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#37 [Mar. 27th, 2010|10:03 am]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#37 SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING Vol. 1–2 – Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben

“I opened him up. He had things inside him.”

Swamp Thing was originally your standard man-covered-in-mysterious-substance comics character, the only difference being that he was played for horror rather than turned into a hero after being splashed with plot-powered chemical goop. Coated in one of his own experimental formulas, scientist Alec Holland turned into a mucky green plant-man and exiled himself deep in Louisiana’s swamps so as not to be pitchforked by the locals. After taking over this character who, during the early comics, had spent half his time futilely trying to become human again and the other half moping because he couldn’t – “Hamlet covered in snot” was his memorable summary – Alan Moore reinvented Swamp Thing in these two volumes. He began with a literal autopsy of the character, opening him up to find what made him work then putting him back together only better. He made the muck monster less human and in doing so made him more interesting, resurrecting and reinventing him with new layers added by each new story.

As a plant-man it was natural to use him to address environmental concerns, with Stephen Bissette and John Totleben’s vivid gator-strewn swamps as the backdrop. Leaving the swamp they covered the character’s roots in horror with a trip to a Hell full of skewered creatures, bones, screaming faces and, disturbingly, fish. At the other end of the spectrum is an unusual romance told in vibrant psychedelia. The wider DC Universe, of which Swamp Thing was a part, appears both through background superheroes and villains used to demonstrate the stakes and the rich cosmology Swamp Thing explores. Each step of the way the comic matured a little as its protagonist grew, quickly becoming the most grown-up series on the shelf and clearing a path through the murk that’s been heavily walked by the 30 years of comics since.