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Comics You Should Own – Swamp Thing #20-64

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When I first started writing these posts, over a decade ago, I might have skipped this, because I wanted to focus on things that weren’t quite so famous. That changed pretty quickly, however, so of course I’m going to write about these comics!!!

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Swamp Thing by Alan Moore (writer, issues #20-58, 60-61, 63-64; co-plotter, issue #59), Dan Day (penciller, issue #20), Stephen Bissette (penciller, issues #21-27, 29-30, 34-36, 39-42, 44, 46, 50, 64, Annual #2; writer, issue #59; co-plotter, issues #25-27, 59), Rick Veitch (penciller, issue #21, 26-27, 31, 36, 50-52, 54-59, 61-64; writer, issue #62; co-plotter, issue #59), Shawn McManus (artist, issues #28, 32), Ron Randall (artist, issue #33; inker, issues #42-44, 47), Stan Woch (penciller, issues #38, 43, 45, 47, 49), John Totleben (inker, issues #20-27, 29, 31, 34-40, 42, 44, 46, 50, 55, Annual #2; artist, issues #48, 53, 60; co-plotter, issues #25-27, 59), Tom Yeates (penciller, issue #64), Alfredo Alcala (inker, issues #30, 41, 45, 49, 51-52, 54-59, 61-64), Tom Mandrake (inker, issue #50), Tatjana Wood (colorist, issues #20-56, 58-64, Annual #2), Adrienne Roy (colorist, issue #57), John Costanza (letterer, issues #20-21, 23-59, 61-64, Annual #2), Todd Klein (letterer, issue #22), and Richard Bruning (letterer, issue #60).

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Published by DC, 46 issues (issues #20-64, plus Annual #2, which comes after issue #31), cover dated January 1984 – September 1987.

Moore’s final issue on Swamp Thing came out almost 30 years ago, so I guess there are SPOILERS in here, but, I mean, come on!

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I had to come, Arcane. I had to be sure. Oh, I know I saw your ship falling and burning. I know I saw it … drop like a wounded sun … exploding beyond the mountains. I know that you couldn’t have survived … But I didn’t … hear the rattle in your windpipe. I didn’t see … the glaze crawl over your eyes. I didn’t see the body, Arcane … And I’ve learned that … if you don’t see the body … then the rotten stuff … just keeps coming back.

Alan Moore’s first words in his first issue of Swamp Thing don’t quite resonate the way “It’s raining in Washington tonight. img141Plump, warm summer rain that covers the sidewalk with leopard spots. Downtown, elderly ladies carry their houseplants out to set them on the fire escapes, as if they were infirm relatives or boy kings,” which is the way his second issue, “The Anatomy Lesson,” begins, but given that “The Anatomy Lesson” is one of the best, if not the best, single issues ever published, that’s to be expected. Issue #20 (which DC inexplicably didn’t include in the very first collection of Moore’s run on the comic, although they’ve rectified that in more recent collections) is appropriately called “Loose Ends,” as Moore wraps up Marty Pasko’s run on the book and set up his own run by shooting Swamp Thing in the head, which ought to kill him but, of course, simply lets Moore perform one of the first and probably the greatest retcons in comics history. But it’s more than that, because in issue #20, Moore explicitly states one of the themes of the book and hints around at another one, which is kind of neat (Moore apparently had a great deal of this plotted out when he started, so he stuck to his guns). When Swampy finds Arcane dead, he wanders off, wondering what his purpose is now that his arch-foe is gone for good (although, naturally, he doesn’t stay in Hell where he belongs, because this is a comic book!). He thinks:

Maybe you were right … just to die like that. It’s a … new world, Arcane. It’s full of … shopping malls and striplights and software. The dark corners are being pushed back … a little more every day. We’re things of the shadow, you and I … and there isn’t as much shadow … as there used to be. Perhaps there was once a world … we could have belonged to … maybe somewhere in Europe … back in the fifteenth century. img142The world was … full of shadows then … full of monsters … not any more. Things like us … can’t survive in the light, Arcane. Perhaps you realized that … right at the end. Maybe you were right … maybe we’re better dead. Maybe the world has run out of room … for monsters …

You might think Moore immediately goes about disproving that idea (and you could also be forgiven for thinking that Moore, who was 29 when he wrote those words, was already putting words into his characters’ mouths that wouldn’t seem inconceivable coming from him), I would argue that he doesn’t. Yes, there’s plenty of horror in Moore’s run of Swamp Thing (especially the first 30 issues), but the nature of the horror has changed, so that the monsters are less obvious – the shambling mossy plant and the spidery one-eyed mad scientist are either not the monster at all or just a pale reflection of what it used to be – but more insidious, from Matt Cable to the Sunderland Corporation to social constructs like slavery, the oppression of women, and the puritanical American attitude toward sex. Moore moves quickly away from horror creatures and onto things that make us uncomfortable because they’re so “realistic” – yes, underwater vampires and werewolves aren’t “realistic,” but the vampires’ yearning for a safe place to raise children and Phoebe’s feelings of being trapped certainly are. Moore also places Swamp Thing under the microscope, as the light shines on him (and Abby) in uncomfortable ways, causing him to finally abandon the planet completely and then, when he returns, to retire from the world of humans. img143The world had indeed grown too light for him, although Moore makes it clear that doesn’t necessarily mean it grew better.

