(The Swamp Thing Roundtable Part 1)
Context. It’s 1983 and you’ve just picked up the latest issue of your favorite monster magazine. You feel pretty stupid since Swamp Thing has sort of sucked since Bernie Wrightson stopped drawing it. That’s a nice cover by Thomas Yeates though.
Wasn’t he the guy who drew the first issue of Saga of the Swamp Thing a year back?
Remember. It is the age of innocence. The age of The Warlord and Arion. The age of stupidity. The age of bad taste.
Parker Brothers wants you to buy Q Bert.
You should have picked up that AD&D Video game…
…and the Power Lords are incontrovertibly essential.
And then you see this:
The land of milk and honey.
Nostalgia. I hate, it but it suffuses every pore of the creature that is called comics. Ask anyone beyond the gelatinous grasp of sequential art and hormonal surges what he or she feels about Swamp Thing #21 (“The Anatomy Lesson”) and they are likely to say: wordy, purple, unfrightening, average. Interesting art though.
But we know better. Alan Moore refined his craft in the pages of Warrior and 2000AD but this was the showcase event; an occurrence as important as the creation of the Swamp Thing himself.
[Original art from House of Secrets #92 with portrait of Louise Jones (Simonson)]
We can see so much of the older and wiser writer in these early issues. There’s the inscrutable narration; the prefiguration on the very first page, the panels acting as windows into the mind’s eye; a technique he would use to much greater effect many years later in the pages of From Hell (“A State of Darkness”).
And then there’s “American Gothic” (#37 to 50) – tired but significant for the superhero set. As subtle as a sledgehammer but undoubtedly influential in the way it caused a legion of Vertigo anti-heroes to take their own quaint road trips through the highways and byways of American culture and inbreeding.
Issue 38. John Constantine breaks a glass of Scotch, crumpling the shards in his palm as will Rorschach with the flesh of strangers. He struts around and plays Swampy for the innocent, gullible fool that he is. And he wears a trenchcoat. This is the same guy who will chill a room of beasties with a word and a glance in Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic, the pale shadow who will get cancer and trick the devil in Garth Ennis’ “Dangerous Habits”. He’s as unchanging as the Christ, a surly, menacing Scouser with coat pockets brimming over with the occult and unspoken kindness. The shtick was getting old by the time Jamie Delano got his hands on him in the first issue of Hellblazer but he remains amiable enough. Such is the reverence with which Moore and his creations are treated by the Brit pack.
Issue 39 is a dream of growing power. The Swamp Thing is a god. The first of many and an idea which when played to its limit becomes one of Moore’s most significant contributions to the genre. The monster’s arms are “two miles long” and he has tendrils for sinews. He is a green Golgotha, and he dies and is resurrected. When Moore leaves the series, Rick Veitch will make him a relic of the True Cross. It will be his undoing. Ditko, Kirby and Lee made men of gods. This is reclamation, a first pressing from the fruits of absolute power.
Issue 40 and there are more chuckles than shivers when we encounter the feral goddess elaborated upon therein. She is werewolf and her name is “woman”.
Roll on snare drum. Cue nervous laughter. Her moon-tied flow is power and she is slaughtered on the altar of domesticity. Moore will worship the vagina and womb once again in the pages of Miracleman and Promethea.
More of the same later in his take on Louisiana Voodoo, slavery and gothic romance (#41-42). All have faded over time but we still have the blissful zombie selling tickets to George Romero films and going into raptures over his box and window on the world. Amusing.
But not as amusing as the serendipitous juxtaposition of a Bill Cosby Red Cross ad in this tale of the undead.
[Advertisement from Swamp Thing #42]
We were the zombies once upon a time, but we’ve since woken up.
Much better things later in the week from Noah, Richard, Jog, VM, Caro and Eric.
Update by Noah: The ongoing Swamp Thing roundtable can be read here.