Saga of the Swamp Thing #2
by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben (Vertigo, 2009)

This volume covers Swamp Thing nos. 28-34 and Swamp Thing Annual No. 2. Now almost 25 years old, it's long past time to rediscover the writing that made post-Comics Code comics great again. DC's re-release of Alan Moore's earliest, best mainstream work makes that trip back to the 1980s possible.

Moore worked nothing short of a small miracle: he made a comic book about a humanoid mass of vegetable matter into a compelling read about society whose issues are still relevant today.

Taking up where previous writer Martin Pasko left off, Moore gave both the title and character a complete makeover. He did away with all the supporting characters from Pasko's year-and-a-half run and focused on creating a larger role for the Sunderland Corp. He repositioned Swamp Thing not as a man turned into a monster but as a being called an "earth elemental," one of many defenders (since the dawn of time, apparently) of "the Green," a sort of Jedi-like life force that connects all living things on Earth.

Moore's Swamp Thing is, or rather, was, Alec Holland, a deceased scientist whose psyche was imprinted on the being known as Swamp Thing. Not a human being underneath a plant-like substance, but an actual plant, the earth elemental Swamp Thing absorbed Alec at the moment of his death in an explosion, courtesy of Sunderland Corp. Alec himself is well and truly dead but his essence lives on.

This arc of the saga is basically concerned with delineating Swamp Thing's relationship with his human essence, his place as a defender of the Green, and his relationship with Abby. There is also a special guest appearance by Cain and Abel from the House of Mystery, as well as Walt Kelly's Pogo.

Moore gave the new incarnation of Swamp Thing a halo of the bygone days of the EC (Educational Comics) line of horror comics by adopting its literary style. He also pushed the boundaries of visual creativity in the same way EC did in its pioneering and much-acclaimed art. As a result, each issue of Swamp Thing, from the cover throughout the whole story, was a sumptuous visual feast that made you return to linger over them long after other titles were bagged and filed, while the taut, intuitive writing made for the kind of reading that literally sparked a revolution in the way comics were created.

Swamp Thing No. 31 was the first comic to hit the newsstands with the label "Sophisticated Suspense," because it was the first comic to be sold without the Comics Code Authority stamp of approval. Although it explored some fairly dark areas, which might seem tame today, the controversy at the time was considerable. Still, it was the hottest title DC had at the time, and they chose to deal with the Code simply by ignoring it. It would turn out to be a watershed moment in comics history that would ultimately be part of a real renaissance in the industry.

By following the EC playbook of combining edge-of-the-envelope stories and superior illustrations, Moore single-handedly ushered in the most creative period DC had seen since the Silver Age. It would jump start the British Revolution and change mainstream comics for the next couple of decades, in ways that are still being explored today. Lovers of Moore's work will enjoy the trip down memory lane. Those discovering it for the first time will see for themselves the "big bang" that started a whole new way of writing comics.

review by
Mary Harvey

21 August 2010

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