Venturing back out into the dark, dank depths of Louisiana’s swampland for (a late edition of… !) Swamp Thing Sundays, and back through the history of the medium of comics themselves has most definitely been a pleasure this week, with Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette & John Totleben’s Saga of the Swamp Thing Book 2 giving me an education in what comic books can really achieve and the incredible detail of storytelling those few pages of drawings that make up each issue can deliver.
Containing some of the favourite issues of the entire run of both readers and contributing artists alike, the original issues that inspired a generation of writers and readers are perfectly preserved here in all their beautifully dark glory.
Kicking off with an in-depth exploration of Moore’s reboot/interpretation of the Swamp Thing’s origins with a solemn soliloquy from the Swamp Thing, mourning a loss within himself and of Alec Holland the man, the botanist, the husband (not to give away too much!) and moving swiftly into the introduction of one of my new favourite characters in all of horror-fiction, the embodied evil that is Anton Arcane; this book really stretches the boundaries of what can be accomplished in eight issues of a comic series.
Bissette & Totleben’s artwork really comes into its own here among pages literally overflowing with the aura of green madness; you can almost smell the pungent dank stench of the swamps themselves as you venture deeper into a crisp, colourful depiction of the inside of Alan Moore’s mind. Horror is paramount in the introduction of Anton Arcane, with both artwork and writing intricately intertwining to spin a true tale of terror. Moore’s ground-breaking use of themes such as incest and possession almost mirrors ancient Greek legends in its relation to the true and universal horrors of the human condition – everyone feels the shudder up their spine as they turn that page and are finally confronted with the next twist in the tale – true horror. To be honest, the classical horror aspect of this book really surprised me; after thinking it through (this is Alan Moore, original Wizard of Comics and an odd obsession with Edgar Allen Poe is almost obligatory for an eccentric such as Moore!) I realised that my surprise wasn’t with the writer, but with the medium – I was surprised a comic book could inspire a true sense of dread in me as a reader the same way horror novels and (to a much lesser extent) quality horror cinema could. This, for me, has simply strengthened my love for the medium as a whole, and a book that does that is definitely one to recommend! This is the kind of book that makes you love comics more than you thought you could.
I’d like to dedicate a few words to Moore’s fantastic creation, the master villain Anton Arcane. As I stated above, he’s quickly becoming one of my favourite horror-fiction characters, and the reason why is very simple; it’s the (now) almost old-fashioned element of True Evil that makes Arcane so interesting to read. With his reappearance in the New 52 cementing him in Swamp Thing lore, unlike characters in modern pop horror who often have their evil explained and to some degree minimised as mental illness or as fairytale-esque “bad guys,” Anton Arcane has a truly malicious, almost omnipotent sense to his evil, like the embodiment of some almost-familiar ancient cautionary tale or apocalyptic prophesy – giving his twisted deeds serious weight with the reader. The iconic imagery of a beautiful, white-haired woman driven to the edge of insanity creates a striking picture to take in for the reader and as Moore’s prose beautifully twists and turns leading ever closer to the truth of the tale, until finally for each reader, enough of the pieces of his tale fall into place, and the story unfolds in front of you…as you can probably tell, reading this installment of Saga of the Swamp Thing is quite a rewarding experience!
Probably my favourite issue in this book takes Swamp Thing on a journey mirroring Dante Aligierhi’s Divine Comedy into the underworld, under the guidance of some familiar friends; replacing Virgil and Beatrice are Deadman & The Phantom Stranger. Leading Swamp Thing through Moore’s vision of Hell in an extremely interesting and rewarding experience and, in order to avoid ruining any of it for you lovely people, all I will say is I was very surprised how truly grisly and horrifying Moore was able to make this issue. It’s both textually and visually a sight to behold!
Finishing off with another controversial and extremely popular issue in which Swamp Thing & Abby Arcane are brought together in a psychedelic love scene that’s truly touching and surprisingly intricately detailed, giving in a strange way the first explanation of the true size and power of The Green, there is good reason why this instalment is often cited as a favourite work by contributing artists and fans alike. And I have to say, thus far I definitely agree—this is a book I already know I’ll be reading again and again whenever I get a craving for another trip to those dark, damp Louisiana swamps. The horrors you find there will shock, amaze, and enthrall you, I’m sure of it.