Thursday, June 23, 2011

Digging In to Alan Moore's Swamp Thing

I tend to get on certain kicks in my reading habits. For instance, I'll sit down with volume one of, say, House of Mystery from Vertigo, and I won't stop until I've finished the most recent trade.

Sometimes I get on creator kicks, jumping from, say, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Daredevil: Yellow to their Batman: The Long Halloween, and continuing through their entire bibliography.

Typically, I don't do that with creators like Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore; creators whose work tends to be dense and filled with plenty to think about. If I decide to re-read Watchmen, I'll do so over the course of a couple of nights, put the book away, and move on to something that requires less immersion into the material.

Maybe something featuring Spider-Ham, for example.

Also, with Alan Moore especially, I need to have the entire story all collected--I don't like reading his books issue to issue. Years ago, I'd read Moore's first arc in his now-legendary run on Swamp Thing, from DC.

It was excellent and terrifying and right up my alley. But there was a problem--I couldn't find the next volume.

Those early DC/Vertigo (actually, it was right before Vertigo became an official thing) titles can be tough to find in trade, and even if you do, sometimes the order of the books is confusing.
Beautiful as the covers may have been, the editors at DC were, remember, creating the market for collected editions at the time, and they were making it up as they went along.

So, long story short, after reading and enjoying the first arc, I was unable to locate the second volume, and after a while I simply gave up.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, when DC/Vertigo announced that they would re-collect Moore's run on the character in its entirety, in nice hardcover editions.

Well, I was sold.

But, as I mentioned, I prefer to read Alan Moore's work as a whole, so I started buying the hardcovers as they were released. And then I proceeded to stack them up on my bookcase, waiting to finish off the series.

Well, when I got to Book Four last week (there are six total, with that last volume shipping this October), I decided that I couldn't wait any longer, and I cracked open the first volume and threw myself into the world of Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, and our hero, the Swamp Thing.

Now, this is a run that's often heralded as one of the top five, ever, in the history of the graphic medium. So, yeah, lofty expectations going in.

And, of course, Moore and co. did not disappoint. As each cover of the series boldly (and proudly) pronounces, this is "Sophisticated Suspense."


The interesting thing about Moore's writing here is that this run takes place before his seminal Watchmen series, which, as we know, would forever change the industry. In Swamp Thing, there's a joy in writing these characters--not only the main muck man, but the book's supporting cast, as well.

White-haired Abby Cable. The rhyming demon, Etrigan. (Who, by the way, is handled better here than in any other incarnation of that character.) The Phantom Stranger. And, of course, in Book Three, the introduction of John Constantine.

I'm just starting Book Four now, so I'll hold off on an official review until I finish off the series. But what I've read is captivating, and smart, and at times, the most frightening comic book I've encountered.

Had Alan Moore never written Watchmen, I think his Swamp Thing run would be held in very much the same regard--as a watershed moment for an industry. As it stands now, it's certainly an acclaimed series, but to think that this is what came before he wrote the best graphic story of all time?


No comments: