Guest Review: Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One hardcover (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Monday, June 22, 2009

[This review comes from Adam J. Noble, a public librarian living in Eastern Canada. At Noble Stabbings!!, he is blogging his attempt to read all of the comic series Cerebus in 2009.]

This hardcover volume, entitled Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One reprints "Saga of the Swamp Thing" issues 20-27, the opening eight issues of Alan Moore's mid-eighties run on the series. It includes the famous story "The Anatomy Lesson," in which the titular muck-man discovers that he is not a man transformed into a mossy beast, but rather a vegetable-creature who has deluded itself into believing it is a man.

As an "archival" edition, this new hardcover is ... durable, I guess, which you want in something calling itself "archival." Gone is the original beautiful Michael Zulli painted cover from the trade paperback, replaced by a lot of black, Alan Moore's name in big lettering and Swamp Thing's head in profile.

There are other problems with this volume, and they also have to do with how it stacks up to the earlier paperback edition. Yes, this hardcover is a big deal because, for the first time, it reprints "Loose Ends," issue #20 of the original series, where Alan Moore tied off the stump of Martin Pasko's run, and sowed the seeds of Moore's own story-to-come. However, there is always a price to be paid: we got some Moore, but we also lost some Moore. The original text introduction by Moore is gone in the new edition, most likely because it did its best to summarize Swamp Thing's back story for the new reader, up to and including "Loose Ends." Fair enough, death to spoilers and all that, but in the process we also lost some excellent musings on the horror genre, DC continuity, comic book continuity in general and storytelling in general including a tangent in which Moore discusses the possibility of Dr. Frankenstein performing experiments on the heroines of Little Women, a notion that seems to anticipate both League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Lost Girls.

(When this volume was announced, months ago, I donated my "Loose Ends"-less Saga of the Swamp Thing trade to my local library. After the hardcover came out, I quickly made a photocopy of Moore's intro to stick between the pages of the new hardcover. Don't laugh, there but for the grace of God go you.)

It's also a shame that Moore's intro has been lost because new readers may find themselves surprised at how easily Moore's Swamp Thing bumps up against other denizens of the DCU proper. After all, Gaiman's Sandman usually tried its best to ignore those early cameos by the Martian Manhunter and Mister Miracle. Same goes for much of Hellblazer. But Moore's Swamp Thing is a "mature readers" book that happily co-exists alongside Jack Kirby's Etrigan, the Justice League, and later, the Crisis on Infinite Earths itself. The DCU is a true cosmos of fiction that we're often in danger of taking for granted, and the lost Moore intro illustrates that point explicitly -- although we've still got the comics themselves, so I guess it's not so bad.

Oh, incidentally: instead of Moore's intro, we get a chummy, backslaps-all-around intro by Swamp Thing creator Len Wein and another by horror author Ramsey Campbell, who gives a brief history of the "mature reader" comic up to the point before Moore began to work in American comics ("My ward is a junkie!" et al).

It's necessary to read Swamp Thing now with the proper context in mind. Moore's prose is sporadically overblown and purple; the art by Moore's former Miracleman cohorts Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, while evocative and atmospheric, is sketchy and at times bogged-down with "inventive" (read: difficult-to-follow) panel layouts; the "horror" is, to be honest, pretty conventional. But the characters shine through all the rough patches: "Alec," the Thing himself; his lover Abby Cable; Abby's husband Matt (later to be seen as the pet raven of Dream); and perhaps most indelibly, Jason Woodrue, the villainous Floronic Man, who delivers to Alec the truth about his inhumanity, before trying to Take Over the World with only Alec to stop him.

Whatever its flaws and growing pains, without Moore's run on Swamp Thing, modern comics would look very different indeed, and we certainly wouldn't have Vertigo, which is the biggest evolutionary step that mainstream comics has ever taken.

And, finally, did anyone else's copy arrive slightly sticky, as if slicked with chlorophyll? If so, DC, I am declaring this the worst cover gimmick ever.

[If you'd like to write a guest review for Collected Editions, email the address listed on the sidebar. You can also see our full Collected Editions review index.]
Collected Editions 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

1 comment:

  1. Great review, and I'm glad there are people out there who find the supplemental material in collected editions as important as I do. A good introduction or afterword can elevate the worth of any particular book in my opinion, just as a bad (or lacking, as was apparently the case here) one can hurt it.

    Also, everyone should be very careful of the stickiness mentioned at the end of this review. It's a result of the kind of ink used on the cover, and can potentially stain other books on your shelf if it rests against them for too long.

    ReplyDelete