if the treatments had really erased his memory. Playing dumb, Matt managed to get himself released from the clinic, even though he still remembered much.

Thankfully, Matt had also managed to keep his wife Abigail Arcane Cable out of it completely. The two settled down to a more sedate married life in Houma, but Matt’s brains had been scrambled, and he was no longer the man he’d once been. He had already been discharged from the DDI without compensation, and all he could manage to do for work was manual labor, since he was unable to concentrate for long enough to do anything else. Even so, he was unable to keep even one in a series of low-paying, menial jobs. And if that were not bad enough, the two were still being closely watched by DDI agents.

Seeing no more options left to him, Matt Cable gave up trying to fight. Instead, he began drinking to dull the pain, and in a matter of time he had become a full-blown alcoholic. Abby tried to remain supportive of him and encourage him, but there was only so much she could do. He was a broken man, and there was no use denying it.

But then fate took a turn. Unknown to either Matt or Abby, a strange being from the cosmos entered their lives one day when Matt was at his lowest. This creature was invisible to the naked eye, except in some circumstances when it appeared to be some kind of green-tinted mist. It had come to Earth in 1964 and had affected many lives since then, usually for the better. This was the Green Glob. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The King of Nightmare Jungle,” Tales of the Unexpected #83 (June-July, 1964).]

***

“The ‘Green Glob’?” interrupted Abby disbelievingly. “Tell me another one.”

“That’s what it’s called,” insisted Matt with a shrug.

***

One day while Abby was at work and Matt was at home, drinking away his sorrows over the want ads in the newspaper, he drifted off to sleep as The Price Is Right played on the TV in the background. Ever since the Barclay Clinic had scrambled his mind, changing him forever, Matt had become well-acquainted with despair. His only escape was sleep, but it was always a gamble whether he would have pleasant dreams or nightmares. These days it was usually nightmares.

The kinds of nightmares Matt had become almost used to now were uniquely horrifying. He had seen a lot of strange stuff during his earlier days with the Swamp Thing, but everything he had seen then paled in comparison to the monstrosities he saw now in his mind’s eye.

Unbeknownst to Matthew Cable, those nightmares would soon become real when the Green Glob entered his body and possessed his fevered brain.

And now, as Matt slept, psychic projections of his own self-loathing formed in the air around him, tentacled creatures with sharp teeth and a great hunger to kill and devour all life around them. Yet while they seemed fierce, none of them actually harmed Matt himself. Sadly, the same could not be said for those around him.

Abby Cable chose that moment to return home from work. But as she approached her front door, she felt a chill pass through her. Looking around, she could see no reason to be afraid, but she felt that something was out there in the darkness, waiting to get her.

Several days passed before either of them saw these nightmares made real. When Abby finally saw one that looked like a lizard with numerous tentacled eyes, she screamed, and it vanished into thin air. A few more days passed, and she saw another apparition.

She told Matt about them, of course, but he thought they were just her imagination. When he saw one himself, he merely dismissed it as his own fevered mind playing tricks on him. After all, none of them had done any physical harm just yet, but merely scared them.

Although Matt did not realize it at first, the creatures manifested themselves in various forms based on whatever strong emotions he was feeling at the time. Since most of those emotions were self-loathing and other negative feelings, the manifestations were embodied emotions.

Had things gone as the Green Glob had planned, the nightmares made real would have scared Matt Cable straight and caused him to give up booze and seek the help he so desperately needed to get his life together. But things did not go as planned. Matt was a more difficult case than most, so it took several weeks to make any headway at all, while Matt continually relapsed into alcoholism.

Finally, Matt and Abby were reunited with the Swamp Thing, as well as the creature’s new allies Dr. Dennis Barclay and Liz Tremayne. Ironically, Dr. Barclay was the very man who had earlier been hired by Sunderland to fry Matt’s brains through electroshock. Consequently, the nightmare creatures went after Barclay as Matt slept. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “And Things that Go Bump in the Night,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #17 (October, 1983).]

