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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 223

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the comics posted so far!

Today we look at one of the seminal moments in 1980s comic books, Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben’s “The Anatomy Lesson” from Saga of Swamp Thing #21…


I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Alan Moore’s FIRST issue of Swamp Thing, #20, where he comes on and resolves pretty much all of the plots of the previous writer, Marty Pasko, all within one issue – and it actually kinda/sorta WORKS as a story. That, just in and of itself, was a fine early sign of how good Moore was. That issue ended with Swamp Thing apparently dying.

So that led into the new creative team’s first REAL issue together (Bissette did not pencil #20), the legendary “The Anatomy Lesson.”

Moore cleverly uses Jason Woodrue, the long-time super-villain, the Florenic Man, as a consultant for the General who has Swamp Thing “killed” the previous issue.

Check out Woodrue’s introduction from page one of the issue…

Wow, Moore sure knows how to set a mood!

Of course, when you’re working with one of the very best horror art teams of all-time, well, setting a mood can be quite easy.

Check out the introduction of the “dead” Swamp Thing.

That’s awesome, huh?

So is the scene where Woodrue first performs the “autopsy” he was hired to perform.

Of course, as you all know by now, what Woodrue discovers is that this is NOT a man transformed into a “Swamp Thing,” but rather a “Swamp Thing” who THINKS that he was a man. After Woodrue was fired by the General for suggesting this conclusion, Woodrue lets Swamp Thing escape (by basically molting a new body).

Then perhaps the most classic sequence of the issue…

For those of you who read this issue when it was first released, how striking was it? It must have been hard to prepare yourself for an issue like this seemingly out of nowhere at the time.

Thus one of the great creative comic partnerships began between Moore, Bissette and Totleben.


OK, now I want to save up and buy those Swamp Thing HCs!

It really did change the face of North American comics. What’s amazing is I read the whole Moore run again last year and it really does hold up still. For my money, it’s still one of the best works out there.

It’s time to dig out those Swamp Things and read ‘em again. Yep.

Love the Saul Bass referencing titles…

I remember coming across this when I was 15. Before I started making the weekly pilgrimage to the nearest comic book shop, I would pop in to the corner drug store to see what they had on the spinner rack.

It’s funy to think that I was introduced to one of the best writers in comics and one of the best writer-artist teams so casually. I read the whole thing just standing there in the middle of the store. I absolutely love the team of Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben and what they did on this title.

Proof that great writing and art is truly timeless.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

August 12, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Was it ever explained by Moore, by his successor Rick Veitch, or by his predecessor Marty Pasko just why General Sunderland and the DDI wanted the bio-restorative formula?

You read this, and you realize just how damn good Moore really was back then. He really did have lightning in a bottle for a while.

Doug M.

A truly great story. Sadly, it also shows the extant to which sheer pictorialism has triumphed in Comic Books. Had Alan Moore written the story today, it would have been stripped of Woodrue’s fascinating internal monologue.

Omar, regarding the bio-restorative formula, I seem to recall Marty Pasko having Grasp state that the Sunderland Corp. wanted the formula for purely commercial reasons, that with it they could grow timberland in the Sahara (Grasp also mentioned a hope that the formula could be used to restore his hands, as well).

The Crazed Spruce

August 12, 2010 at 3:56 pm

I remember reading this one in one of those “Year’s Best” digests that DC was putting out in the early 80’s. Shrinking it down to digest size definitely didn’t do the story justice. (Y’know, they should probably do something like that nowadays, maybe in a $10 trade paperback or something. It’d make a great showcase for those single-issue stories that don’t quite fit in with a collected storyline.)

That should read “extent,” not “extant.” Man,that is one embarrassing typo.

I remember reading the first volume about five or six years ago and being completely blown away by this first issue. Moore’s entire run is just legendary.

After re-reading the first page of what I believe is probably the greatest single issue in comics history (for me, “greatness” is a 50/50 combo of quality and importance, and it’s hard to argue that “The Anatomy Lesson” ranks a 10 out of 10 on both fronts), I found myself wondering…

Could Woodrue’s monologue on the first page have influenced, or even created, the title of the movie “There Will be Blood?” Has that phrase appeared in any other notable places that P. T. Anderson might have seen? Is it a literary reference?

What do people think?

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

August 12, 2010 at 9:31 pm

“There will be blood” is from certain Bibles’ versions of Exodus 7:19b, describing Moses’ threat of the PLague of Blood that affects the Nile.

Been a looooooong time, but I think I saw this on the spinner rack before hearing anything about this. Of course, I’m a heathen, so my big concern was “How could he have never been human when he turned back to a human being at the end of the first run of Swamp Thing?”

Then I don’t think I looked at another issue until hearing, or reading, about how they were doing stuff that had never been done before, so I picked up the Pogo knockoff issue (ironic, no?) wasn’t impressed. Checked out a couple of other issues & wondered where people got the impression that the creators were doing anything that hadn’t been done before because it looked like stuff I had seen before.

I think I finally came to the conclusion that those people who had never seen that stuff before ONLY read comic books.

Been a looooooong time, but I think I saw this on the spinner rack before hearing anything about this. Of course, I’m a heathen, so my big concern was “How could he have never been human when he turned back to a human being at the end of the first run of Swamp Thing?”

I was definitely thinking about that the other day when I was reading about how Superboy couldn’t POSSIBLY be based on Lex Luthor’s DNA because it contradicted old issues of the Superboy series from the 1990s.

@ KAM – you were either very unlucky, or you weren’t paying attention. Moore’s ‘Swamp Thing’ run covered incest & necrophilia (in the same issue), “vegetable sex”, trips to Heaven & Hell, zombie racism and hallucinogenics (in both positive & negative aspects) , not to mention the ecological meta-plot, of which ‘Pog’ was part. There was an issue which was an entire textual and visual meditation on a single colour, and one in which the plot was constructed around a random series of disturbing images. If you’d run across ALL of those things before, especially under a single title, I’d be very interested to hear about it…

Also, another problem with Woodrue’s explanation is that the planarian worms incident Woodrue mentioned turned out to be a result of poor experimental controls and not the worms remembering what they ate.

Well, Alice, I wasn’t interested in incest, necrophilia, vegetable sex or halucinogenics, so maybe that’s why Mr. Moore’s work just doesn’t grab me as a reader? ;-)

I definitely missed the stuff about zombie racism, but then again, isn’t zombie racism just a metaphor for regular racism?

I never said I had encountered all that stuff in one title before. The thing I’d heard was that they were doing something new & I didn’t see anything I hadn’t encountered in some form before. Then again, after going offline I did find myself thinking how unfair I’ve been holding Mr. Moore to an unbelievably high standard. New things are incredibly rare & hard to come up with & other writers just take something old & try to put a new spin on it so it looks new.

I don’t hate Alan Moore’s work, it just doesn’t grab me like other writers’ work does.


I invite you to look at some of the issue by issue, panel by panel analyses of Moore’s Swamp Thing at the annotations site:
That might illuminate for you what an inspiration that work was.


Alan Moore would love you – he got mobbed by rabid fans and has never been the same way since.

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