COMICS RETROSPECTIVE: Alan Moore's Swamp Thing Book 4: The Culmination
I generally dislike event comics, as a lot of the time they end up turning into convoluted, shoddily written messes, much like the rushed-out-the-door, soulless shit that Marvel and DC have been putting out for the last several years. There's been a few events that I've read that've made the cut. Mark Millar's Civil War was enjoyable, though it suffered from his usual schtick of having an interesting idea, yet never doing anything of substance with it. Jonathan Hickman's Secret Wars fared much better in my eyes. While Hickman certainly likes to be lofty in his aspirations, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he didn't get lost in explaining little, frivolous details and was focused on telling a cohesive, coherent story. The art from Esad Ribic also didn't do much to put a damper on anything. Yet, I still avoid them for the most part, unless a writer I enjoy takes one on, though even sometimes that can also go badly.
There have been several alternate takes on the 'event comic' over the years too, like with Robert Kirkman's Invincible with the "Invincible War" issue, or Valiant's take on it with The Valiant. But Moore's approach is entirely unique, and I like to tell people that this book is Alan Moore's take on the event comic, and in his usual style, he takes the trappings and conventions of event comics and then turns them on its ear. Though it's not necessarily an event comic, It was written during DC's "Crisis on Infinite Earths" event, for which Moore had to write a tie-in. But Moore managed to tie it in with the conclusion of the "American Gothic" storyline that's been carried through the third trade of the series. The so-called 'event' is the ending of the trade, where Swamp Thing and the previously introduced, more obscure characters of the DC universe face off against the evil forces seeking to destroy the world as we know it. Moore writes with a surprisingly brisk pace, considering his usual wordiness and slow burn stories that he's known to write. Much like "Love and Death", it was one that Moore was forced to write on the spot, and as thus didn't have much time to build as much as he likes. Yet somehow he managed to write a great story from it, as if he cast a spell from his magical beard. Moore's aforementioned love of the DC universe comes into full swing in this volume as well, with dozens of references, characters, and callbacks that they can't all be captured in the first sitting.
This trade shows how event comics should be, if they were planned out and done by the actual writers, instead of them being forced by editorial to placate idiot VPs, who have no knowledge or interest in how storytelling works.
The rest of the stories of the trade also showcase Moore's continued versatility in terms of theme and character, going from disturbing to fun to wryly hilarious from issue to issue, yet with a consistent sense of tone and atmosphere throughout that connects them together. Yet with this trade, we see a climax to the series, and I say that for lack of a better word with the end of the "American Gothic" storyline. It wraps up in a way that only Alan Moore can do, somehow grand, yet also personal in scope.
Moore writes as deftly as usual, continuing his trend of writing about bigger issues, yet never losing track of what should matter in the story. Moore's political commentary and satire also continues to be sharp and surprisingly astute, as he tackles such topics as xenophobia, gun violence, and further environmental concerns. It's often Moore's foresight into these issues and his satirical edge on them that keeps his work impressive, even if I don't always agree with it. What I most admire is that, as I've said before, he never seeks to insult his audience or tell them what to think, but to allow for them to come to their own conclusions. Certainly, he'll put out his own opinions, but he never wants to tell others what to think while he does so. It is the showcasing of a master of storytelling and also a pointer for those who want to put social or political commentary in their work.
To not sound too much like a broken record, Bissette and Totleben's art continues to impress, though Stan Woch also manages to bring an hallucinogenic edge to the series, especially once we see Moore continue his expansion into Swamp Thing's mythology and origins that would go on to influence a generation of creators who would work on the character after him. Veitch also continues to impress, and I can't say enough how he continues to perfectly mimic Bissette and Totleben's style, while adding his own working to their style. He becomes a suitable heir to Bissette and Totleben as they begin to fall back on art duties during the series.
Some of my favorite moments from this trade includes the story "Windfall," which is another touching, yet also funny outing about a man who gives some people one of Swampy's hallucinogenic yams, to mixed results; Swamp Thing getting more context on his origins from the newly defined Parliament of Trees; the story "Bogeyman", about the serial killer who believes he's the bogeyman himself; Abby getting caught and shamed for her association with Swamp Thing; the "King Swampy" scene which shows Swamp Thing as a god-like king; the epic battle between Swampy and friends and the dark evil force that threatens, including some more appearances from obscure characters like Etrigan, Phantom Stranger, Hawkman, Dr. Fate, and even some from more established characters like Batman, Wonder Woman. I was also bemused to see that Alan Moore himself even makes some cameos in the book in issue #46, which were also great, and John Constantine's presence also makes for a great time whenever he appears in the book.
Swamp Thing continues to chug along strongly, but we also see a culmination of everything that had come before it. Not to say that it only goes down from here, but you do wonder where they can go next after such an epic excursion.
Alan Moore's Saga of The Swamp Thing Book Four collects issues 43-50 and can be found on Amazon, Comixology, and your local comic shop.