The Swamp Thing roundtable has shambled along a bit longer than I expected, and we’re still not necessarily done. But while we’re waiting for a last post I thought I’d pull some passing thought-bubbles from the muck:
if issue 20 is damage control, it’s excellent damage control, taking a narrative that had rolled up around itself and tripped on its own loose ends many times, and resolving it elegantly within one issue. Furthermore, the art (especially the use of extradiegetic elements in the frames) does things that may be at least as, if not more, interesting as anywhere else in the run. Overall, though, I think it’s more interesting to think of it–and of the entire series too–as Moore working, in a nearly Oulipian style, with a complex set of constraints: what can I do with this ridiculous, gothic backstory I’ve inherited? What can I do with the purple prose that Pasko has used to set the tone of the series? What can I do with the complex panel arrangements that by now were already a trademark of the run? This actually challenges Moore (almost never again will he work with such complex panel shapes, as it is much easier for him, as writer, to control the art if he works with a set grid), and I do think he creates the most successful work of his career. Left by himself, in total control of the stories he can tell, he ends up falling in the same rut (and that is true of “From Hell” much more than of SOST). Yes, the American Gothic stories are the weakest of the run, but I disagree about the earlier stories. And if you simply use to judge them a measuring stick of taking individual stories and setting them up against comparable sci fi or horror pieces, you are really missing the forest for the trees. Again, reading the entire run as, first of all, a conscious taking on of constraints, looking at the specific troping that Moore engages in (it’s always amazing to me, for example, that nobody ever mentions the totally obvious “Master and Margarita” reference, which is not only cute in a limited way, but connects the larger themes of the two works), and looking simultaneously at the wider ark and at individual details, pages where Moore really shows his artistry, seems to me the much more appropriate way to go.
I like your S&M analysis, Noah. I think that’s why Swamp Thing doesn’t much work as a horror comic. I’m thinking of Silence of the Lambs versus Hannibal. The latter is actually something of a superhero tale, because the audience identifies with the superpowered Lecter.
If there’s any place where the art really contributes something extra to Moore’s story, it’s in creating whatever sense of horror the book possesses. But I’m one of those horror fans who believes movies do it best. Language, particularly the purple colored, is always too abstract for the genre, and ultimately a distraction from the emotive core. Horror is perceptual, the less said, the better. We can be morally outraged by reading a description of a rape, of course, but seeing it (say, in Irreversible) is on a whole other level, regardless of how well-written the description might be. Language alone allows for more of a sense of control than being submerged in sound and vision. Does that mean language is sadistic and perception is masochistic?
I would say that feminism is usually part of his project–but that there are different kinds of feminism and they don’t always get along. His “second wave” feminism–appreciation of, and celebration of, stereotypically feminine “values,” may lead to a lot of stereotyping (as you note here). He’s a self-conscious valuer of “feminine” principles—but this means defining some kind of “essential” version of gender, which is less comfortable for both first wave and third wave feminist thinkers. It can also come across as somewhat condescending coming from a man. Balloon-breasted castrating hawk ladies are not the high point of the series in terms of its representation of gender. I’m not sure it means Moore isn’t being “thoughtful” necessarily though– Strange’s idiotic blasting away at Swampy is clearly a critique of “typically masculine” behavior–The problem here is often in how the “typically” bleeds a bit too much into the “stereotypically.”
The immensely overwritten, but still kind of fascinating, “loving the alien” issue is more self-conscious in its manipulation of overly familiar tropes. There, the “mother” is machine, not Earth, is rapist, not potential victim–and Swampy (the man) has to take the stereotypically feminine position as rape victim–as “nature” being tilled by industry. It’s all a bit on the obvious side, I guess–except for its reversal of genders–”she” becomes the machine-like industrial rapist, and “he” becomes the “earthy” mother figure–even though neither of them, strictly speaking, is gendered at all (at least not in any traditional human way)–since one is a swamp monster, without functioning reproductive parts–and the other is a planet/machine.
Swampy himself vacillates between being a “feminine” “mother earth” figure–and a masculine foil to Abby.
So though we’re not quite gone, I’ll take this opportunity to thank all who read, participated and commented, and especially to our guest posters Jog and EricB (also known as my brother.) It’s been great fun — and not quite done yet!