SWAMP THING Writer on VILLAINS MONTH, ANNUAL: 'Little Creepy, Little Funny'
CREDIT: DC Comics
Ever since Swamp Thing got a new creative team in April, the title has been taking a new direction that series writer Charles Soule calls, "a little creepy, a little funny, with lots of depth, characterization and inventive action."
Featuring art by Kano, the series has also been bringing Swamp Thing into the rest of the DCU, while still exploring the deeper world of the Swamp Thing mythos. Soule has also been introducing new characters, like the fan-favorite female character Capucine, and a new villain called The Seeder.
All the new characters take a break in September's Villains Month, as Soule will write a one-issue story exploring the status of Anton and Abby Arcane, who were featured during the "Rotworld" storyline that finished up earlier in the year.
But in October, Swamp Thing #24 will pick up the story he's currently telling, and that same month, Swamp Thing Annual #2 will explore the history of the Avatars of the Green, as DC has been teasing by releasing images of characters from the issue.
Soule's work on Swamp Thing has not only won over critics, but it has apparently impressed DC's editors enough to give him other high-profile titles, including the new Superman/Wonder Woman series that he's launching in October with artist Tony Daniel.
Newsarama talked to Soule to find out more about his plans for Swamp Thing and what's coming up in the Annual.
Newsarama: Charles, we just got a couple previews of the past avatars of the Green that you'll be revealing in the Swamp Thing Annual in October. How would you describe the Annual and why these past Swamp Things show up?
Charles Soule: For reasons that will be made clear in issue #24, Swampy needs to take a trip deep into the Green during the Annual, and that journey of that trip covers the entirety of the super-cool, double-sized issue.
As has been long-established in this title, every previous avatar of the Green (all the Swamp Things from all eras throughout history, in other words) "retires" to the Green after their tenure is over. Some of them become members of the Parliament of Trees, an advisory body that helps the current Swamp Thing do his or her job, while others just sort of hang out in their own personal green heavens.
In the Annual, Swampy's trip brings him into contact with a number of these prior Avatars, some of whom are very interesting indeed. I wanted to delve into the Green a bit and explain how I think it works, and where it came from.
The scope of the issue is gigantic — it literally covers billions of years and, at last count, eleven different Avatars show up.
Nrama: The name of one of those Avatars, "The Burgher Thing," got a few giggles online. Where did that name come from?
Soule: The particular Avatar you mention was a prosperous 17th-century German merchant and scientist before he became the Champion of the Green. That particular class in German society at that time was referred to as the "burghers."
Nrama: You had said on your blog that it wasn't necessarily the character's final name? It was a placeholder of sorts?
Soule: In my scripts, I use a lot of shorthand to refer to characters — for example, while he's never named, the 13th century Franciscan monk Avatar that appears in issue #21 was called the "Monk Thing" in the script. Most of those names never see the light of day — there are plenty more. In fact, Burgher Thing has an entirely different name, which is used in the issue. However, I think Burgher Thing was a name that people liked around the DC office, and so it's the one we released.
Nrama: So how would you describe this character? What's his personality, and what's the story behind the way he looks?
Soule: You mention that people find Burgher Thing to be a bit goofy based on the design and name. That's the idea! Burgher Thing is a pompous, stuffed-shirt type dude. He is a little bit funny. I mean, just because Swamp Thing's a dark book in some ways, it doesn't mean we can't leaven that gloomy atmosphere with some humor from time to time. It emphasizes the scary bits, if you ask me.
He's a character who's been very sure of himself and his position in the Green for a very long time. He's a sort of politician — a man of influence within the Green's power structure. The fellow gets things done.
Nrama: Does he play a role beyond the Annual?
Soule: He absolutely does, and you'll understand his role a bit better in issue #27 and beyond.
Nrama: The other character that DC has teased is "Lady Weeds." Wait, since "Burgher Thing" isn't the other character's name — is "Lady Weeds" going to be her name in the story?
Soule: Yes it is!
Nrama: OK, then what's the story behind the way she looks? Is that a veil?
Soule: It is indeed a veil. She's dressed in what were known as "widow's weeds" back in Victorian England — basically, they were mourning clothes. Women would put on the black dress and the veil while they mourned the death of their husband, child, whatever. I always thought it was a very distinctive look, and of course, the term "weeds" ties in nicely with Swamp Thing. Stephen Spielberg had poor Mrs. Kintner wear a variation on widow's weeds after her son got chomped to death in Jaws: http://livingincinema.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/i-wanted-you-to-know-that.jpg
If it's good enough for Spielberg, it's good enough for me.
