Sweet baby Jesus, I love Swamp Thing. Don’t worry, I won’t use this space to pluck the petals from a rose and explain all the ways. I do, however, want to take a moment and explain the bizarre period in both our lives when we met. If you’re not interested in the short jaunt down memory lane, feel free to scroll down to my Parliament script.
Let’s start in the late 1980’s. I was a kid who couldn’t get enough comics. I savored hitting up the racks at local convenience stores or supermarkets to catch up with the colorful, costumed heroes that made up universes I would get lost in for hours. I had it pretty rough as a youngster, so escapism via newsprint was a much needed and cherished pastime.
On one of my childhood comic hunts, keep in mind specialty shops were non-existent in my town at the time, I wandered into a dark little place known as a smoke shop. It was located directly adjacent to the railroad tracks, so how could I know if I was on the wrong side of those tracks without a little exploration?
Today it’s wild to think a ten-year-old boy could just stroll into store tailored to people’s vices unsupervised. I thank the heavens above that was the case. There were comics inside! Not the largest selection, and they were heavily outnumbered by adult magazines wrapped in semi-secretive poly bags, but nonetheless, there were comics! The first book I picked up was an odd bird fitting of the strange, cigar smoke filled environment I found myself in that day.
The cover was a striking image. A blue Swamp Thing floated within the eye socket of a skull. The header, above the awesome Swampy logo, read “Sophisticated Suspense”. Now to me it might as well had said “Not for you kiddo!”, so I nervously flipped open this mysterious mag.
I had absolutely no idea what was going on, none. The story flew right above my young mind, but it looked so cool! Plus, Swamp Thing was in space. Being the little fan that I was, I had been aware of Swamp Thing. A muck encrusted mockery of a man that resides in the bayou, so what the heck was he doing among the stars? I needed to know more, but first I must have this! I took the book to the chain- smoking cashier, slapped my seventy-five cents on the counter and with that, Swamp Thing #56 started a love affair that has lasted thirty-four years and counting.
When I arrived home, comic in hand, I remember quite clearly going over to the calendar on my wall, and for some reason, picking a random date in January of the following year and inscribing it “Day of the Swamp Thing”. I wanted to write my own Swamp Thing story and explore weird concepts. Prior to this my only aspiration was acquiring yellow lenses so I could make a Blue Beetle mask and hop the rooftops of my hometown. I suppose the influence Swamp Thing #56 had on me prevented my mother embarrassment, possible jail time, or perhaps an untimely death from falling off a building.
So, the script your about to read must be related to Swamp Thing #56, right? Well, not exactly. It does stem from Swampy’s time in space. In issue #60, Alan Moore wrote a trippy tale in which, while traveling through the cosmos, Swamp Thing is assaulted by an alien being. The narrative of the story is told from the alien’s perspective, as she explains to her children how she met their…father! That’s some crazy stuff right there. Problem is, or at least how I see it, the offspring are never referenced again anywhere.
As years went by, I was shocked nobody ever picked this up and ran with it. There are biomechanical Swampy babies out there. How could a concept that cool just be abandoned? I decided to grab a few influences, sprinkle them with real life experience, stir in some easter eggs, add a dash of time travel and season them with a whole lot of Arcane.
After mixing up this concoction in my mind I ended up an idea that goes something like this: A thief in the 1800’s makes the worst decision of his life, opening the door for him to become an unwitting accomplice to Anton Arcane, who believes by killing a scared child from the stars, he will doom the Parliament of Trees at the dawn of Planet Earth.
Keep in mind I’m no Alan Moore. Hell, despite how much I’d like to be, I’m not a professional writer either. There are bound to be blemishes and accepting them is appreciated. I just want to get this out into the world and I’m truly grateful you’re taking the time to read this first draft of issue one (and maybe telling me what you think). My hopes are it’s accessible to everyone and satisfying to hard core DC Comics/Swamp Thing fans alike.
On a random date in January 2021
* This story is intended for a five issue mini and is for mature audiences only*
Parliament of Trees #1
By David Schultz
Narration box: Somewhere along the southern border of Texas and Mexico, 1845.
Full page. We open with a desert landscape. The dirt cracked by heat. Not completely flat, there are some hills and ridges populated by warped cactus that look defeated by the sun. The lean one way or the other as if they are lazy, and given the opportunity would gladly lay down. There are some dry bushes and grass also scattered along the scene.
