Review: Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 2 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics/Vertigo)

Friday, February 08, 2013

Continuing my casual journey through DC/Vertigo's collections of Alan Moore's Saga of the Swamp Thing ...

[Spoilers ahoy!]

Saga of the Swamp Thing Volume 2 is a testament to the versatility of the Swamp Thing character (or, at least, the versatility of Alan Moore's imagination as corresponds to Swamp Thing). To say this volume offers humor, horror, and romance side-by-side is to understate it -- the stories stretch from a gruesome trip to hell to presenting Swamp Thing essentially as a cartoon character. Far from off-putting, these variations help to make Swamp Thing seem a more believable character living in a world where most anything can happen.

The genre changes are most obvious through the presence of multiple artists -- Stephen Bissette and others on the more serious stories, and Shawn McManus on the lighter ones. McManus draws a more detailed, animated, and almost distorted Swamp Thing, expressive and more fully revealed than when Bissette and others draw Swamp Thing in the shadows.

McManus's art sets apart the initial one-off story (issue #28) as Swamp Thing continues to struggle with the legacy of Alec Holland, but McManus's work is spotlighted most brightly in issue #32, an environmentally-themed tale that sees Swamp Thing teamed up with thinly-veiled renditions of the Pogo comic strip characters. The story is cartoonish, but then turns markedly dark at the end, reminiscent of the Pogo strips themselves or even Steve Gerber's Howard the Duck.

Stepping back, the Pogo story ("Pog") comes just after a wrenching four-part story (including the Saga of the Swamp Thing Annual #2) in which Swamp Thing's arch-enemy Anton Arcane returns, Abby Arcane-Cable is seemingly killed, and Swamp Thing has to venture to Hell to save her. The first three parts are the most horrific, both for the serial killers Arcane looses on the world and also for the revelation Abby's been unknowingly sleeping with her uncle; for the fourth part, Moore pays his proto-Vertigo dues by guest-starring Deadman, the Phantom Stranger, the Spectre, as well as Etrigan the Demon, all in one annual. The Deadman/Phantom Stranger/Spectre appearance seems old hat now -- indeed, the kind of thing every supernatural DC series from Day of Judgment to Shadowpact has to do -- but I'm guessing that when Moore did it, he was creating the mold and not melting into it.

Also collected here is Saga of the Swamp Thing #34, which I'd crudely understood to be the Swamp Thing/Abby "sex issue," though in fact most of that is reserved for the issue's double entendres, in favor of Abby's romantic, psychedelic head trip in the foreground. Moore's lyricism is on display here (here, and throughout these stories), and to some extent Moore is ill-served by having his lines crunched down into panels (no disrespect to letterer John Costanza); rather some aspiring graphic designer out there should lift Moore's narration from these pages and lay it out on a page, all the better to resemble the poetry it really is.

I waited until after I finished this volume to read Neil Gaiman's sizable introduction, and so the inclusion of Len Wein's original Swamp Thing story, in a framing sequence, was a delightful surprise to me (though not now, I guess, to you). This is devoutly an artifact of the era -- I can't recall recent comics running a reprint nor am I quite sure we fans would stand for it. Here, it works, again expanding the breadth of Swamp Thing's world, and kudos to Moore for thinking to include it and then building off of it as well.

Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 2 shows how much can be done with Swamp Thing, but the stories are largely built on others' framework -- Arcane returns in a sequel to Pasko's final story, the DC Universe's supernatural characters guest-star, Abby and Swamp Thing finally acknowledge their long-held feelings for one another. I'm eager for the next volume, where I expect Moore will begin to build and go his own way with Swamp Thing now that some of the more obvious stories are out of the way.

Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 2 collects issues #28-34 and Annual #2 of the series, with original covers and introductions by Jamie Delano and Neil Gaiman. Continued ...

(For more, read my review of Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 1.)
Collected Editions 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

4 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed this review. I've been debating getting the second volume of Moore's run on Swamp Thing for a while now, and this sealed the deal. Found it kind of interesting, too, how much of this volume's central narrative has impacted Snyder's current run on the character (With a major focus on the Arcane's). Good stuff!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Somehow, I found this a better read than vol 1. I think the Shawn McManus issues made it so.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Volume 2 is when Moore's saga really took off, IMO. Re-rereading it now and I find it incredible that I bought each issue as a child from a local newsagent, as it's pretty horrific stuff. More importantly, it can't be stressed enough how much of a game-changer this was at the time. Our little minds were being blown on a monthly basis.

    One thing, as much as I enjoy year reviews, I'm surprised to read any review of Swamp Thing that fails to mention the art of John Totleben. It's some of the greatest comic art ever and the title wouldn't have been half what it was without him. Just look at the change in quality and atmosphere when Alfredo Alcala fills in...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Glad you gave some praise to Totleben. In this volume he just inks, I believe, though I don't mean "just" -- the right inker can make or break an artist and I don't underestimate for a moment what an inker brings to a book.

    I actually took the time to go back to the library to look at the Totleben issues versus the sole Alcala issue, so apologies for the tardy response. I actually didn't think the atmosphere was off so much in the Acala issue -- there's a difference, Acala adds less detail than Totleben, to be sure, but this didn't garner a mention from me because it didn't put me off all that much. Your results may vary, though, and again, I'm glad you gave Totleben some credit -- I know he was an important part of this team.

    ReplyDelete