Well everyone it’s December and like last year I throw out the plan and review what I want.
While you may think you know Swamp Thing as Alec Holland a scientist who got mutated into a plant monster, Alan Moore creator of Watchmen drastically changed him, and in the end made the best version of the character (which ties into my point about perceived images of characters). Everyone thinks of Swamp Thing as Alec Holland and that’s the version that made it to crappy movies and cartoons. Alan Moore removed Holland from Swamp Thing. Oh he still played a role in Swamp Thing’s creation and the events that took place before Alan Moore’s run still happened (a lesson DC really needs to remember) The nature of the character is drastically altered right in the second issue, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The story begins in issue 20 of the Saga of the Swamp Thing, and we see a dark almost gothic horror style artwork accompanying Alan Moore’s story done by artists Dan Day, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Tatjana Wood and John Costanza. It starts with Swamp Thing looking over the remains of previously arch enemy Arcane but your eyes are drawn to this strange horror style of artwork only for the issue to end with Swamp Thing being gunned down by men posing as the army. It is the next issue where the real shocks of the tale happen, as a post mortem done by DC villain Jason Woodrue aka the Floronic man discovers facts that don’t make sense. Seeing the autopsy done in this artwork combined with haunting analytical study is both intriguing and slightly unsettling as the Floronic man makes a shocking analysis. Swamp Thing isn’t, and never was Alec Holland but mutated plants that absorbed all his knowledge and memories. And in one issue Alan Moore changed Swamp Thing from being a man turned into a plant, to a plant that thought it was a man.
I try not to spoil too much as the story is just that deep and intriguing. With the new idea of what Swamp Thing is the story begins to fully grasp what all this means and issue 22 has some truly nightmarish imagery. It leads to a brief moment where Woodrue affected by the green (a sort of sentient force of all plants) lays siege to human settlements. We even get to see the events viewed by the Justice League (yes them).
Alan Moore rebooted and retconned what Swamp Thing was away from just another mutated human scientist to a living force of nature, and did it so expertly that it introduced concepts into the DC universe that stick around to this day. You may think “oh Swamp Thing that scientist that got mutated into a plant” yet here we are the best and definitive version of the character, where the opening tale is a dark horror themed story that changed that. And yes this is the best version of the character, the version you think you knew is nothing compared to what he became here, which was ANNOYINGLY changed decades later in the conclusion to brightest day…
Once the opening story is done you get some truly scary imagery as Swamp Thing teams up with Etrigan the demon and he faces off against the stuff of nightmares, as a monster attacks children by bringing their fears to life (a bit like IT but without the clown) and the haunting moment it attacks a child who after his mother died of it, has been scared of cancer, but was never told what cancer was.
This story, is not for small children, I just mentioned a monster assuming the form of cancer to a child that didn’t know what cancer was but was scared of it, not to mention a number of scenes of death in haunting ways, not gruesome and gory, but haunting which is greatly helped by Moore and his team of artists.
While I would recommend the other volumes of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing (you get to see him beat up Batman) the first volume is a must read. Showing the greater integration of the character into the DC universe while never letting them take the spotlight away. But most importantly issue 21 with the autopsy.
On a nice touch the final page of issue 27 has a dedication to Jack Kirby one of the central figures in the history of comics. It helps to show us, even significant people often got influenced by those that came before. I would say I wondered who was influenced by this, but that’s already happened, it will next be the people influenced by the people who were influenced by this work.
I first read this in the Kirkwall library and with any luck it should still be there.