×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The untold truth of Swamp Thing's wife

Swamp Thing has always been a unique comics character. He's a monster, for one thing, a green, moss-covered swamp creature who lives in the wild, decidedly separate from mankind. But his mind and heart are those of a man — specifically, a scientist named Alec Holland. He's not a superhero, although he is a hero ... at times. And while he doesn't fight crime, he does protect nature and the people he cares about with the full might of his unique powers.

The person he's cared most about over the years is a woman named Abigail Arcane, also called Abby. Although she's the niece of his greatest enemy and is, at one point, married to his closest human friend, she eventually finds the love of her life in Swamp Thing himself. Although she takes the name Abigail Holland, that implications of that name aren't entirely accurate: Her second husband, and the father of her only child, is Swamp Thing. How did Abigail end up marrying one of the strangest and most soulful creatures in comic books? It took quite a long journey to get there, with several detours along the way. This is the story of Abby Arcane, Swamp Thing's beloved wife.

The devil's niece

The first Swamp Thing series, by creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, launched in late 1972. Abigail Arcane first appears in Swamp Thing #3. In this issue, Swamp Thing has been captured by mutants known as Un-Men and taken all the way to the Balkans to meet Dr. Anton Arcane, the evil scientist who created them. Arcane wants to steal Swamp Thing's powerful form for himself, to replace his own aged, frail body.

Swamp Thing is followed to the Balkans by Matt Cable, a handsome government agent who mistakenly thinks Swamp Thing is responsible for the deaths of Alec and Linda Holland. In fact, Swamp Thing remembers being Alec, and mourns his late wife, Linda. In the village, near Dr. Arcane's castle, Matt Cable meets a young nurse named Abigail Arcane, the doctor's niece. Abigail is marked by her white hair (interrupted by two black streaks), and some relatively minor psychic powers. Despite these unique attributes, she's an otherwise normal woman with a kind heart.

After Anton Arcane has apparently been killed, Abigail encounters the Patchwork Man, a Frankenstein-like monster who she soon realizes is her own late father, revived by his evil brother as a monstrosity. After the Patchwork Man sacrifices himself to save her life, Abigail elects to leave for America with Matt. Naturally, their paths remain entwined with Swamp Thing's.

Marrying a secret agent

At this point in his existence, Swamp Thing isn't really considering the possibility of a romantic relationship with a human. This is both because he thinks of himself as a monster, and because he is haunted by memories of Alec Holland's wife, Linda. Thus, these early Swamp Thing issues see Abby Arcane find love with Matt Cable, and Swamp Thing remain friends with both of them.

The couple eventually marries, and they settle down in Houma, Louisiana. At one point, Matt gains reality warping powers from a government experiment, which may also do some damage to his mental stability. But at the time, Matt puts that behind him, just as Abby puts her traumatic childhood in a family dominated by an evil and abusive uncle behind her. Forgetting that sort of stuff is, in all likelihood, easier when one is busy having adventures with Swamp Thing. In this era, there's always another monster or alien to encounter, another mad scientist to battle, another evil to thwart. But Matt and Abigail's traumas catch up with them in time, in the most literal and upsetting ways.

Abby's past comes back to haunt her

After legendary writer Alan Moore took over the second Swamp Thing series, Saga of the Swamp Thing, in 1984, the series got a whole lot darker. Matt Cable develops a drinking problem, which puts stress on his relationship with Abby. One night, after they have a fight, Abby leaves to find Swamp Thing. Matt goes to look for her, but he'd been drinking, and he crashes his car, suffering egregious wounds in the process. As he dies, a small, insect-like voice reaches out and offers him what seems like a second chance at life. However, this voice belongs to Anton Arcane, who possesses Cable's body for his own sinister use.

Arcane brings back with him other evil souls, and together, they bring Hell to Louisiana. Nobody suffers this ordeal more intensely than Abigail, who finds her abusive and lecherous uncle in place of the husband she thought she could trust. By the time Swamp Thing realizes Arcane is back, Abigail Cable is already dead. Arcane, now possessing Cable's reality warping powers, mocks Swamp Thing for his inability to save Abigail. However, Matt Cable's consciousness reemerges, restores Abby's body to life, and hurls Anton Arcane's soul down to Hell, before slipping into a coma from which he never awakens. Swamp Thing himself then journeys to the afterlife and retrieves Abby's soul, returning her fully to life.

