COMICS RETROSPECTIVE: Alan Moore's Swamp Thing Book 3: Meet John Constantine.
Moore once joked that it was here where he accidentally created the Vertigo universe and imprint, and in many ways it's true. If it wasn't for Moore's contributions to Swamp Thing and bucking the Comics Code for good, then we probably wouldn't have gotten Vertigo and the revival of American comics as we know it. Moore also introduced Vertigo's flagship character John Constantine, who would go on to become Vertigo's major title alongside Gaiman's The Sandman, making the careers of other maverick creators like Jaime Delano, Garth Ennis, Andy Diggle, and Brian Azzarello, among others. It is Constantine who ties all of the stories in this trade together, and in the trades to come as well. As much as he's a reluctant ally, he is the sly trickster that we'd come to know in Hellblazer, often pointing Swamp Thing to where he needs to go, and then allows Swamp Thing to do the work for him.
I often like to joke with friends that this trade is like if Alan Moore decided to take on writing The X-Files, though written about a muck and crusted monstrosity and not two scrappy FBI agents who are thrown into the world of the supernatural. Moore's versatility and variety of theme, character, and tone continues to shine throughout this trade, and is even more apparent. The stories vary in tone and atmosphere, but are linked together to create a whole. We begin with the "American Gothic" story arc, exploring the issues and wounds that continue to haunt America centuries after they occurred. Moore uses monsters and ghouls to explore the horrors that live deep inside of America, the ones that we choose to try and avoid, but often rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times.
Moore once said that Americans prefer to forget about the past, and in many ways he's right. It's why such issues as the recent Black Lives Matter and tensions over race continue to boil over, decades after the fact. Our tendency to try and forget and ignore unpleasantries is what often bites us in the ass in the end, and Moore had a keen understanding of this before we came to this realization... though I suppose it makes sense, us Yankees have always seemed to be late to the party.
Yet Moore, as usual, never seeks to talk down to or insult his audience's intelligence. His focus is on telling a good story, with the political commentary and satire being subtext to keep things spicy for the people who want to look deeper. Some other great stories appear in this trade, such as "The Nukeface Papers" arc, "The Curse", and "Southern Change" arc. With these stories, Moore uses classic monsters like vampires, ghosts—and my personal favorite—werewolves to explore the tensions and issues surrounding America such as racism, sexism, nuclear waste, and so on. As much as Moore wants to entertain his audience, he never allows for them to escape the world, but to experience and confront it.
Bissette and Totleben's art continues to impress, but the real winner of this volume is Rick Veitch, who took on their style, morphed it into his own, and managed to create a similar style to theirs. It is the sign of a true draughtsman, though Stan Woch, Ron Randall, and Alfredo Alcala aren't slouches either, and also manage to replicate Bissette and Totleben's style as well as they can in their ability. Bissette and Totleben reign over all of them, with their scratchy, unpleasant style continuing to add to the horror and suspense of the series that made it as unique as it was.
Some of my favorite moments in this trade include the "Nukeface Papers" stories, most of the times that Constantine and Swamp Thing interact inbetween the stories that they're apart of, seeing my favorite monster the werewolf making an appearance, and the ending of "The Curse", which I won't spoil for everyone here but I found to be quite touching in an odd, strange way, and the prologue at the beginning at the book where Swamp Thing sits, pondering, while Abby is asleep beside him.
Reading this makes me wish that more mainstream runs in comics were like it, as while many have taken inspiration from Moore and his approach to superhero comics, I've found that they've taken the wrong clues and hints from Moore's lessons. There's a few, like Claremont's X-Men or Ewing's recent take on The Immortal Hulk that dares come close to what Moore achieved, but no one has managed to surpass, and as thus the wait continues.
Alan Moore's Saga of The Swamp Thing Book 3 collects issues 35-42, and can be found on Amazon, Comixology, or your local comics shop.