Story continues below

Moore also begins his examination of love and sex in issue #20, although that takes a bit longer to evolve, especially as “Alec” and Abby take a while to admit that they dig each other. Moore’s interest (some would say obsession) with sex doesn’t blossom into full flower in this series, but he does delve into it, as his run is a beautiful love story between Alec and Abby but Moore still goes into other, darker forms of sexual obsession as well, which he seeds throughout issue #20. He first checks in on Liz Tremayne and Dennis Barclay, who came together in extreme circumstances which only Liz, of the two, recognizes. “All we have in common is the horror in our lives, Dennis,” she tells him. “That’s all. That’s what holds us together. If we were living out in … oh, I don’t know, Miami county or somewhere, we’d be ripping each other’s throats out within a month. I mean, you understand that? Don’t you?” Dennis understands all too well, and later, when he and Liz are almost killed by Sunderland goons, he realizes that if he keeps Liz terrified, she’ll always need him. We don’t see them again until issue #54, when Moore revisits this idea and the horrific consequences. Moore also checks in on Abby and Matt Cable, and Matt admits that he had been creating monsters with his odd power. img145He lies to Abby and tells her that he destroyed them, but he only learned to control them, and he uses his power to create a female fantasy figure who “dances” just for him. Matt’s obsession with sex and power is slightly different from Dennis’s, but they’re both destructive, not only to Matt and Dennis, but to Liz and, to a lesser degree, Abby (Matt at least retains a shred of decency as he descends into madness). Abby doesn’t interact with Alec in issue #20, but it’s clear that her marriage is in trouble and that Matt is going down a dark path, which sets up her finding comfort and then love with Swampy. These two themes dominate Moore’s run on the title, and he does a nice job with them in his first issue.

Next: The early horror in Moore’s run!

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I assume there have been no comments here yet because, y’know,


Huh, thought people would be quicker to comment considering how “important” this series is. I know I personally have a soft spot for this series, even though my opinion on Moore has soured a bit of late. Reading the trade for Love and Death blew my mind when I was younger, as the work on display taught me just how literate and powerful comics could be. Still get chills reading the opening “paragraph” from #21. Man, works like this makes me wish that the internet was more like a book club than a fanclub sometimes. Good work as usual Mr. Burgas, keep em coming and we might get into the T section before the year is out ;).

@ Travis: That’s so funny though that we commented on the, well, comments, within a moment of each other.

Travis: I just assume it’s because no one likes me. :(

Anti-Chris: Maybe it’s too self-evident, as Travis said! I too still get chills from reading ALL of issue #21, plus quite a lot of the rest of the run. I too haven’t loved Moore’s more recent work (I still kind of like his LoEG stuff, but a lot of it is O’Neill’s art), but yeah, when he was on, holy crap.

I’m trying to get out of ‘S’! I promise I am!!!!! :)

“Comics You Should Own – Swamp Thing #20-64″


I haven’t read all of this run, but some of the TPBs, and I have to agree with all this – including the criticisms! It’s easily up there with Watchmen or any other comic greats, by Moore or otherwise, though at times it becomes a bit heavy-handed, sometimes with arguments that you might not entirely agree with.

Also, I gotta say, exploration of ‘mundane’ horrors might be one of this run’s strengths, but that image of a guy being ripped apart because of the salad in his sandwich growing out of control is etched in one wee corner of my mind.

And yep, Bissette and Totleben. I don’t quite know how to describe their work. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen, although there may be a few imitators. The shadows and hatching. The sheer details of Alec’s plant body or his swamp home, all at once riotous and vibrantly alive, but also uncontrollable and (literally) smothering. Even little details like the bubbles that show up in the Nukeface scan and elsewhere, like the greasy, gelatinous eggs of something from Lovecraft’s nightmares, horridly threatening to burst with a satisfying pop. The art, altogher: kind of disturbing in the way it’s both alluring and grotesque. Perfect for the job.

Of course these stories are most notable as source material for the true masterpiece, the movie The Return of Swamp Thing starring Heather Locklear as Abby Arcane.

Warren B.: Oh, heck yeah, Moore’s more standard horror is terrific, too. I just found it interesting that he didn’t just stick to that – it would have been a memorable run, but I wonder if it would have lingered beyond the visceral impact of “The Anatomy Lesson.” But yeah, the way he dispenses justice is pretty darned clever.

I love the art on the book, but I was going on a little long! Totleben is an amazing inker – he makes so many disparate pencillers look wonderful, giving the book (when he inks it) a nice, streamlined and consistent feel – you can tell that the artists are different, but they are become a bit more similar. I like Bissette and Totleben more than Veitch and Alcala, but the latter do some nice work, too.

buttler: So true! :)

John Totleben is a bit of a hometown hero (to comic fans, I guess) here in Erie, PA and I met him last summer when the local art museum hosted an exhibition of original comic art (leaning heavily on work by Totleben and, interestingly enough, Klaus Janson*). He was nice enough to sign my copy of “Loving The Alien” and his wife mentioned that John basically came up with a bunch of cool-looking multimedia pages featuring Swamp Thing in space and then Alan Moore retro-scripted the issue after seeing Totleben’s work. I feel that the art team on Swamp Thing may have been the most in-sync collaborators that Moore has ever had (of course, Messrs. Gibbons, Campbell, O’Neill, Davis, Williams III, et. al. are all pretty incredible too). That little anecdote is not the most germane comment to this analysis (well done!), but I thought it was cool and it added to my perception of the magic of Swamp Thing.

*Side note: I met Klaus Janson at the same event, and he’s one of the nicest dudes I’ve ever chatted with. Totleben was certainly nice, too, but Janson is another level of genial.

Yeah, now that I’m thinking of it, my trade of Moore’s run on Swamp Thing didn’t include issue # 20! I’ve been had! Now I gotta decide if I just wanna get the single issue.

Anyway, I enjoyed your analysis. It’s always nice to get somebody else’s opinion on material I love.

This is my favorite Alan Moore comic book (after Miracleman). I just like the younger Alan Moore more. He had more heart, somehow. The older he became, the more detached and ironic and didactic he became. Though he is still the best of the best. Yeah, I am an unashamed Alan Moore fanboy.

