Swamp Thing Annual 4 (June 1988)

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The weirdest part of the annual–which is mostly a Batman story, which doesn’t suit Pat Broderick’s pencils as well as the Swamp Thing–is Chester getting stoned with Labo. I always understood Labo to be a stand-in for Alan Moore… so Stephen R. Bissette wrote a scene with Alan Moore getting stoned?

The scene doesn’t work. Labo’s presence is too strange at Chester’s, too much like a sitcom.

Otherwise, it’s a fairly okay issue. It’s not much of an annual. Bissette does write Batman as a violent madman, which is sort of interesting, but Swamp Thing’s got so little to do it’s never compelling. It’s especially distressing how little Alec cares about his neighbors.

Broderick has a lot of little art problems–very small heads on big people and so on.

The backup–with Mike Hoffman art–is fine. It’s just page filler, but Hoffman’s art is good.

CREDITS

Threads; writer, Stephen R. Bissette; penciller, Pat Broderick; inkers, Ron Randall and Eduardo Barreto. Traiteur; writer, Bissette; artist, Mike Hoffman. Colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, Bob Pinaha; editor, Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 78 (November 1988)

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It’s another fill-in issue–Mandrake’s on pencils again (with Alcala inking); Stephen R. Bissette handles the writing chores. It’s also filler narratively, but very nice narrative filler. Bissette doesn’t have much for Abby to do, however. He sends her on another trip to the afterlife, which could be eventful, but instead she just hangs out with Alec Holland for a few pages.

The other Alec, though, Bissette’s got a lot for him. The issue’s something like Bissette musing on how Swamp Thing would be relating to the new developments. It’s a relaxer issue, but a beautifully paced one.

Bissette has this incredible twist in the issue. Bissette paces things for the one sitting read, not an eventual trade. Swamp Thing is a great example of how trades changed comics writings for the worse.

The issue’s not without problems–the end twist is a little outrageous–but the issue’s fine.

CREDITS

To Sow One’s Seed in the Wind; writer, Stephen R. Bissette; penciller, Tom Mandrake; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.


Contemporaneously…

Swamp Thing 64 (September 1987)

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One could, if so inclined, sit and try to figure out who drew what–Alcala’s such a unifying inker on Swamp Thing, it’s hard to tell Bissette and Veitch apart. Yeates I could easily identify, just because of the startling photorealism.

For his last issue, Moore avoids sentimentality. His plotting is gradual, relaxed. Much of the issue is spent with Swamp Thing thinking about the state of the world and his place in it. The big decisions in the issue are rather small. He and Abby decide to retreat from the world for a while.

Moore is putting his characters–he owns them in this incarnation–up off the floor for a while, in a lovely treehouse to stay safe.

It almost feels like Swamp Thing can’t go on; not because Moore’s shut off narrative possibilities, but because there’s no point.

Moore’s writing is gentle. His finale is nearly precious.

Swamp Thing 59 (April 1987)

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Stephen R. Bissette comes back to Swamp Thing to script a fill-in. Well, maybe not a fill-in. I mean, I’m sure Moore was busy with something else, but the story itself isn’t disposable. It’s just an Abby issue when the series has become, for a while anyway, about Swamp Thing.

The issue serves a couple purposes. First, it shows what Abby’s up to while Swampy’s off having an interstellar adventure. Second, it shows how Arcane’s time in Hell is being spent. It keeps Arcane, even damned, constant in the series.

The majority of the issue is split. Half is Abby at her new job, encountering personal difficulties with caring for the elderly… and dealing with criminal coworkers. The rest is her father, the Patchwork Man, on an unlikely quest to find her.

The juxtaposing is a tad contrived, but Bissette and Veitch fill the issue with sincere emotion.

Swamp Thing 50 (July 1986)

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While touted as an anniversary issue, Swamp Thing barely figures into this story. Moore’s upfront about his limited role–the comic opens with Cain and Abel, after all. It again features guest appearances from the DC supernatural set, with a couple deaths involved.

Moore eventually does make it all about Swamp Thing, but in a relatively quiet way. His experiences and questions about himself inform the greater story, which is a really big one. It’s an all action issue, but the most important action is very quiet dialogue.

What’s strangest about the issue is the lack of intensity. Moore’s done a lot with ominous, disturbing details, but they aren’t present here. Demons are again reduced to funny looking creatures, for example. The supernatural landscape is nowhere near as disturbing as the human one Moore’s been moving through.

Moore brings the fantastical down to manageable size.

It’s excellent, if cloyingly existential.

