Friday, August 19, 2005

alan moore's "swamp thing"

I don't know if you've ever read Alan Moore's run on "Swamp Thing," but if you haven't, I recommend it. In fact, even if it's available at the library, I'd go out and buy a copy. It's that good.

The only other Moore work I know from the 1980s is his "Watchmen," which I've never been able to submerge myself in completely, even though I recognize its importance to the medium and even though I can enjoy the artistry in some ways. (I'm guessing I don't have enough angst and despair to enjoy the darkening tone of the pirate comic, especially when it's buoyed up by Dreyburg's depression, the Comedian's nihilism, Rorshach's endless hostility and Dr. Manhattan's disinterest.)

"Swamp Thing" is just incredible. As the D.C. Universe goes, he's probably a C-string character, slightly more interesting than the Elongated Man, but not as engaging as Green Arrow or Etrigan. I know him mostly from the movie, where Alec Holland was working on some sort of growth formula to enhance plant growth, got covered in the stuff and became the anthropomorphic embodiment of swamp plants. Plus he had a guest shot in "Aquaman" while Peter David was writing it, and Neil Gaiman wrote a couple Swamp Thing-related stories that appeared in "Midnight Days."

In his first issue on "Swamp Thing" -- and it always feels funny to write about a personally new discovery that's actual twenty years old -- Moore reinterpreted the Swamp Thing's origin, much in the way that JMS later reinterpreted Spider-Man. I don't want to say much about it if you haven't read the volume in question, but it's fascinating. It completely redefines the character without really violating anything you've understood about him, and in some ways it even explains some of the impossibilities of his origins -- although as I noted to Natasha, you can't really do that without creating more absurdities, since you're trying to make the impossible seem believable.

Still, he redefines the character, and then follows that through brilliantly, creating a four-part horror story that works precisely because it deals with real horrors like the environmental devastation we've perpetrated in the last several decades. After that comes another three-part horror story that is also good, partly because of the thematic elements, but mostly because of those freaking twists and turns Moore puts his stories through in terms of expectation and plot. His stories can get so complex, it's fun to go back and re-read them just to see all the pieces lining up ahead of time.

I wish I could write that well. (Come to think of it, I wish Moore still wrote that well, but the "Tom Strong" books I've read have been a disappointment, and even "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" wasn't as good as this.)

And of course, as a "Sandman" fan, I got a kick out of realizing that Matthew Cable is none other than the pre-deceased Matthew, who became Dream's Raven in "The Doll's House." I had read that somewhere else, I think on an annotated Sandman web site I visited a couple years ago, but it was still neat to make the connection, and also to recognize a quote that Gaiman borrowed for "The Wake": "The night can make a man more brave, but not more sober." Ironic, I thought, that a comic book character was quoting to Matthew a line from a comic book where Matthew nearly killed himself while driving drunk.

Anyway, "Swamp Thing" is good stuff. I must remember to use my Barnes & Noble card to snag a copy at 20 percent off if the opportunity presents itself. (And for another good horror comic, check out "30 Days of Night," one of the all-time chillingest horror comics I've read, although it didn't give me nightmares.)

No comments: