There are several things both notable and fascinating about this issue of the Swamp Thing. First and foremost, this story is unbelievably fucked up. Modern comics deliver sick, twisted, graphic gore and horror but seldom dig into emotional turmoil this deep.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
Part 1: Abby’s Past Tragedies
Abby Cable is already a tormented soul. She and her husband Matt lost two of their closest friends (Alec and Linda Holland) in an explosion and were then forced to hide from the killers for some time. After this trauma Matt and Abby’s marriage begins to fall apart as they try to piece together the death of Alec and discover this being the Swamp Thing.
One night while Abby is out in the swamps with Swamp Thing, Matt is severely injured in a car wreck leaving him brain-dead and his body possessed by the soul of Abby’s uncle Arcane. Calmly engorged in the corpse of the Husband, Arcane begins the torment of his own niece by dazzling and bedding her. His torments increase and eventually leave her dead in hell. Only the bravery of Swamp Thing (with help from Deadman, Phantom Stranger, and Etrigan) pulls Abby back from eternal torment.
With Matt Cable a “vegetable” from his car accident, Abby begins a romance with the swamp monster. Alan Moore’s bit of parallelism here was not lost on me: Abby trades her metaphorical vegetable-husband for an actual vegetable.
Their lives would be happy but for John Constantine who continually lures Swamp Thing off on new adventures saving the world, universes, and eventually the spiritual realm itself.
At this point in the series, photos of Abby and Swamp Thing are published in the local newspaper and Abby is charged with crimes against nature, a charge normally reserved for beastiality. Fearing imprisonment, Abby flees to Gotham City where the Swamp Thing wages a war on the city to recover her from Gotham’s justice system.
At last reunited, Abby’s dreams are shattered forever when the agency that created the Swamp Thing finds a way to kill its monster and does so. Swamp Thing is dead. Abby’s last vegetable has been burned to the ground.
After so much tragedy in one character, Stephen Bissette takes a last oportunity to twist the knife.
Part 2: Issue #59: “Reunion”.
The story begins in hell, where a large demon is tormenting Arcane for his sins on earth. We notice that one of Arcane’s eyes has been squished and the socket is filled with maggots. He complains that he cannot feel his eye. This is the perspective from which our story is told. Though Arcane is the main character and provides the perspective of this narrative, the story is actually about Abby Cable as she pieces her life back together. Arcane is forced to watch three stories unfolding simultaneously.
- He sees Abby as she tries to live her life. She’s in a convalescent home working with the aged who’s families have abandoned them. She struggles to cope with this. An orderly is stealing from the residents once they die and it’s a bit of a scandal that Abby uncovers. This narrative expands on Abby’s character and furthers the main arc of our story by showing how she lives her life in the absence of the Swamp Thing.
- We see some unknown creature, and read its inner thoughts as it struggles to find someone. We see parallelism between this creature and Arcane as it also complains about its eye. This narrative is rife with intrigue but is opaque, confusing until the end of the issue.
- We see the past when Abigail’s father – a single parent – lives with his only daughter in some small European village still peppered with land mines left over from WWII. Here we learn that Abby’s father stepped on one of these landmines while she was a little girl, dying in front of her eyes. This is how Abby was orphaned and came to live in the United States at a young age. Throughout most of this story Abby’s father is reading Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” to his daughter.
These three stories are interwoven and evolve before Arcane’s eye (and the readers’). The final death scene of Abby’s father is followed with the unknown creature in narrative 2 finding Abby at the convalescent home. It sees her, is ashamed, and runs into the swamps. Abby, recognizing something in the creature, chases it and the two are reunited. Here we learn that Arcane rebuilt the corpse of his dead brother (Abby’s father) after Abby had left for America. All these years the reanimated corpse has struggled to find its lost daughter, and now some decades later he is literally falling apart, ashamed of his own wretchedness, and ashamed for his lost life, his life as an Arcane.
Abigail Cable, emotionally devastated after losing Swamp Thing, is reunited with her long dead father to discover that he has been turned into a “Frankenstein” and is now disintigrating before her very eyes. After some time spent in a tearful embrace the monster flees his daughter. She chases him further into the swamp, but she can only find the scattered limbs of the man she once called father. This is the second time that Abigail has watched her father die.
Abby is found the next morning next to a torso. Limbs are scattered about her.
She says, “I can’t find his head.”
Back in hell, an impressed demon remarks to Arcane that he is still causing pain on earth after so many years, and that he may be turned into a demon once his sins are paid off.