Swamp Thing 46 (March 1986)

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While I love this issue–the way Moore tells the reader the ending is going to be awful, then still manages to make it even worse (without a drop of blood), is awesome–the cover does imply something else entirely. The cover implies, between the banner and the superheroes, a Crisis tie-in.

And I suppose Moore does deliver to some extent. He does send Constantine and Swamp Thing off into regular DC superhero land where they get a mission for helping save the world. But their mission really has nothing to do with Crisis. It’s too disturbing to be mainstream; Moore thoroughly grounds it in reality.

In many ways, even though the issue shows how Swamp Thing doesn’t fit with superheroes, it shows how Moore can make anything work. He brings horror to comedy and vice versa.

It’s excellent work from Moore, Bissette and Totleben… even if it’s superfluous.

Swamp Thing 42 (November 1985)

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In a strange but significant way, Moore cops outs with this issue. He concludes his possessed slave descendants story without examining any other the racial elements he brought up in the previous issue. Instead, he conveniently brings in some zombies, some hallucinations and Swamp Thing… everything ends very nicely.

Actually, it ends nicely for zombies too. It’s Alan Moore ending on a joke. It’s a creepy one… but still a joke.

What’s so inexplicable is that shift in tone. Moore set this story up to be serious and, instead, it’s a little episode in the life of Swamp Thing and Abby. Nothing to fret over.

But here’s another interesting detail… it’s utterly fantastic. Moore’s mix of horror and action works great, as does the artwork. Bissette and Totleben bring their disquieting but digestible horror art.

It’s a great issue. But it’s not special, which Moore previously implied it would be.

Swamp Thing 41 (October 1985)

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So in 1985, Moore did a frank story about racism. That feature alone would make this issue of Swamp Thing significant, but it’s far from the most stunning part of the comic.

Hollywood has come to the swamp and they’re making a miniseries about plantations and slavery. The evil of the plantation reincarnates, down to the local black extras being possessed by their slave ancestors. It’s a little shocking, especially when one considers Moore’s British (which does give him the observer’s perspective), but Swamp Thing’s a plant and Abby’s from the Balkans. It’s a stunning issue with some great supporting characters.

Moore forecasts his plans from the start, but it’s still a shock when he executes them.

Of course, the art’s essential too. Alfredo Alcala inking Bissette provides some interesting results. The figures still have the fluidity, but Alcala sharpens the lines. For a horror story, it’s a great style.

Swamp Thing 40 (September 1985)

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This issue’s kind of a downer-in-one. Bissette and Totleben are back at full strength and do a great job. The story concerns a housewife whose lycanthropy manifests itself (seemingly for the first time) while Swamp Thing’s in town for a visit. Moore juxtaposes the woman’s problems against the history of a local Native American tribe and the sufferings of that tribe’s women.

Bissette and Totleben have the task of mixing both those elements with the visiting Swamp Thing.

Strangely, it’s not exactly a visual feast–the art isn’t exuberant as much as measured. They’re carefully telling this story and they do a great job of it.

But Moore’s also moving his Constantine story along here too, but behind the scenes. There’s only a page of Constantine and he’s only briefly mentioned before. Alec and Abby briefly talk about him.

It’s a great issue. Moore’s flexing his narrative muscles.

Swamp Thing 36 (May 1985)

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Not a happy comic, not at all. Moore plays with having multiple points of view, fragmenting the story’s timeline to give everyone a chance at a surprising moment. He opens with Swamp Thing, who doesn’t really have a story this issue. Moore’s showing his mastery; he turns what should be a filler issue into an essential one. He focuses on Abby toward the end, which reveals the most.

It’s clear Moore’s real protagonist is Abby at this point, maybe because she has to be. Moore never gives Swamp Thing as good of moments. For example, there’s a short line here about Abby living in Houma during the week and in the swamp with Alec on weekends. It’s fantastical but wholly domestic.

That one nice moment is amid all the awfulness of the rest. Moore also establishes the series isn’t going to have easy fixes, even with the new, lesser antagonists.

Swamp Thing 35 (April 1985)

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The truly nightmarish quality of Moore’s Swamp Thing shows itself here in his ability to gradually peel back the layers of a small incident.

Moore frames this story around a collection of newspaper headlines (about nuclear power and, more importantly, nuclear waste) and a guy addicted to it. To nuclear waste. It’s really gross, but it takes Moore about half the issue before he lets Bissette and Totleben show the full effect.

The result is an uncomfortable reading experience. It’s not the worst thing Moore could focus on–he’s touched on worse in previous issues–but when the artists take so long to fully reveal… well, imagination gets the better of the reader.

