NOTE: Spoilers from throughout DC Universe’s, “Swamp Thing” series are present in this review
Despite showing an initial wave of confidence surrounding their currently U.S.-exclusive DC Universe streaming platform, WarnerMedia’s agenda with the DC-specific streaming service now appears to be more unclear. Following the acquisition of WarnerMedia by American communications giant, AT&T, WarnerMedia executives suddenly started more heavily favouring the upcoming HBO Max as the company’s flagship streaming platform. This shift suddenly appears to have left DC Universe with less focus and resources, while several of its anticipated projects ended up seemingly preparing to be moved off of the platform. Despite a freshly-renewed Titans, the newly-revived Young Justice animated series, and the imminently-debuting R-rated Harley Quinn cartoon still being exclusively distributed on DC Universe at this point, at least for Americans, the platform’s acclaimed Doom Patrol series now appears to be eyeing a move to HBO Max following its upcoming sophomore season, alongside recently-announced Green Lantern, DC Super Hero High and Strange Adventures shows, while Stargirl is now planning to share its episodes with The CW when it debuts next year, allegedly in a move to connect it with The CW’s long-running ‘Arrowverse’ catalogue of DC dramas.
If any DC Universe original series got royally screwed after WarnerMedia’s acquisition by AT&T however, it was Swamp Thing. Originally getting a healthy thirteen-episode first season order, later shortened to ten episodes, with a three-season arc being planned from the early stages, Swamp Thing debuted for the U.S. on DC Universe at the end of this past May, where it soaked up tons of acclaim from critics and audiences alike. Then it was cancelled. Just like that. Reports vary as to why exactly Swamp Thing was killed in the crib by WarnerMedia’s new management, from funding confusion to creative differences to a lack of overall interest in the DC Universe platform from AT&T’s side. In all likelihood though, we’ll likely never totally know why Swamp Thing was axed after its very first episode, and what hurts the most about that is that this show is really good! In fact, it pretty much nails everything that a hard R-rated live-action Swamp Thing series should strive for, leaving any previous attempt to adapt Swamp Thing to live-action television or film completely in the dust!
Right from the jump, Swamp Thing is positively soaked in spooky, engrossing atmosphere. Its main setting of Marais has lots of small town charm, but undeniably carries a sinister secret. After CDC scientist, Abby Arcane is sent to the town, forced to revisit the backwater burg that she grew up in, and suffered so much tragedy in during her adolescence, she finds herself in the company of eccentric, but brilliant scientist, Alec Holland. Not only that, but some romantic chemistry even develops between the two, before Alec is suddenly killed in an accident that quickly starts to look a lot like a murder. Shortly after this as well, a humanoid plant-like creature appears in the swamps of Marais, one that defies all known laws of science and biology. This creature is determined to protect the swamp on behalf of the forces of nature, but there’s also something undeniably human about it, and as Abby gets closer to the mysterious monster, she comes to learn that it may have spawned from the memory of someone who was very dear to her in life. Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it?
This show’s writing certainly doesn’t disappoint the potential in that premise either! For fans and non-fans of DC’s Swamp Thing comic books alike, this series is an absolute gem, one that’s atmospheric, creepy, well-produced and addictive. This show is another fantastic testament to the kind of creative potential that DC Universe can achieve in the live-action television medium, alongside Doom Patrol and Titans, presenting a very entertaining blend of anti-hero sensibilities, small town horror, gothic romance, and just the right touch of fantastical science-fiction to really bring it all together. Even as Abby’s world keeps getting stranger, ranging from encounters with secret societies, mad scientists, and a high-rolling tycoon with a hell of a secret, Swamp Thing always keeps its writing tight and appealing. Even with a reduced episode order and an immediate cancellation, this series is always rising to the occasion when it comes to delivering atmospheric horror and potent character drama, with Marais’ citizens quickly growing on the viewer, both the best and the worst of them.
Inevitably though, some characters do get lost in the shuffle, due to having their planned character arcs mercilessly cut short by WarnerMedia. The biggest victims among these personalities are Daniel Cassidy and Liz Tremayne, who were both clearly planned to have major story arcs in potential future seasons. Daniel is even destined to become his own violent anti-hero, Blue Devil, though his only reason to do so in this forcibly truncated series is to be a Deus Ex Machina now. Likewise, Liz being the local intrepid reporter, and longstanding friend to Abby and Daniel, was meant to keep being explored beyond these ten episodes, namely past Liz simply being roped along on missions to get to the bottom of the mystery behind the swamps of Marais, but her story arc is never allowed to truly get off the ground. The show compensates for these shortcomings in the supporting cast’s arcs with an especially compelling perspective from Abby, who works very well as both the audience surrogate and the link to the more recognizable human world in Swamp Thing, but it was inevitable that several personalities in this series would be denied their chance to be fully explored, and that’s very frustrating.
