Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 6, the final collection of the series, is by far the most lyrical and ambitious of the bunch. The tone of the book changes, as artist Stephen Bissette promised it would in his introduction to Vol. 5, with new artist Rick Veitch's preference to draw science-fiction rather than horror. Writer Alan Moore rises to the challenge, however, peppering Swamp Thing's journey through space with some of the most bizarre and heartfelt sci-fi I've ever read in a comic book. I'm surprised, ultimately, by what's not included in these adventures, but that's got nothing to do with what's truly a stellar collection.
[Spoilers in this here swamp.]
Saga Vol. 6 starts out with the most rudimentary of the stories in the book, which given that Moore creates a seemingly working language for Adam Strange and the Ranninan people, and runs pages upon pages of the first two chapters (issues #57-58) in it, is really saying something. To an extent, the story follows the standard trope of superheroes fighting and then teaming up, though Moore does include an interesting bit about the Rannians only valuing Adam Strange as a stud horse that he unfortunately never follows up upon.
With the third chapter (issue #59), however, guest-writer Bissette kicks of the complexity of the book with a story told from two or three perspectives (even that of a dream), in which Abby Arcane's Frankenstein-like father returns to find her. With no particular knowledge of Swamp Thing or the Patchwork Man before, what was happening in this issue was a mystery to me right up to the end, and it's a lovely story, scary and touching and sad, and bookended bizarrely with the scenes of Anton Arcane in Hell that make it seem like a House of Mystery or Tales from the Crypt-type tale.
The next chapter (issue #60) could be Moore's most complicated of them all. It's told entirely in splash pages and two-page spreads, illustrated by John Totleben. The only narration comes in a twisty metaphoric computer language reminiscent of the aliens' double-speak in Moore's "Pog" story -- and therein, through the frame of a cosmic bed-time story. A sentient mechanical vessel captures Swamp Thing's consciousness, floating through space, and then pursues Swamp Thing throughout itself, trying essentially to mate with him.
It ends, the story itself acknowledges, with the machine splitting Swamp Thing open and raping him, after creating and following Swamp Thing through a time-bent wormhole. The story is terribly difficult for the reader -- to understand, first and foremost; then to witness Swamp Thing's mechanical violation; and further, to understand it all as a lullaby about how Swamp Thing unwittingly saved the robotic alien's race. Moore and Totleben are in top form here, offering a story weird and beautiful in the spirit of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and again demonstrating the versatility of the Swamp Thing character.
And that's not even my favorite chapter of the book!
No, my favorite is the next, "All Flesh is Grass" (issue #61). Here, Swamp Thing jumps to the planet J586, not realizing it's already full of sentient plants, and unwittingly becomes a behemoth made up of J586's citizens. Moore begins the story detailing the people-plants of J586 -- two lovers, a self-involved artist, a faithless priest -- and his detail (like the man walking a shrubbery pet) is exquisite. Once trapped inside Swamp Thing, the lovers realize the distance between them, the artist confronts her isolation, the priest despairs and then regains himself. Moore tells at least four stories simultaneously, plus more, because against the hulking Swamp Thing flies in the Green Lantern Medphyll, himself mourning the recent loss of his mentor.
Medphyll extracts Swamp Thing's bio-electric essence from the swarm of bodies (and in the way the people are grotesquely transformed to become the Swamp-Hulk, Moore's tendencies for horror still remain), eventually offering Swamp Thing the corpse of his mentor to inhabit until Swamp Thing can move on. Medphyll receives a second chance to tell his mentor good-bye, and it's a sad and sweet ending to a rivetingly intricate story.
All of that, and Moore caps it with a punchline in which Adam Strange goes to tell Abby that Swamp Thing's still alive -- and she doesn't believe him! Despite all Abby has experienced, the guy who teleports to an alien planet is too much for her, and she turns him away from her door. Moore has delivered a single-issue sci-fi epic, and then when he presents something more mundane, it's considered just too unbelievable. The truth is stranger than fiction, after all.
Artist Veitch writes issue #61, with appearances by New Gods Metron and Darkseid; Veitch draws here, too, including a take on Jack Kirby's first image of Darkseid. Adding to the wonders of this book, Veitch offers a handful of sequences that culminate with a twenty-five panel page in which Metron believes he sees every aspect of the universe at once -- and Veitch really makes the reader feel it. From Bissette's familial horror to Moore's out there sci-fi and then Veitch's journey into the Source, there is a lot, a lot to experience here.
When Swamp Thing finally returns to Earth, it's almost a let-down. Moore hits the right notes -- in one issue, a throwback to the book's earlier horror days, Swamp Thing violently kills the men who've been hunting him; in the second, Moore takes up again Swamp Thing and Abby's love and lust -- but this is worn ground after what preceded it. Moore tackles well one last existential question, however -- why, if Swamp Thing can cure the Rannian famine, he shouldn't essentially bring peace to Earth -- and seemingly even makes his own cameo before the book closes.
There is never, as I had expected, another appearance of the Parliament of Trees, and though foreshadowed, there is neither Abby conceiving a baby with Constantine (conspicuously absent here) in Swamp Thing's stead nor the birth of baby Tefe. All of these are things I had mistakenly attributed to Moore and expected before the end of the story, which are instead Veitch's or other writers down the road. That's disappointing, perhaps, though no fault of Moore's.
The Saga of the Swamp Thing hardcover series goes out on a high note because the sixth volume is full of high notes -- Alan Moore at his most lofty and imaginative (from issue #60, Moore's penchant for poetry is ramped up continues nonstop to the end). Given the horror of the earliest issues, and the dystopian Watchmen that Moore wrote alongside this, the creativity in these final issues feels like the sun coming up.
It's too bad, knowing what else I know about Swamp Thing, the overall adventure feels unfinished -- the first Rick Veitch collection, Regenesis is long out of print, and I wish DC would reprint it in the vein of these Moore collections. Verily what's really needed is a Swamp Thing Chronicles, reprinting all the various Swamp Thing series in chronological order.
Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 6 collects issues #57-64 of the series, with original covers and an introductions by series artist Stephen Bissette. Thanks all reading these books along with me.
(Read my review of Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4, and Vol. 5.)