Posted - October 2, 2011 | May 11, 2012 | Updated August 4, 2015
Alan Moore's Swamp Thing
Just a very brief explanation of what this is all about.
Very simple, really, Alan Moore took over the Swamp Thing series from issue 20 to issue 64 plus an annual. How long was that? Nearly four years. As I stated in some parts in this article, I ignored the ugly, gooey swamp monster when these issues came out, preferring mainstream superheroes instead. At that age I could even ignore the awards that the series kept winning, although later on, the awards would make a big impression on me. An even bigger impression would be made by Alan Moore's run in Swamp Thing popping up in conversation after conversation when good comics would be the topic.
Finally, I started reading Swamp Thing. It's curious that the series didn't have that 'pull' effect on me. More so than not, reading an issue of Swamp Thing didn't make me want to pick up the next one. But once I did pick up an issue it would impress me deeply. Like the best comics, it would stick in my mind sometime after I put it down. I would recreate the plot, savor the highlights.
This is good comics.
Swamp Thing - although one of the noblest of DCs heroes - remains, well, icky. His plant nature has me fighting off feelings of yuck. But the magic is Moore. The master storyteller has captured me with his vision of the Swamp Thing and the way he weaves the story of an unlikely hero with the wider DC universe.
In this article I'll cover the entire Moore run. First, join me for a close look at what impressed me about the early stories. Then I'll go into what I liked best of the entire run. Yes, I'll mention some key parts, and yes I'll be showing some panels but don't worry. This does not spoil the experience at all. Nothing takes the place of reading the actual comics. Most of all, this article is a recommendation. This series deserves its awards and the conversations ring true : Swamp Thing belongs in the company of the best comics ever written.
The start of the Moore run is a great example of how a new writer should transition from a previous one. Moore picks up the old building blocks and rebuilds a new structure with them. He does so respectfully, never fully throwing out the old storylines. But he has his own ideas - and they're incredible, groundbreaking ideas - and he prepares the storytelling ground for his ideas to take root by creating new patterns from old story elements.
I chose this panel because it shows just how visually ugly the Swamp Thing series is. Set in large part in the swamplands of Louisiana, the atmosphere is humid, temperature is muggy, everything's half under water, plants and swamp animals galore. And check out these two. Swamp Thing on the left and the even more horrible looking Arcane on the right.
Tarzan has Jane, John Carter has Deja Thoris, Swamp Thing has Abby. The silver haired woman in this panel. The other one is Matt - that's right, it's sort of a love triangle type of thing.
Beautiful beginning here as Alan Moore kills Swamp Thing at the end of the first story - perfect way to end a beginning.
As we rejoin the story, it's been weeks since Swamp Thing's shooting. His corpse has been taken for study by the Sunderland Corporation; the very same company that ordered the Swamp Thing's assassination. Old man Sunderland, head of the firm, wanted to study Swamp Thing for some reason. But he had a problem. He needed a specialist. The world was full of botanists who knew plants and medical doctors who knew people. But where to find someone for a plant man?
In the DC Universe, if you really wanted some eccentric specialists you go to one place . And in this place Sunderland finds his man, or rather plant man. Meet Dr. Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man.
Who better to study a man-plant than a man-plant himself? Unlike the Swamp Thing, Woodrue didn't become a man-plant by accident. He became the Floronic Man by choice. How could somebody choose to do that to himself you say? Well, Jason Woodrue isn't like one of us. He wasn't born on Earth. He wasn't even born in the same dimension. Woodrue comes from another planet in another dimension, and where he comes from, well, the plant world was much more highly regarded then in our rain forest-burning orb.
By the way, Woodrue looks like this in most of the pages in this issue.
The red eyes are the dead giveaway. It's really amusing how Woodrue manages to look human; he uses an aerosol can of 'Flexi-Flesh', a sort of spray-on skin. Realistically, something like that will simply not work in concealing bark-like skin and leaves for hair, but it's a nice, campy touch.
So they took the Swamp Thing and put him in cold storage. I love the rendering of the big cryogenic 'tomb' they put him in.
By the way, the excellent art is by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. Reminds me of Gene Colan, this art.
Here's a close-up of the Swamp Thing in cold storage.
