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

Doug Wheeler - p31

Nancy Collins - p33

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All of their parents should be slapped. 

ISSUES #38-39:

If I am going to willingly suspend my sense of disbelief, this is how vampires must be portrayed: as enemies of mankind who cannot co-exist alongside humanity.

In the mountains that are close to me there are bears and “mountain lions” of the panther family. Basically, none of these animals have any interest whatsoever in hunting and killing humans. Ya can’t say that about vampires.

Swamp Thing helped flood the town of Rosewood, Illinois back in #3, but some vampires survived and have now set up a settlement in which their kind can breed.

This is a version of vampires that I’ve never seen before.

Swamp Thing "regenerates" twice in this story, once in #38 (a few hours) and once in #39 (51 seconds), so he has greatly improved upon his previous record of 17 days.

This regenerating/teleporting ability is a real game changer for Swamp Thing.

ISSUE #40:

Menstruation. It's not a common topic for a mainstream comic book, not in the '80s. 

"Long ago, the Pennamaquot women were taken each month by their grandmothers and confined in the Red Lodge. The lodge stood upon stilts, that its dark and sullen female power should not taint the earth."

All of a sudden, Adventure Comics #313 took on whole new meaning for me. In it, the Legionnaires, but only the female Legionnaires, are stricken with the mysterious "Crimson Plague." Like the woman in Swamp Thing #40 (who transforms into a werewolf), Supergirl herself, while under the influence of "Red Kryptonite," becomes "Satan Girl." I can imagine Mort Weisinger and Edmond Hamilton snickering over this one. Real subtle, guys.

In issue #40, Swamp Thing refuses to be sent on any more mission for John Constantine, opting instead to return to Louisiana (which is where Constantine was going to send him, anyway). 

ISSUE #40:

Menstruation. It's not a common topic for a mainstream comic book, not in the '80s. 

"Long ago, the Pennamaquot women were taken each month by their grandmothers and confined in the Red Lodge. The lodge stood upon stilts, that its dark and sullen female power should not taint the earth."

Without trying to research this, I assume that this tribe is fictional. Whether it is or not, I don’t think Moore would slander Native Americans, so this is probably based upon some actual tribe or tribes.

Most Americans think it’s funny when a British character in a TV show, movie or comic book says something is “bloody” or “bleeding.” It’s actually offensive because it is referring to menstruation in a derogatory way.

One of the things I found interesting here was Alec's seeming indifference to the chaos going on around him. Not so much that he didn't care, but more of an "she needs to work this out" attitude.

Also, the image of her shedding her skin was really creepy. 

"Without trying to research this, I assume that this tribe is fictional."

The tribe is fictional; the huts are not.

  • Artistic License – History: Several feminist readers have pointed out that Moore's portrayal of the (fictional) Pennamaquot nation's Red Lodge gives an overly negative impression of the menstrual hut institution in Native American and other cultures. While acknowledging that the menstrual huts did serve the patriarchal function of tracking women's monthly cycles for optimal fertility, they argue that the huts also enabled women both pre- and post-menopausal to socialize, and share stories and folk traditions, independent of men's interference.

"Also, the image of her shedding her skin was really creepy."

Exactly!

"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'..."

ISSUE #41:

Where do writers get their ideas? In the case of Alan Moore, I think he often gets them from previous stories of whatever series/character he's writing at the time. I particularly noticed this phenomenon when I was finally able to read the early (i.e., non-Moore) run of Captain Britain, but I see it here as well. In the tenth and final issue of the original Wein/Wrightson run, Arcane was defeated (temporarily, anyway) by the ghosts of slaves buried in a local cemetary. When Martin Pasko, inspired by the sketches of Bissette and Totleben, decided to resurrect Arcane (in SOTST #16-19), he had to account for Wein's "ghost story" somehow. Here's what he came up with: "Ah, yes," Arcane says, "the cemetery. To this day, I am not certain what really attacked me there. But on that southern land were fought many battles of slave against master. Perhaps it became tainted with 'psychic resonances'--the emotional residue of the slaves resentment. these powerful psychic vibrations took hold of my un-men... made them realize their lowly station, and so they rebelled."

