Saga of the Swamp Thing vol. 4 TPB (2012 edition) – Alan Moore

3 out of 5

Collects issues 43 – 50.

Two of the best standalone(-ish) Alan Moore Swamp Thing issues to date are backed up by, firstly, an unfortunate distraction of Crisis on Multiple Earths business – every issue must crossover! so demandeth the editors, and Moore tries to comply while sticking to his narrative – and then the clunky wrapup of his “American Gothic” mega-arc, which feels like it jumps into its own crisis mode after a slower, more interesting buildup, and thus feels timed weirdly so soon after the DC Universe event months before.

But things start off well, perhaps coincidentally in a couple of issues in which Swampy is more of a background figure: a hippie, casual drug dealer stumbles across one of the Thing’s yam-type growths and delves it out to two vastly different associates – one “good,” one “bad” – leading to two massively different trips which we get to view.  It’s a perfect side story, as it both helps us get to further understand Swamp’s world while also tugging on the conceptual threads Moore has been working with.  The following tale goes first person into the mind of a serial killer, building up toward his meeting with a certain plant elemental, again dealing with different aspects and definitions of “evil” in this world and reconfirming Swamp Thing more as a force (of nature) as opposed to a typical hero.  The next variation on this theme, exploring a Winchester Mystery House proxy (with the owner rather confusingly compared to the Winchesters; I’m not sure I understood the need for this doubling except maybe for Moore to write his own history into the house…?) stumbles from overwritten prose, as Moore again gets a bit too preachy and cute with his thoughts on culture, but there are some amazing visuals wended in.

Then the Crisis crossover.  This is a weird bit of bunk because it forces Alan’s hand: he has to bring his own “what this has all been building towards” resolutions forward to sort of align them with DCs larger crisis, which unfortunately renders Swamp Thing’s Constantine-prompted exploration of various horrors into something of a pointless lark: John is suddenly SUPER serious about this religious group that’s ushering in the ultimate evil, and it doesn’t quite make any sense why he sent Swampy on the roundabout tour in a lackadaisical manner just so he could suddenly freak out and tell him that shit’s hitting the fan right now go go go…

…Especially since he then backs that up with another delay: before we save the world, go visit these trees.  The following issue, The Parliament of Trees, is, of course, important for the character and series for setting up this legacy of plant elementals – that is, the various Swamp Thing characters and archetypes that have existed in prior comics – as part of a purposeful life and death cycle, which is not only a cool way to make a character’s history fully canon, but also to sync with more of those themes Moore has been working on in the book up to this point.  As a standalone issue, this is an interesting read, very much in line with the earlier expansions of Swamp Thing lore, but as a pause between climactic issues, it’s weird.

And then the rush toward the end: issue 50, when all of the paranormal types in the DCU team up to take down uber-evil.  Some of this is fun, seeing the “band coming together” tropes played out in this backwards-ass comic in which our main character is a man of complete inaction, and some of it is truly effective in setting stakes, as we see powered characters taken down not by typical comic book fisticuffs, but rather essentially overwhelmed by the immensity of what they’re facing.  This leads to a triumphant moment when Swampy saves the day, and it feels legitimately earned.

At the same time, we’re still sort of funneled off of the clunky lead-in to this battle, which makes the tone ultimately uneven, and, unfortunately, the “ultimate evil” isn’t too visually impressive, as Bissette and Totleben settle for an off-camera foe, shown in the duo’s more surreal, looser linework when it appears.

Regarding the art, this collection does see more frequent appearances of some stronger art teams vs. other recent issues – Stan Woch and Ron Randall being my favorite – as Steve had (perhaps) become more dispirited and exhausted by this point, his and Totleben’s art not nearly as exacting and exciting as it once had been.

Once again, some important moments in this collection, but seeing Moore work in a big ol’ comic brawl fashion, and being required to work his story into DCs Crisis on Infinite Earths, makes it lose its sense of pacing and some of its purposefulness.