Review: Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 1 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics/Vertigo)

Friday, February 01, 2013

I've wanted to read Alan Moore's seminal run on Saga of the Swamp Thing for a while, especially in light of Scott Snyder's new DC New 52 Swamp Thing series. Given that Snyder's work itself is influenced by the work of Swamp Thing's creator Len Wein, Moore, and others on Swamp Thing, I'd find it more interesting not to go into Snyder's book blind, but rather with some sense of the works that contributed to this current incarnation. (This series of reviews was written prior to my review of Snyder's Swamp Thing: Raise Them Bones.)

I don't imagine there's much that can be written about Moore's work on Saga of the Swamp Thing that hasn't already been written. At the same time, to keep with my own imperative to write about what I read, I hope the reader will permit me what will be a series of loose and relatively uncoordinated thoughts on DC Comics/Vertigo's Saga of the Swamp Thing collections, which I've been eyeing at my local library. These reflections will run on Fridays for the next few weeks and I encourage anyone who'd like to join me to read along.

Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 1 begins with issue #20, which Moore wrote to close out the preceding run by Martin Pasko. This in medias res beginning is not too difficult for the reader to understand, especially with the introduction by Wein and writer Ramsey Campbell. Beginning not quite at the beginning, however, creates some distance between Swamp Thing and the reader, even despite that Moore begins to recreate Swamp Thing completely with issue #21.

It is the central contradiction of Swamp Thing which I, as a reader, haven't quite been able to assimilate yet -- that Swamp Thing is, indeed, a hulking green swamp monster, and yet he's gentle toward innocents and most everyone seems to like him. The sudden beginning drops the reader into a scenario where characters Dennis Barclay, Liz Tremayne, and especially Abby Arcane-Cable already fight for Swamp Thing and confide in him; they have overcome Swamp Things's contradictions, and so there's little time spent helping the reader to do the same via the characters. Who could look into Swamp Thing's kindly visage and not want to hug him -- and yet, after the first volume, I don't feel I know Swamp Thing quite yet.

This may also be because in the first eight issues, which encompass two story arcs, Swamp Thing is not very often the book's main actor. Swamp Thing (I have an urge to call him "Swampy," but I'm not sure if that's kosher) arrives both times to thump the bad guy in the end, but largely the stories are about the horror that Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man, and later the demonic Monkey King, inflict on the larger population. In this way, Moore's first volume of Swamp Thing stories remind me of aspects of Neil Gaiman's Sandman stories (though Moore's Swamp Thing, I know, predates Sandman by a few years) or the later House of Mystery tales, in that Swamp Thing is more of the host of these "weird mystery" episodes than the protagonist himself.

Much is made, at least by Swamp Thing himself, of the fact that Moore reveals Swamp Thing never to have been the transformed scientist Alec Holland, but rather a mutated plant creature that just believed itself to be Holland. Though Swamp Thing seems to come around by the end, Moore initially presents this as a loss, that Swamp Thing has lost the humanity he held dear (and, in one sequence, carries around in the form of a skeleton). I had less trouble with this myself, and it seems to me Moore gives Swamp Thing a gift. No more is Swamp Thing a bastardized version of Alec Holland, less of a man than what he was; rather Swamp Thing is Swamp Thing, self-actualized rather than lesser than, and as someone who never knew Alec Holland, this is for me a more interesting character to read about.

Reading this book with an eye toward the New 52, I took special note of issue #23's discussion of the "green" and the "red." The "red" seems to represent humanity; Woodrue leaves the "red world" behind to speak for the plant world, the "green," and yet much of the destruction Woodrue causes is specifically flush with red backgrounds by colorist Tatjana Wood. Swamp Thing and Woodrue's battle, therefore, might be translated as a war between Swamp Thing on the green side and Woodrue on the red side. I know very little about what's coming up in Snyder and Jeff Lemire's Swamp Thing/Animal Man crossover "Rotworld" except that I believe it involves red and green (altered, perhaps, from Moore's original meanings), so this is something I'll be watching for as Moore's Swamp Thing continues.

Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 1 indeed has some genuinely scary moments, and the way in which it evokes (or successfully foreruns) certain Vertigo series to follow immediately endears it to me. Moore's horror here is, quite obviously, of a different type that the gory gross-outs found in the Catwoman and Suicide Squad titles in our midst, and its Moore's kind of horror I can get behind.

Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 1 collects issues #20-27 of the series, with original covers (logos and prices and everything!) and introductions by Len Wein and Ramsey Campbell. More to come ...
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10 comments:

  1. probably heresy, but I couldn't get into Moore's swamp thing beyond the anatomy lesson. - steve

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  2. To each their own, of course, but was there anything specific you didn't like or that kept you from enjoying it?

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  3. Volume 2 is one of the best books that I have ever read. And I really love volume 5 too (the crazy Gotham City story.) So damn exciting, like a movie.

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  4. it has been a while, so I don't remember all the details. I recall enjoying certain small character bits. I know I didn't care for the horror elements. I also believe that I went into reading these books with very high expectations based on Watchmen and top 10.

    while I like a lot of the Vertigo and vertigo type books, Swamp Thing just didn't work for me. I wanted quite badly to like to book, having bought 5 hard covers.

    I also think I lack the overall depth to appreciate both Swamp Thing and Sandman on a more meaningful level.

    I'm fine with intricate stories, but perhaps not deep ones. the plot intricacies of 100 bullets and scalpe worked well for me,

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  5. scalped, I mean - steve

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  6. Last year I read the Roots of the Swamp Thing trade. I've always wanted to read this run. I'm probably going to try and hold out until DC finishes releasing the new paperbacks. Which looks to hopefully be next year since 4 of 6 will come out in the summer. I know it sounds stupid to hold off on reading a great series, but I just think I'll want to read them back to back. And I have plenty of other stuff on my buy list I could get first.

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  7. I really loved the series and did a series of reviews at Comic Addicts. I think the series has a definite atmosphere. I cannot help but compare it to Neil Gaiman's Sandman, and even he did, at a few places. They are, of course different treatments, both equally valid and beautiful in their own way. Though, you should really check the DC Comics Classics Library's Roots of Swamp Thing for the complete Len Wein Swamp Thing with lush art by Berni Wrightson and later, Nestor Redondo.

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  8. Appreciate the comments; hope you all will stop back this Friday when I move on to volume 2, and stick with it till the end.

    I get what Steve's saying that Alan Moore's Swamp Thing is different than his Watchmen. I think Watchmen is more pointed, perhaps due to being a miniseries rather than an ongoing -- both Watchmen and Swamp Thing are saying something, but Watchmen is saying things on every page, and Swamp Thing's points come every couple of issues or every arc. Neither approach is better than the other; sometimes you want something more direct and sometimes you want something more subtle. Each might appeal to a different reader.

    Kelly, I absolutely recommend reading the books back to back, like I did. Given six volumes, it becomes quite an immersive experience, and you'll really feel you know the characters well by the end. The final volume, my favorite, is very high-octane, really out-there sci-fi, and it caps the whole series off well.

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  9. Will you also review the next 3 books that followed after Moore? They were books 7, 8, and 9. I assume you aren't, but you should know they are FANSTASTIC.

    Rick Veitch took over writing duties (as opposed to art) and I swear, you wouldn't know it wasn't Moore. In fact a lot of it is even more ambitious than Moore's run. It's really, really, really great.

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  10. I'm a bit late, but I started to buy this hardcovers recently and the thing that shocked me is the difference between the coloring here and the coloring of the actual back issues (which I don't own, only seen scans), the single issues from the 80's have better colors, the ones printed in the hardcovers are really saturated, but reading S.Bisette blog, he praises this HC collection for being the one that makes justice to Tatjana Wood coloring, So, I don't know what to think.

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