Now it is Alan Moore's turn to revisit that theme, putting on it his own unique spin. In #41, a nighttime soap opera, a period piece set in the antebellum South, is being filmed on location at the nearby Jackson House plantation, and locals are being hired as extras. The restoration of the mansion seems to have stirred up old ghosts and, as rehearsals progress, the cast are becoming increasingly possessed by ghosts of the past. Specifically, a slave is caught in a romantic situation with the mistress of Robertaland (the name of the plantation at the time). 

This issue is inked by Alfredo Alcala, one of the first artists whose style I learned to identify by sight. Abby grows increasingly suspicious of Constantine's motives, and Swamp Thing absorbs a dead bird into his body. When Abby suggests a night swim, Swamp Thing declines because his body doesn't dry out quickly enough after sundown, making him feel heavy and uncomfortable. The option of simply discarding his wet body in favor of growing a new, dry one is discussed, but he doesn't want to do that too often lest he lose touch with his humanity.

ISSUE #42:

The title of this story is "Strange Fruit." On page 18, Swamp Thing narrates: "If the bad tree... is to be destroyed... you must not bury... its fruit... you must burn out the roots." That's not the usual metaphor associated with "strange fruit," but it's not possible Moore was unfamiliar with it. (In Watchmen he would later cite "You're My Thrill.") #42 begins with zombies rising from the grave to reenact the slave uprising which occurred there in 1842. Speaking of zombies, here is what John Totleben had to say about editorial standards of the time.

"In the process of searching through my archives for material to include in this Absolute edition, I came across several photocopies of pages that had been retouched (on photostats, not on the original boards) by DC's production department in an effort to tome down some of the artwork's more... let's say unsettling details. It actually made me laugh to remember what the company used to fret about back in the day and the seemingly random pickiness that occurred as a result."

He goes on to show, in example, the final panel of page six in various stages of development: pencils, inks, final art. On the left side of the page was written a note from Karen Berger to Totleben: "John--please call me about this." He did, in fact, "dial back" some of Bissette's "exuberant gore," but not quite enough as further in-house tweaks were needed to meet DC's requirements.

"These kinds of overly sensitive touch-ups occurred fairly regularly, but they were usually so insignificant that they made one wonder why the Powers That Were even bothered. Of course, it had been less than a year since we had driven a stake through the heart of the Comics Code Authority, so they were probably still experiencing CCA withdrawal anxiety. the fact that Steve and I were unconsciously making up for three decades of post-Wertham-era suppression of horror in comics with our gleefully grotesque artistic approach possibly didn't help, either!

He goes on to discuss the tribute to Archie Goodwin which appeared in #42.

"Back in the late 1990s, the Moore/Bissette/Totleben run of Swamp Thing was being reprinted in black and white as part of a series called Essential Vertigo, published by DC and edited by Jenny Lee.

"In March of 1998, the reprint for issue #42 was in the works and Jenny called me over to go over some technical matters pertaining to it, as she did with most issues. During our conversation she made mention of how downcast the mood had been around the DC offices that week. The recent death of much-beloved editor Archie Goodwin, who lost a long battle with cancer on March 1, 1998, was hanging heavy over the industry--particularly at DC, where he had been working since 1989.

"As Jenny was telling me about this, I wondered if I should point out that Archie had made a special guest appearance in the last panel on page five of Swamp Thing #42, the very issue on which she was then currently working. In that panel, archie appears as a rather skeletal, forward-lurching, black-eyed zombie. I had second thoughts about bringing this to Jenny's attention since, well, it did seem rather ill-timed and more than a little tasteless given the circumstances. But I quickly came to my senses and realized that--whoa, Nellie, hold the presses!--this was Archie Goodwin we were talking about: the absolute, hands-down editor and writer that Creepy and Eerie ever had, and damn if it didn't seem that he's deliberately timed his final departure to perfectly coincide with the publication of this reprint. So I directed her to Archie's undead cameo, we finished our conversation, and I thought nothing more about it.

