Secret Origins Special (1989)

Secret Origins Special

I always forget how much Neil Gaiman threw himself into the DC Universe when he’d write in it. This Secret Origins Special is all about Batman’s villains; a TV investigative journalist has come to Gotham to do a special. Gaiman seems to enjoy writing those scenes–the ones with the behind the scenes, the Batman cameo, the anecdotes about living in Gotham City and the DC Universe in general. He doesn’t do well with the characters though, not the TV reporter and his crew. These framing scenes have art by Mike Hoffman and Kevin Nowlan. They do better at the start than they do the finish. By the finish, they’re getting tired and the detail from the opening isn’t there anymore.

Alan Grant writes the Penguin’s origin story, which isn’t a straight origin. There’s something modern to all of the Secret Origins here. Penguin’s grabbed a childhood nemesis–who just happened to grow up to be a gangster too–and Batman’s trying to find the guy while the Penguin’s torturing him. It’s an okay script, not great, but the Sam Kieth artwork is gorgeous. Kieth does action, he does Batman, he does Penguin, he does gangsters–he does kids. The best part of it is the tenderness Kieth shows when he’s doing the kids. I always forget Kieth really does know what he’s doing.

A self-reflected Riddler. Art by Bernie Mireault and Matt Wagner.
A self-reflected Riddler. Art by Bernie Mireault and Matt Wagner.

Gaiman handles the Riddler’s origin, which ties in a lot to the framing plot. The TV crew goes to interview him. Bernie Mireault on pencils, Matt Wagner on inks. Gaiman’s enthusiastic but misguided. Lots of monologue from the Riddler, but never particularly interesting. The details about the giant objects used in Gotham’s advertising in the past is more interesting than the Riddler teasing the TV crew with the truth. The art’s solid though and gets it over the bumps.

Then there’s the Two-Face story. Mark Verheiden writing it, Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano on the art. Broderick’s pencils are full of energy and light on restraint. It’s a messy story and a fairly cool one, focusing on Grace Dent (Harvey’s wife) and her side of the story. Verheiden doesn’t write the TV crew well and Grace Dent’s a little too slight, but it’s a solid enough story. The art is brutally violent and full of anger. Everyone looks miserable and angry about it.

Harvey Two-Face and Batman graphically wail on each other. Art by Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano.
Harvey Two-Face and Batman graphically wail on each other. Art by Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano.

The issue would’ve been better with stronger art throughout from Hoffman and Nowlan and either more or less from Gaiman. The TV crew ceases to be characters after the introduction, like one of the stories came in a page or two short and Gaiman was padding it out. But the Penguin story is good, the Riddler story could be a lot worse and is technically strong, the Two-Face story is super-solid mainstream DC eighties stuff. It’s good stuff.


Writer, Neil Gaiman, Alan Grant and Mark Verheiden; pencillers, Mike Hoffman, Bernie Mireault and Pat Broderick; inkers, Kevin Nowlan, Matt Wagner and Dick Giordano; artist, Sam Kieth; colorists, Tom McCraw and Joe Matt; letterers, Todd Klein, Albert DeGuzman, Mireault and Agustin Mas; editor, Mark Waid; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 109 (July 1991)


This issue’s pretty trippy. I think, in the final estimation (this issue’s his last), I like what Hoffman did for this Quest for the Elementals arc. He changed up his style, moved Swamp Thing away from horror to the psychedelic. Maybe he realized mushrooms can be scary, but they can be trippy.

As for Wheeler (also his last issue), he ties up the last loose end from Veitch’s run and has Abby talking about how it’s time for a new chapter to begin. Being self-aware, however, doesn’t make up for the silliness Wheeler’s put the series through.

And all he really does at the end of this huge war between the Green and the Grey is repeat Moore’s ceasefire from the war between Heaven and Hell. The issue’s decent, but because Wheeler gives his one likable character a lot of page time.

It’s much ado about nothing.


A Descent of Shadows, The Quest for the Elementals, Part Six; writer, Doug Wheeler; artist, Mike Hoffman; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Stuart Moore; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 108 (June 1991)


Abby’s story comes to its predictable cliffhanger. Wheeler foreshadowed it way too early and then spends the rest of the issue building it into a cliffhanger for the whole issue. He never brings Abby and Tefé back to the others, so now Alec’s got to go on a rescue mission.

There’s also a reasonably good action sequence with Alec trying to escape his evil fish captors (it doesn’t play as silly as it sounds) but the final third of the issue is all talking. Talking heads with plants. Not the most dramatic stuff.

When there are little action asides (as the Grey attacks the Parliament), Hoffman draws it all too small. Based on the two-page spreads, it’s clear he needs both those pages for big action. Wheeler gives him a quarter page sometimes. It’s not exactly confusing, just not magnificent.

The strangest thing is how fallible Wheeler makes Alec.


Siege, The Quest for the Elementals, Part Five; writer, Doug Wheeler; artist, Mike Hoffman; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Stuart Moore; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 107 (May 1991)


Didn’t Wheeler just do an issue where Alec’s in trouble in one place and Abby and Tefé are in trouble in another? It’s apparently just how he structures Swamp Thing.

