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Swamp Thing

Unearthed: Swamp Thing #20

Alan Moore’s legendary run on the Saga of the Swamp Thing begins with his tying up loose ends.

Until this point, Swamp Thing was a monster-of-the-month comic, with its characters coming across weird scenarios and vaguely horror-themed adventures. Alec Holland himself, the Swamp Thing, was essentially a kind of superhero in the stories. This issue introduced a new writer to the series: Alan Moore from Great Britain.

He was given carte blanche to do what he wanted with the series, so he began by wrapping everything up that had come before.

This issue also featured the inks of John Totleben, with his distinctive linework. Just gorgeous stuff.

Swampy’s arch-nemesis was Anton Arcane, a kind of mad scientist. In the previous issue Arcane is believed to have died in their final confrontation. Here, Alec revisits the site, musing to himself about their shared history.

Note the repetition of the phrases at the beginning and end of this panel sequence. This is something Moore does a lot to really hammer home his themes.

Here he makes a fairly apt point, that superheroes without their supervillains are somewhat pointless.

The evil General Avery Sunderland, another recurring villain, here talks about his corporation. He’s been after Alec to harness the secrets of the bio-restorative formula that made the Swamp Thing what he is.

Moore is one of those writers who has very specific visuals in mind as he writes his scripts. He loves to add weight to his characters’ speech with visual motifs and metaphors.

Minor characters here, in the aftermath of the battle from the last issue. Not too important, but what’s notable is the two-page formatting of the panel layout, and their mirrored iconography. Moore does this a few times throughout this issue. Just another example of the style he brings to the comic, one of many elements that have helped it remain relevant in the years since its conclusion.

Swampy wanders the bog musing to himself. I just wanted to showcase the intricate and atmospheric visuals created by Totleben (and to be fair, also the penciller, Dan Day, who moved on after this issue).

Here’s another example of how Moore uses graphical elements to enhance the mood of a story. We’re about to meet Matt Cable, who’s become an alcoholic. Thus, the bottle spilling booze over the panel beneath it. It adds a sordid element to the panels it tops, a messiness.

Matt here refers to his weird, reality-altering power that he developed in prior issues (not important how or why). He’s lying to Abby when he says he has it under control. Abby knows this, and is disturbed by Matt’s lying about it.

When Matt attempts to be intimate with her she tells him she’s not ready and leaves to go for a walk. It’s clear that Matt isn’t okay with this, even though he says he is. We find out why in the next few panels.

In his inebriated state, Matt uses his power to create sexual fantasies for himself. It just gets darker from here.

Meanwhile, the Sunderland army has tracked the fugitives down and attempts to assassinate them. This two-page sequence is notable for the four mirrored graphical elements bracketing the panels, emphasizing the point that the protagonists are surrounded.

For the first time in the comic, the elements stop being mirrored and act as outlines for the main action, as Swampy is directly attacked by Sunderland.

Here’s another example of Moore’s textual themes becoming evident, as the metaphorical shadows from Swampy’s inner monologue suddenly hide very real threats.

And apparently up until this point, no one had thought to or had the opportunity to riddle the Swamp Thing with bullets, because…

He’s dead at last, after all his incredible adventures. And what will we discover about him in the next issue? Join us on Monday for what many consider the actual start of Alan Moore’s masterpiece!

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