When Abby herself was injured by the nightmares, Matt had a wake-up call and sought help. But that was when Anton Arcane arrived and changed the game entirely.

Arcane had seemingly died twice before, but he had been resurrected twice since then as a monstrous creature, leader of the Un-Men. In his current form, he was a grotesque torso upon a spidery body that allowed him quick movement. He also possessed a ship built with a hellish combination of science and sorcery. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Man Who Would Not Die,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #18 (November, 1983).]

While Arcane attacked the Swamp Thing and kept him busy, Matt Cable found himself on the receiving end of a beam of unknown composition from the ship, one that creased his skull and knocked him out, allowing Arcane to abduct his niece, Abigail. Arcane sought to take over the Swamp Thing’s body and make it his own. But he had not reckoned on the betrayal of one of his own Un-Men. And Arcane died a second time before he could possess Swamp Thing’s body. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “And the Meek Shall Inherit…” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #19 (December, 1983).]

Matt was unable to play the hero as he once had on a regular basis. The role of hero was played by the Swamp Thing, the former Dr. Alec Holland, who rescued Abby Cable from the clutches of the vengeful Un-Men after the death of their creator.

When he awoke, Matt finally faced the fact that his subconscious mind had been creating the nightmare creatures, and he realized that he was the only one who could stop them. If they were manifestations of his worst nature, then he would become a better man. If they were his self-loathing made real, he would regain his self-confidence. If they were his fears and horror at his past, then he would forge a new future for himself through an act of courage, one step at a time.

Matt faced the nightmare creatures, his fears made manifest, and he overcame them. They vanished. For the first time in a long time, Matthew finally felt a great calmness inside him. He knew that he’d beaten it, and with it all the negativity in his life. With enough time, he knew that he would be able to restore himself to normal once more. And with his loving wife Abby at his side, he was sure he would do so.

Despite the fact that its job was done, the Green Glob remained within the body of Matthew Cable. It was, in fact, unable to leave because of the occult beam that Arcane’s ship had shot at Matt. Thus it would remain until an opportunity came for it to leave.

But great power often led to great temptation, and Matt was still not strong enough to avoid it. Having the powers of the Green Glob within him, he began to try to control the psychic manifestations that had previously only erupted from his subconscious. With a little practice, he found that he could make his fantasies turn into reality.

When Abby returned to check on him, Matt told her almost everything. He hoped that they could begin their marriage anew, and that everything could be as it once had been when they were first married. But Abby had been living with a drunkard in a lousy marriage for too long; it would take a lot of time for her to allow herself to have those old feelings for Matt once more, if ever.

So Matt turned back to the bottle, and to his new ability. If she wasn’t going to play wife for him, then he would create a manifestation in her likeness that would capitulate to his every whim. And with the smallest amount of effort, he succeeded in creating a blue-skinned, scantily clad version of Abigail Cable. It would do for now, at least until Abby came around. And Matt’s soul became just a little bit darker that day.

Meanwhile, unknown to the Swamp Thing and his allies, they were all being targeted at once by Sunderland Corporation’s special forces. By sheer luck, Matt and Abby had left their house just moments before it was firebombed by a Sunderland helicopter. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Loose Ends,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #20 (January, 1984).]

On the run once more, but this time believed to be dead, Abby led the search for Swamp Thing, and Matt followed her. This was an ironic twist on the time when they had first met, when Matt would do the leading, and Abby would follow. When they found him, they found a despondent Swamp Thing who had lost all faith. He had been taught through an anatomy lesson that he was nothing more than a plant that believed itself to be a man, not a man who had turned into a plant as he’d once believed. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Anatomy Lesson,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 (February, 1984).]

