Swamp Thing

Unearthed: Saga of the Swamp Thing #21

This is the issue in which Moore really puts his stamp on the character, changing it forever!

The cover here is classic DC horror title… but the interior here doesn’t match what actually happens in the comic. Let’s move on.

One of the elements that makes Alan Moore’s comics so incredible is his use of language. Read these paragraphs and just soak in the ambience.

This gorgeous splash page introduces to us the Floronic Man, standing there with General Sunderland. The Floronic Man is a third-rate Justice League villain with limited power to control plants, at least at the time of this issue.

Here Sunderland is explaining a key element of the Swamp Thing’s origin. Alan Moore excels at reimagining a character’s back story and updating it to suit his purposes. Essentially, the bio-restorative formula that created Swampy… couldn’t have. So what happened?

The Floronic Man — Dr. Jason Woodrue, an apt name, and something that of course Moore plays with at some point in this series — has a more than casual interest in Swampy’s insides.

The line “He had things inside him” still creeps me out to this day.

Woodrue has determined that the “organs” inside the Swamp Thing don’t actually DO anything. So why are they there?

Also, look at the incredible rendering of inker John Totleben here.

Sunderland wants Woodrue to explain how the Swamp Thing works so more of them can be created as soldiers. If Woodrue can’t figure it out, he goes back to jail.

Such are Moore’s literary powers that you can easily imagine this issue as a short story of pure text.

One of Moore’s tropes is the way he uses images to mirror and counterpoint his writing, as he does here in the first panel.

But the clear focus-puller here is the fake human flesh melting off Woodrue’s face as he exposes his true form.

And even a simple change of text color can emphasize key textual elements, as Woodrue brings our attention to the “dead” Swamp Thing.

Woodrue has made a breakthrough! Here he attempts to explain it to Sunderland, who isn’t smart enough to understand what he’s saying.

This is Swampy’s origin in a nutshell: a scientist named Alec Holland is blown to bits and dives into the nearby Florida swamp. This is a harrowing visual sequence.

All along, we’ve been told that Holland’s bio-restorative formula was what turned him into the Swamp Thing. But the formula is only part of the truth.

Like the planarian worm, which receives intelligence via foodstuffs, the microorganisms of the swamp ingest Alec Holland’s intelligence. His essence, if you will, is distributed amongst the plants that have eaten him.

Using these very plants as material, Alec Holland’s diffuse intelligence grows him a new body. This completely innovative interpretation of the Swamp Thing makes possible all kinds of novel ideas.

But maybe the most important thing is what Woodrue’s trying to tell Sunderland here, but the general is too impatient to listen.

He’s just going to take what Woodrue’s given him — almost an inversion of the planarian worm theme — and refuse to digest it. He’s sending Woodrue back to jail with a smug smile.

But Sunderland makes the mistake of leaving Woodrue alone with the master computer.

Another incredible image. Look at the texture in this face.

Moore is working in full Poe mode here. The repeated, talismanic phrase “the correct background” acts as a common literary motif.

The Swamp Thing has emerged from his coffin with a more vibrant, wild look. It must take forever to draw him.

We’re coming to the climax of the story. Look at the crazed eyes of the Swamp Thing. Listen to his halting, labored voice, forcing itself through pseudolungs and mossy windpipe.

The gorgeous details! The look of Sunderland’s fear, mirrored in the balls of the desk toy that he used just last issue to illustrate his plans coming to fruition!

“Like a worm in a maze”, a line that doesn’t just hearken back to Woodrue’s planarian explanation, but also illustrates that Sunderland finally has the knowledge that was being imparted to him.

And look at that amazing shadow, reaching out to grab him. This is master-level work.

Alec — or the thing that THOUGHT it was Alec — now knows what it truly is, and the knowledge has driven it insane.

And Woodrue has changed the computers to no longer allow Sunderland’s imprint.

The revenge story. Poe-like in grand fashion.

And the final line ends the story as it began the story. And this is merely the beginning of an incredible run, a legendary run, actually, virtually unmatched in comics history. Join us on Wednesday for more Saga of the Swamp Thing!