Thursday, February 19, 2009

Swamp Thing Vol. 4 - A Murder of Crows

Swamp Thing Vol. 4 - A Murder of Crows
By Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bissette, John Totleben and Rick Veitch

So Vol. 4 of Alan Moore's legendary Swamp Thing run is very much a companion to Vol. 3 -- not surprising, I suppose, as these are collections from an ongoing series, not a series of graphic novels -- and continues the American Gothic tale started there. John Constantine (of Hellblazer fame) is still leading Swamp thing here, there and everywhere, forcing him to confront the ugliest sides of mankind. We do horrible things to one another, you see (a stunning revelation, that), and Swampie needs to see it. It's all in preparation for some vague Great Big Evil that is going to be dropped on the world. It's like Creeping Death, only not the Metallica song, and it has nothing to do with flatulence.

Anyway, as with the previous volume, the building sense of dread and foreboding is well executed and highly effective. Each story stands on its own two feet as a great piece of dark fiction, yet when read together each seems to be bringing us closer to an awful end. Long before collected editions were the norm (or even on the radar, for that matter), Moore was creating stories that managed to be both effective serial fiction and fantastic long-form stories. That kind of work is a balancing act. Even today, decades after these comics first hit the shelves and years after these trails were blazed, it's a trick very few comic writers manage to pull off.

Know what else? This volume has a Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover!

Ahhh, the crossover, crutch of publishers and bane of the reader who just wants a good, self-contained story. Worse still that this was a crossover with the famous (infamous?) Crisis, a landmark moment in continuity wank that prompted lots more continuity wank. Continuity wank that continues to this day. (I am very much on record as someone who despises obsessive comic book continuity.) Kudos to Moore for not making Crisis come across like the massive masturbatory effort it was. A crossover like this is the sort of thing that really should have seemed out of place in this book, especially coming in the midst of a dense storyline about the end of the world, yet he made it work.

Know what else he made work? A bunch of trees with faces. That's right, trees with faces.

This whole SERIES is full of stuff that has no business being good yet manages to be good anyway. I mean, at one point Abby, Swamp Thing's lover -- right there is something that shouldn't work -- eats a chunk of plant off him. Eats a chunk of plant off him! And this is supposed to be sensual! That should not work. Not even a little. Yet it does. It does come across as sensual and erotic. Okay, maybe kinda a touch goofy, but Moore and company play it so straight that ultimately, it works.

A Murder of Crows culminates in an extended climax featuring a burning hot seance kinda thing, Swamp Thing and a whole slew of quasi-mystical guests fighting a giant tower of black goo in Hell, and a vague ending right out of anime. This sounds scattered and strange, I know, but trust me, it's full of teh awezomes.

Some 25 years after the fact, this remains some of the strongest periodical comic work I've ever read. Highly impressive and essential reading for any lover of the craft.

An earlier version of this review was originally posted at

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