Fortunately, Swamp Thing also isn’t wanting for some richly developed villains, even within its forcibly shortened run. Chief among these antagonists are Avery Sunderland and Jason Woodrue, with Woodrue also suffering from being denied a larger arc that was planned for future seasons, namely involving his eventual transformation into plant-themed villain, Floronic Man, which is only fleetingly teased in a post-credits scene within the series finale. To that end, it’s Avery that ends up excelling the most, by being the most powerful citizen in Marais, as well as Abby’s adopted father, but also having ties to dangerous criminals, and his own shady agenda with both Alec Holland and Swamp Thing. Even as the show’s inciting incident sends a virulent ‘Green Flu’ around Marais, it quickly becomes apparent that Avery is involved somehow, and his morally ambiguous, often ruthless actions make him a surprisingly compelling human antagonist. That’s perhaps the biggest testament to how awesome the writing frequently is in Swamp Thing; Despite being a show about hauntings and mysticism and monsters, the human characters still easily hold your attention, and remain the most compelling elements of an otherwise fantastical narrative.
These partially-developed human arcs are constantly and cruelly teased throughout Marais, which always seems to have new secrets and plots lurking around every corner, particularly where Abby and Avery are concerned. Even the law enforcement around Marais is clearly bent, with Matt Cable and his mother, Lucilia functioning as the lead figures within the town’s sheriff’s office. Despite outwardly seeming like decent folks, Matt and Lucilia are both corrupt as they come, albeit for different reasons. While Lucilia has a secret ongoing romantic affair with Avery, which naturally gives Avery some big influence over the affairs of the Sheriff’s Department in Marais, Matt is actually the one who’s hired to asssinate Alec, by Avery, inadvertently leading to the creation of Swamp Thing. In the end though, both Cable family characters are ultimately offed with cliffhanger conclusions, which might as well be death sequences at this rate. That said, their presence on the show still nicely brings home how corrupt and untrustworthy the human population of Marais often is, even when a secret society called the Conclave Group plays their own part in exploiting the nearby swamps. I imagine that more supernatural enemies were planned to be brought in during future seasons, but we do still get a few supernatural dangers to spare during this brief ten-episode run as well, including the aforementioned Green Flu, and a death-themed force of decay called ‘The Rot’, which serves to oppose Swamp Thing when it comes to preserving natural life in the swamp.
Every time I want to dive into exactly how fantastic Swamp Thing is, I’m sadly reminded that most of its best ideas were no doubt cut out, after the show was so quickly killed by WarnerMedia. Indeed, Swamp Thing wasn’t just cancelled, it was outright murdered, a victim of senseless corporate squabbling that ultimately deprived DC Universe of truly realizing another excellent original series. Us Canadians were at least lucky enough to get a belated airing of Swamp Thing’s ten episodes via the Showcase Channel during this Fall, but that just hurts all the more, since the series was already dead before it even debuted here in the Great White North. Still, any self-respecting DC fan, occult horror enthusiast, or anyone that appreciates awesome genre TV in general, owes it to themselves to check out Swamp Thing, a gorgeous, haunting and strangely romantic series that hits all the right notes in terms of atmosphere and character. When the worst thing you can say about a show is that it died way too quickly to realize its many great ideas, that’s a sign that WarnerMedia really had a gem on their hands, and yet they were inexplicably unwilling to just let that gem shine the way it was meant to. Us DC fans will no doubt keep supporting whatever original content that DC Universe plans to offer us in the future (despite DC Universe proper still refusing to launch outside of the U.S., even over a year after its debut in America), but no matter how successful or unsuccessful the DC Universe streaming platform ends up being, the pain left by this show’s premature death is always going to leave a bit of a hole in my DC-loving heart.
- Emotional, clever and well-crafted supernatural drama throughout
- Very well-produced, spooky atmosphere
- Sharply human performances and storytelling
- Several character arcs suffer from the premature cancellation