And while Abby Cable began getting to know the new Swamp Thing, slowly falling for him as she did so, Matt Cable allowed himself to slide deeper and deeper into a fantasy world of his own making. (*) This was the flip-side of the Green Glob’s power, the end result of that power untapped and made available to a man who lacked the discipline and self-control he’d once possessed.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Swamped,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #22 (March, 1984).]

Abby began to grow afraid of her husband as she caught glimpses of the new manifestations that Matt seemed to be creating now at will. It scared her even more that he was hiding this side of himself from her. Meanwhile, Matt would hold in his growing resentment for her whenever he was in her presence, then create manifestations of Abby to do the apologizing for her. He began an affair with the psychic creatures from his mind, neglecting his wife in every way. His soul continued to rot as he allowed himself to wallow in the power at his beck and call. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Sleep of Reason,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #25 (June, 1984).]

But a small part of him was aware of what he was doing, even if he wasn’t willing to face it. While in an alcohol-induced haze, Matt finally determined to step out of his fantasy world and go get his wife. He grabbed the car keys and stepped out the door.

And he got into a serious car accident. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “A Time of Running,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #26 (July, 1984).]

No amount of fantasies could help him now as he found himself lying upside down in a wrecked car on the side of the road. He was drunk, and he was dying.

That was when Arcane stepped back into his life.

Although Anton Arcane had indeed died, his soul sent to Hell itself, he had escaped through supernatural means back into the real world. Since his Un-Men body was broken and beyond repair, he transferred his soul into an insect until he could find a more suitable form. It was while in that form that Arcane approached the battered and broken Matthew Cable, and he made a proposal.

Without Arcane’s help, Matthew Cable would bleed to death within the hour. He would never see his darling wife again. So Matt made a deal with the devil. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “By Demons Driven,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #27 (August, 1984).]

In the days that followed, Abby Cable saw a new man in her husband. Like he had earlier promised, he finally shaped himself up and turned over a new leaf. (*) Getting a brand-new job and buying a large colonial-era home for her, Matt finally became everything Abby had wanted him to be months earlier. He would win Abby’s affection back from the Swamp Thing and live happily ever after.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Burial,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #28 (September, 1984).]

But as Abby soon learned to her horror, this was not her husband. This was her evil uncle, Anton Arcane, in possession of Matt’s body as well as the reality-warping power of the Green Glob within him. (*) In fact, that had been why Arcane had chosen Matt in the first place; a mystical probe had discovered the trapped Green Glob in Matt’s body, and Arcane knew that Matt had barely even tapped the smallest amount of its power so far.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Love and Death,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #29 (October, 1984).]

Indeed, Arcane had been watching Matt for some time and had even orchestrated his car accident in order to take possession of the power within him. And with the Green Glob’s cosmic supernatural power at Arcane’s disposal, he truly became a force to be reckoned with. Only Swamp Thing was able to challenge the godlike occult being that his oldest enemy had become, and by the time he did, Arcane had already murdered Abigail Arcane Cable. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “A Halo of Flies,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #30 (November, 1984).]

Then Matthew Cable still had one act of heroism left to him. While in battle against Swamp Thing, Arcane was attacked from within by Matt himself, wielding the power of the Green Glob to take control over his body once more and cast Arcane’s soul back to Hell.

But Matt was truly dying now. With his last breath of life, he used his reality-warping ability to return life to Abby Cable’s body, though he was unable to retrieve her soul; that job would be left to the Swamp Thing. And then Lieutenant Matthew Cable died, his body left in the same broken state it had been when he’d had his car accident.

Swamp Thing, remembering his old friend Matt and not the monster he had become, intervened to save his life, if that were possible. He left the unconscious body for the police to find, but though the body still breathed, Matt himself was long gone. (*) Only the much-humbled Green Glob remained to keep life going in his body. He was hospitalized and believed to be brain-dead. But unbeknownst to anyone else, within that body the Green Glob was slowly regaining its strength, waiting for the day when Matt Cable would finally awake.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Brimstone Ballet,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #31 (December, 1984).]

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