Alan Moore's Swamp Thing
Recently, I just finished Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, DC's plant elemental. My experiences with the character were non-existent; I don't recall him showing up in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series and he wasn't in the one Hellblazer story I read. I've read plenty of Alan Moore; Batman: The Killing Joke, , Watchmen, Whatever Happened to the Man of TomorrowV for Vendetta, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. While I like his writing, for some reason I have been hesitant to start his Swamp Thing run, mostly because I couldn't get myself interested in a swamp creature, let alone his stories from the eighties.
Was I ever wrong.
Luckily, Moore's entire run is collected in six volumes, reprinted under the Vertigo line. The first volume collects issues #20-27. Having no previous knowledge of the character, the first issue did a great job at catching me up to speed on who and what Swamp Thing was. Before Moore started on the book, the character was thought to be the human Alec Holland, who had suffered from a chemical explosion. Consumed in flame and the mixtures he had been working with, Holland ran and fell into the swamp, sinking to the bottom. It was believed that Holland was transformed into a plant elemental called the Swamp Thing and the book was about Holland trying to turn himself back into a human.
However, Alan Moore revealed that Alec Holland had in fact died in the explosion and that what emerged from the swamp was a creature that thought it was Holland, but in reality was a separate being created by the chemicals and the swamp land. Even though I had no connection to the character, I felt his pain as he realized that he was never a human. The issues where Swamp Thing wonders what he is, and how he now relates to Holland, are tragic and the dream sequences are touching.
The first volume begins what carries through Moore's entire run, which is the Swamp Things search for truth, his identity, and his place in the world. In the beginning, he learns the connection he has to the "green" and his ties to all of Earth's plant life. What also presents itself in this volume is the dark tone the series will keep. Moore writes the series as a supernatural and horror comic and he does it well. There are scary moments throughout the comic; sometimes twisted and grotesque, other times more subtle and reserved.
Throughout the series, Moore begins using Swamp Thing as a witness to the world around him. This ploy is an effective one, as the character is localized to his bayou. Many different characters begin to guest-star, most notably John Constantine. Constantine is an interesting character in this run, conflicted and mysterious. He's out for the greater good but he'll manipulate those around him to see the good is successful. Constantine does the same to Swamp Thing and starts sending him around the world. There is a dark and horrific vampire story that takes place during this tale, along with cults and werewolves. The friendship, or mutual respect that builds between these two character is fun to watch, with Swamp Thing often playing the straight man to Constantine's more sarcastic tone. This series has put a desire in me to read Hellblazer and see where Constantine goes from here.
Moore sends Swamp Thing to Hell as the elemental's love, Abigail Arcane, is trapped there. Along the journey, Swamp Thing meets The Stranger, Deadman, The Spectre, and reunited with the Demon Etrigan. There's plenty of moments that reminded me of The Sandman, and I wonder how much this series influenced Gaiman. There's a large battle in the netherworld against darkness and light, in which all of the supernatural characters introduced fight together, while all of the magicians battle in our world. This book alone is a great tour through DC's magical realm, using Swamp Thing as the entry character learning as he goes.
As Swamp Thing learns about the world he also learns about himself. He discovers his powers and abilities are more than just his body but his connection to the Green. He begins to understand how he can destroy and rebuild himself, travel across the globe in minutes, and how unlimited his power can be. He meets the Parliament of Trees and learns that he's not the only creature to have taken the name Swamp Thing, but he's one of many protectors that have risen from the Green.
The art is gorgeous and never dull. The moments with Swamp Thing interacting with the Green, or the mystic realm, are wild and as imaginative as they come. The "sex" issue, where Swamp Thing and Abigail come together in the Green, is simply insane, with abstract images connecting in near impossible ways. I don't know if Alan Moore gave detailed descriptions of these issues, or if they come straight from the artists' minds, but I doubt you've seen art like this before. It's a feast for the eyes and never leaves you cheated.
Coming to a Close
As Constantine leaves, Swamp Thing begins a new adventure. Abigail has been arrested and is being kept in Gotham City. Swamp Thing, enraged, travels to the city and begins to take the citizens hostage with vegetation. It's these issues that we see how dangerous it is to anger the Swamp Thing. The moment where he forms his body out of redwoods and rampages down the streets as tall as a skyscraper is exciting, awe-inspiring, and almost hilarious in power. The events that follow, however, send Swamp Thing into space and we get some interesting designs as he makes a body out of alien vegetation. Earth, it seems, is one of the few planets with the Green, and Swamp Thing takes the guise of blue and brown plant life.
From here, it's a tour through the stars as Swamp Thing looks for a way home. Along his journey he meets up with Adam Strange on Rann and helps defend the planet against Thanargarians. There's a trippy story about alien plant life mating and reproducing with Swamp Thing and there's the horror of the character trying to form a body on a planet of sentient vegetation. Helped by the plant Green Lantern, Swamp Thing is able to return home. One stop before though, Swamp Thing meets Metron of the New Gods and witnesses into the beyond. There, we learn, that the one thing that keeps Swamp Thing together is Abigail. This fact teaches Darkseid that the one thing he hasn't thought of attacking is love. But Swamp Thing makes it back to Earth, reformed into his green self, holding Abigail.
There, Alan Moore begins saying goodbye to the character. Swamp Thing begins to wonder if he should fix the planet and save the world by enhancing the plants of Earth. Should he fertilize the deserts of Africa and end world hunger? In the end, Swamp Thing realizes that he is a god among the planet, but he must let humanity make its own mistakes and learn from them. He is happy to stay in his swamp, with Abigail, and watch the world turn on its own.
Alan Moore's Swamp Thing is one of the best comic series I have read and stands out as a unique and intelligent piece of fiction in the DC universe. I loved the horror tone, the monsters and the magic. As an extended tour through the world of magic, it was great and I loved how Alan Moore had the Swamp Thing react along with the reader. The guest stars were wonderful, I even appreciated Pogo. What I really liked was how similar Alan Moore can be to Neil Gaiman, writing his psychological issues with the same twisted terror as I enjoyed in The Sandman. I know this came first, but I think my appreciation for Gaiman's stories helped me get into this run faster.
I love the character of Swamp Thing. A slow talker and a deep thinker, he's easy to like and root for. Unfortunately, Abigail is a weak character. I know others might disagree with me, but I found her to be too much of a damsel in distress, often there only to give Swamp Thing motivation. In a way, she's the beauty to his beast, but she has little in the way of personality. It's hard to see what Swamp Thing sees in her, outside of the fact that she simply accepts him for how he is. Maybe that's enough, but I never found a reason to root for her.
Still, if you're looking for a great story, a dark series that will creep you out and make you think, if you want magic and monsters, or just a comic without superheroes, read Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. In fact, read the rest of the series and tell me if it's worth reading too.