Thursday, October 25, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 24 -- A Review of Alan Moore's "Saga of theSwamp Thing"

For many people, to mention Swamp Thing is to conjure up images of a cheesy movie, its even cheesier sequel, or the live action and cartoon TV series those films inspired.   But for comic book fans, Swamp Thing conjures up images of mature tales of horror that would help redefine what a mainstream comic book was capable of.   For years, Swamp Thing was one of the flagship titles of DC's Vertigo imprint, and that can all be traced back to the reinvention of the character that took place during Alan Moore's run on Saga of the Swamp Thing.

Prior to Moore, Swamp Thing was a relatively mild horror comic book about Alec Holland, a scientist whose experiment goes awry and turns him into a plant-based monster. But with Moore, the Swamp Thing was revealed to not be Alec Holland in the body of a monster, but a monster which had been fooled into thinking it was Alec Holland. Stripped of its illusion of humanity, the Swamp Thing searched for new meaning in its existence. Initially fighting against his longtime foe Anton Arcane who'd returned from the dead yet again, Swamp Thing eventually became a pawn in breakout character John Constantine's byzantine schemes to prepare him for a battle against a powerful force of evil. Towards the end of his run, Moore moved to a more Sci-Fi bent, having Swamp Thing untether his elemental consciousness from Earth in order to explore other worlds and times. But for the largest part of his run, Moore had Swamp Thing confront foes if a much more horrific nature: vampires, ghosts, werewolves, demons, and a vast force of anti-creation.

I can remember getting the first trade paperback of Moore's run on Saga of the Swamp Thing for Christmas in 1988 (along with Moore's Watchmen), and having it boldly redefine in my head what a comic book could be. With its mature storytelling, intelligent takes on the characters and beautifully disturbing artwork, Moore's Swamp Thing is a testament to the power of the art form. Unfortunately, along with other seminal works like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, many people misunderstood the real lessons to take away from these more mature books, thinking that cursing and graphic violence and partial nudity are all it takes to be a successful "mature" title, ignoring the fact that there has to be something more substantial behind it all in order for the work to really soar.

While I read Swamp Thing off and on during other writers runs following Moore's departure, none of them was ever able to perfectly recapture the magic of his tenure on the title.

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