Panel One/ Long panel across top of the page:
Two men ride horses weighed down with packs. They move slowly. Nothing that lives can withstand the temperature without paying a price.
We creep closer now to see the finer details of our tired travelers. They are dressed in garb common to the era, covered in layers of dust and sweat. One has dark brown hair peeking from under his hat, this our main character Mason. The other is his friend, a shaggy blonde with an unkept beard named Billy.
Mason raises his hand as a signal to stop. Billy takes a swig from a filthy and nearly dry canteen.
Both lead men on horseback are in scene.
Billy: Mason, you sure that map is worth following anymore? We’re dry passed dead with no respite near. You said we was close hours ago!
Mason: There was supposed to be a cave where that ridge is, see?
Panel Five/ long across bottom of the page to achieve scope:
He points to the ridge ahead of them, where the cactus lean. It is far enough away it requires a squint to get a better view, which is exactly what both men do.
Billy stops squinting at the ridge and turns to Mason.
Billy: Cave?! We would be lucky to find a damn hole in the ground. Let alone a pile of stones fulla' treasure. Mason, you drug our behinds all this way all because you stole this cursed map off a damned fool. An I was more foolish to follow you! Talking wealth beyond our means and imo- imo-
Panel Two: Mason replies still squinting as he looks ahead.
Billy: Yeah, Immortality. Who needs it? All I want right now is a beauty with loose britches and to get out from under this sun. We been friends a long time and had our moments robbin’ and poachin’, but this here is subjecting ourselves to certain death! It’d be best to turn back.
Mason turns to address Billy directly who’s now dismounted his horse to stretch his muscles.
Mason: I told you from the very beginning, we aren’t looking for money. Money’s something that can be gained, lost or stolen. What we are aiming to find is rare. Power beyond your wildest dreams.
Billy: Well, I’m a simple man Mason. I judge wealth on whether I can count, drink or fuck it.
Mason holds up a map made of parchment. There is a broken wax seal with a calligraphed “A” on it. He smiles at the comment while studying the directions.
Mason: If you weren’t so damn stupid Billy, I’d accuse you of being clever.
Billy adjusts a pack on the back of his horse. Mason still sits upon his steed, holding the map in one hand.
Billy: This was a fancy feller you thieved the map offa', right?
Mason: Yep. Fancy as they come. Not a speck of dirt on the man if he stood in a pile of pig shit.
Billy: What the hell a man of means need out here anyhow? From what you been telling, doubt he’d ever drag his polished ass out this far for nuttin'.
Mason: It’s more than that. You had to hear him speak Billy. I don’t know how to explain it other than you hang on every word like it was some type of hypnotism. I dunno. There’s something special out here. I can feel it Billy, I swear it. Magic even.
Billy: Magic? Look Mason, I’ve always trusted yer instincts. Not completely sayin’ I ain’t now, and I been willing to choose a coffin for coin aplenty. But this wild yarn you been spinning and got yerself all twisted up in... well.
I’m tired, you’re tired. We been traveling for days now. Let’s just turn back while we still can, okay?
Aggravated, Mason throws the map at the ground.
Mason’s demeanor changes from anger to dejection.
Mason: (quietly) You’re right. Let’s get out of here.
Mason peers towards the ridge where the lazy cactus sit in hopes of what he’d been seeking would suddenly appear. Instead, he catches a glance of something wholly unexpected. There is a small dust cloud surrounding a cactus that now looks larger than the others.
Mason’s eyes widen despite the blistering sun shining in his face. He’s using his hand to shield his eyes.
Mason: Billy, am I finally losing my mind here or is that cactus…moving?
The image is clearer now. While unable to fully make out the form, a cactus is coming their way, and by the increased size of the dust cloud left in its wake; this creature is big and moving fast.
Billy mounts his horse in a panic after witnessing the same unbelievable sight.
Billy: Sweet Jaysis!
Full view of the charging creature. The monstrous cactus is misshapen and warped, an attempt to imitate the form of a man, and the results are grotesque. Its trunks are now arms, the hands are clubs covered in needles. Empty eye sockets and a shallow mouth imply rage. The once sturdy base has split to form legs in which to run with, leaving ripped, sinewy stems exposed. It is easily twice the size of an average man.
