Saturday, October 5, 2013
Mucking About #1 - Dark Genesis!
The debut issue of Swamp Thing is an utterly involving and compelling horror tale. "Dark Genesis" written by Len Wein and illustrated by Berni Wrightston takes the saga of the Swamp Thing, a one-shot character created for House of Secrets and transports him to the modern world in a more scientific setting.
The story begins in the bayous of Louisiana when a moss-covered shambling man-like creature stumbles out of the fetid brush and sees a simple barn. His memories take him back to an earlier time when he, formerly a scientist named Alec Holland and his equally accomplished wife Linda were brought to this barn/laboratory by United States agent Matt Cable. They are here under the protection of the government to perfect their bio-restorative formula, a concoction which could transform the face of the globe and utterly end the threat of hunger if in the right hands. But soon enough the wrong hands appear on the Hollands' doorstep in the form of a man named Ferret and his two henchmen. They offer the Hollands money for their formula and back that offer up with a not-so-subtle threat. They leave, much to Cable's consternation who arrives soon after. He cautions the Hollands to not answer their door so cavalierly because they are under mortal threat. Soon another creature comes to their door, a misbegotten dog who Linda immediately wants to adopt, but does unknowing the creature has a listening device implanted in his skull. The Hollands are then under surveillance of an Agent Blue an agent who reports his findings to a Mister E who represents a group called The Conclave. When Alec is home alone Ferret and his men return and blow up the lab resulting in Alec's seeming death. But actually he was set aflame and being awash in the bio-restorative formula falls into the swamps to eventually return as the somber creature we first met in the story, a creature which can only be called a "Swamp Thing". We return to the time of the story's beginning and we find Ferret and his men returning to the barn to kill Linda while Swamp Thing is distracted and in an orgy of anger and revenge he kills Ferret's man Bruno and Ferrert himself when he smashes his car in a most dramatic fashion. Cable who was knocked out early in the battle misunderstands Swamp Thing's role in things and accuses him of the crime of killing his own wife, swearing to find the monster and bring him to justice. The final panel shows a menagerie of odd creatures and a talon-like hand belonging to a persons staring at Swamp Thing in a weird orb and ordering his capture. It's a neat cliff-hanger for next time.
It's a rock-solid story, and it's no wonder the series and character have found ongoing success through the decades. The back story is firm ground on which to build many interpretations, not unlike what has happened to the Hulk over time. The Swamp Thing's look is outstandingly garish as designed by Wrightson. The Swamp Thing here is much more muscular than the original from House of Secrets, with a more detailed face. This Swamp Thing is a giant rebuilt in the shape of a man but grander in respect to scale.
One of the features of the comic which always caught my fancy is the way Swamp Thing's thoughts and rare spoken words are represented by dramatically different word and thought balloons. It's a great way to reinforce his isolation from normal folk, and graphically shows how hard it is for him to communicate. Thought and especially speech are difficult and even seemingly painful.
One thing that came through in this reading of the story was the absolute ineptitude of Cable, who in the end lashes out at Swamp Thing in frustration no doubt for his own unrelenting failures to keep the Hollands safe. It seemed that no matter how often the Hollands were accosted in this secret hideaway, little was done to increase security. You almost get a sense Cable might be in on for some reason, but then that seemed an unnecessary complication to the story.
Len Wein does a great job of updating the story he created before, creating a somewhat more focused creature, more intent and despite his suffering under more control than the original seemed to be.
Berni Wrightson gets appropriate kudos for his work here, a great blend of heroics and horror. He was the perfect artist for this story which straddles the genres. With this issue he will start a run which cements his reputation for all time. For all the great work he has created, it will be these issues of Swamp Thing and possibly his work on Frankenstein which will define his career. Worthy stuff indeed.
Next time, we'll find out who that mysterious hand belonged to...I hope.