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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"Heads Up" to Richard: I plan to cover "Love & Death" (#29-31 & Ann. #2) in its entirety tomorrow. 

I've read these already. Need to go further. 

That's good to hear because I'm champing at the bit to move on to #29. (When you said yesterday that you were doing your best to stay slightly ahead of me ) got a little worried.) BRB...

ISSUES #29-31 & ANNUAL #2 - "Love and Death"

This issue is simply horrific. I'd have to think about it, but SOTST #29 just may be the most truly horrific single comic book I have ever read. Just look at (and read) the combination of words and pictures on the first three pages. My description won't convey the sheer horror of the scene if you have not read it, but I'll give it a shot. the issue opens with Abby huddled on the floor, naked and bleeding, having just scrubbed herself with a wire brush. 

I would like to pause at this point to explain why I find this scene so horrific, quoting liberally from Dreadful Pleasures: An Anatomy of Modern Horror by Professor Jim Twitchell of the University of Florida: "Horror art is not, strictly speaking, a genre; it is rather a collection of motifs in a usually predictable sequence that gives us a specific physiological effect--the shivers... To understand the meaning of 'horror' we are initially taken back to the Latin word horrere, which means 'to bristle,' and it describes the way the hair stands on end during moments of shivering excitement. From this comes creeping flesh or, more simply, the 'creeps'... a moment of ecstatic dread, a second of full-passioned fixity, of panic and exultation. The experience is commonly known as gooseflesh. What we call gooseflesh is usually caused by abrupt changes in body temperature and is the warm-blooded animal's attempt to shove up its thermostat. Our teeth chatter, our knees knock, and skin shivers. We stand still and shudder, suddenly paralyzed."

Twitchell goes on to contrast the feeling of horror with the feeling of terror, and ultimately concludes: "If we see a victim being stalked by an ax-murderer with the requisite cleaver in hand, out sensation will be terror; but let that murderer be a zombie, a vampire, a werewolf, or anything akin, and our response is horror."

The rest of the story is told in a series of flashbacks and flashforwards describing the events which led up to this issue's revelation and its aftermath. Abby and Matt are still in their "happy place" where we left them last issue. Matt has three surprises for Abby, the first of which is a new house, a prototypal Southern mansion with columns an a big porch. But how can they afford it on Abby's salary from Elysium Lawns? That's the second surprise: a job... at a place called "Blackriver Recorporations" as it turns out. There have been little verbal and visual hints all along that all is not quite what it seems, but Abby is so happy she doesn't pick up on any of them... yet.

Matt introduces her to "the whole sick crew" at his new office but, before he springs his third surprise on her, they return to their new home and make love. Later, while visiting the library to check out a book on autistic children, quite by accident she stumbles upon a book about Sally Parks, a local serial killer who dies 22 years before. She looks remarkably like Matt's coworker "Sally Parks" whom she met earlier. That night, when Matt's co-workers drop by the house unexpectedly, she finally knows what 'recorporations' are and "which Black River heading where." She tries to flee but is soon caught by "Matt" and his friends in a double page spread. "Just say uncle," her "husband says... "uncle" as in give up, but also as in Uncle Arcane

In another scene with double-meaning, the Swamp Thing comes upon a dead bird which seems to be moving. Upon closer inspection, he unveils a parallel situation as with Sunderland and the planarian worms navigating a maze. "He reaches out toward the bird. Is it still alive? What causes it to writhe and twitch... if not life? BUGS! He saw it move and thought it was alive... but it was full of bugs! It had been full of bugs all the time."

Stephen Bissette has quite a bit to say about #29: "Alan noted in private letters to John and I, as well as in contemporary interviews, that he could turn a script around in three days--and he sometimes did. the historic issue 'Love and Death' (SOTST #29) was scripted in less than two days--necessitated by editor Karen Berger's quite-correct decision to dock the script Alan had just completed (part one of 'The Nukeface Papers') for a later issue. Karen felt that we needed to keep a narrative momentum from the previous story arc going, as we were attracting a whole new readership by that time and were all working at what felt to us like peak performance.

"As if to prove that we really were pushing the envelope, 'Love and Death' was rejected not once but twice by the Comics Code Authority. This self-policing arm of the comics industry (instituted at the end of 1954, reigning through the 1980s, waning after its dance with us, and eventually folding in 2011) initially rejected the issue because of the 'Just say uncle!' double-page spread revealing Matt Cable's co-workers as flyblown zombies. Karen told me over the phone that the Code initially objected to the flies buzzing around the skulls of our renditions of the walking dead. I responded by send Karen then-current movie ads from the Massachusetts Springfield Republican newspaper showing flyblown zombies, asking her, 'If this is acceptable in a daily family newspaper, why can't we draw similar imagery?'