Billy pulls out his pistol and squeezes off a shot. BLAM!
The monster barrels into Billy’s horse, flipping them both.
Upon his panicked horse, Mason wildly lets off a shot that grazes the monster’s shoulder to no effect.
Billy is on his back. The shadow of the massive form blankets him. His eyes are wide, anticipating his own demise. Unable to breathe, he gasps out a final word.
The beast’s massive, clubbed hand comes down on him hard, smashing Billy’s skull and sending bloody fragments adorned with needles into the air.
The creature turns his hollow face in Masons direction. The objective of this monster is clear; murder anything made of flesh and bone.
Mason snaps the reigns on his horse. Run or die.
Mason: Fuck! I’m sorry Billy.
Mason looks straight ahead towards camera. The monster continues to pound his dead friend into the dirt, creating yet another dust cloud that rises in the distance as Mason rides away.
Narration Box- Redtooth, Texas 1887
An old man stares blankly ahead as he sits at a bar with an empty shot glass in his hand. It’s Mason. Despite a scraggly white beard, and the years creating countless creases in his skin; the eyes that once peered at the ridge remain the same. The shutter doors that mark the entrance to the saloon allow just enough light through their cracks to tickle the wooden planks that make up the floor.
Behind Mason, a handful of men are playing cards in the saloon. They sit at a round table that holds stacks of coins and drinks. One of the men has lost a hand. He’s a large, burly cowboy and not one to be trifled with.
Man 1: Crud!
The losing player slams his fist on the table, as he rises from his chair, spilling the drinks.
Man 2: What in the hell! Ya lost fair and square!
Man 1: Don’t mean I can’t be mad about it. Bart, get over here and clean up my mess.
The man turns to Mason who sits expressionless at the bar, oblivious to the event behind him.
Man 1: Maybe the old bastard gone deaf. Lord knows his brain is already softer than my sister’s teat.
Hey, Batshit Bart! I’m talkin’ ta you!
The man grips Mason’s shoulder hard and spins him around.
Mason: Huh? Wuzzat?
The boisterous cowboy holds Mason up by his collar.
Man 1: What’s the matter Batshit? Daydreaming about plants aiming to murder ya out in the desert?
The rest of the bar patrons roar with laughter.
Man 1: This useless old drunk used to be somebody. Ain’t that right Bart? You was once the toughest sunnabitch in Texas.
Man 1: Then one day, he and his compadre head out to Mexico lookin’ fer magic beans. But only Batshit here comes back, with wild talk of blood thirsty cactus. Ha!
The man releases his grip on Mason and postures for the others while continuing to recount rumors of Mason’s past.
Man 1: You see boys, not a soul believes the wild story Bart was spinning. So what he go an do? The once proud an mighty man here decides to drown himself daily. Sun up to sun down just killing bottles like he probably done in the dumb fuck that followed him out into the desert alla them years back.
Full view of the bar interior. The cowboys continue to laugh as Mason stands feeble.
Bartender: I think that’s enough now. Let him alone. I’ll tend to the mess.
The rowdy cowboy appears to settle his mood prior to continuing.
Man 1: Yeah, sure. Enough is enough. An just to be fair, suppose I woulda drowned my woes in whiskey too had I came home half a man with my ass fulla pricks!
He’s laughing so hard now, he doubles over.
Panel Three: The bully has a hand on his belly as he stands up straight again to wipe a tear from laughter from his eye.
Man 1: Hoo-hee!
Mason’s liver spotted fist taps him on the chin with a punch lacking force it once had. *THOCK*
Panel Five- Six:
Full shots of the man’s face post punch. First, he is shocked that Mason would even dare attempt such an act. Then a throbbing vein in his forehead represents his rage.
Man 1: Batshit, you dead.
Mason comes flying out the saloon doors head-first.
Mason then proceeds to trip down three steps, stumble over a water trough and land on his rear.
He leans back against the trough and closes his eyes. The mid-day sun shines brightly upon his weathered skin. The town that surrounds him is alive with activity. He cares none, content to sit after yet another humiliation he’s grown accustomed to.
