The third volume of Alan Moore’s time as the writer of Swamp Thing collects the first half the American Gothic storyline. Those issues present the first lull in the momentum that Moore and the artists had been building since issue #20. American Gothic is famous for introducing the character of John Constantine who became the poster boy of sorts for Vertigo Comics. Constantine cons Swamp Thing to go on a journey to different parts of America on what appears to be wild goose chases. To the perceptive reader, it is clear that Constantine is forcing Swamp Thing to change and develop as a plant Elemental.
This volume comes off as a slight disappointment compared to the first two volumes. The individual stories presented here aren’t as interesting as the previous issues. More importantly, they are difficult to read because Alan Moore gets preachy with him commentary of various elements of old and present America. I guess he tried to say something about America but I don’t think he was very successful.
The issues are very well executed but they’re simply uninteresting for the most part. It seems strange that the team that gave us a new Swamp Thing, a revamped and terrifying Floronic Man, a monster brawl between Swamp Thing, the Demon and the Monkey King, a frightening Arcane, a trip to hell and back and more than one out of body experiences give us, in this third volume, stories of a radioactive man, underwater vampires, a werewolf and a movie about slavery haunted by the very past it is trying to replicate. It’s pretty boring add to that Moore’s preachy narrative it’s almost enough to make you lose faith in the creative team.
Listed like that it doesn’t seem like this stories have much in common but they do and it’s that very thing that keeps this volume interesting and stops it from being a failure. Two things, actually. Swamp Thing is developing both as a character and as an elemental. His growth is what anchors this journey across America. The second thing keeping my interest in this volume is the introduction of John Constantine. He’s a manipulative jerk who has little remorse for the things he does to others. Swamp Thing is just a tool to him and he’s doing what he can to shape and prepare him for what is yet to come. It’s interesting to see just how much of a jerk John Constantine is in his first year. and the other is John Constantine being a horrible person and manipulating Swamp Thing. John Constantine is a jerk in these pages.
To follow up what I’ve written about Swamp Thing’s more texturized look in Moore’s run, in his introduction, Steve Bissette clarifies that it was John Totleben who wanted to draw Swamp Thing as something actually composed of vegetation and not simply a green man suit with roots. Thanks John Totleben, you and Bissette’s Swamp Thing looks great. There’s just so much texture.
I’d rather not write any more about this third volume, my least favourite of Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, so I’ll stop here. The story gets much, much better next volume. Well, not right away, but the end of American Gothic is a high point not only in Moore’s run but in Swamp Thing’s entire comics history. Review of volume four coming soon.