General Sunderland gives Jason Woodrue a clear objective : Find out what the Swamp Thing is.
If you've ever had the kind of boss that likes to stress you out with a deadline, that's General Sunderland. As an office worker myself, I hate this guy immediately. Woodrue is seething as well, but his hands are tied. He goes up against the 'boss' and its back to Arkham. It's Sunderland who's the idiot here though, it's stupid to mess around with a villain who can control plant life. Anyway . . .
As the deadline looms, Woodrue has an ever growing problem: He can't figure out what the Swamp Thing is. Woodrue has put the Swamp Thing on the slab and has began an autopsy. Inside the Swamp Thing, he finds things which look like organs but when Woodrue looks at them closely, these so-called organs don't' work, and never have worked. It's baffling, normally a scientist would be happy with such a mystery but Sunderland keeps breathing down his neck.
I love the way this whole mystery gets resolved. It happens when Woodrue is taking a break from the problem and is reading up on some unrelated scientific journal articles. Incidentally, the article is about Planarian worms.
The experiment using Planarian worms was conducted to test if memory could be passed on chemically. The first step was that a Planarian worm was taught how to run a maze. Having run the maze successfully, a worm was then cut up into pieces and fed to other worms (these scientists are right out of a horror comic - EC Comics would love this stuff). Anyway, the other worms were found to have absorbed the memory of the maze-running worm and were able to run the maze perfectly. We'll get back to the connection to Swamp Thing in a bit, first, just a brief note on the worms and the experiment.
I searched the Net and Planarian worms are real, indeed very common all over the world; they're a type of flatworm. Secondly, the maze experiment is real too, conducted by James McConnell in 1962. But. . . but, the experiment was refuted because, first, it could not be repeated, and, second, the other worms seemed to be following chemical tracks of the original worm in the maze. So there.
But what has all this got to do with Swamp Thing?
After reading this article, Woodrue had one of those flashes of insight so commonly commented upon by everybody who has had a breakthrough. As the saying goes, if you stop wrestling with the problem and just be with it, the solution will arise. This is what happens to the Floronic man - everything just suddenly fell into place. The revelation is amazing.
Alec Holland, the man who the Swamp Thing thought he was, died as a result of an explosion when his lab was sabotaged. During the explosion, two integral elements got thrown into the surrounding swamp waters. The first, was Alex Holland himself, or rather, bits and pieces of his body, torn apart by the explosion. The second element was the chemical Alex Holland was working on, an agricultural experiment which merged with the surrounding plant life giving the plant sentience. Moreover, this sentient plant life absorbed the physical bits and pieces of Alex Holland's body and, by doing so, just like the Planarian worms, absorbed Holland's memories too. More than that, the plant actually thought it was Alex Holland somehow changed into a Swamp Thing.
This revelation, Woodrue's discovery, has the following implications:
First, Alex Holland died in the explosion - he was never the Swamp Thing.
Second, the Swamp Thing is a sentient plant. He isn't like the Floronic Man, there is no man inside him (Woodrue really envies this aspect of the Swamp Thing). His human memories caused the plant to create fake organs and copy human behaviors like breathing, even though it was unnecessary.
Third and last, Swamp Thing is alive. As Woodrue put it: You can't kill a vegetable by shooting it through the head.
Woodrue wrote all of this up and submitted it to Sunderland. Here's the most emotional panel in the comic
Swamp Thing, who possesses the reading ability of Alec Holland, reads about the truth concerning himself. All along he thought he was Alec Holland. You can imagine how shattering this revelation is. He goes on a rampage and kills General Sunderland and storms off into the swamps.
Long after I read this issue I was rolling the story around in my head. The Swamp Thing isn't human. It's all very brilliant.
Fast forward several weeks later. The Swamp Thing now looks like this.
It's a bit hard to tell so I've highlighted where his head is in red. After his initial panic, the Swamp Thing has realized that he has no choice but acceptance. He's a plant. He is not Alec Holland. So he lies down and he surrenders. Once again Woodrue puts it best: 'giving up the illusion of meathood and sinking back into the soft and welcoming green'.
