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CSBG Archive

Almost Hidden – Chester Williams, American Cop

Even with this large amount of comic books that have been collected in trade paperbacks, there are still a number of great comic books that have never been reprinted (I’d say roughly 60% of them are DC Comics from the 1980s through the mid-1990s). So every day this month I will spotlight a different cool comic book that is only available as a back issue. Here is an archive of the comic books featured so far.

I want you folks to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com with your suggestions for comics that I should feature this month. I’d like to see what you all would like to see get more attention.

Today, reader Jeff R. suggested Mark Millar’s oddly uncollected run on Swamp Thing. Specifically, though, he suggested the one-off Swamp Thing #165, written by Millar, penciled by the late, great Curt Swan and inked by Kim DeMulder.

Mark Millar has had the good fortune to work with some of the greatest comic book artists of our generation on various projects (Frank Quitely, Art Adams, John Romita Jr., Bryan Hitch, Steve McNiven, Phil Hester, Dave Johnson, Leinil Yu, Steve Dillon, Stuart Immonen, Carlos Pacheco, Adam Kubert, Andy Kubert, Chris Bachalo, Terry Dodson, JG Jones – the list literally goes on and on and on), but it must have been a particularly special honor to get the chance to have Curt Swan draw one of his stories, especially one as bizarrely (and awesomely) demented as this one.

Chester Williams is a character who went all the way back to the early days of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run. He was your basic environmentalist hippie, a leftover from the 1960s, although he had some pretty strong character work done on him over the years (he especially took a larger role when Swamp Thing was presumed dead and Chester had to help out Abby, even defending her from an alien attack one issue!!).

However, out of nowhere, Millar decided to write a whole issue of Chester discovering the error of his ways due to the campaign of Newt Gingrich and the Republicans to rediscover “American Values.”

Millar tells you all you need to know in this intro page (drawn by Phil Hester)…

The issue opens at a drug-fueled party with students and their hippie professors, including Chester, when something changes…

The rest of the issue involves Chester spouting various right-wing rhetoric while the citizenry applaud him. He even goes to win back his ex-girlfriend, who is now a lesbian…

Things get a good deal darker as the comic progresses…

Until finally there’s a showdown between Chester and Swamp Thing…

And he does, of course, which sets up the strong ending of the issue.

It’s a funny story by Millar and great artwork from Swan and DeMulder. This was one of the very last projects Swan worked on – he died about six months after this issue was released.

34 Comments

How many kids die on an average day from injecting marijuana? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say zero.

I don’t get it. Is it some sort of satire or dream sequence?

This is pretty good political humor — if you already agree with it, anyway — up until the “dark turn,” where it just gets sort of stupid. It’s the point at which Millar stops going after exaggerated versions of things actual right-wing people say and starts going after some sort of weird fantasy version of the right that only exists in his head.

If the idea is that Chester is a hypermasculine fascist caricature of the right wing anywhere, he’s not going to be claiming “post-marital sex is evil.” No Christian fundamentalist, no fascist ideologue, no conservative politician has ever believed anything remotely like that; quite the opposite, really, when you think of things like Quiverfull movement and the extreme right-wing’s general fxation on demographic shifts and correcting them by “outbreeding the Other.”

Creepily, the idea that violent authoritarians hate hetero sex is itself an extreme right-wing critique: the infamous propaganda piece The Pink Swastika makes bizarre claims that Nazi Germany was actually caused by homosexuality, by woman-hating gays or or somesuch bollocks.

Even weirder, by the end of this story Chester sounds less like a spoof of the right than like George Orwell’s critique of leftist authoritarianism in 1984. Maybe that’s where he got the anti-sex thing, since the Party in that novel opposes sex. But people like Gingrich were invoking 1984 as a club to beat the American left, so Millar still seems very confused to me.

He does have a recurring theme in his work of the very rich being sociopathic monsters who secretly rule the world. It’s vaguely there even in Wanted, but it was an explicit and a central plot element in his Fantastic Four. It’s spelled out at length in Marvel Knights Spider-Man, of all places, where Norman is evil because he’s rich before he’s evil because he’s crazy, and the secret cabal of businessmen is responsible for modern supervillainy as a bread-and-circuses distraction from their illicit power games. And then there’s the execrable Nemesis.

It’s weird, given Millar’s gleeful willingness to turn his own work into big movie pitches at the first opportunity; he seems to want to be rich pretty badly himself, doesn’t he? The guy’s politics are a bizarre cartoon version of leftism, which I suppose makes sense given that he writes bizarre cartoon stories for a living. As an actual leftist, I think he’s doing no one but himself any favors. Which I suppose makes him more like Chester on that last page than anything else.

I don’t get it. Is it some sort of satire or dream sequence?

Yes.

To be fair, I left the page out where Chester does express sexual desire for a woman, just not his wife. And it is a sado-masochistic desire, likely one he would never dream with sharing with his wife.

I should clarify as well — I’m not panning the whole story, as I do think the early pages are quite good (if likely to infuriate any reader right of center at all…but then, the post-Moore Swamp Thing’ s never been the book for that audience anyway).

