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 ...