Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"It's raining in Washington tonight. Plump, warm summer rain that covers the sidewalk with leopard spots. Downtown, elderly ladies carry their houseplants out to set them on their fire escapes as if they were infirm relatives or boy kings."
The new softcover version of the first part of the classic Alan Moore reworking of the SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING, during which DC finally gained enough balls to take the shameful self-censoring Comic Code Authority Seal Of Approval stamp off the cover of one their titles for the first time, and fully let loose the monster that is Alan Moore's imagination on its readers. To be fair, you have to give due credit to whoever made that decision at DC, because it certainly helped in beginning to change corporate comics at the time.
For me, Moore's run on SWAMP THING is some of his finest storytelling ever as he takes over a previously peripheral DC character and creates a wondrous, beguiling and captivating story that is truly mammoth in its vision and scope, so vast it's impossible to summarise everything it encompasses. It is truly worthy of the description 'epic', a saga indeed. True to the original Len Wein origins of the character, there are some genuine moments of real horror which are very unnerving and very uncomfortable stuff to read, with potentially nightmare-inducing artwork. But there are also moments of genuine tenderness, as a very unlikely inter-species romance unfolds between the Swamp Thing and Abby Cable. We are transported along utterly, emotionally and spiritually, with this entity that is on a quest like no other to understand his place and at times simply survive, in a very confused and unforgiving universe.
In short, the writing is everything you would expect of Moore. From excursions to the very depths of hell, the heights of heaven and the myriad realms in-between. Reaching down to the ancient roots of the earth and the forgotten, timeless elementals that dwell there, to the void-filled outermost fringes of the universe where life exists but not as we could have ever imagined it. With metaphysical explorations of the very nature of insanity and enlightenment and the sometimes infinitesimally fine line that divides the two. The truly amazing thing is that all this takes place within the costumed mainstream DC universe and it just works perfectly. Yes, we get the obvious more mystical characters cropping up such as Boston Brand / Deadman, the Spectre, the Phantom Stranger etc. but we also see Swamp Thing go to Gotham and take on an uber-fascistically depicted Batman ("You ever threaten my city again, I'll kill you..."), and we also see him in Metropolis encountering an ignorant, almost arrogant Superman. We even see him encountering Adam Strange on the dying desiccated planet of Rann during his enforced off-world sojourn. Mind you, we also get plenty of madness with incestuous villains that just refuse to die and when they finally do confound the very demons of hell by being happy, underwater vampires, a cabal of South American tribal magicians with seriously ambitious plans to change the order of things through more than a few unwilling sacrifices, not to mention an island-sized technology-based alien life-form rapist drifting lonely in the vastness of interstellar space.
It's just that when Moore chooses for the Swamp Thing's path to intersect with those of the costumed characters he does it so seamlessly, always seen from the Swamp Thing's perspective which has become ours so completely, that it works perfectly. Again and again we feel the sadness and confusion of a being who quite frankly would just like the world at large to leave him alone, but sadly - as is very much true for all of us - life just doesn't unfold as smoothly as that, does it? And let us also not forget that we see the first appearance of a certain John Constantine, serene, dapper, cocksure and at his most arch and manipulative, indeed at the very top of his game. In fact Constantine is a very central character throughout the entire run once he has made his dramatic first entrance in volume three and anyone who has ever read HELLBLAZER and enjoyed it should not miss out on reading SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING. One of my favourite moments is at the end of one particular storyline as Swamp Thing and Constantine are stood by the side of a road preparing to part company and John is repeatedly teasing Swamp Thing about a great vegetable joke he's got but it would be completely wasted on him due to his lack of humour. In the end the frustrated Swamp Thing is basically manipulated into asking him to tell the joke. John feeds him the opening line whilst Swamp Thing's back is turned ("How do you baffle a vegetable?") and when Swamp Thing turns in exasperation having answered that he doesn't know and received no reply, Constantine has simply vanished into thin air.
Masterful stuff and a neat example of the counterpoint humour Moore incorporates to the horror and seriousness which lightly punctuates and delicately seasons his writing to perfection.
This first new softcover edition includes the very first Moore issue which was never included in the original softback collection simply because it actually concludes a story started by Marty Pasko who himself put together a very creditable 19-issue run and established many of the minor characters used throughout the Saga by Moore and later Rick Veitch. Then we get Moore's start proper, his reboot origin tale for Swamp Thing told very cleverly and obliquely within another story featuring a most obscure DC villain, Jason Woodrue the Fluoronic Man, who inadvertently awakens to the underlying consciousness connecting all plant life on the planet and promptly goes mad. We also get a most amusing cameo from a very baffled and helpless JSA which neatly sets the tone for the disdainful and delightfully dismissive manner in which Moore treats the super-heroes whenever and wherever they crop up throughout his entire run. This collection concludes with a disturbing horror story wherein Jason Blood and his alter-ego, the rhyming Demon Etrigan, are tracking down a very, very unpleasant fear demon which has recently moved into the Louisiana Bayou.
I personally can't recommend SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING highly enough. If you like horror writing, you'll love it. And If you liked intelligent explorations of topics such as heaven and hell, enlightenment, the nature of reality and relationships as only Alan Moore can in works like PROMETHEA, you'll love it too. The SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING is definitely an oft-overlooked part of his canon that deserves much more praise.
As to the art: as orgasmic as it is organic. And it is set in a swamp...