Friday, June 28, 2013

A look back with Swamp Thing: Careful! Scientists at work!

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 (February 1984), huh?  This is where our old pal Alan Moore made his American reputation by doing that Alan Moore thing of taking a previously existing character, picking it apart and figuring out what it's all about, then putting it back together in a startling new configuration.  Figuring out those implications previous writers either hadn't considered or considered and didn't know how to deal with.  Which character am I talking about?  General Avery Carlton Sunderland, CEO of the Sunderland Corporation.

Just joking.  Sunderland was a bastard before this issue and he continues being a bastard all through it.  But Moore had Sunderland make a little suggestion that got me to thinking about Alec and Linda Holland and just what kind of scientists they were.

Introduced by Martin Pasko and Tom Yeates way back in The Saga of the Swamp Thing #6 (October 1982), Sunderland bedevils the hell out of Swamp Thing and his friends.  Somewhere along the way, Sunderland became interested in the biorestorative formula Alec and Linda Holland were working on-- the one that led to their deaths and the creation of Swamp Thing.  Conventional wisdom at the time said Alec Holland's cells were saturated with the formula by a lab explosion and this is what transformed him into a plant creature when his burned body fell into the biologically-rich environment of the swamp.  Since Swamp Thing is a little difficult to come by in order to gain a sample of the formula, Sunderland goes to another source and has Linda Holland's body exhumed and examined.  His researchers find the formula "had collected in her body as well."

People's bodies pick up chemicals all the time from their environment.  If you work around toxins (for example, at an asbestos manufacturer or for the Kardashians), you take precautions, but there's always a risk you're going to introduce into your system dangerous chemicals.  And even if you don't, you may be highly exposed to substances you've never imagined right now simply due to your lifestyle.

Both Hollands knew the hazards of working with chemicals-- you treat any chemical as potentially dangerous and attempt to limit your exposure; I've had to read OSHA forms just to work with photocopiers-- and would have taken at least basic precautions.  And even if they considered the chemicals completely safe, they would be concerned about contaminating their work.  At the very least they would have worn goggles, smocks and gloves.  If the chemicals were toxic enough, they would have worn respirators or air-tight suits.  And if the substances were even more dangerous than that, the Hollands would have worked from behind protective glass of some kind.  But apparently, all of this was just not enough.

And it lead to tragedy.  That aforementioned conventional wisdom-- what Sunderland and associates are operating under as this story begins-- states the formula transformed Holland.  Moore quickly disposes of this by having Sunderland remark there was no reason the formula would have affected Linda or, by extension, Alec.   It doesn't matter that Alec underwent a violent chemical reaction involving large amounts of the formula or that Linda had some in her cells as well when she was merely shot, embalmed and buried.  Their magic formula wasn't designed to work on human or animal tissue, only plant.  This sets up a major revelation partway through this issue, one that changes almost everything about Swamp Thing.  However Swamp Thing emerged, the central tragedy of this doomed couple always comes back to the biorestorative formula they worked so hard to create in hopes of feeding a hungry world.

And because Sunderland's piqued my curiosity, I'm wondering just how much of the biorestorative formula Linda's body contained.  Can we find out?  Of course.  Maybe not the exact amount, but we can at least make a rough estimate by engaging in a little time travel, a power unfortunately denied all the poop heads working for King Hell Poophead General Sunderland.

So let's journey back to November 1972 and look at Swamp Thing #1 by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson.  Before we see what conditions the Hollands operated under, allow me to point out just how stupid it was of the government to put the two of them out in a swamp in the first place... for security purposes.  The government was so worried about the biorestorative formula falling into the wrong hands, they sent its creators to an easily-accessed farm house in a remote swamp and then protected them with a single police car.  In the DC universe, the Manhattan Project took place at a Mardi Gras party in New Orleans.

Okay, now lets see how these two genius smarty brain people carry out their research.  Wrightson probably drew a ton of cool-looking safet-- GOOD LORD!  Look at that!

They may have gotten results, but clearly the Hollands were an accident waiting to happen.  I'm surprised they didn't just eat or drink the stuff-- give it a grape flavor, add carbonation and throw themselves a Biorestorative Soda love-in on live television.  Now I'm thinking Linda Holland had LOTS of this junk in her system.  And when you think about all the fungi and microscopic plant life the human body contains--

It's probably just as well Alan Moore didn't put much thought into those gruesome possibilities!

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