Nrama: So how would you describe Lady Weeds? What's her story?
Soule: Lady Weeds' origin stemmed from my thinking that not every Swamp Thing over the millennia would take the same "good guy" approach that Swamp Thing does. The Green doesn't really care about people — the Green cares about plants. So, it was easy to come up with the idea that at some point, a Swamp Thing dove into the idea of protecting the plant kingdom headfirst, and did so at the expense of humanity.
Lady Weeds did something very, very bad during her term as the Avatar — which the Green celebrated — and you'll learn what it was in the Annual.
Basically, Lady Weeds represents one possible future for Alec Holland if he can't get a handle on himself. The Green is always pushing him, trying to get him to go farther than he wants to, and Lady Weeds will serve as something of a super-freaky cautionary tale.
Nrama: Both of these designs come from the fashion of the time period in which the individual lived. Not to get too technical here, but do Swamp Things form their "plant" selves based upon their self-identity, including their own sense of fashion?
Soule: I think so, in a way. Our self-image comes from our time. If I were to imagine an idealized (or just external) version of myself — let's say if I were to draw a self-portrait — I wouldn't draw myself in 70s clothes, or a pilgrim outfit. I would convey myself as I am now, today. I think Swamp Things do that, more or less.
Nrama: So what does that say about how Alec looks?
Soule: Alec lives in an age of superheroes, and he's constantly being asked to fight huge battles. I think he sees himself as a hero, or tries to, and that informs the shape he gives himself.
Nrama: That makes sense. You've been exploring some different aspects of his power and personality. How would you describe the character as you're trying to write him? And is there a limit to these powers?
Soule: I see Swamp Thing — or Alec Holland, if you prefer — to be an immensely powerful person who is somewhat concerned and unsure as to what he's supposed to be doing with these powers. He's given up everything familiar to him, and he's learning on the fly. The stakes are gigantic for him, all the time — he almost never gets to just kick back and relax, and it's not the easiest. There's no bopping over to the Daily Planet for a day, pretending to be a regular human, for Swamp Thing.
Still, he is, at his heart, a hero, and so he does his best (as he sees it), despite the many threats leveled against him.
As far as his power level goes — he is one of the most powerful beings in the DCU, without question. However, just because he has that power doesn't mean he knows how to use it, or should use it. The United States has the most powerful military in the world, but any President will tell you that the trick isn't to use that military; it's about not using it, but in a way that achieves maximum upside.
That's sort of how I see Swampy. He can't really go full-bore very often, because he might just destroy the planet in the process. Yet another burden he has to deal with.
Nrama: Currently, you've got a villain showing up in Swamp Thing called The Seeder. He's got a different power set from Swamp Thing, yet he seems connected. What can you tell us about the character? And why emphasize "seeds" in his name?
Soule: He seems to have similar powers to Swamp Thing, but he has to use seeds to make things happen. He can't just manipulate plants on his own the way an Avatar can. The reason for that will start to become very clear with issue #24 — we'll learn quite a bit about Seeder very soon.
Nrama: Was he really trying to help people with that Whisky Tree he just made? And if so, are you saying something bigger here about "good intentions" being bad, especially since Swamp Thing's actions don't always seem "good?"
Soule: I absolutely am. Seeder is trying to do good things, for a particular reason, but he doesn't completely understand what he's playing with. The Green is a big, big thing, and your average non-Avatar human isn't going to be able to see the whole picture, even if he does have awesome seed powers.
(Also, not to tease, but there's a classic "wizard's battle" coming up between Swampy and Seeder, where they each try to one-up each other with displays of their power — some of the most fun scenes I've ever written.)
Nrama: You've also got a female character named Capucine in the comic now. What were your thoughts behind the creation of this character, and how would you describe her role in the story?
Soule: Capucine! I love Capucine.
Nrama: Yeah, I think she's a favorite of a lot of people.
Soule: My initial thought behind her creation was simply to expand Swampy's supporting cast a bit. Swamp Thing hasn't had that many pals (which is sort of understandable — the dude lives way out in the Louisiana swamp.) Constantine, Abby Arcane, Matt Cable... his "classic" cast doesn't get much bigger than that.