There is a lot to comment on here, but I’ll have to do it later after I collect my thoughts. For now, I’d like to talk about the racism story. I agree that some parts of it are all-too-convenient, but I sort of like it. It dovetails nicely with my own conflicted views of political correctness and of those who blame ALL of racism and sexism and things like that in social and cultural constructs instead of, you know, some people just being shitty human beings and going for the targets that are made easy BECAUSE of the cultural and social constructs.

It was true when Alan wrote this story, and it’s true now, that a lot of people think that being a “correct” person in social-political terms is all about learning. You learn how to say some terms and how to avoid some other terms, you learn that this piece of art, film, comics, etc. is “correct” and this other isn’t, sometimes on account of surface things like how many times such word is spoken or how many female characters come to bad ends vs. male characters, or if the person writing it belongs to a certain group.

No one wants to talk about those things that can’t be learned so easily, like simply having a good heart, about a good soul. It’s too simple, too moralistic, too old-fashioned, too manicheistic. But the story Alan Moore wrote is more or less like that. The liberal dude had learned all the right words and the right attitudes, but he just had a rotten heart, and deep down in his sould he was a racist. And it couldn’t be easily mended by a “correct” education.

It’s just like when some feminists talk about rape culture today. I agree completely that we should fight and denounce women being seen as commodities. But I still think most good men will not be turned into rapists, and sick, rotten, bad men will not easily “learn” that it’s wrong to rape. It doesn’t work like that.

The other thing I wanted to talk about is that, as awesome and earth-shattering as Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing was, it’s always a mistake to not mention that Steve Gerber did a lot of it first and laid down some of the foundations in his Man-Thing stories. Alan Moore is a genius, but he wasn’t the one that invented that particular mix of supernatural horror and socially conscious criticism. Gerber had a swamp monster with an interesting cast of supporting characters tackling occultism, book censorship, bullying, generational gap, etc. and doing it pretty damn well. Though it also must be said that even Gerber had the EC Comics line to thank for as an influence.

Now that’s what I call an essay!

A nitpick about form: the lack of much formatting, as I think it’d deserve to have some numbered-and-titled sections, and maybe its huge paragraphs be broken down into shorter structuring segments?

Got it outta the way because of course, I’m still going to tilt at details!

> I guess there are SPOILERS in here, but, I mean, come on!

Yes, but then it’s called “Comics you should own”, not “Comics you should reread”, right? Just as you note that “many of you have already read it, but those who haven’t really should”.

I mean, if someone hasn’t read it, shouldn’t they be warned whether it’s going to be a spoiler-full essay or a spoiler-free one, regardless of how old it is?

> Issue #20 (which DC inexplicably didn’t include in the very first collection

Wasn’t it just seen as more fit for closing a collection of #1–20 than for opening Alan Moore’s run proper? (Another intent could have been to force Moore fans to buy a possible collection of Pasko’s run just to get that #20, but they’re not mutually exclusive.)

I mean, justified or not, that hardly seems inexplicable?

> one of the first and probably the greatest retcons in comics history

Of course, Moore had already performed such surgery on MIRACLEMAN (né MARVELMAN). T’was A.M.’s M.O.!

> Moore’s interest (some would say obsession) with sex

I infer you don’t include yourself in the “obsession” claimers?

I think Moore’s interest was primarily in more realism, and pulling these comics out of their arrested adolescence. Sex is a component of life, a large motivation throughout history, and it’s unrealistic to always remove it from three-dimensional characters, or confine it to vague allusions and male-gaze visuals.

> Moore is going to twist the horror tropes a bit to examine more important issues

Indeed, and such comics are why “It’s just entertainment” is a valid criticism of 90% of products out there. (To stick with Sturgeon’s Law.)

Works such as SWAMP THING show that it doesn’t have to be this way, as they can have adventure and ideas, plot and characters, so as to provide “More than just entertainment” — all without becoming philosophical treatises or elitist literature.

(In fact, as Kindt notes in MIND MGMT through Meru, embedding ideas into pulp narratives can be more effective.)

> it shows already that “Alec” is distancing himself from people

A recurring Moorian idea, also prominent in WATCHMEN with Doc Manhattan. (Or V, or Nemo, or Batman…)

Later, when Alec just watches the Bogeyman drowning, isn’t that’s equivalent to the Vietnam scene in WATCHMEN? After Doc Manhattan just looked at the pregnant girl disfigure the Comedian and the latter kill her, the former is pointedly indicted by the latter for his inaction and disconnection. (I guess Moore reworks the old idea that the apathy of good men is necessary for evil to triumph?)

Later, when “he’s trying to remain ‘human’ for [Abby]”, that’s similar to the relationship between Doc Manhattan and Laurie.

And when Alec is an exile in “My Blue Heaven”, it’s analog to Doc Manhattan exiled on Mars.

> Swampy was worried about his place in the world and whether he’s an outdated monster

Now, isn’t that an idea also prominent in V FOR VENDETTA? V explaining that he’s a necessary monster to bring down the dictature, a Destroyer, but that he becomes outdated after that and must remove himself to let place for a Builder, his adoptive daughter.

(I guess there may be some of it in WATCHMEN too, with the Comedian being a monster from another era, or in LOEG, with Nemo being another old monster — both leaving a place for their own daughter?)

> the “horror” of people fearing things they don’t understand

Wouldn’t a closer descriptor be “people fearing things different from themselves”?

I mean, most people don’t understand most of what they use or see (TVs, microwave ovens, computers, planes, black holes, etc.) yet most don’t exactly hate or fear them. On the other hand, people understand that one can have a different skin color just as one can have a different hair color, and yet…

> “He’s kept her safely shut away for years. Isn’t that love? She’s terrified of life without him. Isn’t that love?”

BOXING HELENA. Isn’t that love?

> death by swordfish.