Woodrue has followed him into the swamp; set up a small lab near where Swamp Thing is, and is now studying the Swamp Thing. Now, here's a bit of a, well, slightly icky twist. The Swamp Thing is starting to take root, the swamp ecosystem is literally growing over him; insects nesting and vines creeping and all that. He's also started to produce tubers like yams or sweet potatoes like the one below.
Woodrue, who is envious of Swamp Thing's totally 'planty' nature, cooks these things and eats it. It's not out and out gross but there is an ickiness factor to it.
Woodrue is more and more becoming a hater of non-plants, specifically humans. Listen to the terms he's been using lately: "so squeamish . . . What can one really expect from creatures made of meat?"; "Annoying, stinking cattle"(referring to Matt and Abby): "I hate to hear a sobbing steak". Woodrue, the scientist, gives in and manages to hotwire himself to the swamp. To his surprise, linking himself to the swamp links him will all the other fauna in every part of the world. It's all too much for the Floronic Man. It drives him insane, he breaks through the walls of his lab and runs across the swamp possessed by joy and madness.
While the Floronic Man is rejecting his humanity, Swamp Thing is coming to realize that he is not all plant after all. Even though he is not Alec Holland he has been stamped, indelibly, with the mark of humanity. A mark that is still important to him. With this realization he starts to climb back to sentience.
When the Floronic Man 'patched into the green' and went crazy he became the self-styled avenger of all plant life on Earth. An extremely violent avenger.
This is a massacre issue. We have the Floronic man walking into a small town on the edge of the bayou and commanding the greenery to kill the townspeople. He even has himself recorded while doing it. The video makes it to the higher ups. You know they're in over there heads because they call the Justice League.
In the meantime, Swamp Thing is still lost among the shared consciousness of all plant life. He's on his way back to full sentience when he senses an anomaly in the peaceful consciousness of plants. That anomaly is the man, Jason Woodrue. He senses Woodrue's hate and violence, the mark of men. Swamp Thing knows Woodrue to be no avenger but invader and violator. At this point Swamp Thing returns.
From the start of the story, the narration is very different from the typical superhero book. The JLA satellite is called the 'house above the world'. The JLA are called 'the overpeople'. Superman reference: 'A man who can see across the planet and wring diamonds from its anthracite'. Flash reference : 'A man who can move so fast that his life is an endless gallery of statues'. I find the JLA's assesment of the Floronic Man particularly flawed. They realize that Jason Woodrue is not their enemy. He is an agent of all the plant life on Earth. It is the plant life of Earth that is their foe. This is a huge problem that has the JLA stymied. Luckily, Swamp Thing will solve it for them.
Upon seeing the returned Swamp Thing, Woodrue welcomes him as ally, wrongly thinking that the Swamp Thing, being a plant entity, will join him in his bloodbath. There is a bit of a struggle between the Swamp Thing and the Floronic man during which the Swamp Thing manages to break Woodrue's arm
This broken arm is very symbolic. Plants have no arms to break; only a man can have a broken arm.
What follows next is even more important. The Swamp Thing points out to Woodrue that the destruction he has wrought is more of man's signature than plant's. Swamp Thing is slowly leading Woodrue to a realization. The Floronic Man's original plan was to exterminate mankind by commanding the plant life to produce oxygen levels so high that a fireball effect would ensue. It seems to be a fiendish and solid plan until the Swamp Thing points out an inherent flaw: Once the gasses are all converted to oxygen who will convert it back to plant nourishing carbon dioxide if there are no more creatures on Earth? Just like that, the Swamp Thing brings home the very important point of a self-sustaining ecosystem. And just like that the connection felt by the Floronic Man to all plant-life is withdrawn and Jason Woodrue screams like an abandoned child.
The transition from Jason Woodrue thinking he is a plant to considering himself a man again is so abrupt but very appropriate. Witness his statement when confronted by both Superman and the Green Lantern.
It's back to Arkham for this guy.
The best part of this issue comes in three rows of panels showing a discussion between Abby and the Swamp Thing. The first panel is about Alex Holland.
The second is about the identity of the Swamp Thing.
The third, best of all, is about how the Swamp Thing is holding up.
At this point, I'm beginning to really appreciate how good a writer Alan Moore is. Nothing is forced in the storyline. The tale is growing organically. Wonderful stuff.
