9:15am PT by Rosie Knight
'Swamp Thing' Showrunner on the "Beauty and the Beast Story" at Series' Heart
DC Universe has been slowly building its brand in the niche streaming market since it launched last fall. Though it has struggled to make industry waves, it has delivered some well-received superhero programming, like the critically acclaimed Doom Patrol and fan favorite Titans.
Its newest offering, Swamp Thing, hopes to change that with big names like James Wan (Aquaman, The Conjuring), Len Wiseman (Underworld), Gary Dauberman (It, Annabelle Comes Home) and Mark Verheiden (Smallville, Daredevil) on board the supernatural thriller that made headlines when the series' 13-episode order was cut down to 10 in the middle of production.
The Hollywood Reporter asked co-showrunner Verheiden about the reduced order, but reps from DC Universe wouldn't allow an answer.
The character of Swamp Thing has long been seen as one of the strangest and most surreal of DC's roster, especially since the mid-1980s Saga of the Swamp Thing run by Alan Moore and Steve Bissette that ramped up the romance between Abby Arcane and the titular plant creature. That controversial arc is something Verheiden confirmed will be vital to the series.
"We really wanted to play with the love story between Abby [Crystal Reed] and Alec [Andy Bean], as well as the Beauty and the Beast story between Abby and Swamp Thing," said Verheiden. "How that evolves from the relationship she developed with Alec in the first episode, when that relationship de facto ends, it becomes something else completely, and how that evolves is a key storyline that we carry through the series."
Centering on CDC scientist Abby Arcane, the series follows the brilliant young woman as she returns to her Louisiana hometown, where a violent disease is ravaging the bayous.
"When we entered the project, Gary, James, and I decided that the story was really Abby's story," said Verheiden. "She starts as a woman who returns to this town carrying a lot of emotional baggage, but she also has a lot of experience and the ability to truly help, and it was important to us to show the strength of her and the strength of the other women in town."
That diverges from the comic books that inspired the show, as they have always been more focused on the monstrous man at the heart of the story, Alec Holland. In the premiere, Holland is revealed to be a disgraced scientist looking for redemption in the small town of Marais, Louisiana.
"He finds himself forced to work with Avery Sunderland [Will Patton] on what he sees as this low-level job which actually ends up being the great work of his life," said Verheiden. "Myself and Gary really liked the idea of characters who are challenged by more than the outside circumstances they are entering, but also by the demons that they brought with them."
Sunderland is a character who was briefly an antagonist to Swamp Thing in the comics, but the series premiere makes clear that he is the show's main villain, and his particular kind of patriarchal power grab feels especially relevant in 2019.
"We wanted to create a feeling of a town that's seen better days and is trying to hold onto itself, and then finds itself plagued by a certain amount of supernatural darkness," Verheiden told THR. "But a man like Avery Sunderland will do anything to hold onto the power, the authority and the respect of the town that he thinks it owes him after years of living there and being the richest man in town."
That exploration of the realities of living in a small town was another vital thematic thread, Verheiden explained: "We wanted to play with the idea of a town that's been bypassed by modern life. It's a very relevant and familiar theme in small towns. Marais is the town that had an interstate that probably bypassed it 40 years ago and left them high and dry, leaving people struggling, including Avery."
Though Swamp Thing is, of course, about its titular monster, the town of Marais plays a large part, often feeling like a character in its own right. For Verheiden, that was vital: "Everyone in Marais, they all have very dark secrets as we go forward. It's a town that on the one hand is plagued by the supernatural, but it's also filled with people of diabolical intent as we go forward. We fell in love with the Southern Gothic of Marais and wanted to expand on that."
Swamp Thing marks the first show on DC Universe to take on horror tropes, and for the writer there were some very clear advantages to creating a series for a niche streamer. "[Content] ratings-wise, you can do things that you definitely couldn't do on network television, not just in terms of violence but with language and adult themes," Verheiden said. "I think the challenge for us, though, was trying to find the tone of the stories we were trying to tell, which we definitely want to be emotionally powerful but we also want to be very scary."
Swamp Thing's production issues weren't the only struggle that affected Verheiden as he was in the process of making the show. He was also dealing with the impact of the Writers Guild of America's action against talent agencies, which saw thousands of writers fire their agents — something he has not done.
"I'm a member of the WGA. But I've also had a lengthy, long-term relationship with my agent, so it hasn't been my favorite time, to be honest," he said. "Without getting too deep into it, I hope that there's some sort of resolution that could be made, but I also understand the WGA point of view. That's not meant to say that I don't support the WGA, I just hope that we can find ways to resolve this."
With the future of DC Universe uncertain in the wake of WarnerMedia's soon-to-launch streaming service, it's not clear where Swamp Thing will fit. Verheiden, for his part, said, "We have a series that we hope goes for a while."
Something that's core to that future is the potentially intimate romance between Abby Arcane and the monster. "The relationship between Abby and Alec and Swamp Thing doesn't completely go as far as it is does in the comics, but there's plenty of places to go after this season," Verheiden said. "As we go forward in season one, we play with the idea that she's finding something in Swamp Thing that perhaps she wouldn't have found in Alec Holland. So, yes, there is a romantic relationship between them that we explore."
Verheiden also hinted that a massive character from the comics and previous films, the villainous Anton Arcane, Abby's uncle, could be joining the show in the future. "The fact that Abby was taken in as a child by the Sunderlands suggests that there was another life before that," he said. "Not to belabor the obvious, but our lead character's name is Abigail Arcane. So who knows? But long story short, we would certainly have many thoughts about where we could go for future seasons."
Swamp Thing premiered May 31 on DC Universe. New episodes will be released weekly.