I started reading Swamp Thing from the very beginning... sort of. When I was a kid, I liked superhero comics and not much else (no western, no war, etc.). I also gravitated toward Marvel, so Swamp Thing had two strikes against it right out of the gate (to mix a metaphor or two). I remember seeing titles such as Swamp Thing and Kamandi on the spinner racks but not giving them a second look (or even a first). Even when I walked into a comic book shop for the first time in my life several years later, it took some time for me to overcome my preconceived notions regarding such titles as Daredevil (Frank Miller's) and Swamp Thing (Alan Moore's). Then, in 1986, DC released the Roots of the Swamp Thing reprint series and i started at the very beginning (#1) if not exactly from the very beginning (1972). 

Skip ahead 15 years. I'm now married. My new bride is not wholly unfamiliar with comic books and is willing to read more. I recommended a list of 8 or 10 of my favorites (including the Wein/Wrightson and the Moore/Bisette/Totleben runs of Swamp Thing), most of which she read. I had tens of thousands of comics in my collection at that time, enough to keep us busy reading and discussing for years. But she became interested in comics I didn't have, such as the post-Moore Swamp Thing as well as the complete run of Fables (which I myself still have not read). We spent the next however-many-it-was months collecting backissues of Swamp Thing plus I added those two titles to my pull & hold. 

At this point Tracy has read literally hundreds more issues of Swamp Thing than I have. We don't have every issue (she finally lost interest after the "New 52"), but we have quite a few. Ironically,  it was "Brightest Day" which reignited my own interest, so some of the more recent issues she has not read. I like to "prorate" the cost of my comics by a) reading them multiple times, or b) giving them to my wife to read. We get the best value from those comic we both read multiple times. To that end, we have decided to work our way through every issue we own from 1972 to 2018.

We recently led a discussion through every issue/series in Terry Moore's "SiP-verse" but, if we complete it, this project is more than twice as long. We invite you along for the ride. 

Wein/Wrightson - p1

Nestor Redondo - p2

The "Mopee Thing" - p3

Miscellaneous - p4

Martin Pasko - p5

Alan Moore - p8

Rick Veitch - p25

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Martin Pasko is a writer that I feel deserves greater recognition.  His Superman stories were very good indeed, and this pre-Moore run isn't half bad either.

I will gladly read Pasko's Superman stories... as soon as DC sees fit to reprint them. I may even reevaluate his E-Man run. 

Today I am jumping ahead a little bit in anticipation of the Alan Moore run by reading Stephen Bissette's afterword to the first volume of Absolute Swamp Thing by Alan Moore. I wish I had read it earlier, because he sheds some light on the early issues of Saga of the Swamp thing as well. I was correct in my assumption that John Totleben had an (uncredited) hand assisting Tom Yeates as far back as #2 (based on the "Totleben Funeral Home" in that issue), but I missed the "SRB Layouts" credit hidden, upside down (in the grass beneath the dinosaur's tail), by Tom Yeates on the splash page of #8; Stephen Bissette laid out that entire issue.

Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Rick Veitch and Tom Yeates all met one another while attending the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, New Jersey. "We all became fast friends," SRB explains, "and almost immediately we began jamming together on artwork, stories, and projects, including our first collaborative professional jobs." It was Yeates who suggested that Bissette and Totleben "audition" for the job when he stepped away from penciling the monthly title (the monthly deadline). 

They submitted samples in late 1982 and "Len [Wein] liked what he saw. Writer Marty Pasko approved as well." Even before they sent those samples, SRB reveals, Totleben had already created a portrait of the Swamp Thing earlier that year which either he or Yeates had shown to Wein. "In that drawing," says SRB, "John did not depict Swamp ting as the rather smooth-skinned, green-grey humanoid" as he had been depicted since the characters debut. "No, John drew Swamp thing as something much more overgrown with vegetation, lichen, and mold, leaning against a tree and staring up at shafts of sunlight, its mouth agape, as if gasping for breath, looking less comfortably human and much more like the plant elemental John considered the character to be" (and, yes, the drawing is included in the Absolute edition). Wein rejected the "elemental" approach for a more traditional look, but would soon hire a writer who was more simpatico to Totleben's vision. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Soon after they got the job, Bissette and Totleben mailed a 12-page package of nine story suggestions, some only drawings, some quite detailed, to Martin Pasko. Some of these suggestions ended up being used by Alan Moore, but it was Bissette's radical redesign of Arcane and their sketches of a new batch of insectoid un-men which met with Wein and Pasko's approval. "Len and Marty heartily approved of this concept, and it became the focus of SOTST #18 and #19, Marty's final two issues on the series."