I thought the next story begins with the arrival of Satan. The panel sequences of this new arrival gives such a huge sense of foreboding. It's not Satan though, it's a demon .
More on that later. Bissette and Totleben gives us this wonderful splash page of the Swamp Thing under water
We also see the Swamp Thing and Abby relaxing together in the Swamp. Abby comes to visit her friend from time to time.
You've heard about Ouija boards right? Wooden boards with letters on them, purportedly used for talking to spirits. Ever since I was a kid I was always warned against these things. They are not playthings. Keep away. Well, when I saw a couple conjure up a demon that murdered them in this issue I was like 'Uh-Huh'. The couple was lucky, it was the kid who was terrorized by the Demon. Paul was so traumatized that he got institutionalized. Just look at his hospital drawings.
In the last panel of the drawing Paul is hurting another kid because of his fear. The message: fear leads to violence. The demon, who eats fear, followed Paul to the hospital and began to torture the other children. When I realized that Etrigan, for reasons never explained, was out to get this Fear Demon I cheered him on.
Continuing with the story, the evil of the Fear Demon (sorry about that name, the demon is never named), is also being sensed by the Swamp Thing who, like Etrigan, also makes his way to the children's hospice.
Back at the hospice, things take a frightening turn as every single kid is distressed and draws the same thing.
At last, Etrigan makes his entrance.
Etrigan is a rhymer. Moore gives us a great rhyme:"I am the one who comes to cage the Ape. I pay no heed to youth or purity. I'll roast each fool that aids the beast's escape, and drink their health tonight in purgat'ry. Innocents? Why to hear the tales they tell you'd think there was no guilty child in Hell. Feast Jack-An-Ape! Eat hearty while you can upon your neck's the breath of Etrigan!". Not bad. Try this one from Gaiman, this is Etrigan in the Sandman books : "Back to your gate and duty Squatterbloat! I'll take the Dreamlord, play his guardian for innocents abroad need guides of note and who notes more than Etrigan?".
We end the issue with a three way confrontation: Monkey Demon (Fear Monster), Etrigan and Swamp Thing
This is it! Action! From the start, the Fear Demon and Etrigan go at it.
Etrigan goes down!
Swamp Thing takes over. Unfortunately, we don't see the rest of the fight because Abby bolts with Paul in tow and we follow them into the Swamp. It is Etrigan who catches up to them. It seems there are two options to end the chaos: Destroy the Fear Demon or kill Paul. White Monkey is tough so Etrigan is ready to take option 2. What, how could he? This guy's a demon after all. Guess who comes in to save the day? Yup. It's Swamp Thing vs. Etrigan and our favorite muck monster gets his arm dismembered.
But here's a little Swamp Thing trick.
Paul is the key. Paul is beginning to realize this. This is the most powerful part of the issue. Look at this kid, his parents have been killed and he's been terrorized ever since he was a baby. But he makes his stand right here.
Face your fear and what happens? It shrinks.
As an added bonus the Fear Demon gets eaten by Etrigan.
The last page of this story has this heartwarming dedication: "This issue is dedicated with awe & affection to Jack Kirby " - this is ten year's before the King's death in 1994.
This panel is representative of what the next story is all about. This story - after the manic adventures of the last two story arcs - comes through as a very quiet, introspective issue that addresses something central to the Swamp Thing - his relationship with Alec Holland. It is a throwback to the origin issue of Swamp Thing and the revelations of Moore's earlier Swamp Thing stories. But here, Moore, and Swamp Thing, finally put things to rest.
The panel above shows Swamp Thing holding the bones of Alec Holland. He has dug up his remains after being haunted by Alec's ghost. For as long as ghost stories have been around there have been tales about the restless ghosts anxious that their remains be given a proper burial. This is a tale that draws from such tradition.
It is a quiet tale for the most part and ends in peace not only for Alec but also for the Swamp Thing. It is a telling point that after this issue, the Swamp Thing will not be affected at all by Abby calling him Alec. I love the final shot of Alec Holland's ghost, at peace at last.
Alan Moore began his Swamp Thing run by killing off Arcane; but he brings him back for this storyline.
