Interview: ‘Swamp Thing’ Creator Len Wein at SDCC ’13

By July 26, 2013

Len Wein created some of the most iconic characters in the Marvel and DC Comics universes – Storm, Wolverine, Batman collaborator Lucius Fox, and of course Swamp Thing. Wes Craven’s adaptation of Swamp Thing arrived in 1982 at the what we might call the dawn of the modern superhero adventure, and although its modest budget and pulpy storytelling doesn’t quite enjoy the widespread longevity of, say, Richard Donner’s Superman films, the film retains a scruffy charm thanks to the considerable talents of stars Ray Wise and Adrienne Barbeau, and a plot which taps into the character’s struggle with his own humanity.

During the hustle and bustle of Comic-Con in San Diego, Wein appeared at the Shout Factory booth on the showroom floor to interact with fans and sign copies of the new Swamp Thing Blu-ray. Wein sat down briefly with GeekNation to discuss the film’s resuscitation, its potential as a foundation for future Swamp Thing films, and his own feelings about the character’s legacy with readers, much less moviegoing audiences.

Given that this is a new edition of the film on home video, are there aspects of this movie that you haven’t talked about at this point?

I guess. I have not seen the DVD yet. But I’m told it looks spectacular. But overall I’m very happy with the movie we made, considering the time period it was made and the budget. And now I’m sure when they do him next – and God knows they will do him next – it will be CGI and big-budget and all, but there’s something endearing about the sincerity and the enthusiasm of the character in the way he’s portrayed in the film. I think Wes [Craven] did as good a job as he could under the circumstances. And that’s not anything derogatory or any kind of put-down; it was a small-budget movie and he did a great job!

This movie came out at a time when there was an earnestness to superheroes that we seem to have gotten away with.

To a certain degree. There were two kinds of superhero or even comic book movies that get made – nowadays one more, thank God, than the other. But there are the people who come in who grew up on this material, who love this material, and want it to be done with the integrity they believe the character possesses. Then there are the producers who say, don’t worry about it, it’s just a comic book. Hence, you get Catwoman. And that’s what happens – the second the people in charge of the film say, it’s just a comic book, it’s doomed. And without exception, that’s the case. But thank God more and more of the major directors, producers and writers are guys who grew up on this stuff. They love it and want to do it right, and I think us as readers, as fans, we’re the guys who luck out.

Still, comic adaptations were rare. Were you aware at the time you were witnessing a sea change in the kinds of movies that were getting made?

Uh, yeah, I think I did. Of all of these characters, I was kind of amazed that someone wanted to do Swamp Thing? Really? I was very flattered. That was the first of God knows all of my characters who have made it to the screen since.

You mention that you think the property will inevitably be made into a movie again.

Well, at the very least, Guillermo del Toro is talking about directing Justice League Dark, and he wants Swamp Thing to be one of the characters in the movie. So at the very least, we’ll see him as part of a group, I hope, in the next couple of years.

What ultimately do you feel like this character taps into in the way we look at the metaphorical ramifications of other superheroes?

I don’t set out to write themes, I set out to write human beings. And I think what makes Swamp Thing work is his humanity; I got letters from people saying he’s the least human character in the DC Universe physically, and the most human as a character. It was always about regaining those aspects of his humanity that he has lost.

Swamp Thing comes to Blu-ray on August 6th, 2013.

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Todd Gilchrist is a film critic with more than ten years of experience working in Los Angeles. A member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Todd has contributed to a wide variety of print and online outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Variety, The Playlist, MTV Movies, and IGN.