"Other ideas for The Saga of the Swamp Thing had been knocking around in our heads even before we took over as the title's official art team," SRB continues. "You can see for yourself in this volume how Alan incorporated and improved upon all these notions. In every single case, what Alan came up with by meshing our ideas with his own transcended anything that John, Rick, or I might possibly have done by ourselves." I plan to supplement the discussion of the series going forward with Bisette's behind-the-scenes reminiscences. 

Saga of the Swamp Thing ISSUE #1: Tom Yeates is the artist on these issues but his work is not appealing to me at all. His shadowing in particular is gross. Dark, straight lines on hands and faces that give the skin a flayed look.

One page was aurally interesting. The first panel has a "TOK, TOK" knock and the last panel has a "TIK, TIK" explosion. It actually made me revisit what I had read for another tik, tok.

When Swamp Thing meets the little girl, he asked her how old she is and where does she live. Those single panels of ST's face are adorable. He cocks his head to the right, big smile, and to the left, big smile. Cute. :)

ISSUE #4: The discussions in this issue deal with "protecting the kiddies" by showing them happy, safe realities on tv instead of teaching them caution and beware of strangers. It is a decent parallel to today's world and similar discussions. Where do we draw the line between innocence and the skills they will need to navigate a cruel world. 

ISSUE #6: Of course! A young woman is captured by the bad guys. Obviously there is only one thing to do with her while they wait for her friends to be captured too. Sure, they're going to kill her eventually but decide to have fun first. When she doesn't show up, drugged and dressed like Leia, Herr General assumes she is being used by Maitland. Harry Kay mentions Herr General's "stable of private..."

How completely pathetic. Find another plot. Don't be lazy. 

I've read through #10 at this point and have decided that this story could have been concluded if they weren't throwing in all the fanciful stuff like dead soldiers who replay movies in their heads and draw out every agonizing rant of these despots and their underground organization. All of them are playing the long game, backstabbing one another and, frankly, it's boring.

Now, onto the next issue. 

ISSUE #18 and #19: Arcane 

Yippee. The grotesque un-men are back. The supreme grotesque Arcane is back and wants revenge. Jeff tells me that the folks on Swamp Thing want to draw these creatures. Fine. Draw them until you get them out of your system. Don't give me nightmares though. 

I told Jeff that I was taking a picture of Arcane for you all, for the discussion. It certainly wasn't for me to remember. I hadn't forgotten one single solitary gross detail.

I know the stories will get better, imo, more in keeping with what I prefer to read.

ALAN MOORE:

And now we come to the reason for this discussion... not the only reason but one of the main ones. 

ABSOLUTE SWAMP THING BY ALAN MOORE: The last time I attempted to read Alan Moore's Swamp Thing was in 2017. I remember specifically because it was in the wake of reading the Bronze Age Swamp Thing omnibus. At that time, I got only as far as the #30s before my interests turned elsewhere. As it turned, that's just as well because, in 2019, DC published the first of three individually slip-cased volumes collecting Moore's run in its entirety. These three volumes are truly a beauty to behold. The covers of the books themselves are of some kind of suede-like material meant, no doubt, to elicit the feel of moss. More importantly, though, is that these volumes have been entirely recolored in a way (and on a paper stock) that would not have been possible when the comics were originally published. Common newsprint could never have reproduced the colors in this volume anyway; believe me, it is absolutely (no pun intended) stunning. I don't often recommend comics on basis of the coloring, but this is one of the handful of examples in which I do.