I’m more irritated at the way Millar was later taken seriously and his stories treated as clever political statements when upon examination, his politics tend to seem quite puerile to me. Anyway, Curt Swan’s art makes this awesome regardless of my issues with the writer and the script, so I’ll end my ranting by celebrating that.

So does he wake up at the end as hippy Chester?

I disagree with one of your points, Omar.

I’ve met a few right-wing Christians that do believe that ALL sex that isn’t strictly for procreation is sinful. If, for some reason, you and your wife aren’t trying for kids, you shouldn’t be having sex. That would rule out oral sex, having sex when you know your wife is already pregnant, etc.

Do you know that the Pope’s edict that sex isn’t just for procreation, but also for strengthening the bonds between husband and wife, is relatively recent?

In any case, the story is clearly a very over-the-top satire of the Conservative viewpoint. With Millar, I’m never sure whether he believes this stuff, or if it’s just his usual shock and awe antics. I do think he is more ambivalent about his politics than people think. He says Ultimate Captain America was a satire too, but I’m not sure I see it like that. It’s a little like Millar is attracted to the coolness of right-wing violent machismo, you know?

So does he wake up at the end as hippy Chester?

No.

So Millar completely changed an interesting character as a joke?

The issue is a one-off issue. It does not tie into the rest of the series (although there is one allusion to it in issue…hmmmm…I’m going to say #170).

Rene, many of those same arguments also invoke the idea of “be fruitful and multiply;” sex is supposed to be procreative, but it’s not supposed to be rare or unpleasant for anyone. For that matter, the Catholic church has long approved of the rhythm method, a kind of compromise with the contraceptive impulse.

In more recent decades, even quite conservative Catholic and Protestant denominations have gotten very involved with the idea of sex advice for faithful married couples — the sex advice section in most (conservative) evangelical bookstores is surprisingly, maybe depressingly huge.

Even in the medieval period, the ideal was either celibate single life or passionate, courtly love. Procreation, sexual continence, and fidelity were considered the proper, righteous, and licit means of receiving what was understood as a divine gift of pleasure. It was licentiousness, sexual incontinence, and placing pleasure *above* all else that have traditionally been distrusted by all but the rarest and (unsurprisingly) shortest-lived of conservative sects. (Insert pun on “sects appeal.”)

If we look to Protestant examples, Puritan families were often quite big, and many children — meaning a fair amount of sex, what with miscarriage and stillbirth and infant mortality — was seen as a blessing. Even that infamous prude Queen Victoria loved sex — maybe more than her husband! — and didn’t like pregnancy, and thought that perfectly alright and moral to believe. She just didn’t accept birth control, so she had to put up with the cost of her lovely fun with Albert (that’s a close paraphrase from one of her letters). People likje sex, and ideologies — conservative or otherwise — have long since incorporated that fact in non-hostile ways to attract and maintain adherents.

In any case, Millar’s story is set in that “modern day” after the Pope’s edict, and long after conservatives and evangelicals started singing the praises of massive orgasms within Christian het marriage as a divine gift meant for the righteous and perverted by the rest. He’s not writing about pre-Vatican II, or even about a Catholic idea, necessarily. My problem isn’t that Millar is satirizing the right-wing viewpoint, it’s that he seems not to know much about it. This is why I call Millar’s idea “cartoon politics:” he seems to know one overly general “truth” about groups he doesn’t like, and then homogenizes the group to reduce it to that absurd, often not-really-true bit of “truthiness.”

True, it’s in no way a majority viewpoint among conservatives, and there are no Christian sects that are officially that strict. But there are individuals here and there that are that extreme, believe me. Usually people who have a pathological dislike of sex and use religion to dress it up as righteous. So it’s not impossible for Chester to hold such oppinions.

But I agree with you that, if the point was to paint Chester as the stereotypical macho Conservative, he would have kept Liz barefoot and pregnant, and in the kitchen, all the time.

It kind of surprises me that none of the Millar ‘Swamp Thing’ run is in trade, even the ones he co-wrote with Grant Morrison. It seems like, with those two names, you’d have a pretty easy sell.

Yeah, you’d figure that that Millar’s name alone would sell a lot of trades, but apparently DC thinks otherwise.

given how swamp thing is hot again and dc is just about done reprinting alan moores run no doubt maybe sooner or later maybe they will do millers one though given how crazy this issue is dc may be a little too scared to risk for now reprinting it yet.

Millar’s whole run on ST was a frustrating mix of great ideas and grating ideas– not unlike the rest of his career.

Millar’s dialogue in this issue is TERRIBLE. And it doesn’t help reading it in that godawful Comiccraft font

Had “River Run” wrapped up by this point, or is this a part of that storyline?

This is definitely out and out cariacature of right wing viewpoints, but I’m not sure how much Millar realizes it IS cariacature. As Omar said, he’s definitely got strange takes on politics.

I’ve got a theory why this hasn’t been traded, or at least some partial theories. One is that since Millar has done so much work for Marvel in the last…10 years or so, they don’t want to promote his name, even if it might sell them some books. Remember, when they finally traded Aztek, Morrison’s name was HUGE and Millar’s was pretty tiny.

