Hero Nation Index: Swamp Thing, James Wan, Wes Craven, Guillermo del Toro

Hero Nation is the new hub for Deadline’s sci-fi, horror, fantasy, superhero, and animation coverage. And the article you’re reading now is the Hero Nation Index, a weekly roundup of news, rumors, tidbits, and happenings in Comic-Con culture, which is dominating Hollywood’s attention in unprecedented fashion. TODAY: A SPECIAL ALL-SWAMP THING EDITION

THAT THING YOU DO: The ambitious new Swamp Thing series premiered Friday on the  DC Universe streaming site with a intriguing blend of the character’s 1971 horror comics roots (which began in a House of Secrets classic by Len Wein & Berni Wrightson), the sublimely mind-bending 1980s mythology revamp by Alan Moore, and the supernaturally unnerving sensibilities of James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring), the show’s high-profile executive producer. Check out the intense trailer for the new series above. The show joins the intense Titans and the truly bizarre Doom Patrol on the streaming site.

ALL THINGS, GREAT AND SMALL : This latest screen version of the tragic bog creature extends the character’s Hollywood story which is a surprisingly long story already. The transmogrified scientist reached the big screen twice (Swamp Thing in 1982 and The Return of the Swamp Thing in 1989) and then became a TV transplant with a barely remembered Saturday morning cartoon (1991) and then came USA Network and its rubber-suit revival for the live-action series that aired 72 episodes (1990-1993). The series was unique in its time as a modern-day tale of shambling Southern horror that adapted an award-winning comic-book brand. Later, it would be matched in those attributes when AMC’s The Walking Dead began its historic lurch into television history.

MISSING THINGS: The Swamp Thing’s big-screen legacy is like a Florida sinkhole. You measure its importance by what’s missing and the size of the depression that follows it.  The 1982 Embassy Pictures film was directed by Wes Craven but it was far less influential than the signature work he delivered two years later (A Nightmare on Elm Street). It cost a mere $3 million to make and it has a cheesy rubber costume to prove it didn’t splurge. Some fans viewed the Swamp Thing films as an early cinematic crime committed against the comics work of writer Alan Moore but if so they were mere misdemeanors compared to felony failings of A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I remember talking with Guillermo del Toro (not long after he wrapped the first Hellboy film) about Swamp Thing and he spoke in awed tones about the gravitas of the source material. “That one is up there, it’s a Holy Grail-level,” del Toro said. Time will tell if Wan and the DC Universe series have a real-deal version of truly complicated character or a Grail fail that dies on the vine. The first episode had some true great moments and touches in it, so there’s no reason for anything but optimism at this point.

FORGOTTEN THINGS? PART 1: The same actor who portrayed the title character in Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing in 1982 reprised the role for the 1989 sequel and all three seasons of the USA Network series. Can you name him? You can find the answer below.

ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER: The most fascinating thing about the Swamp Thing films of the 1980s is what they reveal about the Warner Bros. approach to DC Comics properties over the two decades after Superman, the landmark 1978 hit that introduced the concept of a superhero blockbuster.

Before that Christopher Reeve classic there had been just two feature films based on DC Comics properties. Superman and the Mole Men in 1950 (with George Reeves) and Batman in 1966 (with Adam West) and both were tie-ins to prominent television productions. Take a look at the list of DC-based feature films (live action and animated) that followed the mega-success of Superman, which was the highest-grossing Warner release in studio history up to that point.

That’s 21 films in 30 years. Seven of them are Team Metropolis (five Superman films, Steel and Supergirl) and eight are Team Gotham (seven Batman films and Catwoman). Notice that Swamp Thing was just the second DC character to earn a sequel (following Superman and beating Batman by two years).  Amazingly, only three title characters on that long list were even able to earn their way back to the screen in a sequel, prequel, or remake: Superman, Batman, and, yep,  Swamp Thing. By that measure, Swamp Thing is a pioneering DC franchise player   the surprising B-movie brand that for decades ranked right up their with DC’s A-list properties.

For Warner Bros., the shocking thing is that in the decade since The Dark Knight in 2008 there has only been one other DC-based franchise that has yielded a sequel. It’s RED, the 2010 retiree spy adventure starring Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren, which was followed by RED 2 in 2013. That’s it, to date. There have been only four multi-film franchises based on DC Comics in 40 years (although Wonder Woman 1984 will change that next year when she joins Superman, Batman, Swamp Thing, and RED). Marvel Studios, by the way, has seven multi-film franchises in its first decade (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy).

FORGOTTEN THINGS, PART 2: It’s not easy be green. Stuntman and actor Dick Durock learned that while portraying the Swamp Thing in two films and 72 television episodes. Still the 6-foot-5 former Marine found his career role in the sensitive swamp monster and for years he proudly continued his green movement on the  convention circuit. Durock, born in  South Bend, Indiana, in 1937, died in 2007 in Oak Park, California, at age 72.A bit of random trivia about the late Durock: he went toe-to-toe  with television’s other unjolly green giant from comic books. In “The First,” a March 1981 episode of The Incredible Hulk, of  Durock portrayed an even-grumpier predecessor of Lou Ferrigno’s gamma-ray giant. The episode (Season 4, Episode 10) is free on NBC.com if you want to see Durock throw a boulder at Bambi to prove he’s the meanest shade of green.

THE LAST THING: There was a Swamp Thing cartoon made at the start of the 1990s to create Saturday morning synergy with a new line of toys based on the leafy, misshapen monster. If that sounds like a questionable decision, take a listen to the theme song for the short-lived series.

 

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