"Then the Code actually read the issue. the public conversation about 'Love and Death' eventually spilled into the pages of media magazines like Spin:

There was something very different about this Swamp Thing, as conceived by Alan Moore. 'This is not comics, this is ART!' raved one of the many fan letters received by DC. 'This is about incest and necrophilia,' grumbled the Comics Code.

'I suppose they had a point in a way,' comments Moore. 'It was about incest and necrophilia.' It was also touching, emotional and poetic in a way comics, outside of Frank Miller's, so rarely are.

"Given the incredibly tight deadlines with which we were still struggling, there simply wasn't time to 'fix' anything about SOTST #29: the Code objected to the entire narrative. At one point, Karen explained how all this was particularly embarrassing for DC editorial honcho Dick Giordano, who was DC's representative on the Comics code board (he was also one of our most beloved Kubert School teachers, further personalizing the entire debacle); in any case, the executive decision was made to publish the issue without the Code seal of approval, unaltered. Once the comic hit the stands, the response was overwhelmingly positive: readers loved it, and sales grew as word spread among comics and horror fandom that we'd lost the Code. what had seemed disastrous proved to be the best thing that could have possible happened."

But they hadn't lost the Code entirely... not yet. It would be back for #30. 

(Oddly, the cover of #29 in the Absolute edition has the CCA seal, but my actual copy does not.)

I can’t add to your comments and the quotations from Moore, Bissette and Berger on issue #29. Their decision to stop (with #31) requesting Code approval was the right one. This was an important beginning to a fantastic story arc. I would change nothing.

(Oddly, the cover of #29 in the Absolute edition has the CCA seal, but my actual copy does not.)

Looking at the cover images on GCD, the CCA seal is not on the covers for issues 29 and 31 thru 38. When compiling the Absolute edition they must have accidentally used a prepublication image of the cover when it they anticipated it would get the seal of approval.

That was my guess as well (a minor quibble for an otherwise excellent package). Does the collection you're reading use the cover of #29 with or without the CCA code?

It's without the seal.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

That was my guess as well (a minor quibble for an otherwise excellent package). Does the collection you're reading use the cover of #29 with or without the CCA code?

Hmm. Interesting. 

ISSUE #30:

As mentioned yesterday, the CCA seal is back with this issue (for the last time as it turned out). the story begins with more horrific imagery, then segues into how Arcane came to possess the body of Matt Cable. Then more horrific imagery as Arcane's influence ripples outward. We see a scene of the Monitor and his blonde assistant (later to be known as Harbinger) in a foreshadowing of Crisis on Infinite Earths. And, at Arkham Asylum, the Joker has stopped laughing. Arcane sets out to confront Swamp Thing in the snow, followed by more scenes of horrific imagery. After a four-page, wordless sequence, Swamp Thing makes his way to Arcane's mansion, finds Abby, and utters the words, "How... long...? How long has she been dead??"

Yes, he stopped laughing and started drooling...

ISSUE #31:

The CCA seal is gone for good with this issue. Also gone is "The Saga of the..." in the masthead to be replaced by the label "Sophisticated Suspense" (which would adorn most covers through #56). 

The story begins with Alan Moore (via Arcane) offering a typical comic book "out" to reverse Abby's death which, under any other circumstances from any other writer would have proven quite acceptable. Then he (Moore/Arcane) reveals it to be a lie. Abby is not only dead, but her soul has been damned to Hell. We are then shown another scene of the Monitor and his assistant (whose name, I have just remembered, is Lyla). Then Moore/Arcane reveals all of the hints from previous issues leading up to this turn of events that we readers/Swamp Thing missed. 

Then Swamp Thing and Arcane have their first battle since the former learned the truth about himself. He very nearly defeats Arcane, then Matt Cable's personality reasserts itself and banishes Arcane to Hell. He has just enough power left , he thinks, to save one person. He chooses Abby over himself and succeeds in bringing her body back to life, but her soul is still trapped in Hell. 

On page 21, two local policemen find the body of Matt Cable on the road. He injuries consistent with being in a car crash, but there is no car around. I don't know about the one cop, but the one named "Bobby" is definitely Neil Gaiman. Gaiman would not be the first comic book professional to make a cameo appearance in a Swamp Thing comic. That honor would go to Louise Jones, who served as Berni Wrightson's model for the cover of House of Secrets #92. 

If anyone else knows who that other cop is supposed to be (if anyone), please let me know.

