Friday, February 20, 2009

Swamp Thing Vol. 5 - Earth to Earth

Swamp Thing Vol. 5 - Earth to Earth
By Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bissette, John Totleben and Rick Veitch

The start of the third duology in what amounts to a trilogy of them -- Volume 5 works as a pair with Volume 6; Volumes 3 and 4 also stand together as a whole, as do 1 and 2 -- Earth to Earth is in some ways one of the most enjoyable stretches of the series for me. Maybe because Alan Moore wasn't content to keep hammering at that Gothic horror nail and instead wanted to keep experimenting. Maybe because the idea of Gotham being turned into a primordial forest fascinated me.

Maybe a lot of things, but the bottom line was, I really enjoyed this.

So Abby's (admittedly creepy) love affair with the Swamp Thing is revealed, and she is charged and held for crimes against humanity. I can buy that. Interesting how traditional the way in which this story is built up. Moore introduced the plot strands setting this up quite a few issues back, taking it slow until his epic American Gothic arc was finished. The moment that story wrapped up the seeds of this one germinated and flowered into the most serious display of Swamp Thing's power to date.

The very idea of this arc fascinates me. It is the fruit of seeds (there I go with seed references again) planted waaaaay back at the start of Moore's run, when he first began to toy with the idea of Swamp Thing and Abby's love. See, you can't have a love story without tearing it down. Basic rule of fiction, right? So here we get a wedge driven between them. She is taken away. Swamp Thing is driven to rage and brings Gotham City to a halt by overgrowing the entire city with vegetation. It's an awesome display of power that could have felt comic booky had Moore not handled it with a kind of lyrical meditation on the way in which urban settings asphyxiate us. (Interestingly enough, just days prior to reading this I read a news story indicating that scientific research supports the idea that people who live on tree-lined streets live happier, healthier, safer lives. Here is that story.)

If we're in Gotham that means the Dark Knight. Moore's handling of Batman here was excellent. Moore and Batman are not necessarily a combo that fills me with glee -- I feel that The Killing Joke is Moore's most overrated work -- but you wouldn't know it here. I like this Batman. Tough, relentless, unwilling to give in, but also reasonable, noble, and fiercely loyal to his city.

It doesn't all click, though. Why couldn't Swamp Thing just free Abby and take her away? The explanation we get is half-hearted at best, as if Moore knew he had to address the question but didn't feel like fully thinking it out. Building a statue to this creature after he paralyzed your city? I didn't buy it. An excuse for some long speeches looking back at who Swamp Thing was. (I did like the melodrama of Abby's mourning, though. Absolutely lovely, stirring writing.)

And though I really loved the build up -- if you're willing to go along for the ride the core of this arc is outstanding -- the way in which Swamp Thing is "killed" is a wee bit hokey, laced with Star Trek gobblygook that didn't really ring true to me. Swamp Thing is an elemental, essentially a god, and they're talking "frequencies" and all that? Pseudo science jargon? Didn't click. But I guess Moore needed a way to have Swamp Thing defeated. See, while I can't say for sure that by this point Moore wrote himself into a corner, it was becoming clear that he had a supremely powerful being on his hands, a creature closer to a god than a mere horror. The only things he could throw at him were purely supernatural in nature, and as we know now Moore rarely treads in the same territory for long.

So, he figured out a way to shoot Swamp Thing into space.

This is one of those stories that shouldn't work, yet does in spite of itself. Swamp Thing is on some distance planet, manipulating plants and fungus to recreate the comforting world he once knew, but it's all empty and hollow and eventually falls apart. The false love he creates for himself. The comforting home. All of it a lie, and so he casts it aside before he falls into madness. Quite tragic, really, and handled well. A perfect setup for further adventures in space because it showed the potential behind such a seemingly outlandish idea. I mean, this is a swamp guy. What the hell is he doing in space?

And why the hell does it work?

Because it's in the hands of a writer arguably at the peek of his powers, in the midst of a period during which almost everything he wrote was pure gold. This is just more of the same.

Which is to say, another big pile of gold.

An earlier version of this review was originally posted at

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