The moss-encrusted DC hero Swamp Thing has one of the biggest ongoing stories in the history of the DC Universe. One of his greatest adventures was also one of his most heartbreaking and left Alec Holland’s troubled hero with an impossible decision to make.
While Alan Moore is Swamp Thing’s best-known writer, creator Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson also delivered some of its best stories. In their original run from 1972 to 1974, the creative duo explored many concepts involving aliens, the supernatural, and monsters. In Swamp Thing issue 12 “Eternity Man” story, Alec Holland’s ethics were tested to their limits when he was placed in a position where there was no easy answer – and his decision proved tragic in both cases.
In the previous issue of the series, Swamp Thing rescued a small group of people from the captivity of an apocalyptic professor and his old sentient worms. Following the destruction of the Professor’s hideout and the terrifying worms, the green giant was cast back into the solitude of the swamp. Glancing around his surroundings, he was drawn to a strange pink light, emanating from a particular stone hidden behind plant life. Once in possession of the Stone, Swamp Thing suddenly found himself cascading through time itself and into the Jurassic Era.
While trapped millions of years in the past, Swamp Thing was lucky enough to be rescued from the jaws of a T-Rex by a man. Considering the era, Holland knew pretty well that the man couldn’t have originated from that era and realized that he was another victim of the stone’s temporal properties. But, when the man died in his efforts to save the Protector of Green, the hero was left overcome with sadness at the loss. However, soon after, the pink stone reactivates with the dead seemingly coming back to life. His case now over, Holland goes back in time.
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At the end of the shift, Swamp Thing was then dropped into Ancient Rome where he was attacked by lions and chased into the Colosseum. There he meets the mysterious man again, who was later changed to look more modern with shorter hair. But the sight of the stone in his eyes proved that it was the same man. Again he was mortally wounded, and again the stone reactivated and sent Holland back through time. As the story continues, Swamp Thing learns a tragic truth about both the time-traveling companion and the Stone.
When he was sent back to a 14th century European village, he overheard a sad and angry conversation between a man and a woman. The woman felt betrayed that the man had used her for the now troublesome pink stone – which the man wished to use to live forever. However, the woman was revealed to be a witch, who cursed the man to wander through time alone, only able to see his time loop ended by a friend’s hand taking his life. As the story progressed, Swamp Thing soon realized he was that friend, and only by his hand can the strange man’s suffering be ended.
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However, the riddle tests Alec Holland’s morality. Up until now, Swamp Thing’s story had been defined by Alec Holland’s quest to reclaim his humanity, and he feared that killing this man would constitute murder. Although Swamp Thing took pity on the tragic man’s predicament, he couldn’t bring himself to grant his request. The last interaction between them was Holland refusing to go with them, and the man unfortunately got trapped in the swamp, his body sinking to the bottom as Swamp Thing tried to help him. Instead, the man’s death would resume his heartbreaking curse forever.
One of the most interesting things about this story is that it’s one of the times in the comics where a character’s code of ethics was pushed to the brink of harmfulness. By refusing to help kill the man and break his curse, Swamp Thing is forced to effectively allow the man’s tragedy to repeat itself throughout his time loops forever. With so many stories exploring the importance of the superhero moral code, “Eternity Man” even went so far as to show that the code might not be foolproof.