Alan Moore's Swamp Thing Book 2: The Saga continues without the Comics Code!
It was here where Moore (along with help from editor and future Vertigo founder Karen Berger) would make comics history. In the publishing of a darkly mature story, they shook off The Comics Code Authority, long a hindrance to creativity and artistic maturity in the American comics industry. In direct defiance of the Code, it would be this story that would signal the beginning of the end of the Code's influence.
Certainly Moore wasn't the first who had written darker stories under the Code's nose, as O'Neil, Gerber, and Miller were also writing darker, morally complex stories in American comics before Moore came to the scene. But it was Moore who gave the final kick to the Code and began its descent into irrelevancy, penning a story revolving around such taboo topics such as incest, rape, and murder, and then having it become one of the biggest successes of his run, in direct defiance of the Code. With this story, Moore gave American comics the opportunity to finally catch up with the rest of the world and allow themselves to grow and become a respectable artistic medium in their own right. If not for Moore's and Berger's candor when publishing this story, we probably wouldn't have gotten Vertigo Comics or Image Comics, thanks to this one moment in comics history.
"Love and Death" would go on to become one of Moore's most infamous stories during his time with DC Comics, alongside "The Anatomy Lesson" and my personal favorite Batman: The Killing Joke. Moore had already been pushing boundaries on what the superhero genre could be capable of with Miracleman, but Moore went into an entirely different plane with Swamp Thing. Given that Swamp Thing is more of a horror based character, Alan was given the chance to tell even darker, more disturbing stories, and "Love and Death" showcases this perfectly. Much like "The Anatomy Lesson", it's a story that is meant to be read and experienced, and I won't dare take the experience of reading it away from any of you. I also find that this story has overshadowed the rest in this trade, which is a shame as all of the stories showcase Moore's versatility as a storyteller, which only keeps going as Alan's run moves forward.
With this trade, we begin to see Moore's versatility and experimentation with tone, theme, and character. Much of the trade feels like a collection of short stories rather than a large, cohesive arc, though some short arcs are layered in as well to create a fine balance. It is this experimentation and playfulness that keeps Moore's take on Swamp Thing unpredictable and dynamic. Some of my favorite stories of the run come from this trade, such as the "Love and Death" arc, which boldly tackles the aforementioned subject matters of rape, murder, and incest, while also exploring the supernatural aspects of the DC Universe and reintroduces older, obscure characters to readers. Included are The Phantom Stranger, Deadman, The Spectre, another appearance from Etrigan The Demon, as well as Pog, which is Moore's tribute to Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo, which is surprisingly one of the most touching, heart wrenching stories I've read in a comic. It's one that I point out to people who may think of Moore as a cynical, sadistic old wizard.
Moore writes with precision, rarely ever rambling or meandering with his prose. He has the prose of a poet, and his style is not always easy to read, yet it never feels pretentious or pompous in its approach. His work goes from dark and disturbing to humorous and satirical, with a natural ear for dialogue, and never allowing himself to not have fun when writing the series. The way that he plays with style and genre continues to have me in awe of his imagination and the inventiveness of style. His knowledge and reverence of DC continuity also shows his love and respect for the DC Universe, as well as giving a new mythology to the Swamp Thing, and continuing to reimagine the character as he sees fit.
Bissette and Totleben's art continues to impress; their combined style brings a creeping, scratchy style that works perfectly for the series, but other artists began to fill in for them as they began to fall behind on schedule. Shawn McManus proves to be a solid artist as well, bringing a bouncy energy to the series, while also keeping the tone and atmosphere of the world that is established in the run. Ron Randall also proves to a good artist, though his style feels more standard in terms of comics art. But the real winner of the trade is Rick Veitch. Veitch later goes on to successfully replicate Bissette and Totleben's art style and add his own twist. It is the sign of a great draughtsman, though he doesn't begin to shine until Bissette and Totleben stop contributing regular art to the series.
Some favorite moments from this trade include the aforementioned appearances of obscure DC characters. I love when creators do this; it gets new readers interested in them. Other highlights include: the epic battle between Swampy and Arcane, Swamp Thing meeting his former self Alec Holland in the afterlife and having a nice chat with him, the entire issue of Pog, which I should once again mention is one of the most touching things that I've read in a comic. Moore was really pulling on the heart strings in these issues, and Abby's dream where she meets Cain and Abel, who are major players in another one of my favorite comic series The Sandman (I'm sure fellow POP contributor Taheg will appreciate the shoutout, as I keep trying to get him to read this), and Swampy's excursions into hell, where he meets his old foes Sunderland and Arcane...it's darkly funny to say the least.
We continue to see Alan Moore's Swamp Thing prove itself as one of the most unique and unusual runs ever to be published in mainstream comics.
Alan Moore's Saga of The Swamp Thing Book 2 collects issues 28-34, and can be found on Amazon, Comixology, and through your local comics shop.