Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.
Dimensions of Power in the DCU
DC readers need to know about The Green, The Red, The Clear, The Grey, The Black, and The Speed Force like children need to know the capital cities of every state.
We all know what we get with Superman and Batman, but some heroes are a small part of a larger picture.
Sometimes heroes are more than they seem on the surface. Characters like The Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Aquaman, and The Flash were introduced with simplistic origins only to have them evolve into a more sophisticated backstory. In these cases, we find a new wrinkle in the way their powers work. Each is like an onion where after one layer is peeled back, a new facet that drives readers to know more is revealed. Some of these characters are tied to an entire reservoir network of power that makes them almost godlike.
These heroes are more complicated than an orphaned boy who survives a lone gunman or an alien baby who crash lands in rural Kansas. They are tied to elemental networks that make them into forces to be reckoned with.
The Green is an elemental force network that connects all green plant life within the universe. When the consciousness of Alec Holland became the elemental known as the Swamp Thing, he became connected with The Green. It's not a job anyone wants, and the application process is quite painful. Every man who has become an elemental died as a human torch on the way to his grave. From there, they re-emerge as plant elementals.
The Green, through the Parliament of Trees, produces one elemental guardian at a time to work on and protect its plant network web. It gives each earth elemental a whole spectrum of powers and abilities. When you consider that The Swamp Thing is neither a man nor plant-thing but the consciousness of a man who can grow new bodies from whatever bit of plant life is native to wherever he is, he is practically indestructible.
The best trick Alec Holland as The Swamp Thing learned was to send his consciousness into the green and rapidly grow somewhere else on the planet. It's quick transportation through the Green to anywhere plants can grow. He can also animate several bodies at once, although doing that takes some practice. Holland uses the green as an intelligence network as it's more or less like a hive mind. When other plants sense things, he knows about it.
The Green, itself, is conscious. The field picks its champion. Once it does, each of the elementals must discover their relationship to the field through self-discovery. Even if an elemental is unaware of its relationship to The Green, the field will still care for it through the nature of what it is. Any limb amputations or injuries that should come to an unenlightened elemental will eventually grow back and heal quickly. Once the elemental becomes aware of its relationship to The Green, it can regrow or heal any missing parts at will.
Eventually, plant elementals retire into the green. Each goes into a long meditation and then stops moving and interacting with the world. When the meditation is over, after a few centuries, their minds become enmeshed within The Green and they join the Parliament of Trees.
Holland's powers include using the Green to heal others from fungal infections and poisons by driving the infections out. He used this trick when Superman was infected by a rare Kryptonian fungus and healed him within The Green.
What the Green is to plants, the Red is to animal life.
Unlike The Green, many heroes can access the Red field network simultaneously. Heroes of The Red are the Animal Man (Buddy Baker), Vixen (Mari McCabe), the B’Wana Beast (Mike Maxwell), and Beast Boy (Garfield Logan aka Changling), among others. The Red consists of the energy of every animal that has ever lived on Earth.
The Red is a force network web that unites all animals. It is a morphogenetic field. A practitioner of The Red morphogenetic field can channel powers, abilities, and even attributes of any animal it joins with. Buddy Baker, the current Animal Man, has been able to use multiple animal attributes simultaneously. He has used the strength of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the flight of a bird, the comparative speed of an ant, the color camouflage of a chameleon, and the reproduction of an amoeba.
Others like Vixen use an interface such as her totem necklace to channel these attributes one at a time. Beast Boy uses The Red morphogenetic field to imitate any non-human animal he can imagine. The B’Wana Beast mixes and combines other animals to create creatures the world has never seen.
People connected intimately with The Red have empathy toward other animals and can communicate directly with them. In many cases, they can control them to some degree or sometimes even possess them.
The field also includes human beings. Animal Man has used his powers to not only possess humans but also to create a new copy of his original body after it was killed.
The current avatar of The Red is Buddy Baker’s daughter, Maxine. The Red is controlled by the Parliament of Limbs where former avatars come to eventually rest, much like elementals of The Green do.
The Clear/The Blue
The Clear is also known as The Blue.
It is the morphogenetic field for all sea life. If you’ve ever wondered how Aquaman can communicate with all of the creatures of the deep, this is how he does it. Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, through his genetic birthright as King of Atlantis, can tap into the Clear's morphogenetic field.
First and foremost, Aquaman (like the Swamp Thing and Animal Man) can use its morphogenetic field to communicate with, command, and possess aquatic life. He can sense emotions from the sea creatures as far as the other side of the planet as well because he is linked to the field.