Mason is suddenly covered by a shadow, exactly as Billy was before the cactus took his life all those years before.
Mason opens his eyes and is filled with terror. He leans farther back on the trough in a hopeless effort to escape what stands before him.
Panel One: A slim man stands in front of an elaborately adorned stagecoach. He is dressed in all white. Hat to boots. His skin is nearly as pale as his wardrobe. Next to him is a stunning woman with long, curly brown hair that extends past her shoulders. She is wearing a purple dress and black gloves. [Note to artist: Arcane looks like David Bowie’s Thin White Duke]
Arcane: Bartholomew Rexford Mason. At long last, we meet again.
Flashback panel that looks like an old sepia colored photograph. Arcane smiles wryly while holding the same map from the beginning of our story with wax seal intact.
Panel Three: Arcane extends his hand to help Mason stand up, but he refuses to release his grasp on the trough, as though he’s at the foot of a ghost.
Panel Four: Arcane wears a face of indifference.
Arcane: Hm. Miss Graham, help our friend Mr. Mason to his feet. We’ve got quite a journey ahead of us and little time to be laying in the dirt.
Graham: Of course, Mr. Arcane.
Panel Five: Miss Graham easily lifts Mason by his arm as if he were a rag doll. He doesn’t resist.
Panel Six: They are all loaded in the stagecoach now and Miss Graham shuts the door. Arcane and Mason sit on opposite sides, but we can see through the windows that while Arcane is smiling, Mason looks to be in a state of shock.
Panel One: Interior of the stagecoach. Quite lavish transport compared to anything of its day. The seats are cushioned velvet, and the wood paneling is elegantly carved. A ride fit for a king. The driver has set the two horses that pull it in motion, and they begin the ride out of town.
Anton pulls a shiny silver flask from his jacket.
Anton: Perhaps you would like a drink Bartholomew? To settle the nerves.
Mason: Nope. Reckon I’m dead. Spent enough time living wet.
Panel Two: Anton puts the flask back into his coat pocket.
Anton: He speaks! And here I thought the broken man had lost his ability to communicate. Fret not Mr. Mason, you are not dead yet.
Mason: Fret? Sir, last thing that concerns me is my own demise.
Anton: That’s rich coming from the person who once stole something very precious from me so he could attain power that only gods possess.
Panel Two: Mason folds his arms and continues.
Mason: So, you’re telling me I got tossed down some stairs to find a man I ain’t seen in years looking fresher than a newborn babe. In his company, he got a woman strong as a bull who just picks me up and places me in this fine wagon here to discuss the greatest wrong I ever committed in my useless life. If this is not my personal escort to hell, I must have banged my noggin harder than it hurt.
Panel Three: Arcane leans in.
Arcane: Ah. What would you say if I were to inform you this useless life, as just stated, has more significance than most would believe?
Panel Four: Mason is stone faced.
Mason: That I’m sitting across from a bold-faced fucking liar.
Arcane slumps back into his seat dissatisfied with Mason’s response.
Arcane and Miss Graham share a look with each other. There is an unspoken language at play here and Arcane raises an eyebrow at what wasn’t verbally said but mutually understood.
Arcane rubs his chin.
Arcane: Shall we talk about the map then?
Mason: That cursed scrap was lost to blood and dirt.
Arcane: And what did you find?
Mason: I don’t care to discuss it.
Arcane sits up and smiles wide akin to a viper with fangs teeming with poison. He is prepared to strike the rawest of nerves to make his point.
Arcane: But what is the harm if you are already dead Mr. Mason? You dare call me a liar when all you have done is speak mistruths across all of Texas? What was the ridiculous claim again? Ah yes, I remember now. A plant man murdered your friend! Hilarious material indeed.
Mason bursts from his seat and grabs Arcane by his jacket. His face displays all the rage it can muster.
Mason: Wasn’t no man. It was a damn monster, and you know it!
Content with the answer, Arcane gently grabs Mason’s wrists. He releases his grip on the jacket.
Arcane: That I do. Miss Graham?
Panel Three- Four:
Miss Graham rises and guides Mason back to his place. She takes the seat next to him.
Full shot of the carriage interior. Arcane rests his elbow on his knee and gestures with his other arm. The windows that once were a view of the exterior landscape are now dark.