The issue consists of a few contemporaneous conversations; its present action is mostly just Swamp Thing going for a walk.

Moore needs to get the exposition out of the way. Layering is a great device for it.

Swamp Thing 34 (March 1985)

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I should have remembered this issue, but I did not. The story is pretty simple. Alec and Abby start dating. In one of Moore’s rare moments, he forgets Swamp Thing’s acceptance of “Alec” as Abby’s name for him came in a dream sequence, not in scene.

Anyway, the issue is a big crazy art fest from Bissette and Totleben. Even before Abby eats the tuber, the art spreads across pages. Bissette and Totleben capture, even without much background to start, the tranquility of Alec and Abby’s time in the swamp. It is infinitely calming.

Then the hallucinogenic pages begin. I assume Moore wrote the pages out in detail, but Bissette and Totleben’s renderings perfectly match it. Most of the experience is from Abby’s perspective, though occasionally Alec contributes.

The story is relatively small, but the team turns it into a monumental occasion.

It’s a lovely example of comics as art.

Swamp Thing Annual 2 (January 1985)

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I am having a hard time deciding my favorite part of this annual. In terms of ambition and payoff, it’s probably the best annual ever. Moore, Bissette and Totleben don’t just produce a great story, but also a fun one and an emotionally devastating one. All while Swamp Thing goes to Hell.

The contestants for favorite moment are the end, which is another great Bissette full page spread emotional finish, the moment when Swamp Thing doesn’t want to meet Linda Holland in Heaven or the scene with Arcane in Hell. The first two are devastating, one quiet, one not, and the second is Moore having a lot of fun.

This story, as intense as it gets, is still fun. Moore writing Deadman, the Phantom Stranger, the Spectre and the Demon… all amazing.

It combines Moore and Bissette exploring DC’s afterlife and a great story for Swampy and Abby.

It’s amazing.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 30 (November 1984)

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In many ways, this issue is an exercise more than a full issue. It is not, actually, a full narrative gesture, not in the way Moore has established himself on Swamp Thing. It reads very quickly and one of the reasons it does is because Moore does not encourage lingering.

Arcane is back and he’s bringing hell to Earth. Notice the lower case hell and the uppercase Earth. Much of the issue is single panel snapshots of people about to do awful things to one another. Really, really awful things. Moore and Bissette do not show these things… because the reader’s imagination will do far better (at being worse) than anything illustrated.

The issue also shows how well Moore understands the DC Universe, whether it’s a tie-in to Crisis or a cameo from the Joker. Moore gets it, maybe better than anyone else.

It’s great work, but completely disturbing.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 29 (October 1984)

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This issue isn’t really a Swamp Thing comic, more an Abby one. Moore frames it in a dream, but a dream where Abby remembers all her latest experiences with her husband. Her possessed, dead husband who’s not really her husband.

While the end revelation is incredibly disturbing on a few levels, Moore makes sure the whole issue is uncomfortable. Abby’s investigation into her husband’s condition has a lot of effective uncanny revelations.

As usual, the art from Bissette and Totleben ties it all together. They only have one nice moment, when Swamp Thing and Abby meet up. Moore does the whole “falling in love” thing great. It’s not subtle, but it’s also not obvious. The unspoken element, of course, is the giant swamp monster. Abby lights up in that scene; great expressions from the artists.

The issue is expository, positioning the series for what follows.

Even so, it’s outstanding work.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 27 (August 1984)

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The issue ends on two wildly divergent notes.

First, Swamp Thing and this previously scared little boy go for a peaceful walk back to the boy’s school after a monstrous night. It’s calm and gentle. Moore doesn’t give Alec too much dialogue—there’s still something tragic and sad about Swamp Thing, even if he’s at peace.

Second, Abby finds out she had something to do with the events leading up to the evening (well, the Demon suggests it and, as Jason Blood points out, even the Demon’s occasionally honest). The issue ends with her getting into a car with Matt.

Who, a few pages earlier, seemingly sold his soul to an evil fly to stay alive.

Moore, Bissette and Totleben handle these different moods naturally. Their Swamp Thing has room for it all.

For an action-packed issue (lots of fighting), Moore’s quiet ending is the perfect touch.

It’s excellent.

CREDITS

..By Demons Driven!; writer, Alan Moore; penciller, Stephen R. Bissette; inker, John Totleben; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 26 (July 1984)

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It’s a fast issue, so fast I don’t even think Alec has any dialogue (Abby reflects on the proper name for him, it’s good to know Moore’s thinking about it too). Instead it’s an Abby issue and Moore layers the whole thing, flipping between flashback and present action.