Secondly, he can control water as a hydrokinetic. He can reshape it and turn it solid. When Aquaman lost his hand he made a new one created with hard water. He can use this power to make mini-tidal waves when he’s in close proximity to the ocean. In addition to his massive strength, telepathy, and royal privilege as the undersea king, he's a formidable ally and dangerous foe.
The Clear is controlled by the Parliament of Waves. Much like The Green and The Red, it is made of former avatars.
Every time I think of The Grey, I want to clean out my refrigerator.
It’s hard to describe what The Grey is exactly, but for the most part, it’s fungus. It’s the crap that grows on meatloaf when it’s left in the fridge for a couple of months. When people see it, they don’t even want to touch it.
In any event, The Grey is very much like The Green, only The Grey originated from a planet that blew up. A meteorite with some of its fungus landed on Earth and spread across the planet. For a long time, it coexisted peacefully with The Green . . . until recently.
It’s been described as slimy with an uncontrollable predisposition to infiltrate and take control, much like a virus.
The Grey feeds on decay and, like most fungi, it breeds best in the dark. It has no Parliament as of yet, although it does have an avatar. The Grey’s avatar is Miki from Earth-Prime (in the new 52). Like the Swamp Thing, it can move within its network but only through fungal life like mushrooms and things like that.
Another of The Grey’s agents is the plant monstrosity, Solomon Grundy. As noted by others who have fought or examined Grundy, he is made of plant materials and has been known to bleed sap.
In a Pre-Crisis tale, Alec Holland’s Swamp Thing had run tests on the monster only to discover that not only was Grundy not alive, but whatever he was, was not like him at all as a plant. Solomon Grundy has replicated within swamp waters like a virus, and by that note, his duplicates have been killed by a unique strain of weed killer antidote made by Star Labs.
The Black is also known as The Rot. It is exactly what you think. It’s a network of rotten dead things. It’s dead plants, dead people, dead animals, dead everything. It's necrotic tissue.
Like the other networks, the Black is integrated with all things decaying and rotting—which is just charming. The avatar of The Black is Anton Arcane as well as any of the others from the Arcane line, including the Swamp Thing's wife Abigail. The avatar of The Black can drain the life force from living things, control necrotic matter (i.e. create zombies), and raise the dead. This is how the DC Universe can make zombies outside of using black power rings. When the dead walk, it might be because of The Rot's avatar.
The very purpose of The Black is to work against the networks of The Green, The Red, and The Clear (and possibly The Grey, too) as all of those are living systems and The Black is a system driven to making things die.
The Speed Force
The Speed Force is in this article because, much like the other networks, it is an extra-dimensional energy source which not only interacts with people but also is the force of universal motion that propels things forward.
It's also the afterlife for all speedsters - much like the parliaments within the other zones. When speedsters travel fast enough they can actually work within the Speed Force as a physical place. Once there, he or she can communicate with past speedsters presumed dead or have joined with it.
Much like the others, this energy nexus is a network of sorts. Accomplished manipulators of the Speed Force can sense the presence of other speedsters (Max Mercury from The Flash did this often).
The benefits of the Speed Force is that it provides the energy for speedsters - like fuel. A byproduct of this is an invisible protective aura that shields them from the air friction. Without this aura a speedster would burn up when they used their powers.
This energy replaces their own personal stores of caloric energy. Prior to accessing it, Wally West (formerly Kid Flash and the Silver Age Flash’s successor) had to consume mass quantities of food to fuel his powers. This limited him to whatever calories were available within his body. If he went past that caloric limit his body would cannibalize itself.
Other benefits of The Speed Force are energy projection, temporary intangibility, time travel, speed mind with total recall (the ability to rapidly absorb massive amounts of information and retain it at superspeed), metabolism acceleration and deceleration (instant wound healing), age manipulation, and chronokinesis (that ability to adjust their personal time speed in fast forward or rewind).
More adept speedsters can lend or remove speed from other speedsters or fast moving objects to either speed them up or slow them down.
There is also a negative Speed Force used by villains like Professor Zoom (the Reverse-Flash) which negates the Speed Force in others as well as instantly remove its protective aura speedsters with painful consequences. The negative Speed Force manifests as red energy.
Creative Pseudo Physics and Metaphysics
The Swamp Thing
The Speed Force
There were other fields I could have mentioned, but they didn’t have great snazzy color names that went with them.
For example, the field that Sandy Hawkins (aka Sand or Sandman III) and Terra use is linked to the earth. While both of these characters certainly have relationship with the planet, they are not part of any kind of geokinetic field that unites all earth elementals to it. Some would call this the Gaia Theory. Others would call it creative writing.
