DC Universe’s First Cancellation

First originating in the 1970s as the Comics Code Authority loosened its grip over content by allowing supernatural characters, DC Comics’ Swamp Thing has always had a unique appeal beyond traditional superheroes. Exploring darker themes outside the purview of superhero comics, the tormented man-turned-plant-elemental grapples with questions of identity and meaning. The half-man, half-plant monster was even popular enough for two corny Hollywood movies and a syndicated series, the first movie being directed by Wes Craven in the early 1980s.

The mature horror and supernatural undertones of Swamp Thing seemed like a perfect fit for DC’s new streaming platform, DC Universe. The swamp creature would come alive with today’s fantastic effects and more serious storytelling afforded by long-form television. The show could be used to build a stable of mystical characters taken from DC Comics and introduce them to a wider audience, much like Titans was used to introduce less well-known DC superheroes like Hawk & Dove. The Phantom Stranger, Blue Devil, Madame Xanadu, and just about anyone else that didn’t appear on Constantine’s short-lived NBC series were fair game.

That is why it came as quite a shock for fans when Warner abruptly canceled the program after only one episode, announcing Swamp Thing’s first season was being cut from 13 to 10 episodes. Reports blamed it on any number of things, from Warner losing a tax credit in North Carolina, to the ballooning costs of a television production driven by expensive special effects.

… DC Comics’ Swamp Thing has always had a unique appeal beyond traditional superheroes

For whatever reason, what we get is a decent first season that hints at much bigger things planned down the road that now will never happen. There’s a lot of obvious world-building, introducing Swamp Thing himself and his primary supporting cast. Frustrating for long-time fans, but not the first time a show (Firefly) with great potential was cut down before planting roots.

A deadly illness called the Green Flu hits Marai, Louisiana. CDC doctor Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) returns to her home town, investigating the mysterious disease possibly linked to the surrounding swamps. Meeting biologist Alec Holland (Andy Bean), he believes the illness is connected to a businessman dumping a powerful chemical into the local swamp. Will Patton plays businessman Avery Sunderland as a scene-chewing villain and antagonist. Virginia Madsen has fun playing Sunderland’s conniving wife.

Swamp Thing’s production values are top-notch; you will believe a scientist becomes a living plant creature. Swamp Thing’s practical costume is nigh perfect and looks gorgeous in close-ups. Even if the show isn’t coming back, I hope Warner can re-use the costume down the line on other shows.

It’s hard avoiding comparisons with DC Universe’s other original programs from 2019, Titans and Doom Patrol. All three take a mature, serious perspective and largely respect the source material, if tweaking a few things for drama and the medium.

There is a slightly different vibe from its fellow DC Universe programs with Swamp Thing, rooted in elemental horror and Southern Gothic drama. That stems from an executive producer team which includes James Wan (The Conjuring Universe films, Aquaman), Mark Verheiden (Constantine), Gary Dauberman (IT and Annabelle films), and Len Wiseman (Sleepy Hollow, Underworld films).

If you’ve read Swamp Thing over the years, including Alan Moore’s seminal run, this is a satisfying but all-too-brief adventure for the plant elemental.

Video

The swamps of North Carolina stand in for Louisiana as the setting. That leads to heavy green foliage and a modern color grading. The dark, murky mood of Swamp Thing’s decidedly supernatural atmosphere looks good on Blu-ray with pleasant clarity and fine shadow delineation.

Black levels are superb, rich and inky. The wonderful Swamp Thing costume, probably the best thing about the production, is seen in up-close and personal detail with phenomenal definition. A desaturated palette keeps flesh-tones on the pale side. Swamp Thing’s overall tone isn’t warm and inviting.

Problems arise in the low-bitrate AVC encode. All ten episodes are spread over two BD-50s, nearing 500 minutes of content. Banding makes an infrequent but visible presence in some scenes, including underwater and swamp footage. No attempt apparently was made to smooth out the banding.

Audio

Swamp Thing’s 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack offers an effective surround mix that works for television content. Menacing sounds fill the rear channels and come to life during some of the biggest effect-driven scenes in the swamp. The audio has some minor inconsistencies that lead to balance issues. Mixing levels are occasionally weak for Brian Tyler’s score and dialogue is all over the place. That being said, the discrete mix has nice channel separation and decent immersion. LFE is surprisingly great when needed.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

Canceled after one season, Warner treats Swamp Thing as an afterthought on home video. The two-disc set contains all ten episodes from season one and little else. It arrives in the now-familiar slipcase common to DC’s superhero television releases.

The only included bonus is a digital copy of the show, good on either VUDU or FandangoNow in HDX. A one-sheet episode guide comes inside the case. There are no trailers or any supplemental content on the bare-bones set.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Swamp Thing
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Introducing the mystical underbelly of DC Comics with characters like Blue Devil, this first and now only season pays fine homage to Swamp Thing and his befuddling romance with Abby Arcane.

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