The Swamp Thing #9 reveals that DC’s foremost protector of the Green has had a very important role and effect on the overall universe.
WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for The Swamp Thing #9, on sale now from DC Comics.
The DC Universe is filled with wonders that seem impossible by our current technological and medical standards including staffs harnessing cosmic energies, miracle pills and steroids that grant superpowers, and rays that can heal almost any injury.
Even though these wonderful technologies exist, it’s never really been asked how they came to be. Many times, it’s explained that a particular society is more advanced (i.e. the Amazons) or that the person who invented the tech is a genius. However, The Swamp Thing #9 (by Ram V, Mike Perkins, Mike Spicer, and Aditya Bidikar) sheds light on how at least one company in the DC Universe was able to change the world, and the explanation shares some all-too-familiar real-world parallels.
As of late, the main “villain” of The Swamp Thing is actually the current protagonist’s former employer. Levi Kamei began the run as an employee of Prescot Industries, a pharmaceutical company known for many of its innovations in the biomedical industry. However, as the story has unfolded, it has become clear that Prescot’s methods are at best, suspect, and at worst, criminal. It’s been established that they were lobbying to exploit and plunder the natural resources of Kaziranga National Park, a vast forest in Assam and the place where Levi was born. Furthermore, Levi’s employment with Prescot and his apparent support for their actions caused a rift between him and his family.
Issue #9 reveals that Prescot’s transgressions go all the way back to the beginning of the company hundreds of years ago, and links it directly to the protector of the Green. In 1784, a British trader named William Dalton found something very special: the petrified corpse of one of the past Swamp Things, which had been subsumed in the roots of an Indian banyan tree. William removed the body from the roots of the tree and took it home with him, at the time considering it a mere curiosity.
It was not until many years later when William’s son hired an American scientist, Edwin Prescot, that it became apparent what they had. Since then, almost all of Prescot Industries’ accomplishments, innovations, and contributions in the biomedical sphere have been derived from the dead body of a Swamp Thing discovered over 200 years ago.
While this is a fictional occurrence, this sequence of events shares eerie similarities with the real-world phenomenon of biopiracy, which is the appropriation and/or exploitation of biological resources (particularly medicinal plant extracts) native to a particular country or territory without fairly compensating the people or government of said country or territory.
Here, a British trader literally rips a Swamp Thing’s body from the roots of an ancient forest. And while completely fabricated and impossible in reality, this is reflective of real-world practices.
Unfortunately, biopiracy has been a phenomenon that is far too common in the real world. Many Western countries have profited from the historical plundering of resources from other parts of the world. Corporations, in particular, have profited from the patenting of medicinal techniques that have long been part of the cultural knowledge and traditions of indigenous peoples. Such examples include the exploitation by Western biomedical firms of medical patents utilizing native Indian plants and herbs like the neem tree, turmeric, tamarind, and Darjeeling tea, and India is unfortunately not the only society to suffer.
However, these medical advancements have benefited many people around the world, indicating that it is not inherently wrong to benefit from them. However, it’s a separate issue whether or not indigenous cultures were fairly treated or compensated for their contributions and role in discovering these medicines. And while the current run on The Swamp Thing barely scratches the surface on this topic, it still calls attention to the often-ignored reality of how the world has gained many of the medicines we count on today.
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