How often does one get to say that? (Even less often than “Death by murder”, heh.) Later you note how a “buffalo stampede her to death”. It’s as if Moore grants Nature some unorthodox ecological revenges. (That’s a CEREBUS ref, heathen!)

> “I let him in. I was weak … There isn’t any evil, Alec … no special blackness reserved for demons and monsters. There’s just weakness … I had a choice …”

Good you quoted that, as I think it’s probably one of the most important ethical points raised by the book.

(A similar argument is made by Derf in his bio-memoir MY FRIEND DAHMER. He sympathizes and empathizes with his former schoolmate almost to the end of the book, up to the first murder. But after that, explains Derf, Dahmer still had a choice to turn himself in or kill himself, and that’s when Derf condemns and forsakes him.)

> [They] have sex, or at least as close to sex as a human can have with a plant.

Well, I see what you mean, but still, would you say, “they have sex, or at least as close to sex as a woman can have with a lesbian”? Love-making, pleasure-giving, genital or otherwise — sex is sex. It’s in the heart and mind, man!

> his prose in the second half of “Rite of Spring” is sweet but a bit overwrought

Well, I’ve often seen Moore indicted for “purple prose”, but I’m not sure how much of that is in the reader’s head. I mean, to me that’s poetry or prose poetry. You’re not supposed to binge-read it like narrative prose, but to switch your brain to a different wavelength and take it in slowly, turning it into a music of words:

  ” In him,
  ” I ride the amber sap,
  ” Oozing through miniature labyrinths.
  ” Clusters of insect eggs burn
  ” Like nebulae,
  ” Suspended in their unique
  ” And vine-wrought
  ” Cosmos…

It’s not purple prose, it’s prosody!

I’d add that Moore is a fan of some musicals (especially Brecht & Weill’s THE THREEPENNY OPERA that he referenced a lot, from his “Curt Vile” pen name to WATCHMEN’s pirates to LOEG’s CENTURY) and musical interludes (as in V FOR VENDETTA’s “This Vicious Cabaret”, BOJEFFRIES SAGA’s “Song of the Terraces”, or again LOEG’s CENTURY).

Well, not unlike other entertainments from MUPPET SHOW to BENNY HILL to MONTY PYTHON. I mean, it’s not the same here, but a narrative suddendly breaking into poetry is like a movie suddendly breaking into song. You have to adapt.

Also, maybe it’s clearer to me because I’ve listened to Moore’s CDs, spoken-word lectures such as THE BIRTH CAUL, THE HIGHBURY WORKING, or ANGEL PASSAGE. (Some of them also adapted into painted comics by Eddie Campbell.) From them, you get an ear for the sound and rythm of his prose poetry.

I’m not saying it’s necessary to listen to them, but they probably make it easier not to read but to “hear” his comics incantations in the voice he’d intone them. To get in synch.

> [Alec] misses the cue because he’s not human

Well, is it because he’s not human? Or because even his original self was already an awkward scientist anyway, not unlike Abby’s autistic kids? I think it’s another theme running through a lot of these stories: the nature of identity and humanity.

Is he only an elemental with the memories of Alec Holland, just a plant who believed to be human? Or is this enough to let him retain some essence of Alec and some essence of humanity? Considering his rather decent behavior overall, one might think he’s a little hard on himself considering himself a monster. And Abby certainly doesn’t seem to think or fell so. The proof of the swamp thing is in the loving!

The problems of the reconstructed Alec are not unlike those of Doc Manhattan after reassembling himself in WATCHMEN. And not unlike the old question about Cronenberg’s THE FLY. If you are disintegrated in one pod and reconstructed in another, is it still you, or just a copy believing he’s you? Are you still a human being, or something else?

(Yup, that’s more than just entertainment!)

Jeff Nettleton

March 16, 2016 at 9:16 am

I was in college when this stuff was coming out and I constantly heard “Alan Moore” anytime I was near a comic shop or anyone who read comics. However, I’ve never been a horror fan and the stuff looked so ghastly that I just moved on to other things. It took the first couple of trade collections for me to actually read the series. By that point, I had read Moore in other things (Miracleman, Watchmen, some of the DC superhero stories). I was blown away by the depth of things; but, it was still horror, so I didn’t really revisit it much. It’s just not a genre I enjoy. It also colored my reactions to Sandman, at first, especially the first couple of storylines (particularly the Corinthian). However, Gaiman seemed to move away from horror in Sandman more than Moore did in Swamp Thing. At least, what I perceived as horror.

One thing that was always clear was how well Moore worked with his artists (a trait Gaiman also shared). It was his book; but, he wrote to their strengths and, especially Bisette and Totleben, they had some amazing strengths. It carried on the fine tradition that began with Bernie Wrightson.

I still gravitate more to Moore on adventure stuff, as that is more my preference; but, this is still the series where he really developed his voice and it stands apart from a lot of the rest of his work.

Peter: That’s pretty cool about Totleben. I didn’t know he was from Erie! That’s an interesting story about “Loving the Aliem” – leave it to Moore to come up with something weird based on it!

Janson has commented on the blog before, and he seems very nice just from those short interactions. Nice to hear he’s like that in “real life,” too.

P. Boz: For years I didn’t even know Moore wrote issue #20, as I think my trades are the first edition ones that came out in the late 1980s. I was a bit miffed when I found out! It’s not 100% essential, as Moore is really just putting a bow on Pasko’s run and the themes he mentions are, as I note, brought up a lot more during his run, but it’s still a pretty keen issue. I don’t know how available it is or how much it costs, though – mine was $9, and I got it years ago.

Rene: I agree with you about the younger Moore versus the older one. I can’t imagine the older Moore writing D.R. and Quinch, for instance, and I definitely can’t seeing him writing such a nice love story as the one we get here.