Romancing an elemental

At this point in the series, Swamp Thing has learned that he was never really Alec Holland at all. Instead, he's a mutated plant being who inherited Holland's memories. He even finds Alec Holland's skeleton in the swamp and buries it, separating himself decisively from the past — and, accordingly, opening himself up to a life of his own. This life quickly comes to include Abigail Cable.

With her husband comatose and the pillars of her life reduced to rubble, Abby seeks comfort in Swamp Thing. It isn't long before they realize their feelings for each other are both mutual and romantic, and they begin a relationship. Since Swamp Thing is a plant, they have to get a little creative when it comes to physical intimacy. Swamp Thing finds he is able to join his consciousness with Abby's by allowing her to eat a vegetable grown from his body. This allows them to grow closer than ever before, and seals their bond forever.

Used as a pawn in Gotham City

Understandably, Abby and Swamp Thing choose to keep their relationship secret. However, it isn't long before they're exposed by a tabloid, as a salacious story about a woman's sexual relationship with an inhuman plant-creature. Swamp Thing is traveling with the magician John Constantine at the time, and Abby flees to Gotham City after everyone in Houma turns their back on her. There, she is arrested for her supposed crimes against nature.

When Swamp Thing finds out what has happened, he goes to Gotham and demands that the authorities return Abigail to him. When they refuse, he turns Gotham City into a jungle. His elemental powers are so strong, not even Batman can overcome them. Eventually, Abby is released, but their reunion is not a happy one. Having lured Swamp Thing out with Abby's release, government agents attempt to assassinate him with a multi-step plan designed by legendary bad guy Lex Luthor.

Although he appears to die in a fiery explosion, Swamp Thing's consciousness is actually sent into outer space. He has adventures across the galaxy before he manages to find his way back to Abby and their home in the swamp outside Houma. But there are still more obstacles yet to come.

Heather Locklear as Abby Arcane

The first Swamp Thing movie, 1982's Swamp Thing, is based on the 1970s' comics, and combines Abigail Arcane and Matt Cable into one character named Alice Cable. A brunette government agent played by Adrienne Barbeau, she is essentially a gender-swapped version of Matt. There are hints of a romance with Swamp Thing, but it doesn't go anywhere.

By the time The Return of Swamp Thing came out in 1989, on the other hand, Abby and Swamp Thing were an established couple in the comics, and an adaptation without her wouldn't make much sense. So Heather Locklear was cast in the role of Abby, although she kept her usual blonde hair instead of going with the traditional white with black streaks.

This version of Abigail Arcane is portrayed as Anton's stepdaughter, rather than his niece. She arrives at his estate by the swamp hoping to resolve her issues with him — and perhaps get some answers regarding the mysterious circumstances of her mother's death. Dr. Arcane is nice to her as a pretense, because he hopes to use her genetic material in one of his experiments. Already a plant lover, she takes to Swamp Thing as soon as she meets him. The end of the movie sees the two of them living happily ever after in the swamp.

Kari Wuhrer as TV's first Abby Arcane

The 1990 Swamp Thing TV series features Dick Durock, who played the title role in the previous Swamp Thing movies, back in the moss-green suit. But this show shares no real continuity with the movies, and there's no sign of Abby Arcane as audiences had previously known her. Instead, there's a new character named Abigail with no last name, played by Kari Wuhrer. She's a young human with psychic abilities who was grown from artificial DNA by a colleague of Dr. Arcane's. When a ship full of failed experiments Abby is aboard is destroyed, she manages to escape the death intended for her. She befriends Swamp Thing's friend Will, and becomes a recurring character during the second half of the first season.

This version of Abigail is never a romantic interest for Swamp Thing — which is a good thing, as she's too young for him. However, the name links her to the original character, and her status as another creation of mad science gives her a connection to Swamp Thing that few others have.