Also, Millar worked on the Authority, and while I’m not sure how much he spoke out about the censoring that was done on that book, I imagine he wasn’t happy, and voiced that to DC, and they might consider him persona non grata.

Finally, I’m guessing that Morrison might have enough pull at DC that even if DC was going to reprint this run, he might kill it even though he was a co-writer on the early issues. I’m sure we’ve all heard how Morrison and Millar are on the outs, and perhaps, even if Morrison didn’t come out and say don’t reprint that, DC might not reprint it out of respect for Morrison. And given that that one issue of the Authority was ghost written by Morrison and Millar took credit for it, DC might not want to reward Millar at all.

I’m just spitballing here, btw.

And this Swan art is damn nice. DeMulder inks it well, too. Look at that awesome hippie hair on Swampy!

They did print his unpublished New Gods story with Ditko in the Tales of the New Gods TPB, but perhaps that was because they had already paid for it.

“Satire” carries a bit too much intellectual baggage. Millar is just having a laugh here. It’s a great issue – but his best is probably Swamp Dog.

This issue was funny, but not quite “ha ha” funny. I dug some of what I’ve read from MIllar’s Swamp Thing work, but it wasn’t engrossing enough to really deserve its own collections, to be honest.

“I’m sure we’ve all heard how Morrison and Millar are on the outs, and perhaps, even if Morrison didn’t come out and say don’t reprint that, DC might not reprint it out of respect for Morrison”

That seems unlikely, given how many things they’ve already reprinted based around the pairing. Millar has stories all through Morrison’s “JLA” run that are kept intact despite not fitting in with the overall stories, plus they reprinted ‘Aztek’ and two volumes of ‘The Flash’. This is literally the only Millar/Morrison co-project that DC has the rights to that they haven’t reprinted.

Oh, Millar. That first page! So lovely! What the fuck happened to you, man?

Then again, I thought Civil War was quite nice as a post-1970s Marvel story . . . Millar never lost sight of how Iron Man’s point wasn’t half bad, how registration was as much gun control as it was the Patriot Act, as much a metaphor as holding police responsible for their abuses as granting more police power.

Morrison’s ‘Supergods’ demonstrates one thing to me clearly: creators take criticism to heart, even if they don’t take it seriously. It hurts them! And why wouldn’t it? I wonder if the nasty response to Civil War, my first introduction to the nastiness of superfans pace their actual purchases, made Millar more likely to give us Hollywood over substance. Millar’s work is quite angry, and there’s nothing wrong with that in this world, and maybe he got angry at his readers. Maybe it will pass.

Honestly, I think the guy’s best stuff may be ahead of him.

Iron Man had a very good point in Civil War. The problem was that Millar had him doing outrageous things to enforce it, such as forcing registered superheroes to help them catch the unregistered ones. There was no option for a super-powered person (what’s the Marvel term for “metahuman”?) to register, but choose to not be active.

Basically it felt like Millar did everyything he could to make Iron Man out to be an outright villain. I still enjoyed the story though.

And things like this (and Civil War and so on) are why I loathe Millar’s work.

(If it were an out-of-continuity satire story, that would be OK. But if he really did take one of the cooler characters Moore introduced and mess him up that way — well, it would be par for the course for what Millar did with everything he’s touched at Marvel. I hope if they reintroduce Chester in the new DCU, he’ll be classic Chester.)

this both a terrible pun an an observation but wasn’t this issue also Kurt’s swan song I think it may have been the last one drew

as for was this a dream sequence or imaginary the best way to describe it was an else where world story it really had nothing to with how swamp thing was going it was just a funny look at what happened if all comic book character were written from the conservative values. Chester the liberal Hippy went from liberal to conservative as did all the views of the comic book

I would love to see a collection of all of Mark Millar’s swamp Thing storylines especially the second one the river each issue was a one shot that read as a stand alone series of alternate world stories including one were the Nazi’s won the world war 2 and Slaughter Swamp was the ultimate body dump in the dc universe. good day

Presuming that this *is* the same neo-hippie “Chester” Moore introduced, I’m a little surprised you didn’t mention that he was (in name and, more or less, appearance) a tribute to Chester Brown. Moore was a fan of “Yummy Fur” (even prior to it being picked up by Bill Marks’ “Vortex Comics”, when it was a xeroxed self-pub in Toronto) and wanted to send out a “Hey, You!” to Chester. To think that he’d end up so far to the right of the spectrum (relatively) is kind of funny all ’round. Cheers!

This story is incredible. Curt Swan??? Wow. Thats fantastic. Millar lost sight of the dream once he caught wind of The Green, but unfortunately the green in this case isn’t a plant elemental. It’s a Greed Elemental that will eventually swallow the weak-willed whole, as it has done with our Mr. Millar.

Can’t wait to see a comic which points out how the “right vs left” dichotomy is a phony puppet show designed to keep us at each other’s throats.

Yes ..that would be he ultimate Imaginary story.

Moore did a likeable hippie like Chester, and those untalented writers, did make him , a nasty monster

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