Unlikable heroes, shocking twists and Martin Pasko’s Swamp Thing (#SFWApro)

swampthing8Martin Pasko’s and Thomas Yeates’ run on Swamp Thing (begun in the 1980s to coincide with the Swamp Thing movie) doesn’t get a lot of love (cover by Thomas Yeates, all rights with current holder). The standout runs on Swamp Thing were Len Wein/Berni Wrightson, who created the character, and Alan Moore/Steve Bissette, who took over after Pasko (Bissette worked with Pasko briefly) and completely redefined Swampie — everything since has been some variation or reworking of their run. But some things about Pasko/Yeates — which  were exceptional.

•A truly startling twist. In the first issue, Swamp Thing saves a young mutant girl, Casey, from her deranged father. In a scene familiar from umpty-zillion mutant books, dad is trying to kill his telekinetic child, believing she’s a demon, a fiend from the pit who will drag the world to destruction! Swamp Thing saves Casey and she becomes his traveling companion.

The twist? She isn’t a mutant, and Dad was right: Casey is a demon, a fiend from the pit, and she will drag the world to destruction. Specifically she’s the Herald of the Beast, a Satanic entity sent to usher in the Antichrist and elevate him to power, the threat which leads to the climax of the first year’s plotlines (this is all explained as psychic power and alien entities from other dimensions rather than actual religion or magic, an idea that doesn’t always work). It’s such an unexpected development it completely floored me when I first read it.

•An unconventional hero. Kreuptmann, one of Sunderland’s agents, is actually working against him and the Herald. Initially “Mr. K” appears to be an out-and-out villain, then it appears he’s a Nazi, but it’s finally revealed that he’s a kapo, one of the Jews in the death camps who collaborated with the camp authorities. In Kreuptmann’s case, by assisting a Mengele-like scientist on sinister experiments. Given that Holocaust survivors are generally portrayed as living saints, I find the treatment of Kreuptmann as a morally flawed person refreshing.

•A completely unlikable hero. Liz Tremayne is a reporter who like Mr. K and Casey winds up traveling along with Alec, as does Dennis Barclay, one of Kreuptmann’s protégés. In #8 they encounter a group of Vietnam veterans who went AWOL and retreated into a fantasy world created by their psi-powers. One of them tells Liz about the hell he went through in the war and the way people back home treated him. Her response is to call him a coward: if he believed he was right, he should have spoken up for the war, if he believes he was wrong but went to war anyway, he’s a loser. And fleeing makes him almost as cowardly as the draft dodgers who fled to Canada! It’s quite judgmental and Pasko got a lot of flak for it in a later letter column. His response was that it wasn’t him, it was Liz.

And sure enough a year later she encounters Swampie’s friend Matt Cable, who’s become an alcoholic, and gets just as judgmental, declaring Cable could quit drinking if he weren’t weak. A couple of issues later, she really craves some sex to feel better; knowing Dennis wants her, she seduces him, even though she knows a one-night stand isn’t what he wants (I don’t mean she raped him, but she was pretty manipulative).

It’s not often I see writers willing to make a non-villain character so unlikable. Points to Pasko and Yeates for that. I’d be curious where Pasko would have taken it, but as Moore wrote her out of the strip (she shows up again eventually) we’ll never know.

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One response to “Unlikable heroes, shocking twists and Martin Pasko’s Swamp Thing (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing: American Gothic revisited (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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