I don’t dislike the racism story, and I agree with your points about it. I just thought that seemed like an easy read, but maybe it wasn’t back when Moore wrote it? The cultural context always helps, so maybe when it came out it had more impact. I don’t know. I agree with your reading, but that seemed less insightful than we usually get from Moore.

I’ve only read some of Gerber’s Man-Thing, and you’re right that he did a lot of stuff that Moore did later. To me, it feels a bit more “superheroic” – I know it’s not really, but it feels like Gerber hints more at the disturbing stuff while giving us a slightly less creepy surface. But that’s just from what I’ve read, which isn’t all of it.

Simon: Yeah, I always put a spoiler warning, because I didn’t a few times and got grief over it. I don’t mind spoilers after about a week, because they just never really mattered to what I’m interested in. If you’re keen on pure plot, I can understand, but I’ve read “The Anatomy Lesson” so many times I can recite large parts of it, but it doesn’t diminish the thrill I get when I read it. But I do try to leave spoilers out when I’m just reviewing something, but when I’m trying to do some deeper analysis, all bets are off!

Issue #20 does wrap up Pasko’s run, but Moore does introduce a lot of stuff that he intends to get to, and issue #54, which follows directly from what Dennis and Liz go through in issue #20, doesn’t make too much sense without at least that issue. But that’s probably what DC was thinking – “it’s just wrapping things up, so we don’t need to include it!”

I read Miracleman for the first time when Eclipse reprinted it, so I wasn’t sure about the timing of that retcon as opposed to this one. But yeah, I guess that was first.

No, I definitely include myself in those who think Moore is obsessed with sex! :) I agree with you that he was bringing sex into a medium that didn’t really deal with it, at least in mainstream comics, and I appreciate that. In recent years, I think his preoccupation with it has made his characters less three-dimensional, unfortunately, but one-dimensional in a different way than the way he was reacting against in the 1980s. It’s too bad.

Yeah, Moore definitely revisited some themes he examined in Swamp Thing in some other works, and he had already examined some in earlier works. That’s okay, though!

I don’t hate Moore’s prose in “Rite of Spring,” but I guess it’s because it’s Abby, and she had never shown a predilection toward florid speech, so it takes me out of it a bit. Even in issue #64, when Swamp Thing narrates the sexual act, it feels a bit more “on-model,” and Woodrue’s wonderful narration in issue #21, for instance, feels more like the character because he’s a megalomaniac. The prose on “Rite of Spring” isn’t embarrassing, but it just feels a bit off. But that’s just me. And no, I’m not a big fan of Moore breaking into “song” in his writing, whether it’s the Bojeffries Saga or LoEG. It’s annoying and self-aggrandizing, at least it seems so to me. Your mileage may vary!

Identity is always a big theme in literature, so I wouldn’t be surprised if your point about Alec’s humanity was on Moore’s mind!

Jeff: Yeah, Moore never completely moves away from horror like Gaiman did. I get what you’re saying there. I’m not a huge fan of horror, but when it’s this well done, I can’t resist! :)

In the ST HCs from a few years back (which I believe all were also released in SC as well), v1 has #20 reprinted, I believe for the first time. I know this because I have that HC.

Still my favorite run of comics, right up there with Miracleman, Miller’s Daredevil and Gerber’s Man Thing. The pinnacle of great adult mainstream comics.

Why hasn’t DC made Absolute editions of this run yet?

tom fitzpatrick

March 16, 2016 at 7:04 pm

Nice lengthy review. Fortunately I have the hard covers of this run! :-)

Sex is something that Moore have written in almost every thing he’d written. Either, metaphorically, literally, or symbolically. Even pornographically.

The Invunche made its television appearance on NBC’s CONSTANTINE. Too bad they cancelled the series at the point where the series was starting to mine the comics.

Cool Lester Smooth

March 16, 2016 at 7:49 pm

Jesse and Tulip are the only love story in comics that can compare to Abby and Swampy.

Warren W.: That’s a very good question. I can’t believe it’s because of Moore’s snit with them. Why would they care so much about that?

tom: I dug the Invunche on Constantine. It was pretty cool.

Cool Lester Smooth: Well, I disagree, but that’s not a bad romance at all.

My guess with why they don’t do Absolute runs would be partly that there’s something with the original coloring/printing, where the way that book was originally printed, isn’t the way stuff is printed any more. They had to do something special with the HC coloring, iirc, and even that got screwed up some, if I correctly remember things Bissette said about it.

Also, when your principal creators (Moore, Bissette, Veitch) basically don’t work with you and in both Moore and Bissette’s cases are vocal in their dislike of your business practices, I don’t see where DC is going to be willing to put the effort into making nice editions of these comics. I believe the original ST contracts pay the creators decently, as I think Bissette’s said before he’s made more money from being a co-creator of Constantine than from virtually any other comics project he’s done.

Also, Jim Lee is a DC bigwig, and Bissette pretty much has accused him of poaching Moore for WildCATS to take away from the 1963 announcement, at whatever Con those things were announced back in the day. So there may be some less than warm feelings between them.

I bought these when they were first coming out and they were quite an experience. I remember being completely blown away by “The Anatomy Lesson,” loving the rhyming demon Etrigan, and many aspects of “American Gothic.” The scene of Swampy exploding into the courtroom to rescue Abby is still one of the best of that kind. I remember waiting every month in anticipation for the next issue of Moore’s ST. I think this was during a period in the 1980s when comics were entering a kind of “golden age” -there was just a lot of great stuff coming out, but Moore’s work was easily near the top.

I just sent this run off to be custom bound.

I count DC Presents #85 “The Jungle Line” as part of Moore’s Swamp Thing run, and so I included that. I don’t care that it wasn’t Vertigo (which didn’t actually start until 1993) and maybe DC Pres was a Superman title. It’s Moore doing Swamp Thing with The Green and all. Part of the run in my opinion.

