Friday, October 30, 2015

OCTOBER COMICS (2015): Saga of the Swamp Thing #21

“The Anatomy Lesson,” written by Alan Moore, art by Stephen Bissette & John Totleben, colors by Tatjana Wood, lettering from John Costanza

Swamp Thing is the comic that put Alan Moore “on the map,” and issue 21 is one of my all-time favorite single issues.  In the previous issue, Moore and his collaborators had killed Swamp Thing, as bullets riddled his muck-encrusted body.  Dead, Swamp Thing’s body has been taken to a research lab in a high-rise building, the modern marvel of “the old man,” a businessman who wants to know the secrets of Swamp Thing’s metamorphosis from Alec Holland into this plant creature and, hopefully, exploit these findings for himself.  To that end, he hires Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man, a similarly afflicted scientist, to do an autopsy and discover all that he can about Swamp Thing. 

Through his investigation, the Floronic Man comes to discover that Swamp Thing, though his body has incorporated plant-like body parts that appear to be analogous to human ones, e.g. lungs, kidneys, a heart, none of these actually work in the manner they should.  These are plants, not human tissue, and could not act in the same manner.  What this means is that Swamp Thing is not a melding of Alec Holland and the swamp plants, as a result of the explosion years ago, but is actually a plant being created to mimic Holland, somehow incorporating his essence, or his soul.  But, for all intents and purpose, Holland is dead and will never be revived. 

More importantly, though, if this is actually a botanic simulacrum and not a human encrusted with plants, then bullets cannot kill it.  It is not dead.  The only thing keeping it subdued is the cryogenic crypt within which it is being held.  If someone were to raise the temperature, it would resuscitate.  And if it found out the truth—that it can never return to being Alec Holland, can only ever be a plant monster with the mind of Holland—then it might take its frustrations out ona a particular old man who did not appreciate the Floronic Man’s findings. 

With this issue, Moore & company completely reimagined the character of Swamp Thing without contradicting anything that came before (as Moore is wont to do).  But, like most comics, this would not have worked so well without the artistic contributions of Bissette & Totleben.  They are the gold standard, all due respect to Berni Wrightson, when it comes to Swamp Thing.  True collaborators—their thoughts and ideas were invited and incorporated by Moore—they not only drew Swamp Thing as a monstrous being who was covered with plants and tubers and vines, but also utilized inventive panel layouts and added details (such as crafting panel and page borders from collections of spiders and their webbing) to add to the ambience and mood of the comic.  Under these three master storytellers, along with the contributions of Wood & Constanza, as well as later collaborators such as Rick Veitch, Shawn McManus, and others, the character of Swamp Thing—and, to a lesser extent, horror comics—was revitalized for a market that seemed to have passed him by.  And he continues to loom over the DC comics landscape today, though nobody has seemed able to crack the code as to his popularity so well as Moore, et al. did so deftly back in the early-eighties. 


1 comment:

Don McMillan said...

Oh man! I LOVE Moore, Bissette, and Totleben’s run on Swamp Thing. If I were stranded on a deserted island and could only take five series with me, this would be one of them…along with The Micronauts and Preacher, of course. The two others I would need to dwell upon for a bit.