Is Swamp Thing male?

Is Swamp Thing male? If you're anything like me, you've probably asked yourself that question dozens of times over the years. 

Until very recently, whether or not the DC Comics plant monster Swamp Thing can properly be described as "male" hasn't really mattered that much beyond serving as fuel for late night dorm room arguments and inspiring some awkward Googling. But with the character's presence in Injustice 2, a fighting game for the PS4 and Xbox One that was released last month to largely positive reviews, the question of Swamp Thing's sex and gender is suddenly and surprisingly relevant. 

Why it matters

The reason it matters whether Swamp Thing is male is because, as I wrote about earlier this weekInjustice 2 features a sub-set of gear (equipment you earn while playing the game) that gives characters bonuses against opponents with certain traits. Certain gloves might do more damage against "superpowered" foes, for example, or a helmet might protect against damage from "mechanical" enemies. 

And, yes, there are certain rare gear sets that provide bonuses against "males." We don't know how many of these gears sets there are yet, because there isn't a full public list of all the gear in the game anywhere, but the community has so far reported gear for Harley Quinn, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman that boosts damage against males.   

As I reported in my previous article about the trait-busting gearInjustice 2 doesn't explicitly list which traits apply to which characters. In some cases it's easy to figure out (Superman has superpowers, Batman doesn't) but with others it's much less clear (does the Green Lantern count as "magic"?). This can present a challenge when approaching the more difficult fights in the game's Multiverse Mode (where trait-busting gear applies) because you don't always know which items to use to give you the greatest advantage against the specific opponents you are facing. 

So Injustice 2 doesn't tell us outright whether anti-male equipment works against Swamp Thing. What does the character's history say? 

A brief history of Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing was first introduced as a character in the 1970s, but as with many comic book stars a later reinvention of the character has since become the more popular and "official" origin story. The character was updated by writer Marty Pasko in a 1982 series (timed to capitalize on the release of the Wes Craven film) and was then taken to a new level once in the hands of Alan Moore (today best known for works like Watchmen and V for Vendetta).

While the original Swamp Thing was a scientist who turned into a swamp monster as a result of an accident, Moore reinvented the character in the Saga of the Swamp Thing series by explaining that the scientist (Dr. Alec Holland) in fact died in that accident, but that the surrounding vegetation of the swamp absorbed the consciousness and memories of the scientist and created a new conscious being which believed it was Alec Holland. 

While Swamp Thing identified as Alec Holland for a time, once the character became aware of its true origins (and developed a greater connection with "the Green," an elemental force representing plant life) it largely left that identity behind. Different writers, universe reboots, and multiverse incarnations have taken the character in different directions over the years, but it has largely remained "true" and canon that Swamp Thing is and always was a plant, not a human being. And while the terms "male" and "female" can apply to plants, those terms don't seem to apply to Swamp Thing in the same way (especially considering the character is an amalgamation of plant material, not one single plant). 

What the experts say about Swamp Thing

As it turns out, some very smart people have already taken a very serious look at sex and gender in Swamp Thing. Some of this analysis can be found in the collection Plant Horror: Approaches to the Monstrous Vegetal in Fiction and Film in an essay titled “Monstrous Relationalities: The Horrors of Queer Eroticism and ‘Thingness’ in Alan Moore and Stephen Bissette’s Swamp Thing.” In this fascinating piece, Robin Alex McDonald and Dan Vena (both Cultural Studies PhD. candidates) tackle the complex history of the Swamp Thing character, exploring the identity crisis that results when the character learns it can never be human "again" because it was never human in the first place. They also explore the character's romance with Abby Holland, a psychedelic experience which at one point sees the boundaries between the two characters essentially erased.  

I reached out to McDonald and Vena for a summary of their thoughts on the question of Swamp Thing's identity. Here's what they had to say: 

“Swamp Thing’s gender at first seems cut and dry — he’s a ‘he’, in the sense that Swamp Thing is supposed to be Alec Holland. But Moore and Bissette’s pivotal re-writing of the comic canon (which presumably will still inform writers for The New 52) made it clear that Swamp Thing wasn’t a man after all, but a plant... and how can you superimpose the concept of gender onto a plant? A plant cannot engage with human logics of a sexed body, of romance and intimacy, of time and space. Thus, the impulse to situate Swamp Thing as anything more or less than a ‘thing’ — as a proud interloper that refuses definition — only serves to simplify the beautiful complexity of this superhero.”

As is the case with many comic book questions, "Is Swamp Thing male?" turns out to be much more complicated than you would first expect, and only grows more complex the more you research the character.  

So is Swamp Thing male in Injustice 2? 

The question remains: should you equip your Harley Quinn Lunatic Fringe gear to get a 25% damage bonus against males if you're facing Swamp Thing? 

Because we here at GameCrate don't have access to any of the rare anti-male gear in Injustice 2 ourselves we can't currently test whether it boosts damage against Swamp Thing, but as you can see in the image above there are places in the game where the character is referred to as "he." For simplicity's sake and because most players will consider Swamp Thing male without giving it a second thought, it's very likely that Injustice 2 does apply the "male" trait to Swamp Thing. 

We'll update this piece with word from the game's PR folks if they provide an official answer one way or the other (but it would be great if Injustice 2 made it clear which characters have which traits in the game so we could know for sure).  If you're looking for some Multiverse gear loadout strategy in the meantime, anti-male gear is a good bet for the same reason anti-hero gear is better than anti-villain gear: because there are more males and heroes in the game, so you'll be facing them as opponents more often. 

The world of the Injustice video games is distinct and separate from that of mainstream DC comics or films (you can read our interview with the writer behind the original Injustice comic series for more on this distinction), so we can't be certain how the game's version of Swamp Thing relates to other versions of the character. Complicating things even further, Injustice 2's Multiverse Mode battles are presented as taking place in different universes in the larger DC Comics multiverse, which means that the opponents you fight in this mode are technically distinctly different incarnations of the characters from those that appear in the official Injustice 2 story mode and the associated comic series.

It would be impractical and frustrating if the developers at NetherRealm changed which traits (superpowered, villain, hero, etc.) each character possessed based on the few lines of lore used to describe each Multiverse battle, so we have to assume these descriptors are the same no matter which version of a character you are fighting. That means your villain-busting boots will still work against Joker even on a world in which he's a hero, and your anti-male cape will probably protect you against Swamp Thing, because odds are good Injustice 2 defines the character as a male. 

That definition may not satisfy all Swamp Thing fans, but with the character's appearance in Injustice 2, the Justice League Dark animated feature, and the upcoming (though seemingly troubled) live-action movie, Swamp Thing is more culturally relevant than it has been in decades. And playing as Swamp Thing in Injustice 2 is such a blast that fans should be willing to forgive a bit of simplification of one of the most complicated aspects of the character.