I didn't read them as they were being published, however (v2 followed in 2020 and v3 in 2021). When I throw myself into a project (when I finish it, that is), I don't like to wait a year between volumes. So I've been meaning to get to these, anyway. But when I found out that Tracy was willing to read alone with me, that cemented the deal. I can't ever (it seems) simply read what I want whenever I'm in the mood; I usually have to work my way up to it somehow. Everything this discussion has covered so far has served as my "lead-in" the Absolute Swamp Thing by Alan Moore Vols. 1-3. 

Allow me to set the stage. Back in the '80s, DC used to give away free DC Samplers promoting their current titles. If you're unfamiliar with them, they are like single- or double-page house ads for their entire line. For the second issue, Alan Moore was asked to contribute a column of text to accompany a page and a half drawing by Bissette and Totleben. (I am, perhaps, jumping a bit ahead of the discussion because DC Sampler #2 was released concurrently with SOTST #28, but it serves as a good introduction to Moore's run in any case.) I have always been impressed that he put so much effort into what was essentially a throwaway item. what i didn't learn until yesterday, however, that fully half of what he had written was not even used. The Absolute edition contains a photocopy of his original, typewritten, two-page draft. (The bit below I have transcribed in italics is what was left out.)

"THIS IS THE PLACE":

This is the place.

This is the place where even the brave men with pig-iron in their hearts ran out of steam, and nerve, and concrete, saying "This far we go. No further." the last outpost of the Jurassic, where the anaemic rocks still ring with the death-shrieks of the mastodons. this is the edge of the twentieth century.

It was here that the Emperor Napoleon faltered and lost faith with the New World. He sold it to Thomas Jefferson, 909,130 square miles of it, for fifteen million dollars, and the United states doubled its size overnight. But there are certain territories which, though they may be sold, Can never truly be owned. There are certain territories that are property of something older than ourselves.

Berries the color of iodine glisten among the viscous shadows. Insects of poisonous beauty couple in the damp, rot-scented air. Louisiana swelters beneath an icebound moon.

This is the place.

the elements blur together dangerously here: solid land dissolves away to water; water thickens to mud and then to firm earth. The inviting meadows of hyacinths will part if stepped upon, allowing access to the deep and stagnant darkness beneath. The waters rise, establishing a slime-line on the bolls of the closest trees. The waters drop. Divorced from the ocean and its implacable schedule, the tides here are alien and glacially slow. Fresh mudbanks erupt from nowhere, brown and glistening. They remain for a week and then melt, sliding away to blossom elsewhere. The waters rise. The waters drop. The swamp is breathing, in great, humid lungfuls.

Lovers came here once, in white clothes that became streaked with green. After an hour they went away again to lead largely happy lives, leaving crushed fern, crumpled tissue and one third of a bottle of Sangrea. The swamp devoured it, without haste.

Two men with eyes as dull and flat as nail-heads came, leaving behind them five cases of whiskey and one dead man. The whiskey they returned for after a fortnight. This was long ago. Nobody ever found out.

And there was a teenage girl who also came, her despair so fierce and black that the midges would not gather to her. The shopping bag in her hand contained something small and cold and still and a stone to weight it down with. Her heart contained the same things, but after a different fashion. the first she let slip beneath the iridescent scum. The second she took away and carried with her always.

The swamp devoured them, devoured them all, without haste, without discrimination.

This is the place. 

It breathes. It eats. And, at night, beneath a crawling groundfog with the lustre of vaporized pearl, it dreams; dreams while tiny predators stage a nightmare ballet in the sharp, black grass. It is a living thing. It has a soul. It has a face. 

At night you can almost see it.

At night you can imagine what it might look like if the swamp were boiled down to its essence, and distilled into corporeal form; if all the muck, if all the forgotten muskrat bones and all the luscious decay could rise up and wade on two legs through the shallows; if the swamp had a spirit and that spirit walked like a man...

At night you can almost imagine.

You can stare into those places where the evening has pooled beneath the distant trees, and glimpse in an ambiguous shifting of the darkness: Something large, large and slow, its movements solemn and inevitable, heavy with the clotted, sodden weed that forms its flesh. Its skeleton of tortured root creaks with each funereal pace, protesting at the damp and sullen weight. Within their sockets, its eyes float like blood-poppies in puddles of ink.

You can inhale through flared nostrils, drinking in its musk, green and pungent. There is the delicate scent of mosses and lichens adorning its flanks. there is the dry and acrid aftertaste of the pinmold that spreads across its shoulders, fanning out in a dull, gray rash.

You can stand alone in the blind darkness and that were you too raise your arm, reaching out to its fullest extremity, your fingertips would brush with something wet, something supple and resilient.

Something moving.

You shouldn't have come here.

This is the place.

This is the story.

[The Absolute edition also includes Bissette's uninked pencils of the illustration which accompanied this text.]

ISSUE #20 - "Loose Ends"

Alan Moore swooped in and did such a masterful job redefining the very concept of the Swamp Thing in "Anatomy Lesson" that many, including ofttimes DC Comics itself, seemingly forget that #21 was not Alan Moore's first issue. Many reprint editions simply omit Moore's first issue, to the detriment of the story AFAIAC. The title, "Loose Ends", has double meaning: within the story it refers to Sunderland's efforts to dispose of any and all who know of his company's involvement with the D.D.I., but on a metatextual level, Moore Moore himself is tying off dangling plot threads from Martin Pasko's run and is therefore worthy of inclusion in any reprint.

Yes, "Loose Ends" begins in medias res, but so does "Anatomy Lesson" for heaven's sake. What Moore does in his first issue is not to introduce but to reintroduce the supporting cast in short, deft, to-the-point scenes. First, the Swamp Thing eloquently defines his relationship with Arcane as he searches for his body. (It's difficult to pull a representative quote because the entire two-page scene is quoteworthy.) He does find the body, though, and confirms Arcane's death.

Next up are General Sunderland and Dwight Wicker scheming an end to this affair: "Everybody who knows the truth about Sunderland and the D.D.I. is conveniently gathered in one small area. We go in. They get killed. Easy as that." The rest of the issue (after the introductions) is this plan coming together.

After that, Liz dumps Dennis after their one night together: "All we have in common is the horror in our lives, Dennis. that's all. that's what holds up together." Later, Dennis takes this philosophy to heart. 

Then Matt lies to Abby about his power being gone. He is horny, but she is no longer interested in having sex with him. that's okay, though; he has learned how to control his mind-over-matter powers. 

When Liz and Dennis get back to the New Moon Hotel to collect their things, a helpful local policemen accidentally sets off the booby trap left for them in their room. they escape, but the unlucky cop is blown to bits... so effectively that it's difficult to determine whether one body was caught in the blast or two. Dennis' combat training kicks in, while Liz exhibits signs of PTSD. " 'All we have in common is the horror in our lives, Dennis.' That's what she'd said... but maybe horror was all it took. Maybe they didn't need anything else to make it work. Maybe things would be okay between them... just so long as they never ran out of horrors. She leans against him, scared, vulnerable, that way a woman should be. And Dennis Barclay runs... and Dennis Barclay smiles." Dark. 

ASIDE: The hotel is going on and on about a Donald Sutherland film, Don't Look Now. She was relating the movie to Liz as the cop was in the process of getting himself blown to bits. I had never seen that film until quite recently (probably 2017 when I last read this story). I just happened to see it at a B&N as part of the "Criterion Collection". A Criterion film with a "recommendation" from Alan Moore? Sure I bought it.

Finally, Sunderland's forces destroy Matt and Abby's house, but they are outside at the time and survive. Meanwhile, Swamp Thing relates the following analogy: "This morning I watched a beetle... that had gotten itself in trouble... with some ants. First there was the beetle... then there was just... a beetle-shaped pile of ants. the beetle was bigger... and stronger... and more clever... But I guess there were just... too many ants." And that's essentially what happens to the Swamp Thing as Sunderland's forces close in. 

Alternate title for this story: "Too Many Ants"

Both Matt and Dennis are so fearful of losing Abby and Liz that they feel that they have to control them for them to be happy. This would take a horrific, ironic turn for Matt.