The concept of an earth “intellectus” has worked with such fictional characters like Harry Dresden in The Dresden Files. Harry's kinship with the island of Demonreach, a power so profound that even with its limits to an uninhabited island, the moment Dresden steps foot on the land he instantly knows everything happening within its parameters.
The DC Universe approximates that with both Sand and Terra as both characters have deep empathy with the planet. They somehow know when and where it’s “hurting”.
With Sand it’s a bit more intimate though. As his body is currently made up of silicon instead of carbon, he can phase with the earth. The planet is like an ocean he could swim through. He can also mentally manipulate the earth around him and tap nearby lava flows, creating volcanic eruptions. His relationship to the planet would suggest a field network, but no writer has dubbed it any name like “The Brown”.
The point of this article was to talk about extradimensional networks that have a fundamental connection to nature. These networks bequeath extra-normal powers to an avatar. In the case of The Swamp Thing, The Green represents a full group consciousness of plant life and connects with him on a physical, psychic, and spiritual level. The same can be said with Buddy Baker, The Animal Man. His connection to animal life and animal DNA makes him arguably one of the most powerful beings on the planet. When Grant Morrison took the character he took the raw potential for the character and made him a powerful representative of the animal kingdom. He is its first animal “elemental”.
Alan Moore took The Green and made spiritual, supernatural, mystic connections to the earth’s biosphere with a character like the Swamp Thing. Before he'd gotten to him this character was so done that the very protagonist was left with several bullet wounds to his head. When Moore reintroduced the character in The Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 in “Anatomy Lesson”, the character is so dead, that the story started with the Swamp Thing’s autopsy.
Moore’s metaphysical transformation started with the premise that everything we knew about Alec Holland and the Swamp Thing was completely wrong. Holland was dead the moment his lab exploded. His body’s consciousness was absorbed by the swamp’s ecosystem through a process where consciousness was transferred through the consumption of foodstuffs. The new premise wasn’t that Holland was a man transformed into a plant creature but a plant creature that thought it was a man. The illusion was that a plant started to think like a human and had to learn how to be like a plant again. What we learn later is this process repeats over and over again from decade to decade like a cycle.
In addition to the Swamp Thing we have his main antagonist Anton Arcane as the avatar of The Rot. Arcane, in this case, is truly the enemy of all things living and proves that there is a difference between living and existing.
Solomon Grundy, another plant-based creature whose mindlessness is shown through a semi-supernatural event combined with his physical anatomy, is part of The Grey. In reality, Grundy is just life redefined as an imperfect monstrosity.
In all of these things, I think the biggest revelations come with The Clear and The Speed Force.
With The Clear, we can now reevaluate its champion, Aquaman, from just being an amphibious fish-talker to a hero truly in touch with a kingdom which spans three-fifths of the earth. The combination of literally being an Arthurian legend underwater and guardian of the sea is nothing to be sneezed at. His telepathic and hydrokinetic powers to manipulate water make him a much more powerful character than his Marvel counterpart, Prince Namor the Submariner. Given the logistics of any man whose most fragile body part (his eyes) can withstand the metal crushing pressures of the ocean's sea floor where a bathyscaphe dare not go, must have mighty strength and density.
Now, top that off with the ability to summon squalls and mini-tidal waves. The Clear grans him a native intelligence from every bit of sea life from coral reefs to whales. That's intellectus.
When we look at the Flash, his speed is practically limitless. His limitation is really only how fast he wants to go or can imagine. Despite the consequences of joining with the Speed Force, the Flash is powered by a practically infinite amount of energy that could possible warp space or destroy the world if he travels too fast within the atmosphere.
Each of the avatars and heroes understands power and responsibility. Even with The Rot, there are consequences to making too many zombies or letting that kind of power grow beyond the avatar’s control.
All of this scientific pseudo physics only makes for better and more plausible storytelling.
We as readers and geeks look to make logical assumptions based on the rules the writers make up. We pay good money for the stories comic book writers come up with. When the storytelling is good, we’ll keep buying issue after issue to see how each story ends. When the stories are bad – really bad - fans can only shake their heads and wonder aloud what the hell the writers were thinking.
Now with rules more akin to the Gaia theory, we can read real stories that challenge our minds and our long-standing beliefs.
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on August 26, 2019:
You’re welcome. Swamp Thing is on now and I’m sure people are wondering about the Green and the Rot.
Crematoria on August 24, 2019:
Man, I haven't found a summary of these DC Forces anywhere! thank you so much for whittling it all down to something simple and easy to understand. :)