(P.S.: I meant “Murder by death” but typed “Death by murder”. Whatta maroon!)

* Hey, it’s got five nice sections, now! (I’d add a copy of the “Next:” titles at the top of each section too, ala “2/5. The early horror in Moore’s run” or such, but YMMV!)

* I agree that spoilers matter less when dealing with serious literature, intended to be read and mulled and reread. (There’s even a novel telling you its entire plot and ending in the intro because it’s more interesting that way, not unlike a COLUMBO episode. THE KEY, by Jun’ichirô Tanizaki.)

But still, spoilers will rob you of some of the thrills of the first read. And those are not just the passive revelations you won’t see coming, they can also be the active discoveries you can make from noticing clues!

(Also, the casual indifference of “I got to read Watchmen unspoiled so I don’t care if nobody else can do so nowadays and by the way it’s the butler whodunnit” seems, to me, not unlike the general attitude that has led to our planet being disastrously globally-warmed and contaminated to increasingly unsupportable levels…)

Anyway it wasn’t against spoilers, but about always having a mere warning letting readers decide if they want to read further. Freedom of choice…

* Oh, I don’t have the dates of Moore’s works in mind either! However, it’s usually good enough to just remember that he started with tons of 2000AD stories then MIRACLEMAN and V FOR VENDETTA, before being called by Karen Berger.

* Similarly, I had to lookup the dates to compare the teleportation in SWAMP THING and in THE FLY. Interestingly, that power starts with Constantine in #37 (1985), one year before Cronenberg’s film (1986). So, unless Moore had read some plot-rich article about the upcoming film, both independently looked at a similar question around the same time.

(Moore would probably call that coincidence an Ideaspace connection or something! But then, maybe both were influenced by a common contemporary work, maybe some cyberpunk story dealing with the question of identity if you copy or upload yourself?)

* About sex, note that Philip José Farmer’s sci-fi was there first in the 1950s and 1960s, and I bet Moore had at the very least heard of it. Such as STRANGE RELATIONS, featuring a sentient vegetal lifeform on another planet. Sex with plants, that’s what you get from a Farmer! (BTW, he also wrote a novel about Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan teaming up, and similar reuses of pulp and historical characters, which could have been one seed for LOEG and LOST GIRLS.)

* I understand Moore’s musical interludes being annoying. (I’m no big fan of musicals, and Moore’s can get in the way, especially on first read when you don’t know if you can skip them.) However, I’m not sure what you meant by “self-aggrandizing”?

For instance, MONTY PYTHON HOLY GRAIL includes at least two musical numbers (Camelot, the Convent), is that self-aggrandizing? To me, it’s just some quaint taste a lot of people seem to share, Moore included to some extent. I could understand “self-indulgent” (even though he rarely indulged), but “self-aggrandizing”?

Travis: I really hope the reason they haven’t done Absolute Editions is the first one you mentioned, because I’d like to think that when there’s money to be made, DC wouldn’t be so petty as to keep themselves from making money just because creators they don’t like and who don’t like them will make some as well. If that’s true, that’s just another reason DC isn’t a real business.

Shaun: Yeah, there are so many nice moments in the run. It’s hard to pick a favorite!

JG: I actually forgot about DC Comics Presents, but I’m not sure I would have included it. It’s certainly a good story, and it would be nice if DC actually put it in one of Moore’s Swamp Thing collections (unless they have and I missed it), but to me, it’s not as essential as it is a neat little story.

Simon: I hate to tell you, but your suggestion to split it up had nothing to do with why I did it. I like my posts long and meaty, dang it! The Dread Lord and Master suggested it because they wanted to put it on the CBR front page, so I did it!

Yeah, like I said, if I’m reviewing something for the first time, I will try very hard not to spoil things. And I do warn people about them in these posts, but there’s a limit to my attempts at not spoiling things!

I mean it’s self-aggrandizing because it always feels like it’s just Moore proving how clever he is. We get it – you can write nice lyrics!!!! I don’t mind it in movies because of the presence of actual music – the musical numbers in Holy Grail, to use your examples, are fun because of the music and dancing, not just the lyrics. In Moore’s comics, there’s no music, and the static nature of the images, in those cases, works against what he’s trying to do. It just seems like he’s showing off when he does it, and that’s why I wrote “self-aggrandizing.” Perhaps “self-indulgent” is a bit better.

Simon –

There were a couple of years when Philip José Farmer was my favorite writer in the world, and I hunted down everything of his that I could. Good times. I think Alan Moore has mentioned Farmer in a few interviews and introductions. And yeah, Farmer is a pioneer in deconstructing heroes (focusing on the pulp heroes instead of superheroes), in creating elaborate crossovers of literary characters, and in mixing sex and science fiction.

I was not aware of the Sherlock Holmes/Tarzan novel, though. But I have read one novel of his with Doc Savage and Tarzan analogues meeting and fighting each other.

Great overview of one of hte best comics runs ever. I came aboard with issue #22, recommended to me by the clerk at a comics shop in Santa Clara, CA. Over the previous decade I had pretty much been a Marvel zombie, but this was the point at which I started buying a lot less Marvel comics and a lot more diverse stuff, including undergrounds, Cerebus, Miracle Man, etc.
I’ve never read any commentary by Moore about Gerber, but I agree that in mainstream comics Gerber came closest to routinely touching on many of the more adult themes Moore expanded on, not just in Man-Thing, but also in Howard the Duck, Omega the Unknown and the Defenders, among other works. One big difference, IMO, in Gerber’s and Moore’s styles is that Gerber struck me as far more passionate and truly outraged at the absurdities of life while Moore seemed far more analytical and detached, keeping his cool even when he was equally outraged.

Fred: Thanks for the nice words. That’s pretty cool that you were there (almost) at the beginning!

