Unlike many readers here, I haven’t read much Moore. I started with Voodoo, which I hated utterly, tried something else, and never went back.
I was looking forward to Swamp Thing, because so many people recommended it and thought I would enjoy it. And I’m sorry to say that I think, well, I think I may not be the right reader for this series. I did my best. Honest. And I don’t dislike it. I just don’t have the right emotional responses. By which I mean the writer, artists, and colorists intended (I think) for me to have certain emotional reactions (like fear, or loathing, or being creeped out), and instead I felt differently (was cheered, rolled my eyes, or became confused).
Last week’s discussion about Ware’s work included some talk about the different levels of reading–close readings, shallow readings, and so on. Personally, I think they all have their place.
In this case, I’m making what I would consider a fairly shallow reading. These are my gut responses, my initial reactions, my petty self. I think that’s a perfectly valid critical reading of a genre work, especially pulpy genre work, which Swamp Thing so clearly is. Now, maybe the beauty of Swamp Thing was something that you had to get at the right time in your life. It’s not my intent to harsh anybody’s squee. But you know, this comic just plain didn’t do it for me. And before I can muster up the effort to minutely examine the intimate details of the words and the scenes and the art, I have to have a strong emotional reaction (good or bad).
This comic has, as its fundamental premise, the idea of a plant monster. As an avid gardener, maybe I just don’t find plants scary enough, because darned if I could work up any fear in the swamp bits. I saw the first page of Book 2 and thought, “Oooh, what cute little lizards!”
I just don’t think that’s what they were going for, somehow.
There’s that whole first chapter/book of Saga of the Swamp Thing that starts with Dr Woodrue’s little daydream scenario and I spent the entire time eagerly looking forward to finding out what actually happened, versus what he daydreamed would happen. Then we get to the cheerful lizards and it turns out that no, that whole sequence was what happened, and it was some kind of framing technique, yada yada.
And yet Dr Woodrue was so obviously mad as a hatter. What gives, I asked myself. Wouldn’t he be an unreliable narrator? Wasn’t that the point?
But no. So we move on. “Clouds like plugs of bloodied cotton wool dab ineffectually at the slashed wrists of the sky.” Plugs of bloodied cotton wool? Plugs of bloodied cotton wool? Fellas, the sky is neon orange and the clouds are pink. It looks like a clown threw up.
Don’t get me wrong. I liked parts of it. There was a lot of stunning art. The plants especially are wonderfully drawn and cleverly inked. I loved the raccoons and the frogs and the lizards and the bugs and the flowers. I even cooed “Raccoon!” out loud, causing my dog, who knows that word, to look around hopefully for a bandit faced critter. And of course, I liked Abby Cable a lot, and I thought she and Swamp Thing should hook up and live in the swamp among the happy bugs and orchids forevermore.
But I kept running into these problems. There’s a Very Serious Moment with the Justice League, who are informing us, as outside plot devices of authority are supposed to do, of the Dire Nature of the National Tragedy. Superman says, “Insane’s the word…He’s suffered a massive psychological breakdown since the last time we encountered him.” Italics not mine. The dialog is above a wanted poster for Jason Woodrue. And I’m thinking: The man is a plant monster and you only now realize he’s caaaaraaaaaaaaaazy?
I laughed myself silly. And then the Justice League basically say they’re going to lose. Against a man who thinks he’s a plant. I don’t even know. I just… I mean. I know people enjoy this comic, but–
The villain thinks he’s a plant! He’s wearing chia-pet underpants! A couple pages after Swamp Thing tells him the green doesn’t love him anymore he runs into a pink sunset so that he can squirt flesh-toned cheeze-whiz on himself.
I don’t know. I just don’t. I’m sorry, but that’s the best I can do. I tried to keep going, but there was a soon to be death by swordfish (neat, I thought to myself) and then an autistic kid, and I just can’t face autistic kids or any child victims, actually, unless they’re done well. Which I could tell this wouldn’t be.
Kind of a pity, I guess, because I sort of wanted to know whether the yam-tubers he developed when he was dreaming of his dead wife were any kind of feminine symbolism or if I’m just being too much of a gardener again. Oh well. I suppose I can live just fine without knowing.