Alan Moore's Swamp Thing Book 5: Big Trouble in Little Gotham
If there's one thing that I've always admired about Alan Moore it is his ability to take these silly, childish ideas that we grew up loving and making them into something that feels real and plausible, and it's no different with his run on Swamp Thing. What if we took this muck-encrusted monstrosity and took its story completely seriously? In that way, Moore reveals to us the insights that we never knew were possible, such as with the story of this volume. The idea of Abby and Swampy getting caught in their love affair is almost silly, and you would expect that Moore would at least show some cheekiness in terms of its subject matter, yet Moore again uses his signature magic and makes it into a tender, heart-wrenching journey.
Swampy and Abby's relationship had been explored throughout the series, but it hadn't been as emotionally testing and profound as it was in this volume. We really got a look into their strange, unique blend of love that they have for each other, and Alan's writing gave their relationship a sense of poignance, and was often moving in its exploration. The depths that Swamp Thing would go in order to save Abby from her situation is one that I think anyone can get behind, and I couldn't help but root for Swampy as he went through the journey. Also one of Moore's big focuses in this volume was the smaller human moments, those quiet moments that define the characters in the series, and those small moments often tend to be touching, and occasionally profound as well. I suppose what makes Moore's Swamp Thing so unique is that there's no big message that Alan has to get across in it, unlike his Watchmen, Miracleman, or V for Vendetta. Alan could allow his imagination to go wild on the page, and to see where it gets him while he's on the journey. Like any great artist, he is on the journey with us, wandering through the swamps of Louisiana and seeing where it would take him. Sadly, this was not as much of the case in this volume as there is a much more singular story and focus in this volume, though we begin to see the many-faceted style of Moore's Swamp Thing come back as the volume comes to a close. One particularly poignant story touches on domestic abuse and how it can destroy someone's life, particularly with the abuse victim, and it even veers into science fiction where we see Swamp Thing continue to exist on another planet, far from Earth. I won't say too much because of spoilers.
Moore continues to play with the DC universe and the mythology that has been gleaned from its long history. Though instead of reinventing old forgotten characters, he pulls out one of the big guns and introduces Batman into the fold, and Batman fits right at home with the strange world that Swamp Thing inhabits. I've made the argument before that Batman has lasted for so long because of the versatility of his character over the years. You could make him as serious or as silly as you wanted to and yet somehow, Batman still works as a character. While I was disappointed to see Bats get smacked about for a while, I still liked that Alan kept true to the character, that he was still driven to do what was right, no matter how strange or unusual as it might seem to others who are around him.
Another thing that impressed me was the artwork. Sadly, Bissette and Totleben were falling farther and farther behind schedule and another artist had to come in to help do fill-in issues, and luck had it that Rick Veitch would take over. Veitch somehow took the Bissette and Totleben style, morphed his own style to theirs, and made it his own in the way of a true draughtsman. His art is skilled, filled with personality, yet still with the creeping suspense that made Bissette and Totleben's artwork so unique. Though Totleben also comes back for art duties in several issues, and he still shows himself to be a skilled draughtsman, bringing a disturbing and beautiful look to the world of Swamp Thing that is wholly its own.
Favorite moments are plenty throughout this volume. As mentioned before, Alan really pulled no punches with this volume, and a favorite moment was Swamp Thing's travel to Gotham, which brings a sense of foreboding and tension to the story, I also loved when Swamp Thing went to Arkham Asylum, and there's the line "This is where Gotham sends its bad dreams." I also enjoyed Abby's musings on grief in Issue #55 "Earth to Earth," which I found were poignant and were similar to my own feelings of grief during my own losses. I also enjoyed the issue "My Blue Heaven," where Swampy ends up on an alien planet and ends up creating some life, which gave me some flashbacks to Dr. Manhattan's creation of life in Watchmen. It makes me curious if this inspired that scene in Watchmen. I also thought some of the smaller human moments were really touching, such as when the little girl brings Swampy the flower, or when the husband from "The Nukeface Papers" and Chester, the hippie guy from previous issues talking about how the husband's wife is now dying and his feeling of utter despair and Chester comforts him. I don't know why that moment touched me as much as it did, but I guess it shows me that people are capable of kindness, even in our most simplest moments.
Moore once said that entertainment can be just as profound and beautiful as any other piece of art, and I can't say that he's wrong, and it's stuff like Saga of the Swamp Thing that continues to prove this to me. Seyton! I am sick at heart! For the journey is soon to end, and I am not sure if I want it to.