Friday, July 04, 2014

swamp thing, volume 6

The final collection of Alan Moore's award-winning work on "Swamp Thing" finds everyone's favorite plant elemental trying to make it back home.

Volume 6 is less memorable than the previous volumes collected under writer Alan Moore's name. The first four volumes in particular focused pronouncedly were horror, environmental horror in particular. This anthology instead explores the genre of episodic science fiction as the Swamp Thing's spirit jumps from one planet to the next. As he goes Moore explores and offers up commentary on science fiction characters such as Adam Strange, Metron and a member of the Green Lantern corps.

Unlike the issues collected "American Gothic" storyline, these are essentially standalone stories and fairly straightforward fare. Loosely connected by his desire to return to the earth, the individual issues are not building up to any great conclusion, and in fact contain stories by other writers as well. Among these is Rick Veitch's issue with Metron and Darkseid, which in a few throwaway panel serves to foreshadow one of the storylines Veitch had planned for his own run on the comic.

This is not to say that the stories aren't good; Moore has always been one of the brightest lights in comic books, and in the 1980s, he was at the top of his game. It's clear from these stories that he was having fun, imagining unusual settings to place the Swamp Thing in, and along the way experimenting with the storytelling medium he was using. (There is one story told from the perspective of a sentient planet-size ship that encounters the Swamp Thing and traps him in her core for a brief time.)

But it's only after the Swamp Thing gets back to Earth that things begin engaging again, as Moore returns to his familiar environmental themes, and winds up his defining run on the series. And like every good writer does, he leaves the reader with something to consider on those themes.

While in space, the Swamp Thing discovered he could save a world from complete environmental collapse and ruin, and now on earth he is considering the possibility of doing the same here, until he realizes that humanity would simply squander the new Eden he gives them, and continue to blight it over and over again. It's better, he decides, to sit it out, and hope that humanity will wake up to its responsibilities on its own.

And on that, despite the horror we have seen over the last six volumes, Moore leaves us with the hope that we are willing to contribute, and the effort we are willing to make that hope real.

Copyright © 2014 by David Learn. Used with permission.

swamp thing, volume 5

I had never read much Swamp Thing until recently, when I finally got around to reading Alan Moore's classic take on the character.

As superheroes go, Swamp Thing really doesn't bring much new to the table. A brilliant scientist named Alec Holland, he was turned into a monster by a horrible accident in his lab in the Louisiana bayou that turned him into an intelligent mass of swamp life. It was a fairly ho-hum origin story until Alan Moore took over the title and started to explore the horror story potential around a being so literally plugged into the environment.

This, the fifth volume of Moore's seminal run on "Swamp Thing," marks a shift in the storytelling from the four previous volumes. Until now, "Swamp Thing" has been a comic showcasing environmental and social horror, covering topics like deforestation and overconsumption, nuclear and toxic waste, misogyny and domestic violence, and America's gun culture. Volume 5 is where it becomes a love story.

Comic books almost always have contained their romantic subplots, as the hero has a love interest that can't be fully realized for one reason or another. Superman loves Lois Lane, but she has a low opinion of Clark Kent. Ben Grimm loves Alicia Masters, but can't see her being with someone as misshapen and as monstrous as him. And not only is Abigail Cable married, the Swamp Thing is a superorganism of plants.

Here Moore offers a subtextual commentary on superhero relations as the authorities charge Abby with crimes against nature, prompting her to jump bail and flee to Gotham City. When the Swamp Thing discovers, he follows her to Gotham and ultimately brings the city to a halt and (naturally) comes into conflict with Batman until his lover is released.

This collection continues many of the environmental themes of Moore's earlier "Swamp Thing" stories, but it also delves into the psyche of an urban jungle and its powerlessness before the might of nature. Even as he tells the story of the love between the Swamp Thing and Abby, Moore shines his light into the emptiness of America's cities and the longing at the heart of humanity for a return to the Green and walking in step with nature once more.

As Batman later remarks, "I think all of us were awed by a love that could stop a city."

If you're looking for a superhero comic for your children, "Swamp Thing" isn't it. But if you want an intelligent story that gives you something to think about after you finish, you should read this, and the previous four volumes.

Copyright © 2014 by David Learn. Used with permission.