Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol 1

When Alan Moore first started his legendary run on Swamp Thing, I had more or less given up on reading comic books, but the ripples were so great  that I was aware of the  comic. I think I picked up a few of the issues late in his run because I was interested in the John Constantine character which Moore created .

The seven issues collected in this first volume of the graphic novel collection, which will eventually contain Moore’s entire run, were completely new to me. And reading them like this I was really able to appreciate what  Moore did with the title – Swamp Thing under Moore’s guiding hand was the first comic to ignore the Comics Book Code and aim the stories specifically at an adult readership -it was this direction that would eventually lead to the creation of the Vertigo imprint under which DC published titles aimed at a mature readership.

The stories contained in Book One are Loose Ends, The Anatomy Lesson, Swamped, Another Green World, Roots, The Sleep of Reason, A Time of Running and By Demons Driven.

The first story, Loose Ends, never reprinted until now, apparently ties up all the loose ends left dangling from previous issues of the comic, but as I’ve never read these I don’t know how well it did this. However the story is a standalone and allows Moore to tinker with the Swamp Thing’s origins and immediately I was drawn into Moore’s surreal style of storytelling. Things get seriously weird at times, but the story always seems to make some kind of sense and the horror elements of the character are brought to the fore.

The second story is where Moore really starts to make the character his own and turns everything upside down, telling us that Swamp Thing isn’t really Alex Holland, but that he is really the swamp who thinks it is Alex Holland, that it takes on this humanoid shape because it has consumed the man’s consciousness.

And from there on in things gets seriously weird but totally compelling. Maybe some of Moore’s concepts are too cosmic and way out for those used to more conventional comics, but sticking with the story will pay dividends. This is great storytelling with a feel for the Gothic and a concern for environmental issues. Swamp Thing is the ultimate Green icon.

The book features a foreword by respected horror author, Ramsey Campbell in which he calls Swamp Thing a remarkable fusion of the super hero and horror genres. He goes onto praise Moore’s storytelling abilities and makes the heady claim that Swamp Thing can stand side by side with the finest works of contemporary horror and that the genre has been left all the richer for Moore’s run on this title.

I enjoyed all of the stories in this first volume and I’ll certainly be getting them all, as  Moore’s complete run will embellish any library.

RELATED – Did Swamp Thing rip off Man Thing?

Marvel had Man Thing, and DC had Swamp Thing – I was never really sure which came first and as a kid I would often confuse the characters. According to the WIKI both characters debuted in 1971 with Man Thing coming first – Savage Tales 1from May 1971, while Swamp Thing wouldn’t be born until July of that year in House of Secrets issue 92.

Now you may be forgiven for thinking DC ripped off Marvel’s idea, but that’s just not so. The characters came out so close to each other, and given lead times it meant that the two comic book houses were working on remarkably similar characters at the same time – as if both sets of writers almost had the same idea. It gets even more curious when we learn that the writers of each series were rooming together while working on the characters – more of that later.

“Like any business rivals, comic book publishers have routinely “borrowed” popular characters and concepts from their competitors.  However, there were a handful of times when publishers created characters that were so similar, yet appeared so close together, that one publisher copying the concept from the other was a virtually impossibility.” Comic Coverage

It is DC’s Swamp Thing which is today the most well known character, which is largely down to Alan Moore’s run on the title in the early 80’s, but both characters have their fans and both have suffered appalling movie versions.

2005’s Man Thing holds a 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes while the best of the Swamp Thing movies manages a little better at 60%, but neither of the characters have had much of an impact on movie fans.

Looking at the image of the two characters (right) it does make one wonder – on the surface  Swamp Thing would appear to be a rip off of Man Thing, but there was a reason that Marvel didn’t take legal action when the DC character came out only a couple of months after their character. Marvel did at first intend to take legal action but decided to drop it, since both characters owed so much to the Heap. Maybe both characters were in fact influenced by The Heap that first saw print in 1942.

“I was rooming with Gerry Conway (co-creator Man Thing) who wrote the first Man-Thing story. It was just independent creation. We were doing Swamp Thing and Gerry and I think Gray Morrow was doing Man-Thing. Neither of us knew the other was doing the same thing. The weirdest aspect is that I actually wrote the second Man-Thing story; the whole “Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch”. In Gerry’s first story anything the Man-Thing touched burned. It was a protagonist who could never interact with anybody so I came up with the idea of fear.” Swamp Thing creator, Len Wein

And so there we have it – the story of characters that were so similar, both in looks and origin, that readers used to get the two mixed up, but ahh well – that’s comic books for you.

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