Beauty and the Beast: A Swamp Thing Love Story

In my last post I wrote about the second volume collecting Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing stories.  One aspect of that collection that I purposely avoided discussing was the creature’s relationship with Abigail Cable, my reasoning being that that relationship was so complex, so touching, that it deserved its own post.

What can I say? I love a good love story.

When Abigail first appeared in the comics, I didn’t even consider her a love interest for Swamp Thing.  Firstly, she was married.  Secondly, Swamp Thing is a plant.  I didn’t really see how there could be any romantic feelings between them.  I just figured Abigail was a friend and confidante who cared about Swamp Thing and helped show the reader his humanity.

For the most part, it was that simple.

At least, until Abigail died.

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Killed by the hands of her uncle Arcane (masquerading as her husband), Abigail’s soul had been banished to hell.  In a strange yet somehow believable scene, her husband restores life to her body, but tells Swamp Thing he is unable to rescue her soul, before slipping into a coma.

This is the part where the creature’s true feelings start to show.

Rather than accept Abigail’s death, Swamp Thing delves into the very pits of hell, desperately seeking Abigail’s soul so that it may be reunited with her body and she may live.  With other writers this may have seemed hokey, but Moore writes the story beautifully, balancing Swamp Thing’s tender emotions with the gruesome realities of Hell.

Retrieving Abigail’s soul proves no simple task, as Swamp Thing soon learns.  He meets a number of vile demons along his travels, as well as a few he’s already familiar with, including Arcane himself.  In this scene, Arcane asks Swamp Thing how many years he’s been in Hell, to which the creature responds:

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I found this scene particularly disturbing, as it so accurately depicted the worst fears we have of Hell.  Not only did this scene serve as closure, letting Swamp Thing and the reader know that Arcane will suffer for all eternity for what he did; it also showed just how deeply Swamp Thing cared for Abigail, willing to venture into such a god-forsaken place in order to rescue this woman’s soul.

Unlike other comics, I wasn’t sure how this one would end.  After all, Swamp Thing is a horror comic.  I haven’t seen anything yet to imply that there always has to be a happy ending here.  Still, the creature perseveres, battling a number of demons and ultimately rescues Abigail’s soul and returns it to her body.

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The reuniting of Abigail and Swamp Thing was not overwrought with sweeping declarations of love or passionate embraces.  Rather, it was a quiet, sweet moment, yet one filled with unspoken emotion.  Swamp Thing is so clearly overjoyed that he’s succeeded in bringing Abigail back from the dead.  I’m glad that Moore didn’t spoil the moment with an unnecessary Hollywood-style ending to that issue.

Had the story been told differently, that could have been the end.  Abigail and Swamp Thing could have remained fiercely devoted friends and nothing more.

Their relationship continues though, evolving organically, until one day when Abigail approaches Swamp Thing and professes her love for him.  Swamp Thing is surprised, but nonetheless returns the affection, telling Abigail in his normal quiet, sweet manner that he loves her as well.  In a moment that should have felt strange and awkward, Swamp Thing and Abigail embrace and share a kiss.

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Luckily, Moore was pragmatic enough to not simply ignore the fact that we’re dealing with a human woman and a plant, which could pose some difficulties in the realm of physical love.  Moore allows the pair the humility to acknowledge the barriers they may face, but manages to overcome them in a rather ingenious way.  Swamp Thing feeds Abigail a fruit growing from his body, allowing her to ingest a part of him and experience the world as he does, feeling the organic connections between all living things in a euphoric trance-like state.  I worried when this scene began that it would feel trippy and psychedelic, but not so.  Instead, this scene was lovingly crafted, encompassing all that makes up the earth and allowing the reader to experience it through Abigail’s eyes.

The trade ends in this peaceful state, with Abigail and Swamp Thing embracing quietly.  It’s the perfect ending to a sweet and lovely romance, one which was most unexpected but entirely welcome.  In a way I’m glad the story ends like this.  Although I know Moore continued the series, I can’t be sure these characters get a happy ending when all is said and done.  I can at least be comforted knowing that in this moment Abigail and Swamp Thing are happy.  Whether that happiness lasts is something I’ll just have to find out for myself.

