Giant-size Swamp Thing

The Saga of the Swamp Thing Volume 5: written by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben; illustrated by Rick Veitch, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, and Alfredo Alcala (1986; collected 2011): The penultimate collection of Alan Moore’s career-making run on DC’s Saga of the Swamp Thing sees Rick Veitch take over as primary penciller. As previous Swamp Thing penciller (and then-continuing cover artist) Steve Bissette notes in the informative introduction, Veitch’s interest in science fiction over horror helped shift the book to a more science-fiction-oriented direction. But first Swamp Thing would travel to Gotham City for a fateful encounter with Batman. Then it was off into space for several issues for an odyssey that would conclude in the next volume.

The double-sized issue featuring Swamp Thing’s battle with Batman is a doozy, showcasing as it does longtime Swamp Thing inker John Totleben’s second full-art stint on the comic book. It’s gorgeous: Totleben’s art often looked like he was cutting his fine lines into wood or perhaps copper. It’s elegant and old-school without being stiff or anachronistic. This was the time of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, so Batman gets a really, really big Batmobile. However, Moore’s Batman is much more sympathetic and fallible than Miller’s — and reasonable, in the end, as he and Swamp Thing ultimately resolve their differences without killing each other.

Subsequent issues further develop the character of Swamp Thing’s beloved Abigail Cable, reintroduce two horribly transformed characters from Martin Pasko’s early 1980’s run on Saga, and bring us Swamp Thing’s first foray into space travel. One can see Moore straining at the chains of the endless status quo of the mainstream superhero universe here. Things may return to the baseline at the end of each seemingly world-changing event, but logically they shouldn’t.

Even if DC wouldn’t soon anger Moore and cause him to leave the mainstream forever, one can’t really believe, reading these stories, that he would have been much longer satisfied with ‘The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same.’ Highly recommended.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing Volume 6: written by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, and Rick Veitch; illustrated by Rick Veitch, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, Alfredo Alcala, and Tom Yeates (1986-87; collected 2011): And so Alan Moore’s time as writer of DC’s Saga of the Swamp Thing comes to an end after four years and nearly 50 issues’-worth of adventures. When he took over with issue 20, Moore was a British comic-book writer making his American debut. When he finished, he was the most praised writer of mainstream comic books in North America.

Swamp Thing’s space odyssey continues, as the muck-encrusted Plant Elemental desperately seeks a way back to Earth and the arms of his beloved Abby. Meanwhile, on Earth, Abby believes Swamp Thing to be dead and starts to gradually move on with her life. Yes, they are literally star-crossed lovers.

The move into space brings Swamp Thing into contact (and occasionally conflict) with some of DC’s Silver Age space characters, most notably Earth hero Adam Strange and a couple of really jerky Hawkpeople from Hawkman’s planet of Thanagar. Swamp Thing also encounters a creepy machine entity in an artistic tour-de-force for Totleben, who illustrates an entire issue in the sort of heavy-duty collage that really does have to be seen to be appreciated, an issue that also allows Moore to cut loose with a long burst of prose-poetry meant to show the alien-ness of the issue’s narrator, a world-sized machine intelligence pining for love in the lonely abyss of space.

Swamp Thing also encounters some of Jack Kirby’s New Gods in an issue written by Veitch, one that showcases the more satiric, blackly comic and irreverent Swamp Thing that Veitch would be writing a lot more of when he took over from Moore as Saga writer with issue 65. Bissette’s first full script sees Abby back on Earth encountering a character from the very beginnings of Swamp Thing back in the early 1970’s, when it was written by Len Wein and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson. And there’s a Green Lantern to be met before our hero returns home and Moore’s stint as writer concludes with the lovely, elegaic “Return of the Good Gumbo.” It was one hell of a ride. Highly recommended.

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