I’ve posed this question before but I’ll pose it again: Why am I always the last one to a party for everything??
Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing is, according to Mistah J, apparently a pretty big deal. So obviously, being me, I knew absolutely nothing about it. I had never read a single Swamp Thing story and I wasn’t overly familiar with Moore’s work.
I had at least heard of him before. Does that earn me some cool points? Half a cool point? Anything??
At least I’m working on remedying my comic ignorance.
Anyway, back to the comic at hand. I went into this trade with literally no knowledge of the character, the backstory, or anything related to the series. All I knew was that there were two trades sitting on Mistah J’s shelf that I would be reading eventually.
Yes, only two. Apparently there are actually seven trades which collect the Alan Moore run. I think Mistah J is slowly and methodically trying to drive me insane. I need completion, darn it! I suppose such is the life of a comic reader. You can never have the complete story, hard as you try. There’s just too much.
He’ll just have to learn to love the eye twitch I’m slowly developing.
Jumping into a story blindly like this, I worried everything would be over my head and utterly confusing. Luckily, thanks to some well-placed exposition (and a handy dandy introduction by Moore himself) the general backstory was revealed quickly enough that I felt comfortable with the story from page one.
Always a plus in my book.
What struck me with the beginning of this trade was the pace of the issues. Particularly in the beginning, the story progresses rather slowly, with Swamp Thing (formerly scientist Alec Holland) apparently dead while his corpse is studied by one Doctor Jason Woodrue, also known as the Floronic Man. Woodrue has a plant-like body similar to Swamp Thing, but still (at least to start) has his complete mental capacity.
Without divulging the entire plot panel for panel, the story continues with Woodrue making the discovery that the creature is not actually dead, nor is it truly Alec Holland. Holland died years prior, and due to a bizarre scientific quirk, the local plantlife absorbed his memories and intelligence, leading it to believe that it was actually Holland. The story gains momentum as, after being fired by his employer, Woodrue unleashes Swamp Thing, knowing it will likely be driven mad by this revelation about its lack of humanity.
This all happens within the first issue of the trade. Obviously, the story is much more elaborate than your average superhero tale. While such pacing in another comic may have bored me, I was completely riveted, glad to watch the story slowly unfold as new details are revealed. Even at this early point in my reading, I could tell that this comic was different.
The next issue or so focuses on the aftermath of Swamp Thing realizing that it is not, and never was, human. The internal struggle the creature feels is revealed through a series of existential dreams, each masterfully crafted to truly feel like a dream, and not just a cheesy way for the writer to convey events to the reader.
When Swamp Thing finally snaps out of his self-imposed trance, he does so hesitantly, and doesn’t shy away from addressing how confused he is about his being:
This poor creature, organically a plant but cursed with the memories and feelings of a man, is so tragic. Reading his story, seeing the various emotions he must face as he learns to accept what he truly is, is heart-wrenching to say the least. Moore writes in such a way that the reader cannot help but pity this creature, making for a truly compelling story.
As with all good comics, Swamp Thing is not alone in his world. He has a dear friend, Abigail, whose connection to the creature is not overtly described in the body of the comic but who nonetheless clearly cares for him deeply. On the other hand, he also faces off against enemies. In this trade the main protagonist is Floronic Man, that same character who helped reveal Swamp Thing’s true identity.
Whereas Swamp Thing is shown as a strong but ultimately passive and gentle creature, Floronic Man is a crazy, maniacal being, hell-bent on destroying humanity for the damage they have caused in the plant world. Although his story eventually ends, his departure feels natural, and not like a coy setup for a future return, as is so often seen in superhero comics.
Speaking of superhero comics, I can’t write about this trade without bringing up the rather odd brief appearance the JLA makes in one issue. When Floronic Man announces his plans to destroy the world, the comic gives us a brief aside, showing the JLA in their spacial clubhouse orbiting the Earth.
This brief two-page aside was a bit jarring to the overall story, but overall I can see its purpose. Before this part of the trade, I questioned how Swamp Thing tied into the whole DC multiverse. He hardly fit the superhero trope seen in all of the other comics I’d read, and it felt more like a standalone series than anything else. The JLA appearance, however brief and tangential to the overall story, tied Swamp Thing into the same universe, grounding his story in the bigger picture without diverting attention away from his character.
(Also, yes, I chose the particular panel above because it references Raven. I just finished reading four New Teen Titan trades. This random reference to a character i just read about made me stupidly happy.)
Prior to reading this trade I had been warned that parts of it were a bit scary. Halfway through the comic, I felt like I must be missing something. I knew this was classified as a horror comic, and I could see why; it had that particular grim overcast that just felt like horror at its core.
Scary though? Not so much.
And then the Monkey King happened.
So…yeah. I take back what I said about it not being scary.
Very, very scary. Seriously, warn a girl next time.
The “horror” element of the comic really picked up in the second half of this collection, and while I never really thought too much about horror comics before this, I must say I actually think I’d enjoy them.
The horror element (in this case, the appearance of demons) juxtaposes very well with the raw humanity of Swamp Thing. As readers, we know he’s not human. Moore actually made it a point at the beginning of his run to make it clear that Swamp Thing is not Alan Holland, never was and never will be. Still, the creature is infused with such heart that the reader can’t help but care about him. At times the character feels reminiscent of the monster in “Frankenstein”, misunderstood but ultimately a gentle being who’s searching for his place in the world. It’s a trope that, if used correctly (as it is here) can completely immerse the reader in the character’s psyche and allow one to empathize with his plight.
This first volume in the collection was short ( a mere 173 pages) yet powerful. Coming in with no knowledge of the character, he now feels like an old friend, one whom I desperately want to continue reading about. I approach the next trade hesitantly, knowing that it’s the last of Moore’s Swamp Thing run on the shelf.
Side question: If I buy Mistah J the remaining Swamp Thing trades for Christmas primarily because I want to read them, does that still count as a Christmas gift or does that get filed under “bad girlfriend ettiquette”? I need a ruling on that one.
After just a few issues, I can already see why Moore’s run on this comic was so groundbreaking. His storytelling is better than any I’ve read so far on the shelf, and his characters are compelling, flawed, and fully developed, so much more so than many that I’ve read. This collection certainly makes me want to delve deeper into his works, to completely immerse myself in his world and lose myself in the characters, the conflicts, and the stories he’s created.
Like I said before, I’m always the last to know.