Tonawanda News

February 19, 2013

BOOK NOOK: "Saga of the Swamp Thing" a collection worth owning

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Comic book writer and graphic novelist Alan Moore is best known for his work on “V for Vendetta,” Watchmen” and “From Hell,” a graphic novel based on the circumstances surrounding Jack the Ripper’s tortuous murders. “Saga of the Swamp Thing” may be lesser known, but the work, written during the late 1980s, still stands as one of Moore’s crowning accomplishments.

Moore took over for the Swamp Thing series in 1983, after a number of failed attempts to reinvent the character and excite a waning fan base. Moore began writing on issue 20 of the “Saga” series — titling the issue “Loose Ends” — and swiftly wrapped up any ongoing story lines so he could start fresh with issue 21.

The first eight issues of Moore’s work on the title have since been collected and published as “Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One,” the first in what is planned to be a six-book reissue of the series. Book three was released just this past month. 

The first book in the series packs in two story arcs over its eight issues. After the tying up of loose ends in issue 20, issues 21 through 24 set the tone for how things will be going forward under Moore’s reign. They follow the exploits of Dr. Woodrue, a man whose head is in the right place, but his actions are questionable. In an attempt to save the plants of the world he has spent his life researching, he hatches a plan to destroy mankind with the help of the grass, plants and trees around him.

While the story itself — a villain attempting to wreck havoc, a hero stepping up to stop him — is hardly groundbreaking, the characterization here is. Especially in the world of comics, where the Comics Code Authority had stifled any sort of creative energy with archaic standards of acceptable amounts of violence and horror. Comics had stagnated, and Moore’s work in issues 21 through 24 brought new life to the medium, with a villain too complicated to label strictly evil. Dr. Woodrue was not a cookie-cutter bad guy — much of the time, readers relate to his intentions. 

Moore and his team of artists didn’t rest at creative new takes in characterization. The artwork presented in the “Saga of the Swamp Thing” series was also the first of its class, incorporating new techniques in paneling, where Moore’s artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben opted for a much more experimental layout. 

Darker, more sinister monsters than ever before are depicted. Bordering on pure horror, Moore, Bissette and Totleben tested the limits of the Comics Code Authority. Eventually they would push things so far that “Saga of the Swamp Thing” would become the first comic book published by DC Comics under its imprint Vertigo, to forgo the CCA badge on its cover entirely, gambling on the series’ new-found success to carry it past any bumps the series might take for not being CCA certified.

This wouldn’t happen until after the contents of Book One, however, where in the final three issues of the collection, Swamp Thing battles Fear itself. Embodied in a deceivingly innocent looking white monkey, Fear uses the gullibility of young child Paul to attack the human world. While Swamp Thing does his best to fight Fear back, it’s not until Paul has the courage to stand up to the white monkey that the enemy is finally repressed. For now.

This collection of the first eight issues of Moore’s run is some of the best in its class as-is, but it’s really just a primer for the truly groundbreaking scare-ride that is to come in the later books. Whether looking for an introduction into one of the most beautifully horrific pieces of graphic literature ever written, or simply as a taste test for Moore’s style, readers would be hard pressed to find much not to like in “Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One.”

• WHAT: "Saga of the Swamp Thing" • BY: Alan Moore • GRADE: B+

Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at unleashthis.tumblr.com, and can be reached through Twitter at unleash_this.