Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Saga of the Swamp Thing Book One review

For many readers, Alan Moore is one of the greatest if not the greatest comics writer. Generally I would agree with this but I have some issues with him writing. I started to read his Swamp Thing run before and I stopped about halfway. It was about halfway through the longest story arc of his tenure called American Gothic. Essentially, it was a story building up to an excellent climax in issue #50 but I didn’t know that at the time because the stories leading up to the epic conclusion are some of the worst in his run. Alan Moore gets preachy and it’s difficult to read. I acquired the remaining three hardcovers a few months ago, deciding to give him a second chance in part due to Timothy Callahan’s Great Alan Moore Reread on Tor.com. So, for about a month, I read all of Moore’s Swamp Thing and except for a few dips in quality it’s an excellent read. I’d easily place it in his top five comics.

Let’s get on with it. This hardcover volume collects the first eight issues of Moore’s run on Saga of the Swamp Thing (#20-27). In case you live in a cave and didn’t already know, this is the comic that make Alan Moore famous in the American comics industry and revolutionized what the medium could do. It also played an very big role in the creation of the Vertigo Comics imprint. Even if you’re only read these eight issues you won’t find this surprising in the least. Moore kicks of his Swamp Thing story with a bang.

What’s so great about it? Well, issue #21 for starters. In one spectacular comic, Moore revamps who and what Swamp Thing is and does it all while telling a pretty frightening horror story. It turns out Swamp Thing is not formally a man, as he once thought. He is a vegetable monster in the shape ofa man who during the course of this volume learns to let go of who he thought he was and develop his humanity and identity. When it comes to character development, it’s a rather beautiful not to mention ground-breaking story for a horror comic. Moore’s Swamp Thing is about many things but in these earlier issues its about death and rebirth all made obvious to the reader with the use of Christine imagery.

There are two story arcs collected here.  The first story is about the death and resurrection of Swamp Thing while also tying up all the loose ends from the previous creative team’s run. All this is done while also setting up future story arcs. Moore and his collaborators Stephen Bissette, John Totleben and Stan Woch also find a way to revamp the Floronic Man into a frightening villain.

The second story arc isn’t as strong as the first, which is fine because the first few issues are of an unbelievably high quality. Interestingly enough, Moore’s Swamp Thing up to this point consists of monsters fighting other monsters but Moore and his collaborators are creating a new style of comics which is much more poetic, subtle in its technique and with plenty of literary allusions.

So much vegetation, so much texture!
The art is just as interesting as Moore’s writing. The first issue is drawn by Dan Day and his Swamp Thing looks like very large, muscles man with green skin and roots here and there on his body. He looks like something from a swamp alright but the Swamp Thing we get from Stephen Bissette and John Totleben is another thing entirely. Their monster looks much more like swamp vegetation taking a humanoid form. He does not have a smooth body with a few roots here and there, he has much more texture. He’s fuzzy from the moss, he’s growing tubers, the roots grow in and out of him as opposed to sitting on top of his skin. One of the characters mentions at one point that he has a bug crawling inside of his arm. There is very little that is physically human about this new Swamp Thing.

I’m unclear whether these art choices were done to compliment Swamp Thing’s death and rebirth or if it’s simply the artists’ take on the character. I suppose it doesn’t matter because it works and its look fantastic.

All in all, Swamp Thing Book One is an excellent read. You have monster, storytelling mixing the poetic and the horrific, art that is both graphic and beautiful. It’s a brand new (well, at the time) approach on the Swamp Thing and despite the density of the storytelling (at lot happens in 8 issues) you get a feeling this is just the beginning. Saga of the Swamp Thing Book Two review coming soon.

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