There is an interesting series of panels shown below that foreshadows the story to come. In them, Swamp Thing picks up what he presumes is a dead bird only to have it move in his hand. It turns out there are insects inside the bird making it seem to move.
That's right, in this issue, the dead come back to life.
Here is Arcane in the story's memorable rendition of Hell. The fiend will actually take some souls from the underworld to bring back up as the undead.
The source of all this insanity is the Arcane possessed Matt - shown below.
In a bittersweet scene, Matt, Abby's husband, is himself again although much weakened, almost fatally weakened, by his ordeal. Matt has been emanating malice for most of the story but here we see what the real man is like - a good guy.
This next story is wild. It features these guys :
Aliens. But not the kind you usually find in a mainstream comic, or a suspense/monster type of work like Swamp Thing. These guys seem that they walked right of of Saturday morning cartoons. It's all cliche cuteness until they open their mouth and you find out that Alan Moore has done something decidedly clever with their dialogue.
It is a wonderfully unique done-in-one tale with a bit of a tragic ending, but the showcase here for me is the innovative writing and Alan Moore's fantastic creativity.
Put in Cain and Abel in a comic and I'm immediately interested, and here they are!
As to be expected, the whole story is done in the House of Mystery style but there is a very important revelation within this pages : It turns out that the accident that created the Swamp Thing has been repeated throughout history - Swamp Thing is not the first of his kind. And by 'his kind' is meant Plant Elementals. Fascinating isn't it? There will be more on this backstory in a future issue dealing with the Parliament of Trees. Towards the end of Moore's run we are treated to a great panel of one of the first Swamp Things in a fight with a dinosaur. It's a great looking panel as you can see below.
What do you call the relationship between a plant and a human? Gardening, right? Anyway, all of the issues until the end of Moore's run will have this odd relationship at it's center. I'll admit that it grosses me out a bit, particularly the sex part (yes, there is a sex part) but that's just how it is.
In the tradition of Orpheus journeying to the Underworld to retrieve Eurydice, Swamp Thing journeys to Hell to save Abby. At the start of the journey Swamp Thing finds himself in a, well, some kind of a "reception room" for the dead. Here he meets Deadman.
Deadman was acrobat (as in flying trapeze acrobat) Boston Brand. Killed by persons unknown during a performance on the big top, Brand finds himself still earthbound (at least most of the time) and invisible. The only way Brand can make himself "felt" in the land of the living is by possessing people. Obviously he doesn't hang out on our side all of the time as he gives Swamp Thing an informal tour of the afterlife. In spite of his supernatural state Boston is quite the joker and manages to lighten the heavy panels - he's a really good choice for this issue.
As an example of the more foreboding afterlife characters in the DC Universe just check out these two : the Phantom Stranger and DC's most powerful character . Nothing much is known about the Phantom Stranger except that he is very ancient and very mysterious. The Spectre is the Spirit of Vengeance - it's not a moniker, its actually a position within the DC Universe. The Spectre was created by God or the Universe to maintain some kind of cosmic balance. He can only do so through a human host. These days its Crispus Allen, before Allen it was Hal Jordan; during the time period of this story the host is Jim Corrigan - this would explain the "inside" joke between the Spectre and the Phantom Stranger in this annual.
Whatever did happen to Arcane? Here he is
Arcane says that there are insects hatching inside of him and that his one day in hell feels like years. This is the grossest panel in the story. You don't have to thank me that I shared it with you, you're very welcome.
And now we come to . . .
Etrigan. Merlin's Demon in the DC Universe; Kirby's Demon outside of it. Etrigan demonstrates his rhyming skills yet again, proof of his high hellish rank and we also get a demo of his flame breath.
Deadman, Phantom Stranger, Spectre and Etrigan. Don't forget these guys we'll see them again in John Constantine's campaign to stop the end of the world in the excellent, and upcoming, story arc.
The next storyline reminds me of the Corrosive Man issue in Detective Comics, both stories have a poor, blighted victim of radiation causing further damage to everybody and everything around. But while the Batman story happens in a city what we have here is the swamp version.
These are pretty much middle-of-the-road issues until the revelation at the end about how Swamp Thing is able to survive the death of his body and literally regrow himself.
