Thursday, 14 February 2013

Saga of the Swamp Thing Book Two review

I like this volume even more than the first. It is one of the few truly revolutionary comics (Julian Darius demonstrated as such in a very interesting three part article in which he attempts, and succeeds, in understanding the bad blood between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. It is an excellent article and you should check in out on Sequart).  It is with the issues collected in Book Two that Moore goes from telling an excellent story to dishing out a masterpiece in monthly installments.

In Book One he tied up all the loose ends from the previous creative team’s time on Swamp Thing. Some people will tell you that all the loose ends where tied up in the first Moore issues titled “Loose Ends” but I think it took longer. The first eight issues felt like a superhero comic which isn’t the case with the second volume. In the first volume there are two pretty clearly defined storylines and in each one there is a pretty clear villain and a pretty clear hero. The first story concentrated on the Floronic Man and the second was about the Monkey King and Etrigan the Demon. They were two very good well done monster brawl comics but even so, the conflict is essentially two or more monster duking it out. There aren’t any monster brawls in volume two. There is still a villain though. Swamp Thing has a big confrontation with Anton Arcane, the Swamp Thing villain but it’s not a fist fight or even a dark magic death and decay vs. plant elemental fight which would be a reasonable thing for a comic to be about. Instead, Moore chooses to evolve Swamp Thing into a different kind of comic and these are the issues it happens in.

Swamp Thing is different than many other comics written by Moore because even though this is primarily a horror comic Swamp Thing has heart, it has real emotion. Some of Moore’s comics can feel like soulless machines designed to entertain. They feel constructed.

Moore and his collaborators are also developing Swamp Thing’s new identity as well as his supporting cast, specifically Abigail Cable. The first eight issues were all about taking care of the left overs plot threads and laying the groundwork for the stories to come. By volume two it’s already paying off. That’s one of the great things about open ended serialized storytelling. Good writers are able to simultaneously tell and epilogue of sorts from a previous story, tell a story and set up another story yet to come. When done well it builds an incredible momentum that’s even more apparent when read in quick succession or in collected form. It allows you to be able to tell stories that require a lot of preparation without it feeling like set up because you can have other shorter stories being told in the same issue. It’s great. Bill Willingham has been pretty good at doing this with Fables. It got to the point with that series that it didn’t feel like there were storylines anymore it was all one giant comic where multiple storylines took place all at the same time. It’s something you find all too rarely in comics I find but it’s one of the medium’s strength. I would like to see more ongoing comic series where it’s a rolling ball effect of plot and subplots and character development.

When I did the post for the first volume I mentioned how Bissette and Totleben made Swamp Thing look like a walking humanoid plant that didn’t necessarily have a clean cut layer of skin with roots sitting on the top such as was the case for Dan Day’s, and many others’, Swamp Thing. I was wondering if this was a plot point or simply Bissette and Totleben’s way of drawing Swamp Thing. It seems, if this volume can stand as proof, that it was more of an artistic choice. Shawn McManus draws Swamp Thing like a rubbery looking plant man with thick skin and roots sitting on the top while Bissette and inkers Totleben and Alfredo Alcala draw him like they did in volume one. In their hands Swamp Thing looks fuzzy with moss, he doesn’t seem to have skin as much as composed of plants and sticks and roots and other various vegetable bits. He looks like a Swamp Thing and not man wearing a green skin tight suit with roots sewn on his chest and shoulders. It’s strange when artist draws defined abdominal muscles on Swamp Thing. It doesn’t look right.

Bissette and Totleben are also very good at making the swamps look and feel like swamps. There are other animals and insects, several different types of vegetation; it’s very pleasing to the eyes. It gives everything a nice sense of realism but mostly it makes the swamp feel as though it’s habited. There are other things in the swamp other than Swamp Thing much like there is more to Swamp Thing than green skin.

I’m really looking forward to the next volume but I know I’ll be a bit disaponited. It’s the beginning of the year long American Gothic story arc which have some of Moore’s worst Swamp Thing issues.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like Audrey 2, but on way too much fertilizer. Lol!