4 out of 5
It is fascinating witnessing Alan Moore feeling his way through a legitimate DC Universe character in an ongoing series, trying to figure out how to respect what came before while shaping the title anew, and dealing with deadline woes with aplomb. This second collection of issues – which contains some now absolutely classic moments in Swamp Thing Annual #2, and the ‘let’s talk about sex’ issue #34, alongside issues #28 -33 – interestingly suffers a bit from having it altogether in one readthrough, as those growing pains of going from Swamp Thing the horror title to Swamp Thing the cosmic thinkpiece are more readily apparent, both in writing and art, and the “fill in” issues, when artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben needed more time and requiring artists Shawn McManus and Ron Randall to step in, though excellent on their own, again rather stick out when read back to back.
McManus firstly takes on issue #28, ‘The Burial,’ maintaining a darker edge to his look to allow Moore to deliver a thoughtfully transitional tale in which Alec the swamp monster says a true goodbye to Alec the human. This is a fascinating pause in narrative, and truly shows – both in Swamp’s direct actions, and in the deliberate and contemplative pacing of the story – how the book is shifting focus from something a little more action oriented to the poetic and prosaic. Bissette and Totleben are back for the next trio of issues, which also are sort of a closing-the-door transition, this time focused on Arcane, and Matt. This is much more in the vein of the previous “action” issues with The Demon, though, and it feels like a tonal hiccup after Burial, despite being great issues with some fantastically creepy art on their own terms.
The Annual – ‘Down Amongst the Dead Men’ – follows: a brilliantly conceived journey through heaven and hell that is fully committed to Swamp Thing as an “elemental,” setting up logical interactions with DCs other-worldly denizens – Phantom Stranger, Deadman, etc. The Demon’s appearance here is a lot more “Moore” than the previous Jack Kirby dedicated issues, although I wish John Constanza had lettered the rhyming couplets so that the rhymes landed on the end of lines. Regardless, the title makes me giddy when it reminds us that it exists in the DCU, and this feels like a true example of that, and not a cheat like with the JLA being on the sidelines in earlier issues.
Two more fill-ins – Pog, with McManus, and Abandoned Houses, with Randall. Pog is a fun tribute to Pogo, but it’s very clearly a fill-in, especially surrounded by such heftier storylines. Moore grounds it in environmentalism and Earth-awareness and glooms it up with death, and to reiterate, taken on its own, totally notable. But it’s the juxtaposition with its proximity to the other issues that makes it seem odd. Abandoned Houses, meanwhile, is a fun way of spinning a whole bunch of things together – narrative that matters to the title, some nostalgia for House of Secrets / House of Mystery, and trying to make Swamp Thing’s first appearance canon within the current plotlines. Randall does an excellent job of mimicking a classic DC look on his art, and the inclusion of Len Wein’s / “Berni” Wrightson’s origin tale is perfectly handled.
After some oddly sequenced pinups (normally these would appear at the end of a book, unless they were part of issue #33?), we get the rightfully classic ‘Rite of Spring,’ in which Swamp Thing and Abby “commune” with one another. I should hate this as a love-the-world hippy manifesto, but it’s so adult and so well handled that I firstly can’t deny its status in comic history, and secondly – maybe more importantly – truly enjoyed it and felt immersed in the emotions and mood it expressed. Bissette and Totleben also seem like they turn a page artistically, here, ditching some of the EC-style looseness earlier employed – maybe encouraged by inked Alfred Alcala’s apperance inking Bissette earlier, which significantly tightened up the art to, in my opinion, its benefit – and illustrate not only some amazing, surreal sequences in “the green,” but just sync together better overall, nailing flow and mood page to page.