The Swamp Thing Book Review

April 4, 2009

Okay, first off it’s been quite awhile since I’ve followed along with this thread. Way back on August 20th, 2008 I posted an article here titled “10 Great Examples of Comic Book Literature” and I stated that I would eventually post a book review of each of the ten items. If you’ve missed those and would like to read any of them, here’s a quick recap. In parenthesis after each article title I’ll list the date it was originally posted up on my site, so you can scroll through the archives to find it if you’d like.

1) 10 Great Examples of Comic Book Literature (August 20th 2008)

2) The Watchmen Book Review (August 27th, 2008)

3) The Preacher Book Review (October 21st, 2008)

4) The Sandman Book Review (November 11th, 2008)

I’ve had other comic articles but only those four of the ten reviews so far. So now, here’s the 5th, the “Swamp Thing” Review. Next up, within the next month or so will be the “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud Review.

swamp_thing_and_abbey

So maybe you’ve seen “The Watchmen” film. Maybe it intrigued you enough to go out and pick up a copy of the graphic novel it’s based on and you’ve read it…and if that’s true, and you like good literature yet are new to the graphic storytelling medium, you were probably astounded that a comic book was capable of the intensity, emotional engagement, intellectual pondering and sophistication that “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons was.

Now you want to know what’s next. If you’ve picked up a comic by DC in the past few months, you’ve  probably seen a full page add, “What’s Next?” and it lists a slew of suggested Watchmen follow-ups, most highly worthy of your time if you want to take the next plunge.  Yet Moore’s work is missing from the recommendations, and if you truly want some groundbreaking, excellent Moore writing, your next stop should be his fantastic run on “Swamp Thing.”

Alan Moore is brilliant, eccentric and scathing towards any naysayer’s, critics, contemporaries and those seeking to adapt his work to any other medium. In his field, he’s pretty much Shakespeare to most fans. Certainly that sounds grandiose, hyperbolic and a tad pretentious. He’s not as talented as Shakespeare or many other literary greats. Yet to do the type of work he has done, and to sell much of it close to the mainstream as far back as the early 1980s working in the field he was working in is quite an achievement. There have been many other great, groundbreaking, boundary pushing writers and artists in comics, contemporary with and post Alan Moore. Going as far back as the underground “comix” explosion of the ‘60s to the indie and small press “smart” books of the ‘80s and especially in the Vertigo line of DC in the ‘90s with Moore disciples like Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis and taking root in many companies today with mainstream and underground work done by writers as varied as Jeff Smith, Grant Morrison and Jason Aaron. Yet Moore pushed things further than readers and industry thought possible when he first started his major works. He showed the world what the medium was truly capable of. That a well done comic can do anything a well done novel can, anything that a well done film can, anything that a great on-going television series can, and certain things that no other medium is quite capable of doing at all.

“Swamp Thing” shouldn’t have been this good. The concept, the name and the image it invokes sounds like cheap, B-level horror schlock. It was a character created by other people (Lee Weinstein and Bernie Wrightson),  30 some odd issues into a superhero horror comic and on it’s way to the cancellation bin when Alan Moore was handed the reins to DC’s “Swamp Thing in the early ‘80.  The Swamp Thing story and origin had varied in different versions, but in the series that Moore was handed the tale had been following Alec Holland, a scientist working in the Louisiana swampland. Holland was sabotaged by nefarious bad guys, a chemical explosion left him fleeing into the swamp. He emerged later as a swamp creature, and the series followed random horror and supernatural events he encountered as the Swamp Thing. Moore immediately reconfigured the entire heart of the tale in his first Swamp Thing story, “The Autopsy.”  Turns out that the creature isn’t Holland but a living embodiment of “the green,” an earth elemental. A living plant that had thought it was Holland because the accident had fused his memories and personality with the plant life to create the Swamp Thing.

Now of course this sounds out there. Over the course of approximately 30 issues Alan Moore writes, and Stephen Bissette and John Totleben handle the art for a range of stories covering everything from environmental rights, conservation and extremism, fears of nuclear proliferation and waste, racism, sexism, family and relationship dynamics, religion, magic, horror, love, hallucinogenic, poetry, prose, regional disparities, psychology, tension, lust, violence, anger, heaven, hell and the list goes on. Collected by Vertigo/DC you can find the entire Moore run in 6 collected volumes. Try the first three to get a feel for the scope, each volume stands alone to tell 1 or 2 major stories.  Early stories are primarily horror and suspense based yet as the series goes on and Moore elevates his character’s incarnation, introduces John Constantine (to go on to star in a 250 and counting series “Hellblazer”) and explores the different niche genres this story is capable of encompassing the series has plenty of variety to experience.

I’ve raved about Moore’s writing on the series, but the art is pretty fantastic as well. It’s a truly involving and unique story, I doubt you’ll find anything like it in any other comic or anywhere else for that matter.

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