So, I wanted to bring in someone new. I also wanted very much to write a strong, interesting female character with a life and motivations that are all her own. She wants to work with Swampy, and needs his help, but is absolutely not defined by him.
Capucine is a thousand-year old French assassin who believes that she is shortly about to die and wants Swamp Thing's protection after her death. And... that's about all we know so far. We'll learn more soon, though. I could tell you the exact issue where Capucine's backstory and problems get revealed... but I won't. Just take my word for it that it's not far away, and it's cool in the best comic book tradition.
Nrama: In September, as part of "Villains Month," you're picking up the story of "Arcane" for a month. What's the purpose of that issue and exploring Anton Arcane's character, since we haven't seen him in a while?
Soule: In DC's "Villains Month," all of the regular titles are being swapped out for issues featuring prominent villains related to the main title. In the Swamp Thing universe, the bad guys don't get much more prominent than Anton Arcane. Plus, he's been off-stage for a little while, since the end of the great Rotworld arc written by Scott Snyder and drawn (largely) by the amazing Yanick Paquette. So, it seems like a great time to check in on freaky old Anton and see what he's been up to.
I will say that the story of that issue is one of the creepiest things I've ever written.
Nrama: I always wondered how you guys don't get bothered when you write that stuff. Did it disturb you at all?
Soule: I finished it at about 1 a.m. one night and had a hard time getting to sleep!
I debated even sending it in — but when all was said and done, creepy won the day.
Nrama: What role does Abby play in the issue?
Soule: Well, the book is titled "Arcane," and there are at least two prominent members of the Arcane family we've seen in the book: Anton and his daughter Abby. Abby is also a long-time love interest for Swamp Thing, although they can't be together because she is currently acting as the Avatar of the Rot (decay, essentially).
Nrama: It's actually a sad story, because they really can't be together, can they? Because of their nature?
Soule: The Green and the Rot are like oil and water — they can't mix. Or, perhaps like oxygen and phosphorous — they can't touch without destroying each other.
Nrama: But Abby and Anton aren't together now, are they? What's the premise of showing both of them in the issue?
Soule: Abby has a question for her father related to their shared family history, and so she seeks him out in the sort of "prison" where he's been stuck since Rotworld. Anton, being Anton, uses the opportunity to be a total evil jerk, and that's the story.
Like I said, creeeepy.
Nrama: It seems like the Seeder and Anton Arcane are both billed as villains, but their approaches make them almost polar opposites. Would you agree, and was that something you did on purpose, since Arcane dominated the comic before your run?
Soule: I will say that I didn't want to just write another Arcane. We already have one, so why do the same thing again? They both do bad things, but Seeder takes something of a roundabout route, and Seeder doesn't realize what he's actually doing. Anton, on the other hand, doesn't just do evil things — he is evil, and he revels in it.
Nrama: So how much of a role does Seeder play in your bigger plans for Swamp Thing?
Soule: Huge. Issues #24-#27, including the Annual, make up a full story related to good old Seeder that will end up being a pretty big deal in the Swampy universe. I've written most of it, I've seen art for most of it, and I cannot wait for it to hit people's eyeballs.
Nrama: Then maybe we should ask a bigger question related to those issues: How would you describe what's coming up in Swamp Thing?
Soule: I'm planning to try to deepen Swampy's universe a little bit, to make it a little richer. It was already full of cool stuff, but who doesn't like more cool stuff? I think the Annual in particular will give people a lot to chew on, and then #25-#27 both close what I would consider the first "act" of the story I'm telling and set up a ton of threads that will play out in the second act and beyond.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans/readers about Swamp Thing?
?Soule: If you like books that are a little creepy, a little funny, with lots of depth, characterization and inventive action, then Swamp Thing is the story for you. The art is uniformly gorgeous, and the whole team (beyond me, we have Kano, Jesus Saiz and some other great folks on pencils, the incredible Matt Wilson on colors, Travis Lanham on letters and Matt Idelson/Chris Conroy handling editorial) is bringing their A-game. I'm doing lots of shorter stories, too — so there are plenty of jumping on points. [Issues] #19 and #20 were a done-in-one story involving Superman and Scarecrow. [Issue] #21 was a one-shot that introduced Capucine. Issue #22-#23 cover the infamous "Whiskey Tree" storyline, featuring a besotted John Constantine in the Scottish highlands. There's a lot to enjoy in Swamp Thing — give it a spin!