4 out of 5
There are so many smart people who’ve done deep-dive analyses on Alan Moore’s works, along with countless reviews – recent ones; ones done at the time – by, again, those with more studied and earned opinions, that I’ve never necessarily felt qualified to offer my own takes. That hasn’t stopped me, of course, but at the back of my head its gnawed that maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, at least from a critical perspective.
Over the past year or so, though, I’ve been trying to do my own reread (or read for the first time) of all my Moore stuff, filling in gaps in my collection / education along the way. Because his classic stuff can be a bit daunting, that’s meant its gotten saved for last: I’ve read Watchmen a hundred times, but reading it to review it is quite different; V for Vendetta has never been my favorite work, so it took me a while to get around to it; and rereading 90s-era Image stuff is something, in general, I probably wouldn’t do for pleasure. And now, as I start in on Moore’s notable Swamp Thing run – this is a first time read – I look back and realize: I’ve read a damn good chunk of his work. I’m definitely missing some rarities, but I’ve read an awful lot of 2000 AD stuff, as well as odds and ends that some collections have offered. I’m missing Captain Britain and Supreme, but thanks to Marvel’s reprints of Miracleman some years back, I’ve been able to cross one of those “one day I’ll check this out” runs off the list. I caught up on all the ABC stuff, including Promethea, which I kept putting off. And since I became an active comic reader in the early 00s, I’ve been able to keep up with most of Moore’s output from that point on.
So, yeah, dang: I still don’t have any professional bonafides as a reviewer, but I’ve at least absorbed enough of the writer’s work to have what I’d consider a qualified opinion. For, uh, whatever that’s worth to ya’, anyway. (And for whatever my qualification of my own qualifications is worth to ya’…)
The reason I suppose this is important for me to exhaustively lay out is because I secretly had read some Moore Swamp Thing many years back, and I did not like it. Alan has nigh always shown himself capable of producing the kind of hefty prose that you have to be in a certain mindset to deal with, and the titles that wade in that are more of an investment of my brain time (for shame!); Swamp Thing seemed to be of that caliber, while also not being the most interesting character / concept to me. Give me Steve Gerber’s Man-Thing run instead. I’d later picked up the six Moore Swamp Thing trades, and so they’ve been sitting there, taunting me: something I didn’t think I’d enjoy, six trades of which to go through.
In case the rating up above didn’t spoil things, not only did I find the first collection (issues #20 – 27 of Saga of the Swanp Thing) immensely readable, I also, uh, undeniably enjoyed them, which hasn’t always been the case with these more heralded Moore books. Sometimes I have to sift my opinion through others’, acknowledging where something is masterfully written, even if it didn’t appeal to me. I was very pleased to not have to apply that filter here.
Swampy vol. 1 finds Moore closing some threads from the prior run in issue #20 – the aptly named Loose Ends – before launching into a recontextualizing of the character with The Anatomy Lesson, and its related issues to follow. But this isn’t necessarily a clear cut “revamp:” Moore rather brilliantly evolves the character by adding a simple, but brilliant, tweak to his origin: that he is not Alec Holland who also happens to be a plant; he is a plant which has confused itself as Alec Holland. This is a springboard to not only exploring the emotional upheaval for this now literal swamp “thing” – which lends itself well to Moore’s more indulgent prose – but also as a way to add depth to the relationship Swampy has with those around him, whether that’s with Swamp Thing’s squeeze, Abbie – whom Moore of course begins to develop in her own right, maturing her and estranged beau Matt Cable beyond standard damsel / antagonist figures – and especially with Jason Woodrue aka The Floronic Man, who’s research into ST drives him insane. Woodrue’s “journey” parallels Swamp Thing’s sinking into the mire of his own faux memories; when The Floronic Man flips into insane mode and aims attacks out at the populace, Moore rather humorously brings in The Justice League, only to have them sit up in space, grousing about their inability to do anything.
The JL’s inclusion is one of the reasons Swamp Thing really worked for me: it’s still grounded in comic bookdom. Moore’s “literary” works are a different breed altogether, and Miracleman, frankly, wasn’t published for DC or Marvel, so it had a different tone. The ABC heroes to come are cheeky. But at this point, Moore is still working within an established comic universe, and not just for a oneshot issue – it’s an ongoing. Here’s the League; Jason Blood shows up in the next arc. It’s not always a smooth combination – the bits with the Demon are very rough around the edges as compared to the Floronic Man issues, feeling a bit more forced to include some requisite action and maintain the book’s horror edge – but it’s still really exciting to see Moore playing around in the DC sandbox at a time that I imagine he was actively interested in doing so.
Steve Bissette’s and John Totleben’s art on the series, at this point, is something of an acquired taste, I’d say. The figurework is very loose and verges on sloppy at points, but there’s an unleashed nature to this looseness that absolutely ascribes the more morbid tone the book is trying to maintain. The paneling is often brilliantly surreal, but then can also be a bit too open-ended. But: it doesn’t look like your average comic book, and I surely can imagine flipping through these pages back in the mid-80s, rather awestruck at their oddness.
The 2012 edition of the trade has two really great forewords – one from horror author Ramsey Campbell, and one from Len Wein. There are page numbers, and a table of contents, which I always appreciate, and the trade dress is really handsome. 8 issues for $20 mostly amazing issues is, for sure, quite a deal.