Saturday, September 24, 2016

SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING by Alan Moore Volume 1

"It seems where demons fail and monsters falter, angels may prevail."

I'm coming to this version of Alan Moore's the Swamp Thing without any knowledge of his original creation by Len Wein, except of course with the brief appearances he had made during the Jamie Delano for Hellblazer: John Constantine. That being said, it had been a neat introduction to a comics icon. It was a rather baffling start at first, but one that is also beguiling enough to see through its finish. 

This first volume had tons of spectacular potentials to be the masterpiece that I sure hope it would become by the next volumes. There are four volumes of Alan Moore's Saga of the Swamp Thing to look forward to reading, but for now I will content myself with the fact that I was able to read this installment which wasn't anything that I expected it to be. Monster stories, especially those steeped in classical roots, have been a lost art especially with the kind of horrors my generation respond more to. 

The Swamp Thing, however, at least in this Alan Moore version, can still live up to its reputation and capture the imagination. As the titular character, he demonstrates enough grit and depth to qualify as a thing of horror that could haunt you as a reader. But he is also a misunderstood creature trying to restore his humanity, clinging to a semblance of a series of fragile connections with others who may be just as lost and desperate as he had been ever since transforming into this wretched beast he never asked for. 

It's a familiar trope and symbolism that Alan Moore, as one of the most celebrated comics writers ever, refurbishes into something uniquely intimate for readers. I for one appreciated it for its plentiful charm. Before there was a Swamp Thing, there was only a man named Alec Holland who got into an unfortunate accident as well as one who is bereaved by a wife whose loss left a decisively permanent mark on his psyche and eventual ghoulish persona. I really do not know enough of Len Wein's original version to contrast it from Alan Moore, but from what I can discern, his version of the Swamp Thing opens the possibility that perhaps Alec Holland is truly no more, and he is just a hollow shell built around the ghost of this man he is trying so hard to become. That is the core of Swamp Thing's journey as a character in this first volume; he is trying to adjust and recalibrate his sense of identity and the ultimate invalidation of it. 

Some things about his conception as the Swamp Thing were also tackled.



I don't want to give any more specific spoilers but I did enjoy the arc about Wood-Rue, and his manipulation of Swamp Thing so he can unleash his radical environmentalism villainy on every human on earth, with the false belief he is the representative of the oppressed Mother Nature. I thought this particular arc was engrossing more so because it was a good character portrait and contrast between Swamp Thing and Wood-Rue. The latter truly believes he was doing the right thing while the former rediscovers why he must evolve from a simple, negatively perceived monster, and how to do things right not because he wants to reclaim his humanity, but because one's actions already testify to his or her humanity. Swamp Thing learns this through his encounters with Wood-Rue, and by reconnecting with an old friend, Abigail.



Another thing I enjoyed the most about this volume are the illustrations done by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. Some of their panels have been really creative and cool to look at, especially the full-paged panels. I thought their choices of layout and the details they put in drawing characters were a worthwhile visual adventure that complemented Moore's literary voice throughout this first volume. The colors have mostly bright hues which are a feast to the eyes. They definitely enhanced my enjoyment for the stories. 

My personal favorite is the one below:



I think it's also worth mentioning that I found an interesting allusion between this version of Swamp Thing to Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor. Perhaps it's because both suffered a sense of disconnect and detachment from their previously held identities, and much like watching Capaldi Doctor find himself again as a new kind of hero in Series 8, I was also reading Swamp Thing embrace that whoever he was--that creature clinging to his lost humanity--should be left by the door for good so he can move on to better things. He and Capaldi Doctor little by little start to grow and accept that they don't have to be anyone's version of what a hero or monster people perceive to be; they only have to be what they are willing to achieve, and willing to evolve into. Abigail for me plays the companion Clara to Swamp Things's Twelfth Doctor, given that she seems to anchor him to the person he used to be (Alec Holland), while also accepting that he could never become that person again--but at least she is comforted by the knowledge her friend will be happy again, like Clara was for Twelve by Last Christmas.

That panel reminded me of the scene where Twelve asked Clara if he is a good man, and by the end of Series 8 he finally decides that he wants to be. Abigail inquiring for Swamp Thing's identity and then asking next if he is happy was a nice touch of poignancy because Swamp Thing shows her that he is content now of the creature he has decided to become from now on. Abigail is joyous as well and they celebrate it with a hug. Maybe it's really just the nerdy biases of the Doctor Who fan in me, particularly as one who adores the Twelve-Clara dynamic, but I can't help but see these similarities when I was reading this comic book.

I also think that the last arc for this volume focusing on children and fear is much like the Steven Moffat fable in Series 8 called Listen where it's a fable about fear and loneliness. In this case, the story featured here in this volume deals with a supernatural aspect and an issue concerning childhood trauma but the resolution is much the same as Listen with a few choice differences, of course. The message has a common thematic resonance between the two stories, highlighted by the fact that Swamp Thing--a supposedly thing of horrors--rises up to become the very guardian one will never expect children could have. He's just a sweetie pie, and I find him instantly endearing and I definitely hope to read more of him soon.



RECOMMENDED: 8/10

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