Review: ‘Saga of the Swamp Thing Book Two’
Saga of the Swamp Thing Book Two
By Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben
DC Comics, 224 pages, $24.99
DC’s hardcover collections of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing continues with the release of the second volume next Wednesday. The nicest thing about these releases is that it prompts us to go back and reread the stories to conjure up memories of what it was like the first time we encountered these tales.
By the time these eight stories saw print in 1984 and 1985, the buzz had grown deafening and clearly this was the most talked about series and set of creators at the time. What Alan did was bring fresh thinking to American comic book concepts and played with the readers’ expectations for mainstream storytelling and horror.
Moore’s gift for words crowded the pages with allusions and imagery previously unseen and when we could look at the artwork, it was stunning. Stephen Bissette and John Totleben were ideally suited for the material and they were given free rein by both Moore and their editor, Karen Berger. The critical success encouraged the creators to take more risks and the company wisely backed them, letting Saga of the Swamp Thing be the first series to hit newsstands each month without the Comics Code. Instead, the covers proclaimed the series to be “Sophisticated Suspense”, a gesture to warn potentially offended readers.
Having reimagined Swamp Thing’s origins and exploring the dynamics between the shambling creature and the humans Abigail Arcane and Matt Cable, the stage was set for the return of an old foe. Anton Arcane, Abby’s uncle, was back and the slow realization that he had possessed Matt and therefore committed a form of incest with her was shocking, cold and chilling because we hadn’t conceived of anything so horrible. The trilogy that kicks off the volume is creepy and holds up.
The coda to the tale first saw print in an annual, allowing extra pages and giving Moore a chance to play with the other occult players in the DC Universe: Etrigan, the Spectre, Phantom Stranger and Deadman. All felt fresh and part of some other reality as Swamp Thing traveled to Hell to rescue Abby.
The artists, while incredibly talented, were not speed demons and 22 pages a month was a tough pace for them. The annual, therefore, meant they needed fill-in help. Chapter 2 of the Arcane trilogy was inked by Alfredo Alcala and Chapter 3 was pencilled by Rick Veitch, but at no time is the quality suffering. But they needed a break and Shawn McManus, who already drew the opening story in this wonderful collection, is back for the acclaimed “Pog”. Moore’s tribute to Walt Kelly’s Pogo is a challenging read and still packs an emotional wallop.
The book ends with the award-winning “Rites of Spring” wherein Abby confesses her love to the creature and he offers her a piece of himself as communion, letting her see the world the way he does. It’s touching and once more gives us a new look at the characters while advancing the storylines.
On a personal note, there are two pages that cutaway to the events being watched by the enigmatic Monitor and his aide Lyla. At the time, all of DC’s titles were featuring these teasers setting up Crisis on Infinite Earths</em>. Alan and Karen could have argued against it or thumbed their noses the demand the way Mike Barr did in Outsiders. Instead, Alan complied without complaint and actually made the appearances work, maintaining the eerie feel of the moment. I was always grateful he was willing to play along and rereading them here, does in no way take away from the stories’ impact.