"About an hour or two later she called back to thank me for pointing out that panel, saying that it had caused all these little 'pockets of joy' to spring up throughout the hallways of the DC offices.

"Of course, Archie got the last laugh with that one, and anyone who ever heard the Archie Goodwin laugh knows exactly how it sounds. Good one there, Archie. Not ill-timed at all, but extraordinarily well-timed and yet still tasteless as hell in the most gloriously grotesque way imaginable.

"How Archie ended up in that panel is another story--one that took place in 1985 and involved Steve Bissette tagging along with Rick Veitch to the Marvel offices to see Archie, who was then editor of Epic Illustrated. Rick had been doing work for Epic at that time and was stopping in to deliver his latest job. As luck would have it, Steve just so happened to have the first batch of his pencils for Swamp Thing #42 under his arm, and he cajoled Archie into adding one of his well-known cartoon self=portraits (his signature "Archie head") to one of the zombies in that fateful panel. Steve then dropped the pages off with Karen Berger at DC later that day and made a point of alerting me to the presence of the zombie Archie. The result was a once-in-a-lifetime artistic collaboration of Goodwin, Moore, Bissette and Totleben in what is arguably one of the greatest mainstream horror comics of all time. Nothing is more fitting than that."

That brings to an end the third tpb collection of the Moore era, a natural break point. I posted two issues today because, heading into a three-day weekend, I'll be taking off (from this discussion) tomorrow to give Tracy a chance to catch up. 

I personally found the story of these two issues not to be very interesting, but what I did really lije were the discussions between Abby and Alec, particularly about his evolution and how it was bothering her. Absorbing the dead bird into his body was a further illustration of just how he was changing. 

Indeed.  Swamp Thing at this point may want to hold on to his humanity - or human traits, at least - but it is not really a fight that he can win. 

There are many, many stories ahead dealing with this ultimately unresolvable tension between his actual nature and his desire to remain connected to humanity and specifically to Abby.

Swamp Thing is an interesting study case of how a character may develop against the expectations and even hopes of its own publisher.  His first series was in equal parts formulaic and experimental, and by the time that he guest starred in stories of the Challengers of the Unknown the letters page actually had editorial saying outright that we should not expect to see any further solo stories of the character.

Flash forward a few years and there was a short-lived tv series which sprang the revival book which sprang Alan Moore. And nothing was the same again since.

There are definitely upsides to writing characters that are not perceived as succesful, at least when it comes to creative freedom.

John Totleben said:

Of course, it had been less than a year since we had driven a stake through the heart of the Comics Code Authority, so they were probably still experiencing CCA withdrawal anxiety.

DC was publishing mix of CCA-approved and non-CCA books at the time. They were probably afraid of losing the ground they had gained if a lot of complaints surfaced. After they established the Vertigo imprint their anxiety was probably greatly lessened.

As luck would have it, Steve just so happened to have the first batch of his pencils for Swamp Thing #42 under his arm, and he cajoled Archie into adding one of his well-known cartoon self=portraits (his signature "Archie head") to one of the zombies in that fateful panel.

I like that this gave the DC staffers a lift when they needed one. I’m sure Mr Goodwin approved.

Randy Jackson said:

I personally found the story of these two issues not to be very interesting, but what I did really lije were the discussions between Abby and Alec, particularly about his evolution and how it was bothering her. Absorbing the dead bird into his body was a further illustration of just how he was changing. 

I agree that absorbing the bird was a new wrinkle, as was his consoling it as it was dying. The artwork was a little confusing. If this was the slave burial ground the elaborate headstones don’t fit. Several TV specials and articles in recent years have made it clear that the only markers for the slaves were very temporary.

Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas said:

There are definitely upsides to writing characters that are not perceived as succesful, at least when it comes to creative freedom.

This reminds me that Alan originally wanted to use the actual Charlton characters for Watchmen. 

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