Arcane: I am going to give you the truth in its entirety. But first, as much as you believe or wish that you are finally dead, this isn’t the case. Understood?
Mason: (quietly) Yeah.
Close in on Arcane as he continues to emote with his hands while explaining.
Arcane: The map did lead to the power you sought. You just happened to arrive at the wrong time. What we are truly looking for operates within a certain pattern, its own… rhythm. Discovering the site itself was being protected prior to arrival was excellent news. Your ordeal proved my suspicions were correct, and what I want is there now.
Mason is clearly agitated by what he has just heard and replies angrily.
Mason: I told you already. The map is gone.
Arcane: My dear man, the map was only intended to serve as lure to procure my bait. Why would I need it now that I have you?
Mason: What did you just say?
Arcane: You are the map Bartholomew! The closer we get, the more they will try to stop us, signaling that we are making them uncomfortable. But your current condition just absolutely will not do.
Mason’s anger and frustration with Arcane has turned inward. He balls up his fists in rage and rests them on his legs.
Mason: You knew what was gonna happen and sent us into the desert to get destroyed.
Arcane: Absolutely by design.
Arcane carries on gleefully. Mason’s misery is his medicine.
Arcane: We are all pawns in a grander game and there are still significant moves to be made. With that, I recognize you have suffered greatly, to show my appreciation for your sacrifices I offer a gift.
Mason: Keep it. There is nothing you can give that will replace what was taken.
Arcane: Oh no, I insist! Wouldn’t you like to be rid of regret? What you are about to receive is the opportunity to heal all the wounds that I, and others, have inflicted upon you. Let’s work together to erase the past.
Miss Graham leans and grabs Mason’s cheeks with one hand.
Unable to resist, Mason’s eyes open wide as Miss Graham kisses him on the mouth.
Mason closes his eyes and submits to Miss Graham’s soft, warm lips. A euphoric sensation he thought he would never experience again.
This page is a series of panels that toggle between a long kiss and Mason’s memories of the past 42 years. They flash from the original attack, public ridicule, an abandoned suicide attempt with his pistol, and his subsequent alcohol abuse. (Note: All these events will be detailed in an upcoming issue) As we switch from memories to the kiss, Miss Graham’s flesh deteriorates more. It cracks, flakes, then falls to nothingness. At the same time, Mason grows younger until he returns to the age he was at the beginning of our story.
Miss Graham is now gone, with only a few of her flakes floating about in the air around Mason. He looks at his rejuvenated hands. The windows of the stagecoach have also reverted to normal, detailing traditional old-west scenery.
Mason touches his face to feel the changes. His scraggly beard is gone, and his skin is tight. Amazed and exuberated beyond belief, he can’t help but smile.
Mason: HA! Not a lick of this can be legitimate!
The reality of all that’s transpired hits Mason like a brick to the face. As such, Mason’s mood takes a sudden and serious turn.
Mason: I may not be dead, but surely, I sit in the presence of the devil and if I have a soul… it no longer belongs to me.
This elicits a smirk from Arcane.
Arcane: The devil? No, I am from the future.
On the ridge where the cactus leaned, there’s now rocks stacked to form the mouth of an entrance that leads underground. The remaining text is represented in narration boxes.
Arcane: But your soul most certainly belongs to me. In many ways, it always has.
The rest of the page consists of follow shots detailing the path underground. Close up of the entrance and the jagged stones.
Arcane: You and I are about to embark on a sanative journey Mason, but we are not alone.
This panel is dark.
Arcane: In the darkness there is a frightened child searching for it’s father.
There is another rounded door framed by rocks in the distance, illuminated by a green hue.
Arcane: We will find it, kill it….
We end with another full-page spread. Inside the room lies a glowing green creature that is a combination of plant matter and machine. It looks like a mutated version of the alien Swamp Thing from Vol.2 #60. [Note to artist: Add computer chips imbedded in it’s skin, metal tubing as exposed veins, etc. Feel free to go as far as your imagination will take you to create this new hybrid being]
Arcane: …and destroy the Parliament of Trees before they begin.
The creature speaks in orange word balloons.
Creature: Holland *BZZT* <Alien language font>
< Series of numbers in code form>*BZZT*
Locate <Alien language font> Father *BZZT*
END OF ISSUE ONE