This issue Abby and the baby are stuck at the Parliament, where she may or may not have unintentionally fallen into the Grey’s clutches. Meanwhile, Alec’s in some underwater prison with hundreds of other plant elementals. Wheeler’s “war” has them as soldiers, which makes one wonder how long a plant elemental is a plant elemental. There are only twenty-five or so at the Parliament, at least readily visible ones… are we talking decades here or just years?

Wheeler also rips the magic out of the plant elementals. He has the characters all explain it with pseudo-science. He’s being far too literal.

Still, it’s not as bad as it could be, just frequently predictable.

Hoffman’s trippy art’s okay too.


Stabs of Life Echoing in a Void, The Quest for the Elementals, Part Four; writer, Doug Wheeler; artist, Mike Hoffman; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Stuart Moore; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 106 (April 1991)


I still can’t decide about Hoffman’s art. When he does the scenes of Alec interacting with the other plant people, it really does seem like he’s going for a particular style. When he’s drawing Abby, he can’t manage perspective or proportions. It’s all very confusing.

The issue itself is rather lame. Wheeler isn’t writing any worse, he’s just padding out a weak plot.

Abby’s been freaking out about Tefé’s new powers since the last issue–six weeks–and little else. It’s unbelievable, as Wheeler’s got Abby running away from Tefé.

Then Alec goes off to rescue some more of the elemental prisoners and runs into the absurd guest star. Alec and the guest star have a long scene with goofy exposition and one again remembers Wheeler’s inability to write real people.

He fills the issue with silly ideas instead.

Swamp Thing is getting to be more than a little tiring.


Dead Tribes and Forgotten Souls, The Quest for the Elementals, Part Three; writer, Doug Wheeler; artist, Mike Hoffman; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Stuart Moore; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 105 (March 1991)


What is the deal with Hoffman’s art? If his style–which occasionally reminds of sixties and earlier comics–is unintentional, he’s incompetent. But if he’s intentionally doing this issue’s war comic scene like Swamp Thing is an old war comic, it’s fantastic.

And Hoffman’s Swamp Thing looks a lot like the Wes Craven movie costume. And if that choice is intentional, Hoffman’s giving this book a whole different layer.

However, it’s possible he’s just crap.

Wheeler’s story sets up this space opera fight against evil for the Green (Alec’s rescuing members previously captured by the evil Grey). Still, it could be worse. The development of Tefé being able to resurrect people is a neat one and it makes perfect sense.

When Abby and Tefé are in danger, Alec isn’t paying attention and easily could have been. Regardless of Wheeler’s intention for Alec’s ignorance it builds suspense.

It’s a strange issue.


Living Sacrifices, The Quest for the Elementals, Part Two; writer, Doug Wheeler; artist, Mike Hoffman; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Stuart Moore; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 104 (February 1991)


This issue, establishing even more asinine backstory, really shows Wheeler’s problem. He’s interested in making his mark on Swamp Thing, not making his mark with Swamp Thing. He’s trying to wow with details instead of actions. This issue, Alec and Abby learn the Parliament contrived his birth as plant elemental in order to guarantee he’d go back in time and start the Parliament.

Also, the Green is sort of an alien; it landed on Earth. Such revelations make one wonder if anyone at DC really cared anymore. Maybe they expected the sales to plummet without Veitch or Moore.

This issue, luckily, has Bill Jaaska on the flashback art. He does a beautiful job with the grandiose, earth-shattering events. Wheeler covered some of them in his first issues, but nowhere does he acknowledge those issues, which is weird.

Terrible writing for Abby and weak Hoffman art round out the issue.


Matango, The Quest for the Elementals, Part One; writer, Doug Wheeler; artist, Mike Hoffman and Bill Jaaska; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Stuart Moore; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 103 (January 1991)


Wheeler answers a reasonable question–why such a long break in Earth Elementals before Alec Holland (the previous Swamp Thing was thirty years prior)–with a silly, contrived answer.

The Parliament of Trees did try… only the evil fungus god got them. Or something along those lines.

It’s a dumb, obvious plot point. Wheeler’s retconned a lot about the Parliament since taking over the series and I can’t remember any of these developments being much good. He does it to make an excuse for his present day plot developments, which is not a good reason for a narrative detail.

Otherwise, the issue isn’t bad. Abby and Constantine’s midwife friend are on the run through hurricane-torn swamps while Alec and Tefé are on the run through the Green. There are a lot of scary fungus zombies after them.

Hoffman’s zombie designs are downright disturbing; the issue succeeds as a thriller.


Exodus; writer, Doug Wheeler; penciller, Mike Hoffman; inkers, Doug Hazlewood and Mickey Ritter; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Stuart Moore; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 102 (December 1990)


Okay, the shaman does have a name but only Alec uses it. The whole character’s a mistake, so why dwell.

This issue has social commentary, a magic ceremony to encourage Tefé to regrow her body, Swamp Thing fighting monsters and a few other things. There’s even a new supporting cast member who Wheeler doesn’t take enough time to introduce.

