Monday, February 16, 2009

Swamp Thing Vol. 1 - Saga of the Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing Vol. 1 - Saga of the Swamp Thing
By Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben

I was not among the lucky ones who first encountered Alan Moore's now legendary run on Swamp Thing while it was first being published. At that time I was still immersed in the world of standard superhero fare, blissfully unaware that comics could be more than one guy in tights beating up another guy in tights. It wasn't until I had dropped out of comics and then returned again years later that I discovered these books. I first read them as presented in DC's collected editions, and it is those collected editions that I read here.

We begin with The Saga of the Swamp Thing, within which legendary writer Alan Moore, with the help of artists Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben, reinvented a swamp creature, and in the process helped change the world's understanding of what comics could be. Landmark series like Sandman, Hellblazer and Lucifer, all of which I'll be reading for this blog, sprang from what began here.

So how is it? A better question would be, how many different kinds of awesome is this collection? About 17 or so, I'd say. It's pretty astonishing that these stories hit the shelves in 1984. Think about that. These tales are already 25 years old! The writing is just so far ahead of virtually everything else that was on the shelf during that time, I can only imagine the shock people must have felt when they first read them. It must have been a terrible blow for established comic writers of the time. "Oh shit, guys, look at this. This guy ... he can actually write. We're doomed."

I mean, boom, right out of the gate Moore reinvents Swamp Thing with a stirring, chilling tale about as well crafted as they come. "The Anatomy Lesson" is probably in the top 10 single issues Moore has ever written. He dismantles everything we knew about Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson's creation, replacing their man-turned-into-monster with a creature of nature, a beast birthed of the Earth itself. And he did it in a gloomy, heavy, dark fantasy story that sends chills up the bone. What a wakeup call!

And then he keeps going with two superb storylines (the first better than the second) that manage a nightmarish sort of brooding without feeling overly melodramatic or purple. It shouldn't have worked. He uses an obscure B-grade villain called the Florian Man as the main nemesis. This should have been goofy as hell, but instead it becomes magically delicious horror.

Really, if you can't see the awesome in this, you're dead and filled with bugs inside.

Mind you, the art takes a little getting used to. Even upon rereading, Bissette's art is vague and distorted, ugly as often as it's beautiful and often looking like a first draft. But that's what makes it WORK, I think. The art and Moore's writing were a perfect marriage. Closeups of bloated faces and intricately drawn swampland and humans who sometimes barely look human. Perfect. Anywhere else you wonder what this guy is drawing, yet here you wouldn't ask for anything different.

I do hate Moore's Etrigan, though. Maybe it's because I hate verse in general. I've an aversion to rhymes not unlike my aversion to mayonnaise. I know people like it and I'm glad for them, but keep it away from me, please. Whenever Etrigan was on the page I wanted to rush through things.

That's how good this is. It's so good that I'm forced to resort to lousy nitpicks like that just to avoid gushing the entire time. This volume is solid gold. Solid freakin' gold. Anyone who hasn't it read it SHOULD. Like, NOW.

An earlier version of this review was originally posted at

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