After more than a year writing Swamp Thing, writer Charles Soule is putting the character up against some unusual and pretty tough characters in October — Etrigan the Demon, and the Machine Kingdom.
Soule, who's been introducing a slew of new characters and concepts since he started on Swamp Thing in April 2013, introduced the first character from the Machine Kingdom at the end of last week's issue #34. Readers will learn more about the Machine Kingdom in Swamp Thing #35, after September's Futures End tie-in.
Also in October, readers will see Alec Holland take on Etrigan, as he tries to win back the soul of Capucine from the rhyming demon. The battle is something Soule calls a challenge — both for Alec as he fights the character, and for the writer, as he tries to rhyme in a way that's worthy of the Etrigan character.
Newsarama talked to Soule to find out more about what's coming up in October, and how he looks at the accomplishments he's made on Swamp Thing so far.
Newsarama: Charles, we just met Calculus, who appears to be the avatar for the Machine Kingdom. Is that who he is?
Charles Soule: He's not an avatar. But he is a member of that group. He's a member of the machines.
It leads into the next arc that's starting in October, after the Futures End issue. It's called "The Machine Queen," and basically, enough machines have gotten intelligent enough that they decided that they should have an avatar too. And not only should they have an avatar, but they're super efficient, and they're better at doing everything the other kingdoms are. Obviously, that's going to lead to some big conflicts and stories and so on.
Nrama: So we'll meet the avatar?
Soule: Well… I don't want to spoil too much about how they think of themselves, but the idea that one machine is better than another machine is something that isn't really part of their worldview. Every machine has a purpose. The only machine that's not useful is a broken machine. As long as a machine works — you know, a screwdriver is just as important as a supercomputer.
So the idea that there would be one machine or avatar that would be controlling everything just doesn't make sense to them.
So no, Calculus is not the avatar. That's just an agent of theirs. And he's super cool, and he does super cool things. And you'll see more of him, obviously, in issue #35, but he's not the avatar.
Nrama: OK, but the arc is called "The Machine Queen." Is there an actual queen?
Soule: Well, I wouldn't have called it that for no reason. So there is somebody who's coming up that is a very cool character, who I think people will really like.
But how that happens, and how we get to that point is part of the story.
But you'll see more about who the Machine Queen is, I think in issue #37. That's where she comes out in a big way. But you'll see more soon.
Nrama: Swamp Thing has been so focused on the natural part of our world — the biological. So it really kicks open the door of what you think Swamp Thing is about when there's a Machine Kingdom. Did you think this was a bit of a risk, or was it more like, "hey, why not?"
Soule: If there's any book that lets you say, "hey, why not?" and try weird things, it is Swamp Thing, for sure. And I also feel like it's a way to challenge both the main character, Alec Holland, and the reader a little bit. Because anytime you can break through the pre-conceived notions about what the book can be or should be about, I think it's a great thing.
So certainly, it's going to throw Alec for a loop and put him in places that he's never really been before.
We haven't really seen him fight, at least in this series, in any serious way, anything on the level of his own power. He's fought other people who are very powerful and very magical and very strong. But he hasn't really fought another kingdom to this degree before.
So it's going to be neat.
I consider it my Swamp Thing Lord of the Rings, almost. The battles that I have planned are going to have my artists yelling at me, but they're going to be huge. The scope is gigantic.
Nrama: Now that you've been writing Swamp Thing for awhile, what were your goals coming into the series, and where do you think you are now?
Soule: I have this big theory on my Swamp Thing run, that it's basically the past, present and the future. The first arc was related to the past, because it dealt with Alec's problems, looking at all the previous Swamp Things, the Parliament of Trees and how all the existing methodology of the Green worked.
So it was my version, as a writer, looking at all the amazing writers who had been on Swamp Thing before me. So Alan Moore and Len Wein and Rick Veitch, and then you had Scott Snyder right before me, but also Brian K. Vaughan, Josh Dysart, and many, many, many people – Grant Morrison, Andy Diggle, you know.. I could go on. There are a whole bunch.
The point is, for me, as a writer coming onto a title with that kind of legacy, it was important for me to look at that and talk about what I was going to do, and my way to kind of put my stamp on the title, even though there was this incredible legacy before my run. So that was the first arc — that Seeder arc was dealing with those themes.
The second arc, which just finished with issue #34 (which came out last week), was more about the present.
So at the end of the Seeder arc, Swamp Thing is the guy who's running the Green. There's no more Parliament of Trees. And he's the guy who's making all the decisions.
Of course, that's not always necessarily a good idea, because you put yourself in a position where you don't have anyone to rely on, or anyone to trust so you can do what you're supposed to do.
So with the second arc, I'm saying, what is my run going to be like? What is going to be my goal of the run. What am I going to add to the Swamp Thing mythology? And you'll see that the second arc had a lot of mythology building, a lot of adding new things, evolving existing concepts, adding new characters and all that stuff.
And now we're getting into the third arc, "The Machine Queen," and for me, it's about the future. As Swamp Thing deals with a new kingdom, the Machine Kingdom, for me, as a writer, it's about looking at what I want to leave for Swamp Thing readers, as far as how my run is viewed and defined, and how I fit if people hopefully put me in that list of other writers who added to the Swamp Thing mythology.
Nrama: From solicitations, it looks like your September issue is also dealing with the Machine Kingdom, or as it says, "the Metal," along with a Bacteria Kingdom. This comes after we met The Grey, which was a Fungus Kingdom. What are your thoughts about all these new avatars?
Soule: Yeah, the metal is machines — it's the same. And as far as bacteria, they're interesting. Bacteria has been around as long as plants — I mean, longer, in some ways.
So they idea that we haven't seen these people and met these avatars before is something that's interesting to me, and it's addressed in the issue.
I have this whole theory about why kingdoms appear. Whenever enough biomass exists to create enough networks between the biomass, then this sentience kind of spontaneously arises, and then at some point after that, they decide whether or not they need an avatar. So they don't always have to get one — sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.
It all makes sense to me. I don't know if it makes sense to everyone who's reading it! [Laughs.] But it all makes sense in my head.
Nrama: Was that the last we saw of the avatar of the Grey, Miki?
Soule: It is not. Absolutely not. She'll be back in "The Machine Queen" arc.
Nrama: And you're also following up on the tease that Alec is going to deal with Etrigan soon?
Soule: The Etrigan story is in the Annual in October. The Etrigan story is kind of a side step from issue #35 — I'm not sure of the release dates, but I think of the Annual happening just around issue #35. And the Annual reads as a one-shot.
You know, I've talked to other writers about this, and Etrigan is one of the big challenges for a writer, because he speaks mostly in rhyme and there are a lot of great writers who've done really great things with Etrigan and all his rhyming. So when you do an Etrigan story, you're all of the sudden having to live up to what other guys have done.
So I figured if I was doing Swamp Thing, I should tip my hat to Etrigan at some point.
It's basically a story involving Capucine, Swamp Thing's pal. A deal was made on her behalf a thousand years back to give her this long life span and all these skills, and she essentially was sold to Etrigan. So she's nearing the end of her span and he's come to collect.
It's a story that's got a lot of cool surprises, and a lot of cool Etrigan stuff. So I hope people dig it. I'm really very into that one.