Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 297: Swamp Thing #151
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be showing pages that are either scary or are part of “scary” issues (as scary as a comic can be, of course), because it’s October! Today’s page is from Swamp Thing #151, which was published by DC/Vertigo and is cover dated February 1995. Enjoy!
Mark Millar and Phil Hester (along with a slight boost from Grant Morrison, before he and Millar had a snit about who was cleaning the dishes that night and divorced) revitalized Swamp Thing in 1994, and the run remains a, if not the, high point of Millar’s career. Believe me, if you had been reading Nancy Collins’ work on the title (which wasn’t bad, just a bit too … milquetoast, I guess), you would have been impressed with Millar and Morrison’s initial arc, in which Swamp Thing goes around killing people, but then Millar went it alone, and the run got better. So it is with “River Run,” which begins in this issue.
Millar plays Anna’s death backward, which is eerie enough, but he does a nice job with the prose, so it feels even odder. We can figure out what’s happening quickly, even in the first panel, where Millar writes of the scalpel closing Anna up. We have to adjust our perceptions, so when the nurse places the scalpel back on the tray and then paused a moment, we have to re-think the sequence of events – the nurse is considering first, then handing the scalpel to the doctor. The students “abandoning” their first drowned corpse is a nice touch – again, the students aren’t abandoning anything, but the way Millar constructs the scene, he wants to finish the page with Anna, naked and alone in the dark. Even if we know the scene is playing backward, it’s still a nice way to show that in death, everyone is alone. Millar continues this over the next few page, twisting our expectations just enough to make the sequence weird – the cops “dump” Anna’s body in the swamp, for instance, even though we know that’s not what happens. Down at the bottom of the page, we have to decipher the backward dialogue: “He’s back. They say the swamp thing is back.” It’s a good way to end the page, because it adds a layer of mystery to the creepiness of Anna’s backward death.
Hester doesn’t have a lot to do on this page, but he does it well. He, Kim DeMulder (Hester is credited with layouts and DeMulder with finishes on this particular issue), and Tatjana Wood make sure the page moves from brightness to darkness, as the first panel has very little black and the final one is almost all black. Anna has an accusatory stare in Panel 2, which helps draw us into her plight. We already know that events are moving backward, so we’re pretty confident that Anna is going to come back to life, which makes her accusatory stare a bit more interesting – is she condemning us for not allowing her to stay dead? Hester does make a mistake, possibly – Anna is looking to her right in Panels 1 and 2 but to her left in Panel 3, but it’s not too hard to imagine the doctor turning her. Wood does her usual nice job with the coloring, making Anna blue in the final panel, both because it’s dark in the examination room but also because Anna drowned, so the blue links her to the water. It’s a fine choice.
Millar wrote plenty of horror stories in this run, but not all of them have really scary or creepy first pages. This isn’t as creepy as some pages, but it does begin the book with a strange, disturbing sense of reality being turned upside down. Considering that a good deal of Millar’s run dealt with this kind of sense, it’s a pretty good way to begin a story arc.
Next: Serial killers are always fun, aren’t they? Let’s check out a comic that features one! In the meantime, feel free to glide through the archives!