Most of the present action is Abby and Alec wordlessly running to save a bunch of children from a monster. The flashbacks reveal some of Jason Blood’s involvement, Abby’s first day at work (which also ties in to the plot) and more of Abby and Matt’s marital problems.

This issue is all horror–though the Demon, even by Bissette, is nowhere near as scary as anything else in the issue–Moore knows how to bring out the terror. It’s simple terror too; Moore and Bissette’s handling of it is what makes it so disquieting.

Still, it’s unfortunate Alec barely makes an impression.

CREDITS

…A Time of Running…; writer, Alan Moore; penciller, Stephen R. Bissette; inker, John Totleben; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 25 (June 1984)

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Moore solves the problem of not having a start point (since he previously “closed” the Saga). First, he opens with Jason Blood coming to town. Moore’s Blood is one part hilarious, one part dangerous. It’s a great character (though does it foreshadow Moore too letting the supporting cast outshine the titular protagonist?).

Second, this issue is set an indeterminate period of time from the last issue. Not too long, but long enough Abby and Alec are hanging out on a regular basis. Moore’s the implication of the relationship—more about closeness than interaction—is a gentle one.

There’s still the villain of the issue, the Monkey King, which is a scary supernatural monster. Bissette and Moore turn this cute little monkey (everyone likes monkeys!) into a horrific thing.

Speaking of Bissette, he and Totleben do another fantastic issue. Lots of talking, lots of visual pacing.

It is, once again, phenomenal.

CREDITS

The Sleep of Reason…; writer, Alan Moore; penciller, Stephen R. Bissette; inker, John Totleben; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 24 (May 1984)

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What’s strange about this issue isn’t so much the story or even the Justice League guest appearance (Moore writing the Justice League, with Bissette and Totleben on the art is otherworldly though). It’s the finish. Moore could use this issue for the series finale.

In dealing with an insane Jason Woodrue, Alec accepts his reality—he’s Swamp Thing—and he’s happy with it, happy with living in the natural world. It’s a joyous finish; he even, basically, says goodbye to Abby.

But it’s not the final issue and the way Moore leaves it, one wonders what can possibly come next and not feel forced.

The issue moves rather fast—it opens with the Justice League, a scene actually set during the previous issue’s events, and then there’s Alec and Woodrue fighting. It’s an action comic, something one tends to forget about Moore. He sometimes just writes really great action comics.

CREDITS

Roots; writer, Alan Moore; penciller, Stephen R. Bissette; inker, John Totleben; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 23 (April 1984)

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So I should start by talking about Moore opening with Alec narrating and basically giving the reader the insight the previous issue’s exploration of his psyche didn’t have.

Or I could talk about how he, in his third issue, has cast Abby as the human conduit into the story (and retconned her attachment to Alec a bit).

I could even talk about how Alec’s dialogue and thoughts are about his lack of humanity but Bissette and Totleben give him the most human eyes in comic book history.

Instead, I’ve got to mention this one really awful page they draw. It’s the closest thing the issue has to a hero moment and they botch it. Swamp Thing looks awkward; there’s no payoff and they were going for one.

Of course, they immediately recover in a lovely sequence (with those eyes).

It’s another exceptionally strong issue and Moore’s still getting set up.

CREDITS

Another Green World; writer, Alan Moore; penciller, Stephen R. Bissette; inker, John Totleben; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 22 (March 1984)

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Moore does a few things here. He skips ahead a few weeks, so we don’t get to see Alec return to the swamp. In fact, we don’t even get to understand what puts him in his initial condition this issue until the end of it. It’s not so much a layered narrative as Moore trying to linearly and visually show Alec’s mental response to discovering he’s not who he thought he was.

The loop the end creates, like the recurrences of the title in story proper, is pretty neat.

Moore splits the issue between Alec (in his dreamworld), Abby (as she discovers Alec’s new state) and Jason Woodrue. Woodrue isn’t exactly the issue’s protagonist, but he’s close. Moore spends the time establishing him so, when Woodrue has a breakdown, the transition resonates.

Bissette’s amazing composition, along with Tatjana Wood’s colors, make the whole issue dreamlike, not just Alec’s actual dreams.

CREDITS

Swamped; writer, Alan Moore; penciller, Stephen R. Bissette; inker, John Totleben; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, Todd Klein; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 21 (February 1984)

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And here’s the famous Anatomy Lesson. It’s difficult to think about Swamp Thing before this issue–Moore doesn’t so much retcon as he explains–because it immediately changes every expectation of the series.