It’s a very hurried issue–and should be, it’s set against an approaching hurricane–and Wheeler’s got a good hard cliffhanger.

Sadly, Hoffman doesn’t have room to give it the appropriate space but it’s still effective.

Peter Gross inks Hoffman to mixed results. They remove Swamp Thing’s eyeballs, so Alec’s a lot less sympathetic. Their people feel very horror comic influenced, which would work better without some of Wheeler’s silly details. The fight’s boring; that failing probably has to do with the hurried pace.

It’s not bad, but far from good.


And All the King’s Horses…; writer, Doug Wheeler; penciller, Mike Hoffman; inker, Peter Gross; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Stuart Moore; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 101 (November 1990)

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Andy Helfer pops in for a nice little issue. Amazing how he’s never written the book before–or worked on it in any capacity (as far as I remember)–yet he does a pitch perfect story juxtaposing Tefé’s spirit form running away and a local woman’s family problems. Helfer even writes Abby well.

Anyway, the issue also has Mike Hoffman on pencils. It’s hard to say how he’ll do on the comic–I think he’s the new penciller–since Alec doesn’t appear in the issue, but he does a great job with the people. This issue is all people, including some complicated scenes like kids playing on a playground. Hoffman infuses that scene with excitement and intrigue, even though it’s mundane.

The issue’s only problem isn’t Helfer’s fault. The Shaman character ludicrously doesn’t have a proper name. Just Shaman. One expects more from Swamp Thing.

It’s a touching, haunting issue.


Keepsakes; writer, Andy Helfer; penciller, Mike Hoffman; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Karen Berger and Stuart Moore; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing Annual 5 (June 1989)


Neil Gaiman sure does think he’s an inventive writer. The third person narration of the annual’s feature is exceptionally annoying but damn if Gaiman doesn’t write good dialogue. He tries too hard to show he’s familiar with Swamp Thing characters and situations, but when he’s got Chester sitting down and talking, it works. And Gaiman’s aloof, drunken secret agent guy is hilarious.

Gaiman’s writing doesn’t actually matter very much, however. The artwork from Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman and Kim DeMulder is so lovely, Gaiman could write just about anything. He’s inexplicably got Firestorm showing up for a scene and, while there’s a funny punchline to it, he must have just wanted him there because Rayner draws him so beautifully. The art is simply breathtaking.

There’s a backup with Floronic Man–Mike Mignola illustrates. It’s annoyingly over-written too and not as pretty as the feature, but it’s not bad.


Brothers; writer, Neil Gaiman; pencillers, Richard Piers Rayner and Mike Hoffman; inker, Kim DeMulder. Shaggy God Stories; writer, Gaiman; artist, Mike Mignola. Colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, Tim Harkins; editor, Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing Annual 4 (June 1988)


The weirdest part of the annual–which is mostly a Batman story, which doesn’t suit Pat Broderick’s pencils as well as the Swamp Thing–is Chester getting stoned with Labo. I always understood Labo to be a stand-in for Alan Moore… so Stephen R. Bissette wrote a scene with Alan Moore getting stoned?

The scene doesn’t work. Labo’s presence is too strange at Chester’s, too much like a sitcom.

Otherwise, it’s a fairly okay issue. It’s not much of an annual. Bissette does write Batman as a violent madman, which is sort of interesting, but Swamp Thing’s got so little to do it’s never compelling. It’s especially distressing how little Alec cares about his neighbors.

Broderick has a lot of little art problems–very small heads on big people and so on.

The backup–with Mike Hoffman art–is fine. It’s just page filler, but Hoffman’s art is good.


Threads; writer, Stephen R. Bissette; penciller, Pat Broderick; inkers, Ron Randall and Eduardo Barreto. Traiteur; writer, Bissette; artist, Mike Hoffman. Colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, Bob Pinaha; editor, Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

Dark Horse Presents 63 (June 1992)


Well, the Moebius story is pretty but I’m not sure it’s got much in the way of narrative. It’s a fine little diversion–I think it’s my first Moebius short story–but it’s got zero heft. No idea why they opened the issue with it.

The Creep gets near its finish with more great art and a rather big surprise in the narrative. Arcudi doesn’t just deserve credit for the concept, but the execution as well. While Eaglesham makes the series look perfect, Arcudi really does do excellent work here. It’s not just well-written in scene, he really does come up with some great plot developments.

Wheeler and Hoffman’s story about a boy being emotionally abused by his mother and grandmother brings the issue to a depressing close. Wheeler’s writing–specifically the boy talking to himself throughout–is somewhat problematic. Hoffman’s artwork is fantastic. The story is quietly devastating.


Marie Dakar; story and art by Moebius; lettering by Karen Casey-Smith; translated by Randy Lofficier and Jean-Marc Lofficier. The Creep; story by John Arcudi; art by Dale Eaglesham; lettering by Pat Brosseau. Abandonment Games; story by Doug Wheeler; art and lettering by Mike Hoffman. Edited by Randy Stradley.

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