Hot damn. This issue was fucked up and demostrated the stength of Bissette’s story-craft as he seamlessly wove together four narratives into one issue. Told from the perspective of a dead man being tormented in hell, we are shown new depths of Abby’s past and present while still managing to progress the main story that has been evolving over the past few issues (Swamp Thing’s death and eventual return to earth). The parallels are numerous. We see Abby’s childhood fascination with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” which provides insight into her adult romance with the Swamp Thing. We see her father actually become a Frankenstein monster in a sick play on the old notion that women marry men like their father. And Bissette ties Arcane to his brother by demonstrating that they are both ashamed of the family name (one for his sins, the other for his own wretchednes), both are monsters, and both have deteriorating eyes that cause them pain.
This issue is tremendous and is followed by another gem in issue #60, “Loving the Alien” which proved to be another gorgeous issue in the Saga of the Swamp Thing. Though the issues compiled in book 6 of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing are considered by many to be weak and inferior to his previous work, and are a bit overshadowed by the other story he wrote that year (Watchmen), I would argue that these issues rank easily among the best stand-alone issues of the whole series. Their depth, craft, and creativity are simply unparalleled.
(PS, sorry for two Swamp Thing posts in a row. It’s what I’ve been reading.)
Who even writes for this blog anymore? Certainly not us! Anyway, I just read a magnificent issue of Swamp Thing from the year 1996!
Clinton was in office and Dole wanted to oust him. Newt Gingrich had signed some weird “Contract with America” and the world of American politics was as nutty as ever. Apparently disgusted with himself, the comics industry, and left-wing socialist nut-jobs Mark Millar enlisted the incredible talents of Curt Swan to create this fascinating bit of satire.
If you’re familiar with Alan Moore or Rick Veitch’s work on Saga of the Swamp Thing then you know Chester Williams as an eco-friendly former hippie that loves tubers and teams up with the Swamp Thing to battle evil.
But that was before he saw the Contract!
Professor Chester Williams is at his apartment throwing a party with another professor and some of their students. The kids are dancing, drinking, getting high, and engaging in other immoral activities. After a living the hippie dream this party serves as a wake up call to Mr. Williams and he’s had enough! Chastising a young lady for strip-dancing at the party Chester proceeds to kill the music and call the cops on his students.
Disgusted with the loose living of these young liberals, Chester decides to join the NYPD and clean up America. After killing a few bank robbers (illegal immigrants no less!), saving a woman from being robbed [Ed. note: a “dyke,” who he then kisses so hard she goes straight and marries him], and plenty of good old fashioned liberal bashing, Chester receives word that the Swamp Thing is giving the world’s leaders an ultimatum: stop polluting or else! As an old friend of this Elemental, Officer Williams decides to pay a visit to Houma, LA to try and talk some sense into the old Swamp Hippie.
After a stern lesson on economics, the importance of international trade, and a plea for Swamp Thing to “grow up”, Chester convinces Swamp Thing that the earth doesn’t need a paradise and things are best left as they are. Chester then returns to New York where he defeats incumbent Bill Clinton and becomes President of the United States of America!
Conservative ideals win again!
[Ed. note: Despite Mark Millar’s bizarre introduction to the issue claiming it is the first “clean issue in a sick run of an evil book put together by diseased individuals,” editor Stuart Moore later promises it was “an Elseworlds story” and “a bad trip or something.” Thank God.]
Today’s post gives me the opportunity to introduce a new category for Bronze Age comics I’ve called: “Love for the Bronzer”.
You may not realize this, but Dr. Strange and the Man-Thing have have something in common: murderous Christians hate them.
I suppose in Strange’s case it makes a bit of sense. Since the Julio Claudian dynasty, paganism and Christianity have butted heads. Add a little Constantinian conversion, a bit of Julianian conservatism, and you’ve got a recipe that has left polytheism and monotheism standing on opposite sides of the Deity Dance Floor glaring one at the other for the last 2000 years. So when Marvel debuted their protagonist of polytheistic persuasion in Strange Tales #110, it was only a matter of time before Christianity took a stab at him, and in 1974 that’s exactly what it did. Enter the Silver Dagger, a knife-dipped-in-holy-water wielding ex-Cardinal who left the Church after being denied the Papacy. What was Dagger’s next move? Why, he became a sorcerer and took to killing off all practitioners of the mystic arts, of course!
And so it was that in Doctor Strange#1 this occult antagonist set his sights on Stephen Strange and the Sorcerer Supreme’s bombshell apprentice Clea. After three issues of fabulous story and gorgeous art the murderous mage was finally banished to unreality forever. Hooray!