I imagine Moore had read Gerber’s work, but I wouldn’t swear to it, as who knows what weird comics he was reading in England in the 1970s!

Fred –

Additionaly, I think Gerber’s Defenders was a huge influence for Grant Morrison.


And it’s well-deserved to have it on the main page, sir. Let readers old and new find out what they’ve been missing out on!

(Note that I wasn’t suggesting to split it physically, just to insert section titles outlining its structure. CBR and you could even have the cake and eat it by enabling a “Single-page version” link next to the page numbers, as on the NY Times site.)

On a more topical note, a thought about the two reactions to eating a tuber: I wonder if they really come from the same place.

Abby’s empathy makes her see the humanity of Alec, so wouldn’t her original revulsion be akin to balking at eating someone’s chopped-off ear? [Insert RESERVOIR DOGS joke.] But the photographer only sees Swampy as an alien monster, so wouldn’t his own revulsion be more akin to a racist’s reaction to “miscegenation”? The same effect can have different causes.

(Say, does his sharing visions make Alec a YouTuber? …I’ll get me coat.)


Farmer’s Sherlock/Tarzan novel is THE PEERLESS PEER. I fear a lot of PJF’s output may have slipped from important-at-the-time to historically-important nowadays, but I hope you’ve read his quintessential masterpiece RIVERWORLD!

Also, it most probably inspired Alan Moore’s FUTURE SHOCKS story “6519 A.D.” about aliens recreating all humans from History, including two blue-skinned Einsteins on a lark.

Simon: Hey, thanks for the nice words. I really appreciate it!

I don’t think we’re fancy enough to have the option of splitting things into different pages OR having one page. That would be sweet.

Good point about Swampy’s tubers. That might be what Moore had in mind.

YouTuber … you should be on the stage! There’s one leaving town right now!!! :)

Simon –

Yeah, I’ve read Riverworld. Loved it, too. But I only got to read the first 3 novels, never completed it. Actually I’ve re-read the first novel with my wife very recently.

No one can convince me that Riverworld wasn’t a huge influence on LOST.

Like I’ve said, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing is my favorite thing he wrote, after Miracleman.

It’s strange to me that people often mention Alan Moore and Frank Miller as the guys that ushered grim and gritty and destroyed “fun” in superhero comics. To me, Swamp Thing (and Daredevil) brought a certain re-enchantment to the superhero genre. The appearances by the Justice League, Batman, the Demon (and the Avengers in Born Again) showed these characters in a new, more awesome light. The way Swamp Thing stretched his powers (and Daredevil his supersenses and skills) also gave me a sense of awe that I felt was absent from superhero comics for too many years.

Alan Moore and Frank Miller made me remember when I was a little kid first starting reading superhero comics and how in awe I was of Spider-Man or the Flash.

To me, the “dark age of comics” was really influenced by violent action movies, MTV, and watered-down cyberpunk. Not Alan Moore (yeah, I know even Alan Moore himself disagrees with me).

The story with the Monkey King was one of the first I’ve read in Swamp Thing and it’s still one of my favorites. That mix of horror and sophisticated psychological drama was really the beginning of Vertigo. I believe the story predates even the first appearance by John Constantine? It’s amazing how influential Moore was (yeah, I don’t think he started grim and gritty, but he surely started Vertigo), even though he was himself influenced by dudes like Nicholas Roeg (confirmed) and Steve Gerber (not-confirmed).

And what can I say about John Constantine? One of my favorite characters ever.

And only Alan Moore could get away with writing such a sex-positive superhero saga in mainstream American comics. Sex had (still has, IMO) a bad rap in genre fiction. It’s the thing femme fatales use to entrap the brave hero. Even Philip José Farmer, except for a few gems like THE LOVERS, tended to approach sex as an amoral appetite. Damn, even LOVE gets a bad rap in boy’s fiction. It’s emotionally stunted Superman evading Lois Lane, or desperate Peter Parker getting more headaches than comfort.

Moore made Swampy and Abby’s love into a major theme of the comic, and more, made their love the thing that gives meaning and sustenance to them. And to really made it awesome, positioned that beautiful love as something that mainstream society would condemn and persecute. In a time when you couldn’t even think of depicting homosexuality openly in comics, that was a very bold story to tell.

I know many people who love the horror bits and think that the comic lost a bit of its strength when Swamp Thing started his space journey. I can’t disagree more. Alan Moore’s science fiction stories were as bold and imaginative as his horror stories. Perhaps even more imaginative, because his horror gig was replicated by many people in Vertigo Comics, but few could touch his science fiction stories (James Robinson in Starman was amazing, but Robinson was clearly writing more space opera-ish stories, while Moore was that hard, crazy, mind-bending sort of science fiction).

I rarely saw it’s like in American comics. There is very little “real” science fiction in American comics. The sort that stretches your mind. Grant Morrison sometimes does it (particularly in X-Men), but he is too surreal and meta-fictional. I think John Byrne came close in his Fantastic Four, particularly when Reed Richards, for the first time in decades of the character’s existence, would use his intellect to solve puzzles in a way that would not be out of place in a story by, say, Isaac Asimov. Man, I’d love to see Alan Moore writing Fantastic Four and doing this kind of space exploration. I want to visit the alternate Earth where Moore never parted way with American publishers and went to work for Marvel.

All in all, this is an amazing run of comics.

Rene: I’m not sure I agree with you about Miller (although you’re right that the Avengers in “Born Again” are terrific), but I agree that Moore writes superheroes wonderfully. I always say that DC and Marvel took the wrong lessons from Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, as they should have realized that you could write about superheroes in a fresh way that still inspires the awe we all felt when we first read superheroes. Moore, even if he’s gotten a little dark, has always written superheroes really beautifully.

Yes, the Monkey King story predates Constantine, although that is the story in which Constantine apparently appears in the cameo. I guess it really is him – I think Moore and Bissette have confirmed it, even though he didn’t show up as “John Constantine” for a while after it.

