Swamp Thing Showrunner Discusses Show’s Horror Focus

Mark Verheiden, one of Swamp Thing's two showrunners, reveals the tone of the show and his thoughts on the episode order cut.

Swamp Thing Mark Verheiden

Young streaming service DC Universe has a good thing going in its first couple of years. First, DC’s streaming arm somehow pulled off a gritty live-action Teen Titans reboot called Titans without anyone laughing them off WarnerMedia’s servers. In fact people kind of liked it

Then they improbably brought Earth’s Strangest Heroes, Doom Patrol, to life in a convincingly weird 15-episode series of the same name. Now, DC Universe has reached into the drawer to pull another beloved character in the DC library: Swamp Thing.

Swamp Thing was created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson for DC Comcis in 1971. In the ‘80s, Alan Moore’s hallowed run on Swamp Thing became a classic that brought many wayward fans back to comics. In fact, that’s the exact story of Mark Verheiden, the man DC Universe has tapped to run Swamp Thing alongside Gary Dauberman and produce the show alongside horror maestros James Wan and Len Weisman.

We spoke with Verheiden about his love for Swampy, what to expect from Swamp Thing, and why the Bayou is so gosh darn creepy.

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When people think of Swamp Thing, they probably tend to think of the Alan Moore comics, or maybe the Wes Craven movie. Both interpretations pretty valid, but where did you find most of the inspiration for this version of the character and story on DC universe?

Well, I’ll just back up and say, I’ve been a long time fan of the Swamp Thing books, going all the way back to Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s era. I’m a life long fan, and I think that the Alan Moore run specifically was what brought me back in (to comics). The sophisticated suspense, which they did put on the cover, really drew me in. The way they were handling more adult themes and creating supernatural Southern Gothic worlds in Swamp Thing really, I think, made a big impression on me years ago. And so, when I heard that they were considering a series, and that not only were they considering a series, but James Wan, and Gary Dauberman, and the Atomic Monster guys were talking about doing it.

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Then when I met with them and realized they had all the same connections to the material that I did, that’s what drew me in. It was the people, but also a real affection … and yeah, a real affection for the Alan Moore work, but also for what Len and Bernie created.

What would you say was the strongest inspiration for this iteration then?

Tonally, we are looking at the Alan Moore run for again, that sense of Southern Gothic creepy … a town that’s outside the mainstream, that feel. And also the burgeoning relationship that existed in those books between Abby Arcane and Swamp Thing. Our series starts with Abby Arcane meeting Alec Holland in human form and developing a bit of a relationship then with him. And then she is forced to recreate that relationship when Alec is killed, spoilers, but it’s the end of the pilot, and returns as Swamp thing. So the idea that there is a chance for a relationship of sorts between Abby Arcane and Swamp Thing, I think appealed to us a great deal as well. So those aspects of it are what I think animate our series going forward and the chance to do really scary stories.

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Obviously, I’m working with James Wan and Gary Dauberman, who write all sorts of scary, horrific things. I think we really saw this as a chance to do horror for the series in a way that maybe you haven’t seen on too many other shows as the supernatural expands into the Swamp Thing universe.

Yeah, you’re not kidding about the horror thing. I just finished the pilot, and I wasn’t necessarily anticipating it to be that terrifying at times. I’ve always thought that for some reason the Bayou was the creepiest place in the continental United States. What kind of advantages are there in using an environment like that, and do you find it as a really fertile ground for horror as well?

Well, it’s just as you put it; it’s just inherently unsettling to be out there. We spent some time on the swamps where we were shooting. During daylight, it’s a beautiful place. There’s flowers blossoming these beautiful things, birds, flower, it’s gorgeous. But when the night comes down, it gets really creepy. There’s strangeness out there, and this sense that anything could be behind that the trees. Or you’re hearing noises way back and you have no idea what they are. We’re with an entire film crew and you’re still getting the creeps, so it lends itself to horror. That and night, which we have a lot in the show, just lend themselves to “what’s behind that door? What’s behind that wall? What’s underneath that rock? What’s behind those trees?”

Swamp Thing really does have his roots in horror, but there’s also been particularly with the Alan Moore saga, there’s a psychedelic almost hallucinatory quality that comes along with him. Is that something that you’ll lean into the show with those fantastical elements?

I think there are aspects of that. I’d say we’re a little more grounded than that. I think certainly what begins to happen as the season goes on is that the dumping that’s occurring in the swamp and upsetting the balance of things, is unleashing a supernatural force on top of the devastation that’s being wrought to the swamp, that begins to effect the people of Houma and our characters. So we have a supernatural component to this, while Abby Arcane, who is really trying to both work through her emotional stories with the people in the town, she has a very dark past as you’ll come to discover. But also trying to come to terms with this man she fell in like with in the first episode, Alec Holland, and the creature that he’s become.

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So there are several aspects of it the first season, but I think the driving force of season one is Abby Arcane’s story of trying help and understand and ultimately come to terms with what’s happened to her friend Alec Holland and hopefully realize that what he’s become is something, in a way, greater than what he was, with his connection to the supernatural and the Green. She’s been given an entry point, as has he, to a new world neither one of them knew existed, and it’s a world, both of horror, but also of beauty. And so, we’re exploring those aspects of those, I think the Alan Moore run especially.

So the show made some headlines last month when the episode order was cut. I was wondering if you could tell me anything about that. Do you know if that was a budgetary decision, or a creative one? Are you happy how you got to end the season?

I think we are. I think there are reasons that things happened, we don’t need to go into them here, but we were pleased we are able to make 10 episodes of a great Swamp Thing. Warner Bros. was very supportive financially, so the show looks amazing. I don’t think fans will be disappointed with the show, I hope not. It’s scary, and it’s got all sorts of fun twists and turns coming as the season rolls on. So you get 10 great episodes of that.

Swamp Thing premieres on DC Universe on May 31.