This latest edition of Swamp Thing Sundays sees us reach that halfway point of the epic Saga as we read and review the third collected paperback edition of Alan Moore’s legendary run on the classic DC anti-hero. Introducing and developing the now legendary and extremely popular British super-hero-handler and loud-mouth bad-ass John Constantine, star of Hellblazer now entering its twenty-fifth year, in itself now a very popular series with its own host of legendary comic writers taking up the mantle along the way—knowing you’re grasping a piece of comic book history can cloud judgement when it comes to critical analysis; however, this book does not disappoint.
Seamlessly moving into more classic horror-fiction territory, the book kicks off with a haunting tale, “Nukeface,” a radioactive reminder of the dark side of nuclear power and its realities: a poor migrant worker turned insane poisonous monster who, through no fault of his own, has a toxic run in with both the Swamp Thing and his local population. Personally, I like this return to short horror stories framed by an appearance from the title character, and it gives Moore a perfect framing device to make clear, concise, and often insightful points regarding social and political issues that comics would (before these issues) never had the opportunity to make, as they do so freely today. Reading Moore smash barriers and push the understanding of what a comic book is and can be is an extremely rewarding and, strangely, really exciting experience; to see the pure potential of what can and what could be done in the future with something as seemly simple as a comic book makes me both proud and hopefully anxious for the huge growth the industry currently undergoing.
Moving expertly back into the world of the Swamp Thing, the return of John Constantine sees him leading the Swamp Thing across America to quell the rise of dark and supernatural occurrences building to a prophesied crescendo of evil that only the Swamp Thing could end. Dropping the subtlest hints and proving Moore is the writer of legend we know today, Constantine’s character creates a very real sense of intrigue that leads the reader to feel almost as torn as the Swamp Thing himself when Moore effortlessly demonstrates his reasons and responsibilities that stop him from following Constantine down his own private rabbit-hole of mystery and discovery; through the universally recognisable medium of Abby Arcane, the Swamp Thing’s link to the human world and reality within the dark fantasy that makes up Saga. Combined with references to Moore’s inspirations in old British horror tales and ancient Native American culture and explorations of themes that can strike fear and disgust—racism, incest, the unknown and the undead—this book makes for an extremely enriching horror experience.
My only criticism of this instalment is simply that with the turn to short horror stories, the collection of issues loses its apparent uniformity; the first two books had a strong story driven element focussing on the character development of the Swamp Thing himself, which for me is lost in this tale-telling style of comic writing. However that said, a clever feel of adventure is formed from the travelling adventures of the Swamp Thing which lends nicely to its “Saga of…” title, which (coupled with the previous two books) makes said title ever-more appropriate.