It would be nice to visit the alternate Earth where Moore never got pissy with Marvel OR DC. Alas, we simply must imagine it!

From Alan Moore’s 1987 TCJ interview:

“I think that our society does tend to have a very curious preoccupation with sex and hiding it. To me, these sort of talks always get into strange areas because of the predominance of sex in the discussion. That human sexuality seems to be the only real area of concern, which is something that I have a lot of trouble with. It’s always the sexuality that upsets these people. They can watch people having their brains smashed in one issue of Miracleman. They can watch people having their guts ripped out, and a human being blown into several pieces in one issue of Miracleman, and there will not be a word of complaint. But the childbirth in the next issue will have them foaming at the mouth. There seems to be something wrong there.”

One actually about ST? Sure, why not!

“I might object to the war-mongering aspects of a book like G.I. Joe, for example. But my response to that will not be to try and get a campaign to get G.I. Joe taken off the shelves, or put on a higher shelf, or put in a plastic bag, or given a rating on the cover. My response will be to contribute to something like Real War Stories, which will make me feel that I’m redressing the balance in a positive way, rather than trampling over the opposition through sheer brute force. So yes, there may be areas in DC Comics which I would find morally reprehensible… […] I mean, what I would try to do was to eradicate them by trying to do something better. I mean part of my attitude to comics regarding say, the work on Swamp Thing and Watchmen is that if I can state my case with greater lucidity, greater impact, then I have a chance to basically make people lose their tastes for those sort of things, hopefully. At least that’s my ambition. If people did start, say, for example, treating women more accurately and realistically in their comics, and if those comics were well enough crafted to be superior comics then I would hope that through a process of Darwinian natural selection that there would gradually be less and less sexist material appearing in comics because they would be perceived by the readers as being more and more dated, more and more offensive. That form of pressure I have no qualms against bringing upon people because it seems to me to be perfectly fair and equitable. And there’s no guarantee that I’ll succeed in it.”


Why, Mr. Burgas! I do believe I’m already on a stage… Stage 4, say my oncologists!

As for the fancy single-page thingie, it’s all the rage since 2012 with a plugin that’s free (they hope to sell the upgrade with auto-pagination, etc.) at https://wordpress.org/plugins/page-links-single-page-option/

(TMI: There’s another such plugin in WordPress’s single-view category, but its FAQ reports issues with the Yoast SEO used by most pro sites, CBR included. Besides, plugins are for pussies: Real Men just code single-view!)


Actually, it’s your comment that reminded me those quotes above, heh. But by the by:

About sex-positive love, the best comic on the market may be the hilarious BDSM rom-com SUNSTONE! It’s up to Vol. 4 and just keeps getting better and deeper. Prolly still free online, too. Trailing behind, there’s also SEX CRIMINALS, of course!

As for some current “real” sci-fi comics, you may want to look into McNeil’s FINDER, Brandon Graham’s PROPHET, Brown’s AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS, Ellis’s TREES, Shaw’s DOCTORS, Soule’s STRANGE ATTRACTORS or LETTER 44, Cotter’s NOD AWAY, Warner’s PARIAH, Hine’s STORM DOGS, Hickman’s MANHATTAN PROJECTS, Gunn’s SURFACE TENSION, Culbard’s CELESTE, [cont’d p. 94]

Okay, this entire post has been on my To Read list for a while, and I’m embarrassed and apologetic that I still haven’t read it yet. I’ll get to it soon, Greg! It is, after all, my favorite run ever, and was my easy first place vote in both of Brian’s polls.

But I did just find out something fascinating that I wanted to share with the commenters here…

Reading Brian’s post on Cosmic Odyssey made me sad that Steve Oliff hasn’t colored anything I’ve read in years, which then made me think about how Tatjana Wood hasn’t either (they were probably the first two colorists whose style I really noticed), because I just loved her work on this series. So I looked up Miss Wood on Wikipedia, and man, she has led an interesting life!!

Did anyone else know that she escaped the Holocaust? She was born in Germany (as Tatjana Weintraub) before the war, and her parents sent her to a Dutch boarding school to hide from the Nazis. She then emigrated to NYC after the war and attended art school, where she met and married Wally Wood! I had literally no idea she was married to Wally Wood. Maybe that was common knowledge in the ’80s? They divorced before he died, and now apparently Wood’s estate is suing Tatjana for the return of all the original Wally Wood art she possesses. She was also, apparently, DC’s chief cover colorist from 1973 until around the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Can’t believe I didn’t know any of that!

Anyway, my thoughts on this piece will come soon. One day.

Daniel: You didn’t know that Tatjana Wood was married to Wally Wood? That’s strange – I thought it was common knowledge. But then again, I don’t know plenty of things that others think is common knowledge!!! :)

I look forward to your thoughts!

Travis Pelkie

May 4, 2016 at 10:23 pm

Hey, I only realized it in the last 6 months or so, that she was married to Wallace Wood, so I don’t know that it was as common knowledge as you think.

I mean, yeah, if YOU know, it seems like it must be common knowledge, but still….


But didn’t you also read Swamp Thing at least vaguely close to when it came out? I didn’t discover it until ten years later, when Tatjana was basically retired from comics. And it’s not like there were any Wizard articles in the ’90s about colorists.

Travis: That’s my point! I’m just not very bright!!!! :)

Daniel: I didn’t read these issues until a few years afterward, but then I didn’t know about Tatjana because I didn’t know anything about Wally Wood! I’m not sure when I found out about Tatjana, but it had to be at least 15 years ago, if not 20 – maybe during the Millar Swamp Thing run, in fact. But it didn’t mean much to me, because I didn’t know much about Wally then, so it didn’t click very much.

Wizard needed more articles about colorists, damn it!

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