What is a bit more – well – strange, is that exact same year the Man-Thing faced a similar foe. Man-Thing #s 3 & 4 featured the less poetically named Foolkiller as he attempted to rid the earth of fools and sinners with his Yahweh-bequeathed Purification gun. Foolkiller was a lost soul who got picked up in that hippie Christian Jesus Movement and found peace at last. Unfortunately, that peace was shattered when he walked in on his pastor getting drunk with some floozy. After being told to take life less seriously the Foolkiller went berserk, strangled the preacher, preserved his corpse in a shrine, received a laser gun from God (for some reason God armed this guy), loaded his gun and his shrine in a van and took off across America killing all the “fools” along the way. On one of his death quests, Foolkiller’s plot is foiled by the unwitting Man-Thing and from that point on Foolkiller has a score to settle.
Unfortunately for both Foolkiller and the Man-Thing, this swamp monster can’t exactly be killed. Foolkiller goes about his business of trying to get the local radio station to stop playing “blasphemous” music and is ultimately killed during a fight with Man-Thing when the Dead Preacher Shrine falls over and a large shard of glass pierces Foolkiller’s heart.
I don’t know if there is any connection between these two stories. The Jesus Movement was all over the US, and Protestants and Catholics were really going at it in Ireland around this time, but that’s all I can think might have inspired these two stories such a short time from each other. In any case I still effing love the Bronze Age of Comics and I’ve learned just how dangerous a knife dipped in holy water or a God-sent laser blaster can be, so it’s a win/win for me. It’s been a long time since anybody did a “Reviews & Booze” write up, so I’m gonna go ahead and recommend some red wine for this one.
I was catching up on Crisis on Infinite Earths tonight when I noticed this lovely Easter Egg. As a big Trekkie, and a fan of The Wrath of Khan in particular, this panel made me very happy.
It’s worth noting that Marv Wolfman actually wrote the Marvel Super Special comic adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 and edited the first 20 issues of DC Comics’ Star Trek from 1984 to 1985 (and doing sporadic color work thereafter) while George Perez did the covers for the first three issues of the DC Comics run.
Speaking of Wolfman and Perez, don’t forget that The New Teen Titans Omnibus Volume 1 is out today! I’m broke, but green with envy over all you who purchase it (insert your own Beast Boy joke here).
Who’s Phyllis? None of the credits help. Maybe somebody’s mother or girlfriend? I do love a good mystery. If any readers know about this Easter Egg I’d love to know.
I haven’t written for High Five in some time now. To be fair I never contribute too heavily and a disruption is measured in months not weeks, but really I haven’t been writing because I haven’t kept up with new comics. Sure, I hit the shop every week and often pick up a book or two, but for the most part the modern world isn’t grabbing me right now.
They say that 1985 is the year comics grew up. Well, I was born in ‘82 which means comics grew up before I did. Mine was a generation that had a kick-ass X-Men cartoon on TV, Superman died when we were still in grammar school, and most of us didn’t realize until later that Wolverine’s hair isn’t actually so out of control.
Since comics matured before I could form memories, my taste in comics has always been “grown up”. Writers like Moore, Ellis, Azarello, and Willingham dominate my bookshelf and before 2010 would have been quickly rattled off in reply had you asked who my favorite comic writers were; which is why I’ve taken a break from all this intensity and have spent the last 6-9 months reading Gold, Silver, and Bronze Age comics almost exclusively.
I’ll be the first to admit that this stuff is incredibly campy and many of the stories don’t make a whole ton of sense, but when you get past the modern bias against silliness a whole world of innocent amazement opens to you. At SDCC 2010 Grant Morrison pointedly remarked, “We’ve already got the real world. Why do you want comics to be like that one?” which sums up how I feel about comics right now. I ask you: what’s so great about “realistic” dialogue? Why should I read about characters going through intense emotional pain? Why not read about amazing people fighting fantastical fights as pure good battles pure evil with no grey areas to bog us down? Some of you will tell me I’m just unevolved, but seriously: isn’t there room for both? Does one really preclude the other?
Maybe I’m becoming cynical as I age, sinking into some horrid pessimism (or escapism), but I feel like the real world around me is pretty f***ed up most of the time and I’ve gotten tired of reading comics that depict a world equally f***ed up. Nobody is dying when I read Planet Comics, Len Wein could write Phantom Stranger stories that were mysterious without being disturbing, I read Jack Kirby without turning my stomach, and Walt Kelly is pure delight. I’m telling you guys, this is the magic that made comics great.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking the modern creators. I just read Outlaw Nation with much enjoyment and I swear I’m gonna finish 100 Bullets one of these days, but for now and the foreseeable future the world before 1985 is captivating my attention and I feel like I could never leave.