-Jess

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The Saga of The Swamp Thing: Volume Two

It would be an understatement to say I sped through this second installment in the Alan Moore run on Swamp Thing.

I devoured it.  I couldn’t put it down, and I shirked numerous responsibilities in order to finish it.

And now here I am, completely bereft of any continuation to the story, knowing full well that the remaining collections have not yet been added to “the shelf”.

I believe this is usually the point in a comic where the scene pans out to provide a bird’s-eye view of the protagonist while a lengthy “Nooooooooo” is stretched across the sky.

Yes, I am fully likening my lack of closure with this story to the many tragedies that have befallen any number of superheroes.

Also, I may be slightly melodramatic.

I just enjoyed these stories so much.  As I mentioned last time, I went into this series knowing nothing about Swamp Thing, and honestly felt unsure whether I would really enjoy the character.  Well, I can safely say now that I am definitely a fan.

This second volume begins with a similar tone as the first, a slow-moving, introspective storyline focusing on Swamp Thing’s mental state and his attempts at dealing with learning that he is not really human.  In the first issue collected here, he is haunted by the ghost of Alec Holland, the man he once thought he was and whose memories and thoughts he now possesses.  Desperate to bury the past, the creature recalls Alec’s last few moments in an effort to rid himself of this ghost.  After realizing that Alec’s remains are still in the swamp, he locates them and, in a very tender scene, gives them a proper burial.

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Throughout this entire issue Swamp Thing is highly introspective, posing philosophical questions such as, “How deep must one dig to bury the past?”  The storyline itself is well done, but it is the superb narrative that truly holds this story together and gives it a sense of poignancy.

As with Volume One, this collection featured a few random appearances from outside forces, helping to ground the story in a larger reality.  One such figure is the mysterious watcher, orbiting the earth and monitoring all that occurs.

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We do not know who he is at this point, but for now he serves as the omniscient, god-like figure overseeing all of Earth’s activities.  Although his appearance is brief, I’m very curious to learn who he is and what role he may play in any future storylines.

Many other DC characters appear or are alluded to within the pages of this comic.  Deadman shares a scene with Swamp Thing, an inclusion that managed to feel perfectly natural.  Perhaps the most jarring appearance by another character, however, was the brief image of The Joker:

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Had other writers used such a tactic, I might have found it cheesy and unnecessary.  Therein, perhaps, lies the genius of Moore’s writing.  He often includes narrative asides which reference unknown individuals, meant to imply the wideswept mood of the particular issue.  In this instance, he simply included DC characters rather than a handful of “ordinary” people.  The note made in the panel above, that “The Joker’s stopped smiling”, is so simple yet so incredibly powerful.  Even people unfamiliar with the Batman comics likely know Joker’s propensity for smiling, and the fact that he has stopped implies that something must be very, very wrong in the world.

Such is the brilliance of Moore’s writing.  He makes connections to a larger world without detracting from his central story.  In this way he creates a complex background on which his character’s lives take place.  He reminds the reader that these characters are but a small part of a much larger universe, even as we become completely enraptured with their individual stories.

That may be one of my favorite parts of Moore’s writing.  So many superhero stories take place in big cities, featuring villains who are hell-bent on destroying the entire planet.  In Swamp Thing, we see a departure from that.  Yes, there are one or two villains seeking to take over the planet, but many of the stories deal with much more personal struggles.  Whereas Superman or Wonder Woman are often fighting to save the whole world, Swamp Thing is fighting to save his world, be it his backwater swampland in Louisiana or his dear friend Abigail.  His battles hit much closer to home, and indeed are even sometimes within himself.  Swamp Thing is a creature forced to face down his deepest emotions, all for the sake of protecting those few things he holds most dear.

Obviously, I’ve grown attached to this series after only two brief collections.  I desperately want to read more, perhaps moreso than any other comic I’ve read so far.  I want to buy Mistah J all of the remaining books in Alan Moore’s run.  Scratch that: I want to own all of these books.  I am not a comic collector, but these stories are definitely worth owning.  Until such time as I can continue reading these brilliant stories, I’ll just have to be left wondering where they go from here.

-Jess

The Saga of The Swamp Thing: Volume One

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

-Jess