Swamp Thing Vol 1: Saga of the Swamp Thing

Even for a guy who lost his wife in a bomb set up to kill him, was burned alive during the explosion and reemerged as a man whose primary fear should be Weed-B-Gon, the [debatably] “former” Alec Holland has it pretty rough. All the while, during his transformation, his wife was shot to death. Fast forward and we have a similar scenario occurring just a few years later. He’s been run out of his home, cornered down and shot, only to be left for the dead (again) but then cryogenically frozen by some G-Men, only to be dissected by Jason Woodrue (aka the Floronic Man, whom the Feds have on loan from prison). Woodrue, like Holland, is a botanist and has a plant form. The difference is that the Floronic Man has a believable and easily achievable human appearance. He literally sprays on artificial skin and shaves the facial hair-reminiscent wooden protusions from his face.

As if my introduction to the Swamp Thing could not get any more depressing, the pathos that – from what I’ve come to comprehend is at the core of Moore’s version – gets magnified when Woodrue discovers that the Swamp Thing is not Holland at all; he is just a collection of plant cells that think they’re Alec Holland, fused with his memories and therefore human. While conducting an autopsy on our hero, Woodrue (being as highly regarded a genius as Holland was), discovers that all of Swamp Thing’s organs are merely non-functioning replicas of human versions. He concludes that all human traces of Holland are gone!

Realizing that his Government boss finds all of his results laughable and that his return to prison is imminent, Woodrue increases the humidity of the building, knowing that it will rethaw and unleash the Swamp Thing. Sure enough, the vines begin to protrude from Swamp Thing’s chest as he starts to re-form himself and he begins restructuring himself by viciously beating and then killing the Government man. All the while, it turns out to be Woodrue narrating the story.

Cut to Abby and her husband Matt (pre-Alec and Abby hookup), and they find the Swamp Thing lying in the bog, re-rooting himself into the plant matter that it rose from. He is at odds with his dispelled humanity, and the panels switch to vivid dream sequences where he fights a skeleton that resembles his lost humanity. Abby stays around long enough to bring the Swamp Thing out of his torpor. Meanwhile, on a death mission from what he is sure the Green (the alternate plane of reality where the plant rulers live) sent him on, Woodrue has been wreaking havoc by causing plants to overtake – and by that I mean literally upheave – houses, kill people and destroy human existence. The people respond by burning their lawns with gasoline and removing any plant matter to avoid invasion. Shortly thereafter, the Swamp Thing comes around to give the Floronic Man a beatdown and save the Earth, I guess (isn’t this always the case?), but not before the Justice League is contacted to collect the win by dint of apprehending Jason Woodrue. Admittedly, the Justice League has a much better Proper Authorities relationship than our vine-tacular hero and his female Eastern-European compatriot.

“Take care of yourself…and say, is your skin changing color, sort of,” asks Abbey Cable.

“Yes. The Autumn is coming,” responds the Swamp Thing unironically.

Abby comments that she isn’t sure whether to believe the Swamp Thing, but Wood lets us know that he is indeed partially changing to a goldenrod yellow and, honestly, I believe him. Thus begins the last story arc in the volume with one of my favorite scenes from the book and that exemplifies the Swamp Thing’s uniqueness in the world of superheroes. He just seems so much more important because he’s connected to Earth processes, and it gives him a post-human quality.

A new character on hand who also struggles with his humanity is Jason Blood, who is home to a demon and can either predict when deaths are going to occur or can cause them to happen. Like Woodrue before him, he has a sleazy looking lawyer-type human form, with slicked-back hair and sideburns trimmed close to the temples. Abby encounters him on the way to her new job at a center for autistic children. One of the children, Paul, has come from a home where his parents were viciously murdered by what is only referred to as a “monkey,” and it vaguely resembles one in basic profile. Retrospectively, this monkey looks more like an Izz from the Maxx in that it has a round head with tiny sharp teeth and is white. The “monkey” also has fur and some nasty claws.

At first the caretakers don’t think much of the boy’s claim. But eventually, all of the children report seeing the monkey (by way of drawings) and then it becomes a concern. Controlling people by making them envision their nightmares, the monkey is highly effective at terrorizing. After a while, even after Swamp Thing appears to fight the monkey, Blood shows up in his yellow and red demon-festooned grandeur and helps. Blood and the monkey go toe to toe for a little while, but then he ends up fighting the Swamp Thing. Left alone with the monkey, Paul single-handedly takes it down by proclaiming that he is not afraid.

There is much more that goes on in this last section, things that will make this review more of a spoiler than it already is, but I beg you to go out, read it and find out for yourself. That Moore applies a lyrical quality that threads you through page after page and seamlessly weaves different scenarios into a precise cohesion is representative of the whole book. Bissette augments Moore’s words with sketchy, organic drawings; Wood’s colors give the book a favorably dark, appropriate atmosphere. The contemporary world of similarly midnight anti-heroes, such as Spawn, the Sandman and the Maxx, clearly stems from the Swamp Thing with their humanity struggles, alternate realities and sullen coloring. I can’t imagine anyone not interested in reading Swamp Thing Vol. 1: Saga of the Swamp Thing, but if for no other reason, read it for its historical importance. After you crack it open, I bet you’ll stay for the storytelling.