ANNUAL #2:

Swamp Thing uses his newly discovered abilities to go "Down Amongst the Dead Men." His first stop is the "Region of the Just Dead" where he meets Deadman. Deadman has only just discovered this realm himself, but offers to become his guide. Moore doesn't completely redefine Deadman, but he does "tweak" him a little bit. Deadman makes a sideways reference to Challengers of the Unknown, and leads him to his next guide, the Phantom Stranger, who in turn leads him to an aspect of Heaven in which Swamp thing meets the shade of Alec Holland himself, who thanks him for burying his mortal remains. Next, the Stranger ushers him into the presence of the Spectre.

I first encountered the Spectre in a reprint of one of his More Fun Comics appearances from Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes which my mom bought for me when I was ten. I had certainly read other Spectre appearances by 1985, but it was Alan Moore's redefinition (or "refinement" really) of his power set which stuck with me an informed all appearances of the character going forward. It is the Spectre who first recognizes Swamp Thing as an "Earth Elemental." He at first refuses the Swamp Thing admittance into Hell, but the Phantom Stranger cleverly out-maneuvers him. 

In Hell itself, Swamp Thing encounters his next guide, Etrigan the Demon, once again. Avery Sunderland is there, being tormented by a demon named Muttlecraunch. When meets Arcane, Arcane asks how many years he has been in Hell. The knowledge that he has been there only a day drives him mad. After one final skirmish with demons, Swamp thing frees Abby's soul and Etrigan delivers the final coup de grace to Arcane. Stephen Bissette has more to say about that below.

"During the most frantic days of this DC/Code dance, as I was penciling the double-size Swamp Thing Annual #2, Karen tentatively suggested that I might tone down the graphic depictions of hell. Maybe not show the demon booting off Arcane's head in the climax. this, of course, was impossible: not just the Annual, but the entire Arcane narrative arc spread over multiple issues demanded the satisfaction of seeing Arcane's head getting the boot from Etrigan. Alan, John and I conferred and informed Karen that if the Code was going to be such a problem, we'd prefer to leave Swamp Thing perhaps to work on a direct market-only project, citing DC's pioneer Code-free, direct market-only title Camelot 3000 as the type of packaging that might allow us to continue working together.

"If memory serves, within a day that suggestion was soundly rejected. Karen, Dick and DC wanted us to keep working on SOTST, just as we were. Nothing more was mentioned about 'toning down' the final pages of the Annual #2, and SOTST was free of the Code for good as of issue #31. We were, however, stuck with the 'Sophisticated Suspense' moniker above the title logo--a small price to pay given the freedom we now felt to take out work in fresh directions."

And one more paragraph, I think.

"This outcome nurtured the bold steps that followed: DC and Karen Berger forged a new path for an entire line of comics, including the SOTST spin-off Hellblazer and the dramatic and imaginative reinventions of Golden and Silver Age DC characters like Animal Man and the Sandman. This became the Vertigo line in 1993." 

ISSUE #31:

The story begins with Alan Moore (via Arcane) offering a typical comic book "out" to reverse Abby's death which, under any other circumstances from any other writer would have proven quite acceptable. Then he (Moore/Arcane) reveals it to be a lie.

Arcane’s lie that this is not Abby’s body, but just a “construct” is quickly followed by a suggestion that Swamp Thing rip off its head. Happily, Swamp Thing doesn’t buy it.

Abby is not only dead, but her soul has been damned to Hell.

I had a problem with this concept, as I did with a similar action in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Neither Dream nor Arcane should be able to send a good person to Hell.

We are then shown another scene of the Monitor and his assistant (whose name, I have just remembered, is Lyla).

I suspect that management demanded that the Monitor and Harbinger be shoehorned into every comic at that time. Moore did it as unobtrusively as possible. Readers now and at that time unaware of this Big Event/Neat Thing must have been puzzled by these characters.

Then Swamp Thing and Arcane have their first battle since the former learned the truth about himself. He very nearly defeats Arcane, then Matt Cable's personality reasserts itself and banishes Arcane to Hell. He has just enough power left , he thinks, to save one person. He chooses Abby over himself and succeeds in bringing her body back to life, but her soul is still trapped in Hell. 

It was a good thing that the (extremely) flawed Matt Cable was able to at least restore Abby’s body as his last act. I’m not bothered by his sending Arcane to Hell. He was going there anyway.

On page 21, two local policemen find the body of Matt Cable on the road. He injuries consistent with being in a car crash, but there is no car around. I don't know about the one cop, but the one named "Bobby" is definitely Neil Gaiman. Gaiman would not be the first comic book professional to make a cameo appearance in a Swamp Thing comic.

I must have been tired or I would have recognized Gaiman also.

That honor would go to Louise Jones, who served as Berni Wrightson's model for the cover of House of Secrets #92. 

Who was later known as Louise “Weezie” Simonson.

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