ISSUE #21 - "The Anatomy Lesson"

Prior to the Absolute edition, my favorite version of these early Alan Moore stories was the Essential Vertigo: Swamp Thing series (24 issues). Whereas the originals had been printed on common newsprint, this series reprinted the issues one by one on slick, glossy paper in black & white. The lack of color really allowed the reader to "get between the lines" so to speak. Until I saw the Absolute edition, I thought this was the best presentation of the material. 

Reading this story again for the first time ion five years, I can almost... almost,,, see why many collections leave off "Loose Ends". As a POV character who has never appeared in the series before, Jason Woodrue serves the purpose of bringing new readers up to speed for Alan Moore revamp. But Moore revamped not only Swamp Thing, in this issue, but the Floronic Man as well. (A few years later, Neil Gaiman would revamp the old JLA villain Dr. Destiny in a similar manner.) Moore likened the Swamp Thing's genesis to the manner in which planarian worms in an experiment learned to navigate a simple maze, which set up an interesting parallel later on as Sunderland becomes like unto a worm navigating the maze of his office building. What Moore's revision amounts to is that Swamp Thing never was a man who turned into a plant, but rather a plant which though it was a man, thereby removing all hope of "Alec Holland" ever "regaining" human form. Everything will be different from here on out.

Stephen Bissette says: "The first multi-issue story we drew from Alan's scripts--the Jason Woodrue/Floronic Man narrative in SOTST #21-24--was entirely his own invention. John and I weren't familiar with the Floronic Man, a fact that prompted a desperate phone call to Len to ask him to explain the character and mail us reference material. Fortunately, between local Comi shops and flea markets, I was also able to purchase a set of back issues of the various DC comics featuring Woodrue's past appearances, including a beat-up-but-readable copy of his 1962 debut in The Atom #1."

Philip Portelli said:

Both Matt and Dennis are so fearful of losing Abby and Liz that they feel that they have to control them for them to be happy. This would take a horrific, ironic turn for Matt.

It would take an even more horrific, ironic turn for Liz. 

ISSUE #22 - "Swamped"

"I've also grown weary reading about clouds in a book. Doesn't this piss you off? You're reading a nice story and suddenly the writer has to stop and describe the clouds. Who cares? I'll bet you anything I can write a decent novel with a good, entertaining story and never once mention clouds. Really. Every book you read. If there's an outdoor scene, an open window or even a door slightly ajar, the writer has to say: 'As Beau and Thelma walked along the shore, the clouds hung ponderously on the horizon like steel-grey loosely formed gorilla turds.' I'm not interested. Skip the clouds and get to the fucking. The only story I know of where clouds were important was Noah's Ark." --George Carlin.

"Sunset over Houma. The rains have stopped. Clouds like plugs of bloodied cotton wool dab ineffectually at the slashed wrists of the sky."--Alan Moore

Three weeks have passed since the revelations of last issue and the action has shifted from Virginia to Louisiana. The story's title holds triple meaning, as Swamp Thing, Abby Cable and Jason Woodrue are all "swamped" in their own way. The Swamp Thing has undergone what Dr. Woodrue describes as a "psychological setback." Woodrue as followed him to a swamp near Houma. As the story opens, Matt & Abby are searching for "Alec" there on a hunch. They find him lying on his back, rooted to the ground, with water pooling in his face. He is covered with moss and insects and some kind of tubers are growing out of him. He is in a catatonic state and is experiencing a series of symbolic, hallucinogenic dreams. Try as they might, Abby and Matt are unable to rouse him from this vegetative state (no pun intended).

Meanwhile, Woodrue eats one of the tubers, makes contact with "The Green" and is driven over the edge of sanity.

ISSUE #23 - "Another Green World"

A transitional issue as the POV shifts suddenly to the Swamp Thing and contrasts the Green World (his) with the Red World (the Floronic Man's). Three teenage boys are the first to encounter the Floronic Man as he makes his way toward Lacroix (pop. 559), a small town four miles south of Thibodaux. The Floronic Man terrorizes the town in excruciating, exquisite detail. Meanwhile, the Justice League is called in. Abby is caught up in the madness as well, and it is the threat to her which rouses the Swamp Thing from his vegetative state. He makes his way to Lacroix to confront the Floronic Man. 

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