Sunday, October 17, 2021

Saga Of The Swamp Thing - Book Three!

According to the introduction to the third volume of The Saga of the Swamp Thing stories by artist Stephen Bissette, both he and John Totleben (especially the latter) were significantly involved in selecting and developing stories for the Swamp Thing. Alan Moore crafted the script with great care and at times innovative techniques, but it is somewhat of a misnomer to label these stories as being the product of one mind alone. But as Bissette also relates, Moore was able to write more than the artists were able to draw and so other talents were brought in by editor Karen Berger as necessary. It's remarkable how many of the talents involved with is comic hailed from Joe Kubert's school. 

This volume kicks off with a two-part tale about a chap dubbed merely "Nukeface". Apparently he was a creation of John Totleben's and now is worked into a rather creepy and dismal tale about the effects of toxic waste and other kinds of poisons which were and are routinely dumped and pumped into the natural environment. Nukeface is a crazed drifter who has come to live off toxic radioactive waste, but who unmindful of his state roams the land spreading disease and death. He's a powerful fellow and his touch is enough to even "kill" the Swamp Thing. But as we'll see Swampy recovers in a most unusual way. 

Because of his unusual plant nature it's difficult if perhaps impossible to kill Swamp Thing. Using abilities he was heretofore unaware of, Swamp Thing's consciousness empowers another body to take root and begin to grow. It is a relatively slow process and takes seventeen days for him to recover his previous mature state. While Swamp Thing is growing, attended to by Abigail, we also encounter a new character by the name of John Constantine. Constantine (who looks like Sting) is a mystic of some kind who has a network of agents who keep him informed of mystical doings. Something dangerous and deadly is looming and he will consult Swamp Thing to help solve the problem. 

The first problem concerns the town of Rosewood which was inundated by Swamp Thing in an effort to kill off the plague of vampires which had overrun the town. It seemed to work at the time, but some escaped and took refuge in the town now hidden beneath dark waters. There the vampires conspire to create a brood which will be even more deadly than they themselves are. Locals fall victim to these underwater vampires as Swamp Thing struggles to find a way to end this immediate threat. While full of enigmatic information, Constantine proves relatively unhelpful in the actual fight itself. Of note is that Stan Woch, another Kubert School grad fills in on the first half of this story. And while the full title of the series had been Saga of the Swamp Thing, with the thirty-ninth issue it is changed to merely Swamp Thing. 

The fortieth issue of the comic is  my favorite in this particular volume. It deals both bluntly and tenderly with a reality of our existence which almost never spoken about -- menstruation. I can think of no aspect of normal life which is deemed so verboten yet is a normal part of the life of nearly every woman in the land. In this story the concept of monthly cycles is connected to lycanthropy and not in a snide or sarcastic manner, but rather in a fashion which allows the idea to dealt with and still create a fascinating menace for Swamp Thing to contend with.  At this point the Swamp Thing is sending his essence all over the country at the behest to some extent of John Constantine, though he seems to be getting little in exchange in this one-sided partnership.  

Alas the volume closes with a two-part tale that is not very convincing at all. It suggests that a plantation is teeming with ghosts and other unsettled undead and that those spirits are all too happy to invade and pervert the psyches of living folks who themselves are rich with many of the racial prejudices that still inform the fabric of our society much to its everlasting detriment and shame. These are noble concepts to attempt to discuss, but the vehicle here is not at all compelling and rarely scary in any real way. Of all the Swamp Thing scripts by Moore to date, these two seemed to be the most preachy. I did like the zombie who ends up selling tickets in the grindhouse movie theater though -- that was at once profound and downright funny. More to come next week. 

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