Abby has a baby, with John Constantine's help

Back in the comics, the elemental force of all plant life, known as the Green, thinks Swamp Thing is dead. The process of creating a new plant elemental is thus begun, with the burgeoning soul of that elemental becoming known as the Sprout. When Swamp Thing returns to Earth, the Green decides to destroy the Sprout, since it isn't needed after all. Swamp Thing and Abby don't want to see this innocent soul destroyed, however. As the couple has parental feelings towards the Sprout, they decide to give it life as their child. If they have a baby, they reason, the Sprout can be born as a human, and be raised to be a new kind of plant elemental. The only problem is that Swamp Thing is a plant, and, well, a plant can't get a woman pregnant. 

A unique plan is devised. Swamp Thing temporarily possesses the body of John Constantine, and uses his equipment to do the job. It's a little awkward at first, but love wins out, and Abby soon finds herself with child.

The next generation of elementals

The Sprout is born into the material world as Tefé Holland, the first plant elemental to take human form. She is named after a South American river that flows from the Parliament of Trees, the council of plant elementals Swamp Thing is expected to one day join. Tefé has a unique childhood, as she is raised in the swamp by her human mother and plant monster father. She is, at times, the target of evil forces who object to the future she represents, one of humanity in harmony with the Green. Fortunately, she has her parents to protect her — one of whom is one of the most powerful beings on the planet. It is during this time that Abigail takes the last name Holland as well, since everyone can see by now that she is Swamp Thing's wife.

In time — less time than normal, in fact — Tefé Holland grows up into a powerful young woman, and has her own adventures. In 2001, she even starred in her own Swamp Thing title, written by Brian K. Vaughan with art by Roger Petersen and Giuseppe Camuncoli. Although it was relatively short-lived, it's a whole lot of fun to see Tefé in action.

Abby Arcane is reinvented by the New 52

In 2011, the entire DC Comics line was reimagined as part of the New 52 reboot. Swamp Thing was no exception. Like most rebooted DC titles, the new Swamp Thing book, by writer Scott Snyder and artist Yanick Paquette, provided fans with a fresh start and a younger set of characters. In fact, it begins with a reborn, totally human Alec Holland. Although the new book reveals that there had been a previous Swamp Thing with Holland's memories, his tenure clearly wasn't as long as it had been in the original continuity. Similarly, the Abigail that appears in this book had been Swamp Thing's lover, but she is still a young woman in the present, not the middle-aged mother she'd become in previous stories.

Holland eventually accepts his destiny and becomes Swamp Thing, and from there, things veer even farther away from previous incarnations. Just as Swamp Thing is the avatar of the Green, Abby Arcane becomes the avatar of the Black, the elemental force of death and rot that exists in opposition to the Green. According to this run, a connection to the Black has always run in the Arcane family, and is responsible for some of Anton's evil. Abby manages to maintain her own moral center in this new form, however. Unfortunately, she and Swamp Thing can't be together: As avatars of life and death, they can't even touch. Thus, they're forced to say their goodbyes.

Crystal Reed as Abby Arcane on Swamp Thing

Crystal Reed gave the world a brand new Abigail Arcane in the 2019 Swamp Thing TV series. This Abby is a doctor working for the CDC who returns to her hometown of Marais, Louisiana, to investigate a mysterious illness. She hits it off with Alec Holland, but, of course, he ends up dead, a monster from the swamp rising in his place. Uniquely, this series never introduces Anton Arcane: The CDC connection gives Abby her own reason to cross paths with Alec Holland and his mysterious swamp. Matt Cable also appears in the series, but as a local police officer, rather than a federal agent. 

Unfortunately, the show leaves a lot on the table as far as the characters' relationships — a predicament definitely not helped by its untimely cancelation. It's hard not to get the impression that the writers of this series were sure they had much longer than the one season they ended up with to tell their story. Interestingly, after cancelation, the series began airing on the CW. This may open up the possibility of future seasons, although CW president Mark Pedowitz has said there are no definite plans in that direction.

Whatever happens with that show, Swamp Thing and Abigail Arcane have long since proven themselves one of the most beloved (and weirdest) romances in comic book history. It's just a matter of time before another version of their story rises again from the swamp.

Looper Newsletter
Endless Entertainment In Your Inbox
By submitting my email, I agree to the privacy policy