And now we have the first appearance of John Constantine. That's right, this is the one, and from the start, our favorite smoker is as dapper, chill, and not a little crazy - just the way we like him. Here he is popping in to play Jiminy Cricket to Swamp Thing's Pinocchio. The Swamp Thing keeps growing in power as he discovers that he can regrow himself anywhere in the world.
We have undersea (or is it underlake?) vampires for the the next story arc. The submarine battle between Swamp Thing and these ghouls are not to be missed.
I've lifted the panel below because this panel showcases just how powerful Swamp Thing is. Here he reforms his body into the Earth itself and empties a small lake. Amazing. We won't get this kind of power levels again until Swamp Thing visits Batman in Gotham later on.
After vampires in the previous story, what else but a werewolf in the next? It's a pretty mundane issue, to tell you the truth, that a bit lamely ties-in the werewolf phenomena with women's monthly periods. You can miss this one if you're buying singles but if you have the collected works, well, it's not a bad read.
The next storyline continue the 'blah' story quality. This time we are focused on the old American south; the slave owning culture I most closely associate with the movie "Gone With The Wind". This has a supernatural element to it that just failed to catch my interest.
The next story concerns Chester, a laid back "hippie" type who I started to take a liking to. Here he is :
Chester is a gentle soul who happens to be walking in the swamps one day and sees the Swamp Thing drop one of his yam-like fruits (Yuck.). Anyway Chester takes the produce home and here he is in the panel with the 'swamp yam' on a plate. The story revolves on what Chester does with the fruit and what effect the fruit has when ingested. What it does is it brings out the innate nature of a person to a very magnified degree. Wonderful pacing here, interesting details. Chester is at center stage with the Swamp Thing showing up briefly only. Nonetheless, I like the characterization and the plot of what is the non-Swamp Thing issue of Swamp Thing.
The next story plays with a secret fear : That the best serial killers remain uncaught; that the true monsters are too hard to detect much less capture. It's a bothersome concept that has Moore pitting the Swamp Thing against a true monster of society.
Ancient ghosts, an eccentric house, and betrayals take up the next story. Unlike the previous House of Mystery story, which has the same 'feel' to it, this tale does not go down well with me. It's readable, even the worst Alan Moore issues are readable; but nothing special here.
Swamp Thing really hits a high point with this story arc. We start with the Parliament of Trees :
This directly ties in with the House of Mystery story of Swamp Thing which first brought up the reality that there have been many Swamp Things throughout history and prehistory. Here is a double page spread that shows all or most of the previous Swamp Things - they have come to this part of the Amazon Jungle to take root and be trees at last - the Parliament of Trees.
The Swamp Thing came here to ask a common question about his purpose. Like all of us who ask this question he is hoping for some practical, actionable answers. And like all of us, he doesn't get it. The Parliament gives him an answer that seems to him too pie-in-the-sky useless. Or so he thinks.
I love how genuine this seeking and answering aspect of the story is. For those of us who have lived long enough or deeply enough this has a familiar feel to it. It feels true. The desire for answers. The frustration at receiving an unexpected response - its a mirror of how life really feels when one simply isn't ready for the answer. The beauty of it is that within this story arc Swamp Thing will remember this meeting and will face his bafflement with a disarming honesty. And later still, in his adventures in Gotham, he will remember the advise of the Parliament of Trees and ignore it. It is the receiving of wisdom and the struggle with wisdom - every bit as mysterious here as it is in real life.
After Swamp Thing's meeting with the Parliament of Trees, we follow John Constantine as he assembles an elite group to face what could be the end of the world. First up, Baron Winters.
Baron Winters first appeared in the Gene Colan illustrated Night Force series. Like Dr. Strange assembling the Defenders, the sorcerous Baron Winters assembles teams of supernatural beings to fight mystic battles. The catch is that the Baron, for reasons unknown, cannot leave the confines of his many-roomed mansion - a fact that John Constantine exploits in this issue of Swamp Thing.
From a previous story, in his journey to the afterlife, Swamp Thing encountered Deadman, Phantom Stranger, and the Spectre. He meets up with them again here. Together with the Demon Etrigan they will be the ones to directly face the menace threatening to end the world. The mages (more of which we will see later) will support them remotely from Baron Winters' manor.
