Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Comic Review: Saga of the Swamp Thing 5 & 6

Book Five

    After the apocalyptic madness that capped off the fourth volume, I had to wonder where Alan Moore and company would take the characters.  How would they top the events on the shores of Hell?  Hints were dropped during book four; that stuff about a photographer getting some snaps of Abby and the Swamp Thing frolicking.  When authorities get their hands on the pictures, they flip, dragging poor Abby in on morality charges.  But where is the Thing?  As life gets out of hand, Abby bails for the anonymity of Gotham, but things go from bad to worse.

    When the Swamp Thing gets back to the real world, he’s ready to settle down with his lady.  But, finding out she’s held captive in Gotham sends him into a bit of a fit.  What follows is a biological siege of the city and a surprisingly good Swamp Thing VS. Batman story (the use of other series’ characters in Swamp Thing has been less forced than typical of ongoing comics from the Big Two).  With Gotham turned from urban jungle to literal jungle, it’s residents loose their minds.  I like that they draw some attention to the fact that Gotham must be populated by some seriously crazy people, not just the villains and heroes, but the everyday folk.  It takes almost no time for millennia of civilization to be stripped away.  Gotham is like the worst of every city, most obviously New York, like all the worst aspects of Hollywood’s portrayal, with none of the good.  It’s a madhouse of vile people, faceless and hostile.

    In this volume, in spite of her place as something of a damsel in distress while stuck in Gotham, Abby Cable really starts to stand more on her own, becoming a more dimensional character and a stronger person.  I don’t want to get too into some of the plot points (might want to avoid reading the introduction until after reading the book, by the way), but while spending time on her own, she needs the Swamp Thing less and less.  And the Swamp Thing’s blue period is an odd capper for the volume, that does set the tone for what is to come.

Book Six

    Getting into much more science fiction type themes, this book opens with a story that brings back a classic character, Adam Strange.  Here, he’s a pathetic figure, desperately in love but used and abused.  Apparently, artist Rick Vietch was more interested in science fiction, and Moore directed the book in that direction.  On the surface, the Swamp Thing is about the last character that should be traveling the stars.  However, it works better than expected.  Through Strange, we also come into contact with some of the Hawk People and get hints of some intergalactic politics.  From there, the Thing attempts to make a journey to a planet of advanced plant civilization.

    Now, here’s where it gets a bit more Moore than I had anticipated.  Sometime during my reading of book Four or Five, I had chuckled to myself when I thought, “well, finally, an Alan Moore book without a rape.”  Turns out, I jumped the gun.  (Although, thinking back, wasn’t there that implication early on, with Abby curled up in the shower?  Maybe I was simply mistaken, and this series had already featured Moore’s signature).  Seriously, though, what is with Moore and rape?  I’m sure issue 60’s experimental visuals and style won it many fans, as well as some of the more disturbing aspects of the story.  But while there was a profoundly interesting idea, it doesn’t come together, and gets lost in attempts to be ‘ART!!!’

    The last couple of chapters/issues serve as a wrapping up, perhaps a touch too tidily, of many threads from throughout Moore’s run.  From that drugged out hippie turned drugged out environmentalist and the shattered, abused woman Abby had been caring for, to the soulless corporate/government types who messed with Swampy’s Zen thing.  While a touch too pat, the overall conclusion is satisfying, and for Moore especially, somewhat optimistic.

    Looking back over the six volumes of Saga of the Swamp Thing, I have to give Alan Moore and his fellows a good deal of credit for exploring a character I feel has a great deal of story potential in a lot of creative ways.  I understand why this run is considered one of the greats, and it serves as a reminder of why Alan Moore is one of those titans of comic literature.  Of course, I still have major issues with Moore.  I think his general pessimism and contrarianism is often childish, like he’s stuck perpetually at the emotional level of a picked on high school kid.  He’s clearly intellectually impressive, but seems like an emotional cripple.  His world view, which he pores into his work, is so relentlessly downbeat that he often sabotages what could be great stuff.  And he’s so danged wordy.  While that works in Swamp Thing better than usual, it is often his weakest element as a writer.  The first half of Watchmen is the thing I point out so often, because it’s such a glaringly bloated mess.  But again, it’s clear the man’s got talent and brains.  He weaves in so many diverse concepts, from science fiction, to classic myths, to his own weirdass magic (I refuse to spell it with a ‘k’) stuff.

    I enjoyed the heck out of the 80s movie Swamp Thing.  It was a silly, fun film (and Adrianne Barbeau has never been sexier…except maybe in Carnivale, but that was a terrifying, uncomfortable sexiness I’d rather not think about right now).  But after reading this cycle, I would love to see DC/Warner Bros. do a serious take on the character.  There’s plenty here for a trilogy (such an important thing these days).  Movie one, steeped in gothic horror as the Swamp Thing haunts the bayou, causing trouble with folks dumping toxic waste.  Bring in the beauty and the beast love affair between the Thing and Abby (and keep her white hair!).  Movie two, an exploration of Swamp Thing’s power, leading perhaps to a retelling of his Gotham sequence, with Abby in jail and him taking the mantle of Swamp God.  And then movie three, about coming to terms with power, achieving balance, etc.  It could work.  And with today’s special effects technology, the really crazy stuff (including the trippy sex) could actually be achieved.  The problem of course is that I’d want this R rated, and I’m sure they’d never go higher than PG-13.

    Again, this is a classic set of comics for good reason.  It’s worth seeking out.  While not perfect, and occasionally floundering for an issue or two, it’s generally good and not infrequently excellent.  While I’m not in love with the artwork, there are moments of startling beauty and power.  It is a must read for comic fans, especially if you’re sick of spandex.

Saga of the Swamp Thing Book Five
Author: Alan Moore
Artists: Rick Veitch, etc.
Publisher: DC Comics
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3095-1

Saga of the Swamp Thing Book Six
Author: Alan Moore, etc.
Artist: Rick Veitch, etc.
Publisher: DC Comics
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3298-6



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