Moore uses Jason Woodrue to narrate and it’s a nice device. It lets Moore be enthusiastic about the scientific discovery process; he even manages to make General Sunderland even worse by revealing him as willfully ignorant.

I wish I remembered the first time I read it, how it affected the reader page by page. Moore understands how comic readers work, he understands the investment and the possessiveness. He paces the revelations and the action in the issue to pay off for that committed reader. The issue doesn’t really matter to new readers; it’s just reestablishing the ground situation.

The Bissette and Totleben art is fantastic, both futuristic and horrific in the same panel.

It’s an exceptional comic.

CREDITS

The Anatomy Lesson; writer, Alan Moore; penciller, Stephen R. Bissette; inker, John Totleben; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 19 (December 1983)

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It’s Pasko’s final issue and he goes out on a high note. The opening quickly resolves the now protracted cliffhanger, then brings Arcane almost immediately into the story.

While I’m still underwhelmed with a reprint for the previous issue, it did establish the precedent for Arcane appearances, which Pasko continues here. When old Anton shows up, it’s a very special issue.

Bissette comes up with some disgusting Un-Men (the insect thing is creepy) and Alec and Abby have to escape them. Even though old home week continues, Pasko gives the cast members he created farewells. Dennis and Liz finally get close and the evil German doctor who wasn’t always evil tries for a redemption.

This issue, with Arcane, is so strong it overshadows some of Pasko’s good work on the series. It’s as though all it needed to excel was Bissette and old characters, but Pasko was also essential.

CREDITS

…And the Meek Shall Inherit…; writers, Stephen R. Bissette and Martin Pasko; penciller, Bissette; inker, John Totleben; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 18 (November 1983)

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Hey, wait a second, I’ve already read this story….

This issue reprints the tenth issue of the original Swamp Thing series, when Arcane swims across the ocean and attacks Swamp Thing only to be defeated by the spirits of dead slaves. Wrightson art, one of Wein’s last good unsettling issues, it’s a good comic book. Wish whoever had been in charge had at least changed the editor’s notes so it didn’t refer to the second issue of the original series here in a Saga of the Swamp Thing book.

There are bookends, of course, and I guess they’re were the issue has problems. The flashback isn’t particularly important, at least not as a full reprint. Pasko, Bissette and Totleben could have retold it in a page or two. It’s an awkward fill, since it doesn’t do anything to resolve the previous issue’s cliffhanger.

They should’ve just taken a month off.

CREDITS

The Man Who Would Not Die!; writers, Martin Pasko and Len Wein; pencillers, Stephen R. Bissette and Bernie Wrightson; inkers, John Totleben and Wrightson; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, Ben Oda; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 17 (October 1983)

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Wow, what an unpleasant issue. Pasko brings back Abby and Matt—with yet another retelling of the first series, but this time from their perspective, which reveals how they just disappeared from it at some point.

Keeping with the old home week feel to the issue, Arcane shows up at the end. Bissette and Totleben really know how to make him disgusting, maybe more than anyone else so far. It’s a glorified cameo, but gives the feel things are changing in the series.

What’s most striking about the issue is how Pasko ties Matt’s alcoholism to the horrors Alec and the supporting cast face. Interestingly, the second Abby calls him Alec, he ceases to be Swamp Thing to me. Bissette and Totleben’s artwork is absolutely fantastic, whether its the flashback, the monsters or just the page layout.

It’s a great issue, though Pasko takes a few pages to get rolling.

CREDITS

…And Things That Go Bump in the Night; writer, Martin Pasko; penciller, Stephen R. Bissette; inker, John Totleben; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 16 (August 1983)

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For Bissette and Totleben’s first issue, Pasko does something of a refresh. The issue opens with a quick origin retelling, then reintroduces the supporting cast. It’s amusing the previous evil German guy is now a good guy. Apparently, being a Holocaust survivor means you get to later torture and murder people and it’s okay.

Most of the issue is spent with Swamp Thing in a small town where everyone accepts him. It’s the kind of thing Wein did in the seventies series (and did do in the seventies series, as I think about it). Obviously, there’s a reason why they all accept him. It’s an introduction issue, maybe even for readers who liked the original but missed the relaunch.

Seeing as how Abby shows up, for the first time, in a non-speaking cameo.

Bissette and Totleben are off to a fine start; they mix the horror and action well.

CREDITS

Stopover in a Place of Secret Truths; writer, Martin Pasko; penciller, Stephen R. Bissette; inker, John Totleben; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

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