Here is the second mage Constantine recruits : Sargon the Sorcerer.
Sargon the Sorcerer is from the Golden Age of comics. 1941 to be exact. Sargon derives his power from the mystic Ruby of Life. With this kind of setup Sargon did exactly what I would do : Make money by doing magic shows, never revealing that the magic was real. Exactly what I would do. I like this guy.
Next up is Zatara and Zatanna .
Raise your hand if you don't know this father and daughter tandem. Ha ha. Very simple. They pronounce something backwards and it happens. Simple and extremely powerful; powerful enough to rocket Zatanna to the ranks of the Justice League of America.
The sorcerers with John Constantine are one group. Swamp Thing has the other group with Deadman, Spectre and Phantom Strange and . . .
Etrigan! Half-man, half-demon. Half brother of Merlin. High ranking rhyming demon of Hell. Check out his funked out armor. "Abandon the form of man for the demon Etrigan!". Check out more of this guy in Demon Knights.
And here we come to the strangest, and most hapless, recruit of all.
Steve Dayton a.k.a Mento a.k.a. the fifth richest man in the world. Dayton, being made of money, created a superhero persona by asking his scientists to create a helmet that amplifies his mind powers. He did it all to win the heart of the departed Elasti Girl of the Doom Patrol. It's his bad luck really - this little adventure with Constantine and company will not be a good ride for Mr. Dayton, never the staunchest of powered humans to begin with.
With all the pieces on the board, its time to play the game. This is, without a doubt, among the best stories in Moore's run.
No tale is new and the story here certainly isn't, not in its broad strokes. This is a story of a preparation for struggle against a strong and evil foe and the cataclysmic battle at the end. The tale has been told before. We read about it in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings; in the DC Universe itself its broad outlines is the one used by Wolfman in crafting Crisis on Infinite Earths. The magic is in the details, in the way the tale is told. I've already highlighted some parts of the classic gathering of heroes undertaken by John Constantine. Now I would like to call attention to the slow, steady buildup of tension that Moore brings into play until he sets up a great battle. We are made aware that the Swamp Thing and his cohorts are up against an evil beyond Satan himself; a thing, creature or being that was excluded from all creation. You will thrill to the mad joy of the Spectre on the prospect of confronting such power, so keen is he to fight it, so proud is this Spectre, and with good cause. Isn't he the strongest being in all of DC? Is he? The question is tantalizing and you will ask it again and again as we build up to the finale. And the details. I've already mentioned Etrigan's armor haven't I? How about the muster of hell, the division of demons and the ranks among them? And that fateful group of sorcerers gathered there in Baron Winters house as if for a seance - something will happen to this group over the course of the battle - it's amazing how much drama a bunch of people sitting around the table can generate. The finale had me laughing and holding my breath in turn. Here's a bit of it and not the best part mind you . . .
The Spectre has his day against the the great foe.
And the Spirit of Vengeance goes down! I really liked this panel even though the good guys are being wasted because I've been wanting the Spectre to get a beatdown since reading about him in Day of Vengeance.
The next stories takes us from the very DC-esque world of Gotham, shows us the death of Swamp Thing (again), and then takes us for an unforgettable journey through space in the best Moore style. It is an incredible roller coaster ride that continues the unalloyed quality of the 'end of the world' story arc. Here are some of the more exciting turns of this wild ride . . .
Remember the romantic/sexual relationship between Abby and Swamp Thing? Well just like same sex marriage, it doesn't go over well with some people. Apparently, marriage is between a man and a woman, not between a woman and a mangrove tree. Because people aren't happy about messing with their own lives, they start messing with Abby's. It costs her her job, her privacy and it lands her in jail.
Meanwhile here comes Swamp Thing fresh from discovering a fresh new set of powers and surviving the end of the world. He comes home to find his girlfriend imprisoned in Gotham City.
If you've always wanted Swamp Thing to go Hulk then you're in for treat. He goes to Gotham in a rage, unleashes all the plant elemental power at his command and, of course, bumps into this guy.
Here's a shot of Gotham under the influence of the Swamp Thing :
By the time this story arc ends Swamp Thing is dead. Again.
