Friday, July 04, 2014

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.

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