You might be wondering why I'm showing this panel here of a guy being eaten by alligators.
That guy is Dennis from a previous storyline, and believe me, when you read that storyline this panel is something you just might appreciate - it made me pump my fist in the air and say "Yeah!".
Next comes the funeral of the Swamp Thing in Gotham. I think it's a bit preposterous that they actually erected a statue to him. First, because the statue is a definite eyesore and second, didn't the Swamp Thing just try to destroy Gotham? Don't miss Boston Brand possessing some poor guys body and giving Abby a smooch then getting out of there just as the guy gets slapped. That Deadman is insane.
Did I say the Swamp Thing was dead? I mean dead on Earth; but not in space. What follows next is a story set in the farther reaches of space and in them the Swamp Thing touches base with the rest of the DC Universe. Do not miss this set of comics it is mindblowing. Take a short tour . . .
In the next story the Swamp Thing finds himself in a world whose every color is a shade of blue. If you hate blue. Tough luck. I happen to love the color so I was really into the panels of this issue. There is life on this planet but no sentient life so Alan Moore gets to play around about what the Swamp Thing will do in such a lonely place. It's really fun reading. At one point the Swamp Thing creates another Swamp Thing and plays a game of chess with himself. Then he misses Abby so he creates her too using the blue vegetation around him. Here she is . . .
Adam Strange from Mysteries In Space is in the next story. For those of you who don't know him he's DC's version of John Carter. He travels between Earth and the planet Rann on the teleportive Zeta beam. In Rann he dons the uniform you see below and becomes Rann's greatest champion. Campy isn't it? It should be, Adam Strange is from the golden age of comics.
I'm a sucker for sexy girl art. Check out this Thanagarian warrior woman.
Well I've mentioned Rann and I've mentioned Thanagar. For more on the future history of these two races you might want to check out The Rann-Thanagar War. The animosities between the two races are very apparent in these two issues of Swamp Thing. Here's my favorite quotes from these two issues:
Thanagarian Warrior woman : "What poor warriors you Terrans are, with no grasp of the eight basic strategies of aerial inertia combat. You will soon be dead."
Adam Strange (right after he takes out the Thanagarian) : "We Terrans may not be much on the eight strategies of aerial inertia tactics but we are complete bastards."
Next, we take a look at what's going on with Abby and its about her father becoming some kind of Frankenstein monster. Yes, it's as bad as it sounds. Even Alan Moore can't hit all the balls out of the park.
The next story takes us back to space and introduces us to a gigantic sentient being floating in the black depths. This creature reminds me of Gaea from John Varley's novel, Titan. This sentient planet is lonely for a mate and Swamp Thing just happens to be passing by so he gets forced to mate with her. I'm still shaking my head over this whole issue.
Next, Swamp Thing encounters the Green Lantern Medphyl and Medphyl's homeworld - a planet of sentient plants. There's big trouble in this because Swamp Thing forms his body out of plant life, so here he's literally made up of sentient creatures. It is both horrifying and distressing to both Swamp Thing, who doesn't want to harm anyone and to the people trapped inside him.
This seemingly insurmountable problem lands in front of Medphyl. And this is the highlight of the tale: How Medphyl resolves this problem is very impressively done. Through the actions of this excellent Lantern, the Corps really gains in prestige in my eyes. Excellent.
Alan Moore's run is coming to a close but he will not leave without paying homage to Kirby, and rightly so. Kirby creations Darkseid and Metron are here. Metron is shown in front of the Final Barrier, the Gatepost to the Source and to mysteries that are a source of fascination for Metron. What is even more fascinating to me is that in front of the Final Barrier float two beings the size of star clusters; giants who have failed to breach the barrier and have paid for it by being frozen in time. Incredible issue. Oh yeah, ole Swampy is somewhere in there too.
The penultimate story of Moore's run. Remember those people who killed the Swamp Thing in Gotham? They get what's coming to them in this issue. Think Death Wish starring the Swamp Thing. Here's just a sampling of what happens to one of these bad guys :
What a run. What a creative run! Thank you Alan Moore! And this is the way to end it too. Abby and Swamp Thing live happily ever after. Oh yeah.